Mount Esja, which can be seen in the background of Reykjavik in most photos, is just a quick hop, skip and jump from downtown. I was very lucky to have such amazing AirBnb hosts that drove me there on their way to a family event. As we got close, Hulda pointed out her old neighborhood, school and stomping grounds; this area was where she grew up.
When they dropped me off in the parking lot, they explained how I would get back and were off. When I reached the trail head, I made my best guess as to which trail was the scenic route to the top, as the sign was in Icelandic.
I chose a path to my right and walked happily along, realizing about a half mile in that I was headed in the opposite direction as the mountain I wanted to be on top of. The walk was beautiful, taking me through fields of wild flowers, wooded areas, and on wobbly bridges over streams.
Eventually I made it to the top of a hill where a couple were taking photos, and I asked them how to get to the top of Mount Esja. They pointed me in the direction from which they came and said I would come to a fork in the trail, which would put me on the right path. While the detour was very pretty, I was happy to be on my way.
The path consisted of loose gravel and was extremely steep, and after each switchback it became even steeper than before. I had to bribe myself with water and bites of cliff bar to keep going. Truth be told, this is probably one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done. The views from each switchback was gorgeous, especially with the sun coming up, reflecting off the lake below and making it look metallic.
There were two paths that went to the top, and I chose to go up the steeper trail and down the longer, more scenic trail. I thought the steeper trail might be quicker, and maybe it was, but it was also pretty rough. The terrain was rocky and a little precarious in places, so much so that I had to move in an awkward crawl, pulling myself up the steep hill with my hands.
When I reached Steinn, the first summit, I stopped for some water and tried to decide if I wanted to keep going. The wind had picked up and the path to the very top looked a little intimidating. I asked a man passing by if it was safe to keep going up with the wind as it was, and he said “Ehhhh yeah, is not so bad.” Then I asked him if it was OK for beginner hikers and he said “Sure it is.”
So I started climbing up. The path was tricky, with multiple paths sprouting from what I thought was the main trail. I saw a climber above me slip, and slide down the gravel until he caught himself on a rock, which was my cue to head back down. I wasn’t confident that my legs, which felt like jelly, wouldn’t betray me and send my clumsy butt tumbling down the mountain.
As I turned to go, I saw the gentleman I was speaking with earlier pass me going up a different path. I waved and kept moving. As soon as I started down the longer path back down to the bottom, I slipped on the gravel and fell right on my ass, scraping my hands on the way down. I brushed myself off and kept moving, glaring at the super humans that were actually jogging past me like it was a high school track and not a rocky slip’n’slide.
The scenery was so beautiful that I felt like I had accidentally walked onto a movie set. There was a creek that ran along the path that was crossed a couple of times along the way over the most picturesque bridges and stepping stones. I really couldn’t believe how stunning the view was, which was probably why I kept tripping over my feet.
The last 15 minutes of my hike were probably the most tiring, a feeling that was made worse by the sight of the bus back downtown pulling out of the parking lot as I was getting so close to the ground. The next one was an hour and a half away, so I stopped into the café at the bottom of the mountain for a late lunch. Esjustofa Restaurant opens daily at 11:00am and serves soups, sandwiches, pizza and beverages. I got a sandwich and a latte and settled in to write for a bit. The food was typical café fare, but the guy behind the counter was very kind and helpful.
I caught the #57 bus to a bus terminal closer to downtown, and then the #12 bus back to the Airbnb (which can also be taken to downtown Reykjavik). When I got back, Hulda explained that it was probably good that I didn’t hike to the top because a few people fall down the mountain and break a couple bones each year. So I guess I made the right decision! Mount Esja was a wonderful, beautiful, challenging hike, and, with its close proximity to the city, it is a perfect day trip from Reykjavik. Here are a couple of tips if you choose to visit Mount Esja:
- Bring plenty of water and a snack, you will need it
- Wear good hiking boots or gym shoes and warm clothes
- Bring a hat that will cover your ears and fight the wind
- Enjoy the scenery! But maybe stop walking to do so
- It’s okay to only make it up to Steinn, most people turn around there too
Have you ever hiked in Iceland? Where’s your favorite hiking spot there?
3 thoughts on “Hiking Mount Esja, Iceland”
Last time I visited Iceland, it was too cold and stormy to do any hikes. I’m going back to Iceland in March, and hiking Mt. Esja is top of my list! Thank you for this guide and can’t wait to try it out for myself 🙂
Thanks, Diana! I hope you enjoy your trip 🙂
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