The Eggjenibba reflected in a small lake near the village of Skei. A trail
leads to the top of the peak, just outside Jostedalsbreen National Park.
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 the typically steep and strenuous
hiking trails in the park 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.
The Lovatnet valley, from the start of the trail up 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.
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 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
The river downstream from the Briksdalsbreen glacier
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, very windy, but there
are nice spots further back along the trail to have lunch away from the crowds
and enjoy the scenery.
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.
Epic view of the Briksdalbreen from halfway up the trail
A wintery landscape on the edge of Jostedalsbreen National Park
The Storevatnet hike is the most memorable of the Jostedalsbreen hikes we did,
not just because it's a good trail - though it is - but because of the variable and
at times downright miserable weather that we encountered. It was quite an adventure!
The 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 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 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.
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.
Blue ice at the face of the Kjenndalsbreen
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, where two
glaciers meet. Again I haven't done this hike, but from the map and
photos it looks worth checking out.
Since visiting Jostedalsbreen I've been back to Norway a couple of times -
including a memorable trip to the Lofoten Islands and an even better hike in
Rago National Park -
and the first thing to say is that a trip to Norway is pretty straightforward.
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. Prices are generally high,
though some things (hotel rooms, rental cars) are merely expensive while others
(restaurant meals, alcohol of any kind) are worse! 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.
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.