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Rafting through the Icelandic Highlands

Raft down the wild gorges of a remote glacial river in Iceland, relaxing at night in cozy backcountry huts.

Iceland’s Austari Jokulsa River is a world-class rafting destination. Famed for its steep gorges of whitewater, the “Beast of the East” cuts through Iceland’s rugged and beautiful interior highlands - an area not many tourists get to see. You’ll spend your nights in secluded backcountry huts with the opportunity to soak in natural hot springs. Your hassle-free trip includes:

  • 1 day traveling across the Sprengisandur highlands to the headwaters
  • 2 days rafting down the Austari Jokulsa River
  • 2 nights in backcountry huts
  • All meals and snacks
  • All rafting equipment (drysuit, booties, gloves, PFD, helmet)
  • Drybags to store your personal belonging
  • Professional, experienced rafting guides
  • Safety kayakers

Perfect for:
This tour is perfect for active travelers seeking a once-in-a-lifetime, adrenaline-pumping adventure in the remote Icelandic highlands.

  • Huts/refuges
  • —Hafgrimsstadir
  • Activity Type
    • 3 - River Rafting Expeditions
  • Groups up to 6
  • Features
    • cooking facilities
    • drying space


Day 1: Travel to the headwaters in Laugafell

You’ll meet your local guides at the rafting base in Hafgrimsstadir. There you’ll be fitted for your equipment, go over the plan, and set out in a super jeep to the headwaters of the Austari Jokulsa River.

The drive follows rough gravel roads deep into the forbidding Sprengisandur desert, fording several streams along the way.

You’ll arrive at the Laugarfell Hut in the afternoon, leaving plenty of time to soak in the nearby hot springs and marvel at the setting. Enjoy a good hearty meal cooked for you at the hut, and rest up for tomorrow’s adventure.

4 hours driving

Day 2: Rafting the Upper River

After breakfast and a hot coffee, you’ll drive 20 minutes to the river where you’ll review whitewater safety. Then hit the water and let the adventure begin!

The first hour you’ll enjoy easy floating on flat, milky water, and have time to run some paddling drills. Then you turn a corner and plunge into the first valley, spending the next 3 hours negotiating a “boulder garden” of obstacles. Pull out when the river mellows for lunch and a rest.

Return to the water for another steep section of rapids, then enjoy a final hour of easy paddling. You’ll pull out at the Hildarsell hut for the night. Relax with your companions and refuel with a big dinner.

Grade 3 - 4

Day 3: Rafting the Lower Gorge

After an easy hour on the water you’ll enter the famous Lower Gorge, a section of high-grade whitewater framed by 100m walls of volcanic rock. It’s a nonstop rush of standing waves and pool-drop rapids, guaranteed to get your heart pumping!

Pull out when the grade eases for a well-deserved lunch and rest, and the option of cliff jumping into the now gentle river. Continue on for the final relaxing stretch of water, ending in Hafgrimsstadir.

Celebrate with a soak in a hot tub and a barbecue dinner.

Grade 4+

Note: This itinerary and the duration of the activities are subject to change due to group abilities and preferences, weather conditions and forecasts, special events, etc.


You will stay at backcountry huts along the river. The Laugarfell Hut sleeps 28 people in shared rooms with bunk beds and is equipped with a kitchen, toilets, and a shared common room. There are improved natural hot springs just outside the door! The Hildarsell Hut is a secluded hut with basic facilities on the edge of the middle section of the river.


Iceland is a small but diverse island nation straddling the Arctic Circle. With just over 330,000 inhabitants, Iceland has a smaller population than most European cities. Almost two-thirds of the population live in and around Reykjavik, leaving the rest of the country very sparsely populated.

The near-roadless interior of Iceland is not often visited by tourists, but it is home to starkly beautiful scenery and Arctic wildlife. The Sprengisandur desert is a particularly harsh section of the highlands graced with views of the Askja and Herdubreid volcanoes, and the mighty Hofsjokull Glacier. The section of the river from Laugafell to Hafgrimsstadir runs 55km through black gorges of volcanic rock, and across flat, grassy plains with views in every direction.

Start point?
You will meet your guides at their raft base in Hafgrimsstadir. They will be in touch before the trip to finalise details.

Finish point?
Your trip will end at the raft base in Hafgrimsstadir. Your host will be in touch before the trip to finalise details.

Getting there and away?
Iceland’s international airport is located in Keflavik, about 45 minutes west of Reykjavik. Direct flights between mainland Europe and Iceland are frequent throughout the year. You can drive to Hafgrimsstadir from Reykjavik (4 hours) or from Akureyri (1.5 hours).


What extra costs are there?

The following are not included in the tour price:

  • Transportation to Hafgrimsstadir
  • Accommodation before and after the tour
  • Breakfast on Day 1
  • Travel insurance that covers whitewater rafting
  • Tips for your local guides

How fit do I need to be?

Despite the high grade of the rapids, your guides and safety kayakers will ensure that everyone stays safe, regardless of their skill level. Previous rafting experience is recommended but not required. A very good level of fitness and an enthusiasm for hard work is required.

Can I book on my own?

Sure can! A lot of people do, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

How big will the group be?

This trip is guaranteed to run, max groups size is 6.

Is there a minimum age?

Yes, participants need to be 18+ to take part.

What’s the weather like?

Despite the country’s name, summers in Iceland are surprisingly temperate courtesy of the warm North Atlantic and Gulf Stream currents. Temperatures in the interior average 2 to 10 °C through the summer. Weather conditions can be very changeable, though, so prepare to for all conditions every day, including wind and rain. Days are long, and though you can’t see the true “midnight sun” from mainland Iceland, there’s continuous daylight for two weeks in midsummer.

What’s the food like?

Icelandic food is largely based on seafood, lamb and dairy, though locally produced vegetable are becoming more common. Favourite dishes include roasted lamb, salmon fillets, skyr (yoghurt), blueberries, bread and pastries, and the very popular hot dog. Your guides will cook meals for you at the huts and prepare picnic lunches and snacks for your days on the river.

Can my dietary restrictions be accommodated?

Absolutely! Just let us know at booking.

What should I pack?

In Iceland there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing! For your time on land bring warm, comfortable layers, a waterproof jacket, hat and gloves, hiking shoes, and a swimsuit and towel. For rafting, bring multiple warm, lightweight layers made of wool, fleece, or synthetic fabric (no cotton), and multiple pairs of socks. Though your personal gear will be packed in drybags your host cannot guarantee the safety of your items on board the raft, so it is not recommended to bring valuables.