Nestled between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindfjallajökull is Þórsmörk, the Valley of Thor. A nature reserve in the southern Icelandic highlands, Þórsmörk is one of the country's most popular hiking destinations and a favourite location for photographers and nature lovers alike.
Strictly speaking, Þórsmörk is a valley and a mountain range between the Krossá, Þröngá, and Markarfljót rivers.
Locals, however, often use the name ‘Þórsmörk’ when referring to a much larger region that is composed of the area between Þórsmörk proper, and the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano, the peak that notoriously erupted in 2010 and caused widespread disruption to air traffic in Europe.
The contrasting vistas of lush oases and roaring glacier rivers cutting through black desert expanses not only make Þórsmörk unique in Iceland but to the entire world. Parts of the valley are rich with moss, fern, and birchwood, while jagged mountain ridges and ice-capped peaks crown the horizon.
The valley's climate is warmer and calmer than usual in south Iceland, which often causes Þórsmörk's mountains to be cloaked in a veil of mist that materialises when the warm valley air ascends and mixes with the descending cold breath of the glaciers above. This is due to the colossal peaks that both surround and shelter it.
In spite of being warmer, Þórsmörk is also wetter than the rest of the country. This, however, only brightens the vegetation, giving the area a lush, emerald hue.
Þórsmörk's surrounding hills, slopes and mountains are beset with small valleys and gullies that make for some of Iceland's most astonishing hiking routes.
Experienced hikers, therefore, have a wealth of trails to trek, varying in distances and difficulty. In fact, Þórsmörk offers two of the most popular trails in Iceland, the Fimmvörðuháls and the Laugavegur routes.
Fimmvörðuháls is a 30 kilometres (19 miles) trail that takes you into the hills beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano and to the volcanic craters Magni and Móði, which erupted during the 2010 eruption. You can feel the lingering effects of the volcano by feeling heat still rising from the lava rock.
The 55 kilometre (34 miles) Laugavegur path takes you from Þórsmörk to the Landmannalaugar geothermal area, which is home to an incredible wealth of hot springs and rhyolite mountains of vibrant colours.
A short but demanding hike from Þórsmörk up Mt. Útigönguhöfði is suitable for those who are looking for stunning views and don't mind a little physical challenge.
During winter (October 16th to April 30th) the road into Þórsmörk is impassable. In summer (May 1st to October 15th) a special four-wheel-drive mountain bus runs three times per day from the BSÍ bus terminal in central Reykjavík.
Once there you have the choice of setting up base in a small hut in Húsadalur valley, a private room or a dormitory in Langidalur valley, or to camp in Þórsmörk's campsite. Please note that the huts, private rooms and dormitories must be booked well in advance.
Of course, when the roads are clear, it is possible to drive there yourself. As with all cases with driving in Iceland, however, ensure that you are comfortable with the vehicle you have and your driving skills before setting off.