jostedalsbreen national park

best day hikes and trails


 
Eggjenibba mountain Norway
The Eggjenibba reflected in a small lake near the village of Skei, in central Norway. A trail leads to the top of the peak, just outside Jostedalsbreen National Park.
 

Jostedalsbreen hiking

Jostedalsbreen National Park, in the Sognefjord region of central Norway, is home to continental Europe's largest ice sheet - the Jostedal glacier - which spills over from a high plateau into a succession of dramatic lake-filled valleys and fjords. Although Jostedalsbreen is a popular tourist destination (you'll see plenty of tour buses at the best-known spots) the hiking trails in the region, which given the forbidding topography tend to be steep and stenuous, don't seem to be well-known outside Norway. This page, based on a brief summer visit, summarizes a few good day hikes within the park.

 

Climbing the Skala

Trailhead: The trail starts a few km East of Loen, following the road along the Lovatnet. The signed parking area is to the right (lake) side of the road - the trail starts along a track on the opposite side. There's a small fee for parking.

The Skala is not, by most standards, much of a mountain - it stands just 1843m (about 6000 feet) tall. The hike though starts within sight of the Nordfjord, i.e. at sea level, so bagging the summit requires more vertical ascent than most of the 4000+ meter peaks in the Rockies! As compensation for the steep, strenuous trail the route leads into wild country with great views along the Nordfjord and out across a sea of surrounding peaks. If you reach the top (my brother and I didn't succeed in this) there's a mountain hut where you can spend the night and catch sunrise over the Jostedal ice sheet.

 
Lovatnet valley, Jostedalsbreen
Storm clouds over the Lovatnet valley, at the edge of Jostedalsbreen National Park. This view is obtained at the start of the trail up the Skala.

 

The hike starts just outside the rather touristy town of Loen, and climbs steeply toward a hanging valley to the north of the peak. Looking back along the trail (initially a rough road) there are good views of glaciers at the end of the Lovatnet valley. About half way up the trail passes by a fine waterfall, and thereafter follows the Fosdola closely. Although pleasant, this first part of the hike is mostly within the trees and chiefly notable for hard labor.

 
The Skala, Norway
The panoramic view from high on the Skala. "Early" in the season (this was early July) expect to cross extensive snow slopes.
 

 

Above treeline, the trail enters the upper valley of the Fosdalen, crosses the river on a concrete bridge (still surrounded by snowbanks in early July!), and continues climbing steeply into a bowl between the Skala and the Vesleskala. An epic landscape unfolds on all sides, with great views of the rocky Skala, the lush steep-sided valley of the Fosdalen, and out along the Nordfjord. At about 1150m the trail reaches a small lake (visible, partly frozen, in the panorama above) nestled between the peaks. From here it's possible to make a short detour to the top of the Vesleskala (1238m), directly overlooking the Lovatnet. We continued on, but turned back in grim weather on the moderate snow slopes leading up to the col. In good weather, after the snow had melted, it would probably take 3 hours or so to reach the top. Even without reaching the summit, it was still a memorable day hike with great scenery.

 
Briksdalsbreen trail Norway
The river downstream from the Briksdalsbreen glacier
 

Briksdalsbreen

Trailhead: The trail leaves from the end of the road at Briksdalen, south of Olden along the Oldevatnet. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Jostedalsbreen and there's no way to miss it - there's a large tourist shop, restaurant and parking area at the end of the road. If crowds aren't your thing you'll want to do this hike very early or very late in the day...

 

The Briksdalsbreen is a spectacular glacial tongue, located at the end of the beautiful Oldevatnet valley whose scenery - glaciers, waterfalls and stark rock faces - is reminiscent of Yosemite valley. This is one of the most popular spots in the park, and during the day the optional hike (you can also take a buggy most of the way!) to the glacier is crowded with tourists. The trail passes an impressive waterfall en route to the lake below the glacier, and you can continue on to the face of the ice (the glacier is much thicker seen up close than it appears from long distance views). The scenery at the lake is barren (and, on the day we were there, it was very windy), but there are nice spots further back along the trail to have lunch away from the crowds and enjoy the scenery.

 
Briksdalsbreen, Norway
The tongue of the Briksdalsbreen spilling over from the ice sheet, from the end of the hiking trail
 

 

Another view of the glacier can be obtained by following an unmarked trail that takes off to the right shortly before the second crossing of the river. This route ascends the south wall of the valley (before it becomes a sheer cliff close to the Briksdalsbreen) and eventually leads to the edge of the ice sheet on the plateau above.

 

Storevatnet trail from Briksdalen

Trailhead: Conditions may have changed, but back in 2007 the start of the trail for this hike was not clearly marked. Follow the road along the Oldevatnet south of Olden almost to the end at Briksdalen. Just before the road crosses the river, continue straight ahead and park in the car park to the right where there's a campground. Continue on foot along the road (on the west side of the river) past the campsites - this soon reaches a gate and the start of the trail proper.

 
Briksdalbreen glacial tongue
The Briksdalsbreen from halfway up the trail that ascends the cliffs on the opposite side of the valley
 
Jostedalsbreen National Park
A wintery landscape on the edge of Jostedalsbreen National Park
 

 

This marked trail (look out for red "T"-markers spray painted onto rocks) ascends the cliffs at the west side of the valley, opposite the Briksdalsbreen, to reach a high valley between the Blafjellet and Hanekammen mountains. An impressive waterfall thunders down these cliffs, and from the road it seems almost inconceivable that a trail could reach the top. Obviously the trail-builders thought likewise, for the adventurous route is something of a poor-man's via ferrata, with chains, cables and footholds bolted into the rock to allow progress. From the valley floor, the trail climbs steeply through dense undergrowth to ascend the cliff south of the waterfall. On a wet day - and many days in Norway are wet - expect to get thoroughly drenched. About halfway up the trail switchbacks up a stone staircase behind a large flake of rock, from where there are spectacular views across to the Briksdalsbreen on the other side of the valley. Above the flake the obstacles start to tail off, but there's still plenty of climbing to do before the trail emerges from the trees into the upper valley.

 
Storevatnet trail Jostedalsbreen
The view from the trail as it passes behind a large flake of rock. I don't suffer from vertigo but this is still an airy spot!
 

 

The upper valley is filled with lakes (the largest is the Storevatnet a little above 1000m), backed by impressive rock walls. When we did this hike in early July the whole area was still covered in snow and ice. We ate lunch cowering from the driving sleet behind a large rock, but in better weather this would be a great place for a leisurely exploration. Eventually the trail emerges into the Stardalen valley near the small hamlet of Fonn, so it would be possible to do this hike as a shuttle - it's about an hour or so of driving between the two ends. We retreated the way we came, admiring great views of the Oldevatnet on the way down.

 

Other hiking possibilities in Jostedalsbreen

At the end of the Lovatnet a short walk leads to the Kjenndalsbreen. This is the least touristy of the easily visited glacial tongues, and the drive along the lake is very pretty. The Lovatnet has seen repeated tragedies when slabs of rock have fallen into the lake, creating massive waves that twice in the 20th century wiped out communities living along the shore. The scars left on the mountain by the repeated landslides are still clear.

 
Kjenndalsbreen glacial tongue
Blue ice at the face of the Kjenndalsbreen
 
Fonn Norway
The tiny village of Fonn
 

 

The map shows a marked trail ascending the Eggjenibba - the notably pointy peak shown in the photo at the top of this page. We didn't try this hike (the mountain looks impossibly steep for a trail from the valley floor!) but the views from the top must be outstanding.

Further afield, in the southern section of the park, the most interesting route looks to be an unmarked trail along the floor of the Stordalen valley to the tip of the Lodalsbreen. Two glaciers meet at this spot, and from the map and photos the valley looks spectacularly wild.

 

Practicalities

The first thing guidebooks to Norway often mention is that the country is regularly voted as boasting perhaps the best quality of life in the world. For the visitor, this means that a trip to Norway is pretty straightforward, one might even say boringly so - transport is easy, the standard of hotels is good, and more or less everything just works. Norwegians speak astoundingly good English (to such an extent that radio interviews with English speakers aren't always translated!) so getting around without Norwegian presents no problems either. Alas, the second thing guidebooks often mention is that Norway is expensive, and this is also true. Prices range from the merely high (hotel rooms, rental cars) to the eyewateringly exorbitant (restaurant meals, alcohol of any kind). Camping is very popular in Norway (in addition to official campgrounds, you see impromptu campsites in many rural areas) so for a visit on the cheap you might consider taking a tent and buying food in supermarkets.

 
Lovatnet valley, Jostedalsbreen
Looking down the valley from a trail in Jostedalsbreen
 

When to go and where to stay? It's quite a long drive on narrow roads between the "north" and "south" sides of the park, so if you plan to visit both you might consider two separate bases. All of the main hikes mentioned above are in the northern section, for which the best places to stay would probably be Loen or Olden. Stryn, which is a larger town with a few real restaurants outside the hotels, would also be a possibility. The most direct route to the park takes the E39 north from Bergen - it's about 6 hours of very scenic driving including one ferry crossing. We visited in early July, but that was really too early in the season - there was still a lot of snow on the trails above about 1000m. Late July or August would probably be the best times to visit.

Norwegian guidebooks to trails in the region are available locally, but we didn't find any good guide to hikes in English. The hiking map you'll need is published by Statens Kartverk (number 2229 in the Turkart series: Jostedalsbreen) - you can find this abroad in good map shops.

My brother has more Norway landscape photos, many taken on this trip.