When traveling east from Vik on Iceland’s Ring Road you will soon see a large and mysterious hill on your right rising dramatically from the black sand beach. This hill is actually an inselberg named Hjorleifshofdi. (An inselburg is an isolated hill or mountain rising abruptly from a plain.) The enigmatic place seemed to be beckoning my presence on my trip to Iceland in 2017, and after some research, I visited the area in 2018.
Hjorleifshofdi has a lot to offer the adventurer, including a nice hike to the top, a commanding 360 degree view of the south of Iceland, the Viking grave of one of Iceland’s first settlers and a cave in the shape of a favorite Star Wars character. And if you can believe this, some people claim Hjorleifshofdi is a favorite place to spot Iceland’s elusive elves.
Many people drive right past one of the most interesting and mysterious places on Iceland
There were just a few other people at Hjorleifshofdi at the time of my visit, which is surprising since Hjorleifshofdi is such an interesting and accessible destination. (That will soon change as more people learn about Hjorleifshofdi’s many charms.) For me, Hjorleifshofdi was one of the most fascinating places on my trip to Iceland, and I highly recommend a visit for anyone interested in history, hiking and adventure.
Location at Google Maps
View of Hjorleifshofdi from Ring Road.
Hjorleifshofdi is easily accessible and is just a short distance (less than a half mile) from Iceland’s Ring Road. The road to the inselberg is not paved, however it was more than sufficient for this summertime visit.
There is a parking area near the start of the trail that takes you to the top of Hjorleifshofdi.
These picnic benches are near the parking area (location marked with a red circle below).
I took the path straight up from the parking area (clockwise on the above map). Though the inselberg looks formidable, the path up is not as steep and scary as it looks.
The trail to the top follows a small valley up the hill.
About halfway up, after emerging from the valley, the area opens up and it’s a straight and gradual shot to the top.
There is a cairn-like structure at the top that is visible from afar. The structure was built by Danish surveyors in the first part of the 20th century.
The inselberg is named after the Nordic Viking Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, the brother-in-law of Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler in Iceland. Hjörleifur was killed on the inselberg by his Irish slaves in about 873 A.D. and his brother-in-law Ingólfr hunted down the slaves and killed them. Hjörleifur’s grave is located on the inselberg (at the top adjacent to the cairn) and is marked by a wood sign that says “here lies the Viking, Hjörleifur the second settler of Iceland Killed circa 873 A.D.”
Also at the top is a small family plot of former inhabitants. The remains of a farm can be seen below the peak of Hjorleifshofdi.
There is a guest book to sign at the top.
Hjorleifshofdi has commanding views of the entire area. This is Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Underneath the glacier is Katla Volcano, an active volcano with more than 20 eruptions in the last 1,000 years (with the last eruption in 1918). The black volcanic sand seen around Hjorleifshofdi was deposited by the volcano.
The black volcanic sand beach Mýrdalssandur. Star Wars fans may recognize the area from the opening scene of the Star Wars movie Rogue One (on the planet Eadu). See Rogue One Filming Location in Iceland.
At one time Hjorleifshofdi was an island off the coast of Iceland, however deposits of volcanic sand have surrounded the inselberg.
Be sure to check out “Yoda Cave” on your visit to Hjorleifshofdi. The cave is located at the base of the inselberg on the ocean side.