Culture and history

Ancient Use

There are few sources regarding habitation within the nature reserve, as the land there is not suitable for traditional farming. According to folklore, Torfi Jónsson from Klofi fled there along with his gang and stayed in Jökulgil while the second plague raged in the 14th century, and Torfajökull is named after him.

Rev. Jón Torfason, a priest in Stóruvellir writes about Landmannaréttur in his 1841 report on the parish. He writes about resources that were available in these deserts and highlands at the time, such as Iceland moss, roots, trout fishing and whooper swan hunting. From his words, we can deduce that in his time, these resources were less utilized than in previous centuries.

Grazing and Herding

Mountain rides in Landmannarétt have always been an adventurous and hazardous undertaking. The landscape could be menacing, with alternating wasteland sands and lava fields, and unpredictable weather. In addition, there were people’s fears of the unknown in the wilderness, such as hidden people, trolls and outlaws. Shepherds didn't search for sheep in Jökulgil until 1850, for fear of outlaws. The most common stopover places for hikers in the nature reserve are Landmannahellir and Landmannalaugar. It’s said that the cave can fit 70 horses, and the small hut that was built underneath the rock can fit four people. People also slept in tents around the cave, and in 1907, the first shelter was built in Landmannahellir.

Landmannalaugar has long been a sort of sanctuary for hikers. It was so grassy that 30 horses could graze for two to three days, and the pool-coffee, made with water from a warm stream, was thought to have excellent taste and even healing properties. The stacked hut by the stream in Laugar is considered very old and fits three people.


 Old, protected cairns are found in many places in the nature reserve, and a few of them have been recorded by the Cultural Heritage Protection Agency in Iceland. The longest marked trail in Fjallabak is Landmannaleið, which lies from Galtalækur in Landsveit to Svartárnúpur in Skaftártunga. The trail marking began around 1895 and was mostly finished by 1907. There were 798 cairns in total, and many of them are still standing today. The cairns were numbered from east to west, and the cairn by the old shelter in Landmannahellir was number 522.