Hiking in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is often called Iceland in miniature, and for good reason. Its landscape has nearly all the same features you can find in the Golden Circle, jam-packed into one arm stretching out from the west coast of the country. Luckily, this area still isn’t as popular with other tourists as the Golden Circle, so you’re more likely to have nature to yourself. We did see the odd tour bus coming through, but mostly the visitors jumped out, took pictures, and jumped back in the bus, leaving the hiking paths clear for us.
Spending a few days hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the best way to see all the magic of Iceland in one compact area – it’s also ideal to combine this with a trip to the Golden Circle if you’re short on time. And, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is where we spotted a pod of 7 orcas on our whale watching tour, so if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will! When if you just do a Snaefellsnes day trip, it will be well worth the trip to this beautiful area of west Iceland.
If we could have, we would have stayed longer here and would have loved to rent a camper van to stay in along the way – for more info on what that experience is like, check out Its All Bee’s post on traveling Iceland via camper van.
When you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the first place you’ll probably want to check off your list is iconic Kirkjufell – the mountain (more like a hill) that is on dozens of postcards. Be aware that you can’t really access Kirkjufell since the land around it is private property. It’s also apparently quite dangerous to climb and a tourist unfortunately died there in July 2017. So, either satisfy yourself by stopping to take pictures, or arrange a guided climb of Kirkjufell.
After deciding not to take our chances at Kirkufell we headed to Snaefellsjokull National Park to do some hiking. Snaefellsjokull is best known for its glacier of the same name made infamous in Journey to the Center of the Earth, but we weren’t willing to shell out a couple hundred euros for a guided glacier tour, so we looked around for the best free way to enjoy nature: hiking!
Thankfully I stumbled upon this blog post from Canyons to Clouds which informed some of our hiking around the peninsula. I’d say hiking is one of the best things to do in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but maybe I’m biased because I always love hiking!
Looking for more Iceland travel tips? Don’t miss these posts:
- How to pack for Iceland in July
- What to know before visiting Iceland
- Visit Iceland’s awe-inspiring glacial lagoon
Hike the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland: First stop, Saxholl volcanic crater
Sure, it might be a short hike, but it is still worth a visit! Climb up the steps built around the crater to get sweeping views of the area including to the shoreline. It’s easy to find from the main road through Snaefellsjokull national park.
Hike Saxholl to Bárðarkista on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Once you’ve done your jaunt up Saxholl, cross the street toward the mountains to hike up to Bárðarkista – but keep a good eye out for the route! This hike will take you about 3-4 hours and is about 5km each way. We got lost on the route and started heading up toward the ice patches instead, hoping to make it to the top for a glimpse of the glacier. It made us a bit nervous straying from the path – were we trampling on any delicate plant life? Most of the walk was a bit bouncy from stepping on what seemed like moss mattresses on the way up… We tried to tread lightly and hope for the least impact on the environment.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the top – once we got to the ice patches it only got steeper and steeper so we decided to turn back, but it was a great hike anyway. Click here to download a map with hiking routes of the area.
Along this hike we only saw 2 other people – and those 2 other people were quite a distance away. So, if you’re looking for a quiet hike to enjoy the silence of nature alone, this route is for you. Hiking here is one of the best things to do in west Iceland.
Hike the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: The beautiful walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi
This was one of my favorite hikes we did on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Start in either Hellnar or Arnarstapi to walk the coastline between the two towns. Along this 5km round trip route you’ll walk past lava fields, rock arches, charming houses, and the breeding grounds of Arctic gulls. Apparently this 2.5km track is actually an ancient main road that used to be crossed by horseback. This route is also one of the most popular hikes on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and one of the best things do to in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, so you can definitely expect to run into more tourists here, but likely it won’t be so crowded that it disturbs you. I think the hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi is one of the best things to do in western Iceland.
The pictures below are in chronological order of what you will see on your route from Hellnar toward Arnarstapi.
Don’t forget to treat yourself to a well deserved coffee break on your halfway point at either of the villages!
Visit the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur and hike the coastline along it
For an other worldly experience, visit Djúpalónssandur and stroll its black sand beaches and curious rock formations covering the coast line. The black rocks formed along the coast would be the perfect setting for a sci-fi film and visiting them helps you understand how the Icelandic people have come to believe in trolls and other mystical creatures. Who knows what could be lurking in the pockets of these rocks? Maybe a fairy, maybe a troll? Or maybe nothing most likely, but visiting this area will surely tap into an imagination you might not have visited since childhood.
After visiting the beach you can head out on one of the several hiking trails that hug the coast line. Though not as visually impressive as the walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi, it’s still a lovely way to spend a morning hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
You can follow the past for a 6km route each way, or turn around whenever you like. This is a great hike to combine the same day as the route from Hellnar to Arnarstapi since they are a short drive from each other.
Where to stay in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
As you might have already figured out, there aren’t tons of hotels in Iceland. So here are some quick tips on Snaefellsnes hotels.
Hotels in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: We stayed at a comfortable AirBnB in Olafsvik, which turned out to be perfect for us since we also did whale watching out of Olafsvik. Since Iceland is so expensive I’d strongly recommend booking AirBnB’s if possible so you can cook for yourself to save money.
Actually, there aren’t really any hotels in Olafsvik, so opt to stay in guesthouses instead where you can cook your own meals and bring in your own groceries.
Olafsvik does have a super market, albeit not a discount chain, and also offers a few small restaurants and a very delicious bakery.
Of course we couldn’t see it all on our trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but we did manage to hike pretty much all day every day which was a big plus in my book. Still, I’d love to return to Iceland another time to do more hiking and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer.
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Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.