Por Jonathan Duffy, Arctic Meta
Iceland usually rates pretty highly on many people’s bucket lists. This is because it’s a place unlike any other on the planet. It’s filled with natural wonder and unique attractions like pristine waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, black sand beaches and more.
Even within this myriad of exciting places, Iceland also has some hidden gems that some people wouldn’t think about. There’s an entire region in the country’s centre that has remained virtually untouched despite Icelanders being here for over 1000 years.
The centre of Iceland is home to the tierras altas, a massive expanse of mountain ranges, geothermal planes and volcanic deserts. The highlands are a true image of the wilds of Iceland, and you can actually take them in on a hike.
In the past two decades, keen hikers of all abilities have begun to discover the wonders of the tierras altas. One of the best locations to hike is actually very close to Panorama Glass Lodge, Thórsmörk.
What is Thórsmörk? Where is it? What are the best hiking routes there? Read on to find out more.
What is Thórsmörk?
Thórsmörk is a mountain range in Iceland that was named after the Norse god Thor. Its name basically means ‘The valley of Thor.’
You might see it written in a couple of different ways because it traditionally has Icelandic letters in it. In Icelandic, it’s called Þórsmörk, but to make it easier to understand for foreigners, it is often written with a ‘Th’ instead of the Icelandic ‘Þ’ (which makes the same sound).
Thor was one of the most important gods in Norse mythology. He was the hammer-wielding God associated with lightning and thunderstorms (although neither of these happens very often in Iceland). He was also seen as the protector of humanity.
Thórsmörk is one of the most popular hiking areas in Iceland. It’s known for having a variety of hiking trails to suit a multitude of abilities. It’s also home to a vast array of landscapes, including; mountain ranges, glaciers, active volcanoes, birch forests and more.
Where is Thorsmork?
Thórsmörk is in the Southern Highlands of Iceland. The highlands is the name given to a vast expanse of land in the centre of the country that is, for the most part, uninhabited. The highlands contain some of the most untouched and truly wild areas of the country, and Thórsmörk is just one of them.
The area that is specifically named Thórsmörk is technically just a mountain range between three rivers; the Þröngá, the Krossá and the Markarfljót. However, when people refer to Thórsmörk, they can mean basically anywhere between this mountain range and the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
If you look at a map of Iceland and find the Tindfjallajökull glacier and the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, Thórsmörk is the area between them.
How Can I Get to Thórsmörk?
As with any area in the Icelandic Highlands, there are a few main ways you can get there. If you aren’t an experienced adventurer, the first and most advisable way is to visit Thórsmörk as part of a tour.
Many different tours travel in this area during the open season, which is during summer (late June to August). A significant benefit of visiting Thórsmörk as part of a tour is that you won’t have to worry about navigating some of the more challenging roads in this part of the country.
There is also the option of taking private transport into Thórsmörk from the capital of Reykjavík. Three bus companies currently transport tourists from Reykjavík and into the highlands. These companies use special busses that are built to handle the rugged terrain. They run on a specific timetable, so it is worth making sure you know this if you use them.
The other way you could visit Thórsmörk is to drive there yourself. If you do plan on driving your own way into the valley of Thor, you might want to take some time to consider a specific type of road in Iceland (see below).
Driving on Iceland’s F-Roads
Iceland has a pretty famous highway that encircles the entire country. This is ‘Route 1’ or ‘The Ring Road.’ This highway is a well-maintained piece of infrastructure that is the most travelled road in the country.
There are other roads in Iceland that aren’t maintained as well as the Ring Road; these are known as ‘F-roads.’ F-Roads are gravel roads that are often riddled with potholes, large boulders and commonly prone to flooding, or cross rivers.
Most of the Highlands of Iceland, Including Thórsmörk, are only accessible via F-Roads.
If you are going to travel on an F-Road in Iceland, you must be driving a 4×4. If you rent a car and intend to travel on an F-Road, it must be approved by the rental company; otherwise, you will be liable for any damage to the vehicle.
It’s also worth noting that just because a car is indicated as ‘F-Road Capable’ doesn’t mean you should take it there. For example, many tourists in Iceland will rent a Dacia Duster 4×4. This car does have the capabilities to go ‘off the road’, but It doesn’t really hold up as well as a special utility vehicle like a Land Rover on an F-Road.
To put it simply, if you’re going to travel on an F-Road, make sure you have the right car, it’s approved to travel on this kind of road, and you are an experienced driver.
If you plan on driving to Thórsmörk yourself, it’s about 160km from Reykjavík to the start of the off-road area. To get there, you will follow Route 1 along the south coast until you reach exit 249 off Þjóðvegur, which will eventually become the road F-249.
What Are the Best Hiking Routes in Thorsmork?
As I said earlier, Thórsmörk is a popular destination for those wanting to experience the Icelandic wilderness on an impressive hike. There are quite a few different trails to choose from, depending on your hiking ability and what you want to get out of them.
Thórsgata Volcano Trail / Þórsgata Volcano Trail
This is a relatively new hiking trail that covers a distance of 22 kilometres (13.6 miles). It takes a circular direction around the Thórsmörk Nature Reserve and offers views of Eyjafjallajökull volcano as well as the popular Laugavegur trail.
You could split this hiking trail into smaller sections or do it all at once. It’s a great choice if you are looking to see some incredible panoramas of the southern highlands. On the Thórsgata Trail, you will see impressive mountain ranges, valleys, glaciers and of course, volcanoes.
This trail is great for both regular hiking but also trail running, and there is actually a popular trail running competition that takes place here each year.
Thórsmörk Panorama / Þórsmörk Panorama
This is one of the easiest and quickest trails to complete in the Thórsmörk area. The trail is very well marked and has some man-made steps, making it very accessible even in its steepest sections. Once you reach the summit, you will be treated to a wide-sweeping view of the surrounding area.
The entire trail can be done in about 2 hours, so this is great for beginner hikers or those who are pressed for time.
Thórsmörk Highlights / Þórsmörk Highlights
This trail will cater to beginners and intermediate hikers. It’s a little bit more in-depth than the panorama trail, taking about 3 to 4 hours to complete.
In this trail, you will travel through some of the birch forests in the Húsadalur valley, beneath the mountains of Tindfjöll. You will also descend into the Thórsmörk valley, through the Slyppugil canyon.
Thórsmörk Tindfjöll Circle / Þórsmörk Tindfjöll Circle
This particular trail is perfect for more experienced hikers who are able to take more time. It can take around 5 hours or more to complete, depending on the weather. The main takeaway from this trail is that it will show you some spectacular views over the entire Thórsmörk area.
The trail begins at the Thórsmörk Highlights, and when you reach the mountains of Tindfjöll, you make your way across the Tindjafallaslétta plateau.
There are some steep descents and ascents (when you leave), but the trail is quite well-marked and worth it if you have the time and stamina.
This trail is a little bit more challenging but can be completed in around 3 hours. It takes you onto the Merkurrani plateau. Once there, you can get a great view of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which infamously stopped air travel in 2010 when it erupted.
When seeing the volcano, you might be surprised to witness a sheet of ice because it’s not only a volcano; it’s also a glacier.
You will eventually come to the striking contrasts of the Markafljótt river where black, volcanic ash juxtaposes against the green hills of Thórsmörk.
What Should I Bring with me on a Hike in Thórsmörk?
If you are travelling in the Icelandic Highlands, it’s important to know that the weather can change in an instant. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you bring clothing that is windproof, waterproof and warm. Even though you will be travelling in summer, the Icelandic climate rarely sees temperatures over 20 degrees celsius. Even in summer, temperatures can drop close to zero during a storm, and it’s essential to be prepared for that.
When hiking in Thórsmörk, make sure you also bring enough food and water to last more than the time you initially planned on hiking. In addition, it’s worth bringing a physical compass and map with you because you cannot rely on cell phone reception or data to guide you in such an untouched wilderness.
It’s also important to notify someone of your travel plans. If you don’t have a designated person, you can also upload your travel details to the Icelandic travel authority.
Can I Camp in Thórsmörk?
There is a basic rule when it comes to camping throughout the entire country of Iceland. You can only camp in a designated camping area. Designated campsites in Iceland are easy to spot because they are very well signed and contain all the facilities you will need for your stay. It is incredibly illegal to camp in a place that is not a designated campsite, and those who do so will risk hefty fines.
There are several campsites in Thórsmörk, and there are also ‘Mountain Huts.’ Mountain Huts are small cabins designed to shield travellers from harsh weather in times of emergency.
Mountain huts are free to use and operate on an honour system. So, basically speaking, if you stay in a mountain hut, you should leave it ‘better than you found it.’
A complete list of the campsites and mountain huts in the area can be found here.
Where Can You Stay Close to Thórsmörk?
As mentioned earlier, camping is an option for some people travelling through the Icelandic highlands. Because of the remoteness of this part of the country, most people would assume that the only options for accommodation are on the rougher end of the spectrum, but there is, in fact, a more comfortable option.
Before you enter the highlands, one of the last private accommodation places is Panorama Glass Lodge, which is ideally placed to provide you with a comfortable rest at the end of a day exploring the Icelandic wilderness.
The Panorama Glass Lodge offers private, individual lodges nestled in the naturally beautiful expanses of Iceland’s south. Each lodge has all you need to rest and recharge at the end of the day, complete with a private outdoor hot tub.
Of course, the ‘piece de resistance’ with the Panorama Glass Lodges is the incredible glass roof and windows, which will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the pristine natural surroundings that are completely unmatched anywhere else on Earth.
The highlands of Iceland are a must-see if you would like to experience untamed nature. The hiking trails of Thórsmörk are an excellent way to take in the sights and sounds of one of the last true wildernesses on the planet.
Thórsmörk has a lot to offer; it all depends on what you’re wanting to get out of a visit to the valley of Thor.