North West



The Hornstrandir Natural Reserve

Date 15 August 2021

The Hornstrandir Natural Reserve

The Hornstrandir Natural Reserve

Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, which became a protected area in 1975, is the northernmost peninsula in Iceland at the tip of the West Fjords.

Isolated on the other side of the huge Drangajökull glacier, it is completely cut off from the rest of the island and very difficult to reach.

There are no roads into the Hornstrandir reserve, and the region has been completely uninhabited for several decades now. No roads, no 4G, no inhabitants, no shops, and definitely no hotels! Here, aside the sound of the wind, only foxes and birds are there to break the silence.

Hornstrandir reserve: the most remote wildland in Iceland

La réserve de Hornstrandir

Hornstrandir Reserve - Michaelahrda @Dreamstime

The Hornstrandir reserve is located on the edge of the Arctic Circle, this means extreme weather conditions, which is why this region of Iceland is no longer inhabited, not for many decades.

As the peninsula is absolutely isolated from the rest of Iceland by the Drangajökull glacier, you can't drive there. This is a vast and windswept landscape, completely cut off from the world, the perfect place to find solace in solitude and contemplate existence.

The cliffs of Hornbjarg

The Hornstrandir reserve has some notable attractions, most of all the Hornbjarg, literally “the rock of the horn”, an impressive cliff at the northern end of the peninsula.

This steep cliff rises 534 meters at its highest point above the Arctic Ocean, a sheer wall of rock facing the ocean, while the land-side of this promontory is a lush green valley inhabited by polar foxes.

What to do in Hornstrandir?


Hornbjarg Cliffs in Hornstrandir - jackyg95 @fotolia

This isn't your usual sightseeing where you rush off to see one tourist site after another. This is an experience where you can truly seek out the wild side. Hornstrandir is not crowded, that's for sure.

The Hornstrandir reserve is the place for travelers who enjoy hiking, the great outdoors, peace and quiet, and of course photography! This peninsula, being at the northern tip of the country, is an ideal place to admire the midnight sun.

There are some incredible subjects to capture: abandoned houses, ancient lighthouses, fjords, snowy mountains, polar foxes, birdlife...

The northern tip of Hornstrandir is known for its sheer cliffs, such as the famous Hornbjarg cliff, which rises 534 meters above sea level and sweeps up dramatically to form a sharp peak: no wonder it's the most photographed site on the peninsula. The coastline is wooded, covered with trees of the same kind you find in Siberia, which further accentuates the wild side of the area.

There are plenty of hiking trails, from easy to moderate levels. And we very strongly recommend that you do not stray from these paths, after all you wouldn't to miss your ride home. It would get lonely out there.

The best of Hornstrandir

Our selection of the best things to do in Hornstrandir:

  • Admire the cliffs of Hornbjarg 
  • Admire the beautiful Hornsvík beach
  • Photograph polar foxes in their natural environment
  • Hike, and then hike some more! Hornstrandir is a hikers paradise
  • Observe the midnight sun on the West Coast
  • Contemplate existence and find peace in solitude...

The local foxes of the Hornstrandir reserve

Hornstrandir renards

Polar foxes in Hornstrandir - giedriius @fotolia

Hornstrandir is a protected site and polar foxes are thriving there with a booming population. It's the only place in Iceland where foxes are protected from hunters, so it's easy to understand why.

And given they have never had a reason to fear humans, they are curious and easy to approach, so you can get some great shots if you don't scare them off.

Birds are also thriving here without us to bother them, including black-legged kittiwakes, penguins, puffins, and common murres. The awe-inspiring cliffs of Hælavíkurbjarg and Hornbjarg, mentioned earlier, are home to hundreds of thousands of these nesting birds.

Hikes and treks in Hornstrandir

  • The hike from Hornvík to Hornbjarg

This is usually a favourite preferred by travelers as it's short and user-friendly, leading from Hornvik to the Hornbjarg lighthouse. At 6 km one way for a 12 km round trip, this is a relaxed and scenic walk despite its fairly significant elevation. It'll take just over 2 hours to get to the lighthouse. This is the trail you want if you're looking to get to the famous Hornbjarg cliffs as quickly and painlessly as possible.

  • The hike from Hornvík to Veidileysufjördur via Hafnarskard

Another popular “short” hike and one of the best known leads from Hornvik to Veidileysufjördur via Hafnarskard. This 10-km hike is simply fantastic, taking you across magnificent meadows where you can meet foxes on the way, ending with once again at the Hornbjarg cliffs.

  • The trek from Grunnavík to Hesteyri via Hornvík

A very popular option for hiking enthusiasts is a multi-day trek in the region. Some of the longest cross the peninsula north-south or vice versa, while others go along the north coastline, for example.

A trek crossing the reserve from south to north, from Grunnavík to Hesteyri along the east coast (Bolungarvik and Hornvik) can be done in 7 days (15 km per day).

  • The trek from Aðalvík to Hornvík

This trek is the easy-mode option but still a classic, from Aðalvík (Sæból and Látrar) to Hornvík in 3 days.

When to go and how to get there

Carte de Hornstrandir

Let's get one thing out of the way: Hornstrandir is strictly prohibited in winter because it's simply too dangerous and there are no means of communication. As mentioned, the weather is bad enough that even Icelanders don't want to live there, so that should give you an idea.

Getting there on your own

Without roads, the only way into region is by boat from IsafjordurBolungarvík or Norðurfjörður in the Westfjörður, and the main company connecting Isafjorður to Hornstrandir is WestTours (though there are others).

Depending on the boat company, the port of arrival on the peninsula will be different. And once again, all connections to and from Hornstrandir are only possible between July and the beginning of September.

While some visitors go to Hornstrandir for a day trip, it's not the easiest journey to do twice in a day, and most go for longer treks over several days.

For boats from Isafjordur: Additional information on rates and schedules on the WestTours website.

So depending on your chosen hiking trails, be mindful which port in Hornstrandir you will be arriving in:

  • Hornvik
  • Hesteyri
  • Veiðileysufjörður
  • Aðalvík

If you plan to go there for several days, you really can't mess up your hiking schedule, as camping outside official camping areas is strictly prohibited.

Guided tours

Increasingly popular, this natural reserve now features a range of dedicated tours, a day trip or a two-day trip, accompanied by an expert guide: Additional information on the Hornstrandir day trip.

You'll be departing in the morning from Isafjordur by speed boat to the Veiðileysufjörður or Lónafjörður ford (depending on the weather). The group then goes on a hike together through the beautiful meadows of the peninsula to the "fox farm”.

The same route is used for the 2-day excursions, where you will sleep in a tent near Hornsvik, which is probably the best place to observe the midnight sun due to its northern latitude. Hornsvik is a black sand beach where all the tour guide companies have their local branches, and this is where the main hiking trails to Hornbjarg begin. Additional information about the 2-day guided hike in Hornstrandir.

Things to know before you go

Macareux Hornstrandir

The weather here is much more capricious than the rest of Iceland: rain, thick fog, and arctic winds are standard even in summer, and you may even have to cross rivers on foot, so you need proper hiking equipment and outdoors... 

DO NOT forget your GPS, map, and compass when you go to Hornstrandir, because your phone can't save you here.

Several sites exist for camping, which you can learn more about here: Camping sites

Finally, here is a detailed map of the region: Hornstrandir Map