Hornstrandir Nature Reserve: The Complete Guide

Everything you need to know about navigating arctic fox territory.

Hornbjarg in Hornstrandir, Iceland
Ingeborg Klarenberg / Getty Images

If you want to get away from the crowds in Iceland, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is a fantastic destination. Not only is it one of the most remote places you can get in the country, it's also home to an abundant community of wildlife.

Whether you're looking to hike, bird watch, camp, or spot the elusive arctic fox, the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is worth the journey. If you want to take in all the area has to offer, try and plan your trip during the warmer summer months. There will be less of a chance than snow storms will thwart your plans and the roads will be easier to navigate.

Ahead you'll find everything you need to know about getting to the nature reserve and planning your trip.

History

Since 1975, the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve has been giving locals and tourists a place to take in some of the Westfjords' most beautiful sights. All in all, the park spans 220 square miles. Historically, those who has lived in the region have been fishermen and hunters. The terrain is rough and doesn't provide a nurturing soil for farming. The first homes in the area were few and far between and for this reason, it became an area for people looking to get out of the country to flee to and attempt to stowaway on boats.

Today, you'll find a haven of fields, flowers, and free-roaming wildlife. But even the wildlife has changed a bit throughout history—years ago, it wouldn't have been totally out of the question to see a lost polar bear who floated over from other nearby Arctic waters.

Location

The nature reserve is located in the Westfjords, a scenic region in Iceland that's characterized by cliffs, black sand beaches, and fjords. To the south of the reserve, you can spot Drangajökull. The reserve is also bordered by two notable fjords: Hrafnfjörður and Furufjörður.

How to Get There

Renting a car and driving is the easiest way to access the nature reserve, but there are tour operators that will take you there if you don't have a car on-hand. Wherever you're traveling from, you're going to want to get to Ísafjördur. If you're traveling from Reykjavik, you'll pass through Hólmavík. Plan on putting aside five-and-a-half hours aside to get there. You can also drive from Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur and take the ferry Baldur to Brjánslækur. The area is home to whales passing through, so there's a chance your local wildlife spotting will start before you even get to the reserve.

Once you get to Ísafjördur, you will have to take a boat to arrive in Hornstrandir. As you can see, if can be quite expensive and timely to get to the nature reserve, so it's best to factor in extra days for exploring the Westfjords to make the most of your effort.

What to Do

There are no permanent residents or roads on the reserve, which creates a huge opportunity for spotting wildlife. Birds are aplenty, including puffins. One thing to note: If you are going to get close to the cliff sides, approach carefully. Puffins build their nests on the edge of cliffs and the ground can become unstable.

This area is also a known haunt of Iceland's most mysterious mammal: the arctic fox. They're incredibly hard to spot, but they prey on birds, making this a fruitful area to set up a home.

Camping is a popular activity for those who wish to spend a handful of days in the nature reserve. And if you plan on staying overnight, you'll have to camp — there are no hotels inside the reserve, let alone shops or restaurants. Make sure and plan ahead so you'll have everything you need if you plan on staying overnight.

Hike to Hornbjarg, the tallest point on the nature reserve, for truly incredible views.

The Best Time to Visit

You can only visit the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve during the summer months—May, June, July, August—due to the harsh climate during the winter. Only those with special permission will be able to visit the reserve during the winter months.

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