by Joe Neville (KTA Executive Director) and Paul Shaw (KTA President and Treks and Trails International Co-Founder)
The 2017 KTA Treks and Trails trip to Iceland departed the U.S. on August 4 with 13 excited hikers. Arriving at 4:40 a.m. on August 5, at Keflavik Airport, our bright-eyed travelers were now a bit tired and sleepy, but ready to roll. After an early breakfast in the town of Keflavik, we stretched our legs at the nearby Krýsuvík geothermal area. Here, a boardwalk trail leads past steaming volcanic vents, boiling hot springs, and wildly colorful crater lakes formed by past volcanic eruptions. Then we were off to Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and largest city.
After a night in Reykjavík, we began our journey along Iceland’s beautiful south coast. Our first stop was the wondrous Reykjadalur which translates as “Steam Valley”. Our 7-mile hike led us past hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and fumeroles, belching sulfurous steam.
Along the way, we visited the beautiful, high and wispy Seljalandsfoss waterfall with a walkway behind the falls.
Back in our van, we continued along the coast to Landeyjahöfn where a ferry transported us to Heimaey in the magical Westman Islands. Heimaey was the site of a 1973 volcanic eruption that buried much of the town.
Heimaey has completely recovered from the 1973 eruption and is home to 4,200 people. On this day, we hiked a 3-mile loop through lava fields to the 725’ summit of Eldfell volcano, where we witnessed incredible views of Heimaey and the Iceland coast. Then we hiked another 8 miles along cliffs and beaches for a close-up view of the largest puffin colony in Iceland. Surtsey Island, emerging from the ocean in another volcanic eruption in 1963, was visible offshore.
After breakfast the next day, the ferry returned us to the mainland. We continued on to the village of Skógar and the Skógar Trail, which many consider to be the world’s finest waterfalls hike. The last 5 miles of this 10-mile loop parallel the Skógá river, descending amongst 20+ thunderous waterfalls. The last waterfall, Skógafoss, is ranked as one of the most beautiful in Iceland.
The following day began with a visit to the fascinating Skógar Folk Museum for a glimpse of life in rural Iceland before 1960. We continued on the Ring Road along the southern coast, stopping to explore the black sand beach and basalt columns at Vík. Our route led to the gorgeous Mýrdal district in southeast Iceland, a farmland area dominated by the enormous Vatnajökull glacier. This is Europe’s largest glacier, covering 8% of Iceland with an average thickness of 1200 feet. Our comfortable cottages on a working farm featured stunning views of the glacier.
From our cottages, we enjoyed a 10-mile round-trip hike across flatlands to the very base of the Vatnajökull glacier where we reached out and touched it!
The following day we traveled to stunning Jökulsárlón lagoon, full of icebergs peeling from a tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier into the lagoon. Our 7-mile loop hike followed the shore of the lagoon where we observed the fantastical shapes of the floating ice and numerous seals swimming between them.
Lastly, we visited beautiful Skaftafell National Park, Iceland’s premier hiking destination. We hiked to the famous Svartifoss waterfall and then continued on to complete a challenging 10-mile loop climbing through dwarf forest and tundra to a spectacular mountain vista overlooking the glacier. This is perhaps the best day-hike in Iceland!
A special thanks from KTA to a great group of people who participated in this fundraising trip. We had a tremendous time on a bucket-list, adventure of a lifetime!
Keystone Trails Association