The Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur Hike – Iceland
If you are looking for a fantastic hike through some of the best landscapes Landmannalaugar offers, look no further; the Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur hike in Landmannalaugar should be at the top of your list. Colourful Rhyolite mountains, Canyons and epic views.
One of the many epic views along the Skalli trail.
Although the official trail is just the one to Skalli, which is already amazing enough, there is another detour along the way; that detour leads to Uppgönguhryggur. I’d highly recommend you’d take it. And, you may ask, what is Uppgönguhryggur anyway, and why should you care anyway?
First of all, it’s a rock formation, a ridge. Uppgönguhryggur literally means “ascending ridge”. Second of all, it’s beautiful. After all, this is Landmannalaugar, and all the rocks are beautiful there :). Third of all, it is “hikeable” as the trail that leads down to Jokulgilskvisl crosses it.
But enough of that, here it is:
While it is a beautiful rock formation, I can also safely say that no photos can do it justice. The size and the shape of the ridge are something that needs to be seen live. It’s like an abstract sculpture, and one feels like being in some “open-air” abstract sculpture museum. So yes, I’d highly recommend the detour if you ask me. Here below, you can find out all the details.
Table of Contents
That rounded mountain top is Skalli’s summit. You can see a bit of the trail on the left-hand side.
How to get to Skalli, Landmannalaugar
Skalli is a mountain in the Fjallabak Nature reserve in the central highlands of Iceland, translating into “this is a remote location”. The summit can be reached directly from the Landmannalaugar campground.
- Driving Directions: This Hike is only possible in Summer as the F roads leading to Landmannalaugar are only open from June/late June until mid/late September. If you are driving, a 4WD is required. It is advisable to take the F208 North to Landmannalaugar as there are no river crossings until you get to the camping ground. Also, this is suitable for smaller 4WD cars, like a Dacia Duster or a Suzuki Jimny. If you are looking for car rental options, I can definitely recommend Blue Car Rental for cars and CampEasy for Camper Vans.
- Parking: You can leave the car in the parking lot by the river. A small pedestrian bridge will allow you to cross the river from there. However, you should only attempt to get to Landmannalaugar via other F Roads (like the F208 south) with larger 4WD as the river crossings are unsuitable for a small 4WD car.
- Public Transport: no public transport is available, but a few companies offer transport services like Trex – Travel Experiences or Reykjavik Excursions.
If you are wondering whether you can do Skalli as a day hike, the answer is: yes, you should be able to. I met other photographers on the trail that came with the scheduled bus and left the same day. However, I say you “should” be able to because it is a bit of a tight schedule. Therefore, you should attempt it only if you know you can complete such a long hike within the arrival and departure of the bus.
Tip: there may be snow on the trail early in the season, so it may take longer to complete the loop. Ask the warden about the conditions of the trails before setting off.
The classic, beautiful Rhyolite mountains of Landmannalaugar
The Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur Hiking trail
The Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur Hike is a loop hike, so you can do it either way. My first tip here is whichever direction you decide to hike, make sure you turn back often to look at the landscape behind you! You want to ensure you get all of it on this trail:). I opted to do it counterclockwise, so this is the hike I will describe here. I preferred to visit Uppgönguhryggur first and then continue to explore the rest of the trail.
But let’s get back to the trail. Initially, the trail follows the Jokulgilskvisl river upstream and slowly starts to gain elevation from there. You’ll first approach Skalli, the mountain on your right. You can’t miss it because Skalli is the highest mountain in the surrounding.
Before reaching the trail to the summit, you will see a sign with “Hattver” written on it. Follow it to get to Uppgönguhryggur. Within 10/15 minutes, you should be able to see it. Then, you can cross that beautiful ridge and descent on the other side into Jokulgilskvisl. You can also explore the area a bit, which I did before going back up Uppgönguhryggur and on the Skalli trail.
The trail passes through some very fine landscapes right from the beginning.
The trail with Skalli in the background.
The beautiful Landmannalaugar mountains on a foggy morning.
The trail on the side of Skalli.
Follow this to get to Uppgönguhryggur.
Soon enough, you should get the first glimpse of Uppgönguhryggur.
The Jökulgilskvísl canyon is also a great area to explore a bit.
Waterfall in the Jökulgilskvísl Canyon.
Skalli’s summit I on another detour from the main trail, where the deviation for Hattver is. It is another 10/15 minutes to Skalli’s summit from that deviation. Then you need to go back to the main trail, which loops back into the main camp, passing through some more amazing landscapes, with great views of Bláhnúkur and Brennisteinsalda.
Finally, the trail crosses Laugahraun and goes into Graenagil before closing the loop by the campsite. You know what time is it back to the camp, right? Hot pool time! Seriously I spent almost two hours in the pool after this hike. A perfect ending for such a great hike!
Views of the snowy mountains surrounding the Skalli trail.
Hiker looking at the landscape.
Bláhnúkur and two hikers crossing a ridge. Can you see them?
Brennisteinsalda, toward the end of the hike.
Photos and Photography tips for Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur
First of all: make sure you have a telephoto lens with you. I always say this when talking about Photography in Landmannalaugar. A telephoto lens will open up endless compositional possibilities in terms of isolating details farther away and finding abstract compositions. Most of the shots below are in the 70-200mm range.
The landscape here is unique and even more so in the ever-changing light of the highlands of Iceland. This is a very long hike, but time will fly. Compulsive shooting will set in early in the hike.
I have never found much use for an ultrawide angle lens in Landmannalaugar. Anything between 24-200 should be more than enough. Though, I sometimes wished I had more reach than 200 mm. For instance, on Skalli’s summit, everything seems so small and far away that I wished I had more reach. Still, the views from there are superb.
One recommendation for Uppgönguhryggur If you want good sidelight, I’d recommend going in the later afternoon or evening.
Lastly, it is only allowed to fly drones in any of the Icelandic nature reserves with a permit. So if you are planning on using one, make sure you apply for a permit (which is rather costly).
Detail of Uppgönguhryggur.
Uppgönguhryggur from the trail.
Detail of the colourful mountains across the Jökulgilskvísl river.
The Jökulgilskvísl river and the landscape around it.
200mm photo of the landscape from Skalli’s summit.
Snow-capped mountain visible from the Skalli trail.
Abstract photo of the rocky ground on top of Skalli.
Yet another 200mm shot of the landscape along the Skalli trail. Shot at 200mm
Rivers and mountains mixing in the vast expanses of the Icelandic Highlands. 200mm shot.
The ever-changing light and the clouds always play a big role in changing the way the landscape appears.
The vast, snowy landscape to the south of the Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur trail.
Some beautifully shaped and colourful mountains along the trail.
Video of the Hike
Here is a video of this beautiful hike. Nothing fancy, just some music, the trails and the landscape around it:
Map of the Skalli and Uppgönguhryggur Hike in Landmannalaugar
Here is the map of the Hike. If you need a GPS track, you can download the .GPX file from the Komoot activity.
Where to Stay
The Camping Ground is the most obvious choice if you have a tent. At the time of writing (2023), the cost is 2,500 ISK per person per night. This includes a QR code for a 5-minute warm shower. Also, there is a hut where up to 78 guests can be accommodated in dorm rooms. If you have a camper van, sleeping in the parking lot is okay, but you would have to pay to use the hut’s facilities.
Car or Camper Van Rentals
I can definitely recommend two companies here:
- Cars: Blue Car Rental, which is the largest Car rental company in Iceland, and for good reasons. Free Cancellation, Unlimited mileage, 24-hour break assistance, SCDW, CDW, TP, and GP insurance are included in the price. Blue Car Rental is also located within walking distance of the Keflavik Airport, so you can be on your way to explore Iceland right away. I’ve always been happy with my rentals there, which is why I’m happy to recommend their services here on my blog.
- Camper Vans: CampEasy. With CampEasy, you can rent 2WD or 4×4 campers alike. With a raised Chassis, larger tires, and extra insurance with reduced liability for river crossing, their 4X4 campers are the best choice for your trip into the Highlands. Their Website also provides extensive information about roads you can take and instructions on river crossings. Perfect choice for a hiking holiday in the highlands!
These are my two favorite companies in each respective rental area, which I why I am happy to recommend both here. If you also like this blog, booking through them is a great way to support it. I’ll get a small commission fee at no additional cost, so you can essentially support the running costs of this blog for free too.
Got a question or your own experience to share? Let us know in the comments below!