Iceland's Wild Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Midnight sun in Iceland, which can be seen from the Drangajökull glacier

Located in the wilderness of the Westfjords, the uninhabited Hornstrandir Nature Reserve was established in 1975 to protect the unique wildlife that flourishes in the area.  Here, nature is in control and human interference is minimised. Within the reserve, there’s an abundance of lush floral meadows, jaw-dropping cliffs, birdlife and ice. To visit this beautiful nature reserve is to experience Iceland in its purest form. 

The History of Hornstrandir

Before the mid-20th century, tundra terrain and extreme weather conditions made it difficult to sustain growth, a factor that ultimately drove residents away from Hornstrandir. By the early 1950s, the last few remaining farmers in the area had moved on. It has since been uninhabited, although a small number of Icelanders visit in the summer to maintain their ancestors' homes. 

Driftwood on the coast surrounding Hornstrandir, Iceland

How to Get to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Hornstrandir covers 220 square miles of the Northern end of the Westfjords, and its remote location makes travelling there difficult. To access the reserve you’ll need to take a boat from the town of Ísafjörður. Several companies operate this route but times and dates vary so you may want to plan your journey in advance. The cost of a round trip ranges from around $150-$250 depending on your final destination, of which there are 5 to choose from. Ferry services are heavily impacted by weather conditions and they don’t always run on time but the tour is worth any potential delays.

An organised tour to Hornstrandir is a great way to explore some of the best activities the reserve has to offer in just one day, without having to worry about the logistics and making your own arrangements. 

When to Visit Hornstrandir

Most ferries and tours to Hornstrandir only operate for a few months of the year, typically from late June to early September (although it is not unusual for trips at the end of the season to be cancelled due to bad weather.) As the peninsula lies on the tip of Northern Iceland, it can be extremely cold in the depths of winter and heavy snowfall makes travel virtually impossible, not to mention unsafe. 

Hiking in Hornstrandir

The most popular activity in Hornstrandir is hiking, and given the fantastic trails available - it’s no surprise. Whether you want to explore the snow-capped mountains, spot the Arctic Fox or trek along the rugged cliffs on the coastline, there’s guaranteed to be a route available that piques your interest in Iceland’s ‘hikers paradise’.

Hikers on a cliff edge, overlooking the sea

Tips When Hiking In The Nature Reserve

Before you head off on a trek around the reserve, there are a few things to remember:

  • Wild camping is prohibited on the nature reserve, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with the designated campsites and plan your routes around where you will be able to stay overnight. 

  • You’ll need a detailed map, compass, and GPS to safely navigate the routes around Hornstrandir.

  • It’s not unheard of for polar bears to arrive in Hornstrandir on ice drifts from Greenland. If you spot a polar bear you should maintain your distance from the animal and report its presence as soon as possible. 

  • There are several emergency shelters that should only be used in the case of severe storms, illness or other extreme circumstances. Should you find yourself needing to seek haven within one of these, please leave it as you found it and complete the guest book with your name and itinerary. 

  • Bring more food and necessities than you think you’ll need to cover the possibility of unforeseen delays. There are no shops or facilities on the reserve to purchase anything additional. 

  • Weatherproof clothing with warm, thermal layers underneath is key to an enjoyable hiking trip in Hornstrandir. Solid, waterproof hiking boots will offer comfort and support.

  • Although hiking in Hornstrandir is popular, don’t be fooled into thinking that means there’ll be lots of people around. You can sometimes go hours, if not days without passing another group of explorers. 

Westfjords’ Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is Iceland in its most pristine form. Arctic foxes, field mice, and puffins, to name a few, inhabit its expansive tundra fields and ice-covered cliffs. Farms and cottages are among the few buildings found on this reserve offering visitors complete solitude and tranquillity on their Icelandic escape. 

The Fosshotel Westfjords is a great place to begin your Westfjords adventure. Enjoy a good rest in the comfortable rooms and savour some Icelandic delicacies at the hotel restaurant, before taking the journey of a lifetime to Hornstrandir.