Iceland is in many ways the perfect country for hiking but so far we have only covered hiking trails that are far from Reykjavik. You may enjoy hiking but perhaps you don´t have the time or the inclination to venture far away from Reykjavik up on a glacier or to the highland interior.
One really nice hiking trail close to Reykjavik is at Mount Esja. Mount Esja is often called the “city-mountain” and dominates the skyline to the north of Reykjavik. Mount Esja is a actually a synonym for a large mountain range. But we are going to stick with the most popular hiking trail which leads from a place called Mógilsá which is about a twenty minute drive from Reykjavik. It has a big parking lot, a really nice café, and a trail leading up to the top of Esja.
At the crossroads
After a short walk up the trail you come to cross-roads where you can choose to go left or right. The left path is slightly shorter but it is steeper and takes you through some swampland. It is nothing serious but you can get your feet wet if you don´t look where you are going. If you go right the path is a bit longer but not as steep. It is rocky at times and due to gravel it can be slippery if you are on the way down. So be careful. The two paths converge at large stone marker called “Steinn” which means “Stone” in English. It has a great view that includes Reykjavik, the town of Mosfellsbaer and the surrounding countryside. It is the perfect place to strike up conversations, when the weather is good the hiking trails up to “Steinn” are crowded and people converge there and have a well deserved breather. If you want to record your trip for posterity you can sign the guest book kept there in a metal box.
Tear it up!
The trails leading up to Steinn are actually perfect for trail running, at least on the way up. Occasionally, I like to blow off steam, crank up some heavy metal and strap on my Garmin Frontrunner and try to go as fast up to Steinn as possible. For those interested in trying I go up on the left (steeper) trail. This takes about an half an hour and involves distance of 2,8KM and an elevation gain of 545 meters.
For the extreme athletes among you check out the Mt. Esja Ultra Run which is an annual event held every summer. From the “Steinn” it is short but a steep way up to the top at “Þverfellshorn.” It is a relatively easy climb in summer but watch your step anyway. The combined distance of the hiking trail from the parking lot at Mógilsá to the Steinn and back down is just over 6 kilometer. The elevation gain is just under six hundred meters and the elevation at Steinn is 605 meters. Þverfellshorn stands tall at 780 meters.
I don´t recommend going to the top on Þverfellshorn in winter unless you are experienced and properly equipped. I should know, I have gotten myself in trouble on my way from down there while practicing for the hike to Iceland´s highest peak of Hvannadalshnjukur. I was alone, stuck on an ice-sheet in poor weather and inching my way down on my behind. Not fun at all and the worst part is that I (rightly) felt stupid about getting myself in this trouble.
Anyway, it is said that if you can make it to Steinn under an hour you make the hike to Hvannadalshnjukur. So why not put on our hiking boots, take a short drive and see whether you got what it takes to climb to Iceland´s highest peak.
How to get there
From Reykjavik, drive on Highway One through the town of Mosfellsbær, turn right after you have passed the small fjord of Kollafjordur to the café at Mógilsá.
Written by Jón Heiðar Þorsteinsson
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