Hiking Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland (With a New Dog Friend)

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

Truly one of the less hiked hikes, the Hijallanes Loop next to Skálafellsjökull glacier is a treasure you need to experience. Compared to more popular hikes in Iceland like Múlagljúfur Canyon or Waterfall Way, which each have thousands of reviews on alltrails.com, the Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull hike is relatively unknown in Iceland. But this hike was truly one of my favorite hikes I’ve ever been on for unforeseen circumstances that happened on the hike: I met a new dog friend who hiked nearly the entire 5+ miles with me! Keep reading to get insights into hiking Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull, one of my favorite hikes in Iceland.

Overview of Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland

Located near Höfn on the Southeast side of Iceland, the Hijallanes loop hike takes you in close proximity to the Skálafellsjökull glacier, which is quite beautiful if you’re not used to seeing glaciers. This hike takes you through varied terrain which will keep you on your toes as you navigate this loop. In this next section, I will review some of the key things you’ll need to know to have your best experience on this hike.

Hiking Hijallanes Loop - Skálafellsjökull Glacier Route Map

This is a map of Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull (via alltrails.com) of the route I did.

Where to Park

When I visited this hike, there was only 1 other hiker on the entire trail, so finding parking was pretty easy. Located conveniently off of Route 1, the Guesthouse Skálafell is a place you can park for free. When you arrive, you’ll most likely see a few other cars parked against a short wall in front of a short fence:

Hiking Hijallanes - Skálafellsjökull Glacier Parking

The entrance to the hike is very close by this parking lot. You’ll see a gate next to this parking lot that opens up into a field, where the hike begins.

 

Here is the address: Guesthouse Skálafell

Distance Traveled

According to Alltrails.com, I traveled around 5.2 miles, which seems a little low considering I paused tracking while I went on a few side adventures headed towards the glacier. If you stick to the trail, which is marked by green and yellow stick markers, you can expect a medium length hike around 5.2 miles total.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived around 11:30 AM and finished the hike at around 2:15 PM. I was hiking an average pace and ventured off on a few side tangents. Even so, this hike took me less than 3 hours to complete.

Elevation Change

According to Alltrails.com, I climbed over 800 feet in elevation. While there are no giant hills, you can expect a few steep sections as you climb up and down the ridge in front of the hike.

Hiking Hijallanes Loop - Skálafellsjökull Glacier Elevation Map

Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier elevation map (via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

If you exercise regularly this hike is not too difficult. However, don’t underestimate it. The initial climb to the top of the ridge towards the beginning of the hike had me gasping for air. After this section, it wasn’t too hard physically.

Adding to the difficulty was a few slippery areas towards the glacier. Be especially careful around large flat rocks on the trail near the glacier. I definitely slipped and fell pretty hard on my knee at one point during the hike. Fortunately I was uninjured. I could see this hike being especially icy in the winter months before it’s thawed out, so factor that in. It may also be colder on this hike due to the proximity to the glacier.

Overall, I’d give this hike a 6.5 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

There are no permits for this hike.

Cost

There is no cost to park at this hike. This is one of the few parking lots I found that were free in Iceland (the best kind!).

When to Go

I went in May and the weather was both warm and cold! When the sun was out, it was lovely. However, when it started hailing on me near the glacier I was freezing cold. This hike could be done any time of the year, but in the winter it may be super slippery, so crampons or microspikes would be recommended in winter. It also might get extra dicey on the side of the cliff portion of the hike that runs over a mile as it’s very windy and somewhat narrow.

Recommended Gear

Hiking in Iceland is a pretty wild hiking experience. One moment it can be sunny and 2 minutes later you might get hit with a massive hail storm. Preparing accordingly will help you maximize your hiking experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought in May, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers and a light, waterproof jacket. I wore long paints over my shorts, which ended up being perfect for this hike in May. It was quite cold as you ascended towards the glacier. If anything, you can take a layer off if you get too warm, so it’s better to wear layers.
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later. This hike is pretty tough depending on the speed you go up it, which can pay your body a toll without the proper gear.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder and I drank about 30% of it on this hike.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in on this trail. There are plenty of muddy, snowy, wet sections of the hike, so having the right hiking shoes is important.
  • Snacks: Who doesn’t like snacks? While hiking, even on a medium-length hike like this, you burn lots of calories. My personal go-to’s on this hike were: Honey roasted peanuts, gummy bears, protein shakes, and protein bars.
  • Bug spray: I didn’t experience bugs on this hike, so this wasn’t really needed.
  • First aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I have needed band-aids in the past from slipping on rocks, but I did not on this hike.
  • Sunscreen: You never know with Iceland. Some days it’s very sunny and many other days it’s rainy and cloudy. It would be a good idea to put on some sunscreen before this hike.
  • Flashlight: If you go anytime near sunrise or sunset, I’d recommend having a flashlight. However, in May, it was light 18+ hours in the day so a flashlight was not so needed.

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These can help as you traverse hard rocks along the way.
  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on. You may not need to use one very often because there were quite a few people on this trail that you could ask to take a picture for you.
  • Water shoes: While not necessary, water shoes could help you walk around the hot spring thermal river better, as it is natural with rocks and other rough features on the bottom.
  • Microspikes / Crampons: While not necessary in most of the summer months, you may want to bring these before April and after October just in case.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier

So what’s it like hiking Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier? Read my hiking guide play by play below:

Parking Area

The parking area of this hike is not large. Fortunately, this hike is not very well-known / popular on sites like alltrails.com, with only a few hundred reviews (compared to more popular Iceland spots with thousands of reviews). The trail start is very close to this parking area.

Meeting My New Friend on the Farm

Very close to the parking area is the start of the trail, a gate that opens up into a fenced-in field. As soon as I opened this gate and turned around after shutting it, I was greeted unexpectedly!

My first thoughts were “where did you come from!?” He (I think a he) is such a sweetheart!

I continued forward out the second gate and into the field adjacent to the Kolgrima River.

I don’t know why I liked this field so much, it just had a cool vibe while hiking through it.

Climbing the Cliff / Ridge

The route I took was clockwise around Hijallanes Loop, which takes you up sharply in elevation to the top of the cliff in a rather direct way.

To my surprise, my dog friend (huffing and puffing just like I was) followed me up this steep climb to the top of the cliff!

Heading Towards the Glacier

Once you climb above the cliff, you’ll weave up down and around a few hills as you head towards the glacier. My new friend decided to stop and get a drink of fresh water from one of the many streams:

With my new dog friend leading the way, we headed towards Skálafellsjökull Glacier.

Next to Skálafellsjökull Glacier

Unexpectedly, a big storm flew in and it started raining and hailing on me as I approached Skálafellsjökull Glacier. Even more unexpectedly, my new dog friend was no where to be found!

This portion of the hike was quite cold near the glacier. I remember shivering as I put my hands in my coat pockets trying to warm up. However, it is a stunning portion of the hike, and I couldn’t stop taking photos and videos!

As the storm cleared out as quickly as it came in, the trail inched its way closer to the glacier, and the views became more and more stunning.

There are quite a few rivers you’ll need to cross heading towards, during, and past the glacier. Fortunately there are rocks that allow you to not get your feet wet, as long as your balance is pretty decent.

After you pass the glacier, you’ll start curving back around the Hijallanes loop headed towards the 1 to 1.5 mile hike along the edge of the cliffside next to the Kolgrima river.

Shortly after passing by the glacier and heading back towards the cliff, my friend appeared!

Cliff Hiking Along Kolgrima River

The portion of the hike along the cliff / riverside was beautiful but kind of sketchy in some parts! The wind on this part of the hike is the strongest by far compared to other portions of the hike. I imagine the cliff creates sort of a wind tunnel, which you should take with extra caution.

As cautious as I was, my dog guide was a veteran with no fear.

I didn’t capture video of some of the moments where my friend would climb up and down dangerous portions of the cliff and be feet away from steep drop-offs. Quite the brave dog!

Once again a nasty storm rolled in while I was on the side of the cliff, but my dog friend stayed with me. In fact, he paced me all the way back to the start of the hike. If he got too far ahead, he would stop, and sometimes even turn around to get closer to me. I didn’t know I could be so touched by the compassion and loyalty of a dog.

As I approached the farm, my dog friend ran off with his other animal friends. It felt like when I was dropping off someone close to me at the airport on their way back to their home city; I was sad! I wanted to take my dog friend home with me, but I knew he is living his best life there on the farm.

If you’re lucky enough to have this dog as your guide, you too will have one of your best hikes ever.

After Hike Dinner

After hiking Hijallanes Loop – Skálafellsjökull Glacier, I was pretty dang hungry and needed to refill the tank. I was staying in Höfn, so I decided to get a little fancy and try Pakkhús Restaurant right downtown near my hotel. I ordered the “Rjómahumar – Cream Langoustines” menu item for 9500 ISK (around $70 USD), which is pretty expensive! But I had to try Iceland’s sweeter version of lobster, the langoustine, while I was here.

Eating at Pakkhús Restaurant in Höfn, Iceland

This meal consisted of “Langoustine tails and whole langoustine baked in a creamy white wine sauce Served with a side salad, potatoes and bread.” While it’s not particularly a big or calorie dense meal, I asked for more bread and they served a large portion of extra bread to me at no cost to dip into the butter sauce, which was delicious. I also ordered a red wine to wind down after the hike, which hit the spot.

Eating Cream Langoustines at Pakkhús Restaurant in Höfn, Iceland

All in all, this was a good spot to eat and I’d recommend it if you want to splurge a little while in Höfn. You deserve it!

About My Experience Hiking Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull

Overall, hiking Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull was amazing. I was hesitant about this hike because it just didn’t get the notoriety that other hikes and attractions have online. In this section, I’ll highlight some of my favorite parts about this hike, as well as any parts that I didn’t like too much.

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull:

New Farm Dog Friend

Without a doubt, having the precious dog hike with me over 5 miles and guide me along was a moment I’ll never forget. Without the dog, the hike would still have been very enjoyable, but the dog made it one of my top hikes ever.

Skálafellsjökull Glacier

Hiking on a glacier is exciting. Hiking next to a glacier is the next best thing. Hiking next to Skálafellsjökull Glacier for over a mile was awesome.

Cliff Next to Kolgrima River

For close to 1.5 miles, you’ll traverse on a narrow path winding up and down on the edge of a cliff. This can be a bit sketchy as it was very windy at times. But this part was quite exhilarating and different! I wouldn’t recommend bringing children on this part part of the hike unless you’re very careful with them.

Solitude

One thing I loved about this hike was the solitude while hiking. I only saw one other small hiker group on the hike, and they were about half a mile behind me.

Least Favorite Parts

Here is my least favorite part of this hike:

Very Slippery Rocks Near Glacier

This was entirely my fault, but I definitely bit it pretty hard on this hike on a big flat rock near the glacier. Anytime you see a flat, wet rock, I’d suggest being extremely careful, they’re probably super slippery.

Overall Score

Overall this hike ranks very highly for me. I loved the solitude of this hike, the different types of terrain, and mostly, the dog guide. That truly made this hike memorable for me. The great thing about adventuring is that you never know what great things, moments, people, or animals you’ll encounter.

I give this trail a 9.7 / 10.

Hiking Tips for Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull After the Fact

Here are some hiking tips for Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull that I learned after the fact that can help you have the very best adventure:

  • I’d recommend going counterclockwise on the Hijallanes loop (I went clockwise) so that you can get a head on view of the glacier as you hike next to it.
  • Be especially careful on any big flat rocks near the glacier / rivers. These are most likely extremely slippery.
  • If you see a happy doggy at the beginning of the hike on the farm, he’ll probably run up to you and if he likes you, you might have your very own tour guide for the hike!

Final Thoughts on Hiking Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull in Iceland

Hiking Hijallanes – Skálafellsjökull was truly unforgettable. I loved the diversity of terrain, it was different than other hikes I did in Iceland. Most of all, I truly appreciated the gift of having this dog join me on my adventure, guide and wait for me, and reinforce the concept of loyalty to me. I’d definitely recommend making time for this hike if you find yourself on the Southeastern side of Iceland near Höfn.

Happy wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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