View of Gasadalur and its iconic waterfall from the air.
View of Gasadalur and its iconic waterfall from the air.

Located in the North Atlantic about halfway between Norway and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are like towering abraded emeralds jutting out of the sea. It may seem unexpected to compare a travel destination to a precious gem, but for the Faroe Islands it is fitting. With precipitous cliffs falling into the ocean, vast treeless expanses, abounding bird colonies, and unparalleled ocean views, my travel companion, Justin, and I had hit the jackpot.

Typical view from a campsite in the Faroe Islands.
Typical view from a campsite in the Faroe Islands.

Traveling in the Faroe Islands can be summarized with one statement: expect the unexpected. With 18 islands, unpredictable maritime weather, countless sheep, and numerous winding one lane roads every day holds something new. In our 11 days, we had a cancelled helicopter flight, close encounter with a bus on a steep one lane mountain switch back road (in a manual car!), and much more. However, this unpredictably only added to the trip.

Enjoying a helicopter ride. There is helicopter and ferry service to islands not connected by a tunnel.
Enjoying a helicopter ride. There is helicopter and ferry service to islands not connected by a tunnel.

During our stay, we enjoyed countless stunning hikes. However, the clear highlight was joining the guide Pól Sundskarð and his assistant Olaf for two hikes. Pól is infamous for his hiking feats in the Faroe Islands—in 2015 him and his wife became the first couple to summit all 340 peaks in the Faroe Islands. Hiking without a guide is easily possible here, but even with off trail experience, Justin and I agreed that we could not have gone on hikes of the same caliber without Pól.

Guide Pól. A highly recommended addition to any hiking vacation in the Faroe Islands.
Guide Pól. A highly recommended addition to any hiking vacation in the Faroe Islands.

First Guided Hike: Kalsoy

Getting to the start of this hike was an adventure. Step one take a car ferry. Step two navigate a tiny, unlit one way tunnel and turn off into an obscure even tinier tunnel. Needless to say, I was relieved that our guide was the one doing the driving.

Start of the hike on Kalsoy. If you look carefully you can see the entrance to one of the tunnels.
Start of the hike on Kalsoy. If you look carefully you can see the entrance to one of the tunnels.

This hike started off as most do in the Faroe Islands—grassy and with a steep incline. The steepness reminded me of trails in the northeast United States, except with soft grass instead of knee jarring rocks. After this brisk and calf burning climb we summited 2 peaks—one just over 1,800 feet and the second just over 2,500 feet. The views from both summits were stunning, but with no trees the views while hiking could only be described in levels of stunning.

Katie near the cliff’s edge.
Katie near the cliff’s edge.

And then came the best part—threading across a steep hill directly above a cliff using a sheep trail. I will admit, looking at this section from a distance I approached it with some trepidation. Hiking primarily in the northeastern United States, I do not get this type of exposure frequently. But once we were hiking across it wasn’t bad at all.

Can you spot the hikers? Treading carefully on a sheep trail above a cliff.
Can you spot the hikers? Treading carefully on a sheep trail above a cliff.

All the hard hiking done, we finished with a lighthouse and statue of the Seal Woman. I encourage everyone to read the story behind this statue at this address: http://old.visitfaroeislands.com/en/be-inspired/in-depth-articles/legend-of-kopakonan-(seal-woman)/

Statue of the Kópakonan (Seal Woman) in Mikladalur.

Total distance hiked: 6.6 miles

Second Guided Hike: Saksun

Justin and I had previously hiked the beginning portion of this route, but short on time we had to turn around at the top of the first ridge. We were excited to get back, sure that Pól would outshine the route we would have followed.

Guide Pól takes in the view.

After cresting the ridge Justin and I had previously hiked, we made a beeline for the peaks—5 in total all around 2,000 feet tall. However, getting to these peaks was easier said than done. This was the territory of the skua, a ground nesting bird. As would be expected these birds aggressively protect their nests—dive bombing anyone that gets too close. However, luckily Justin and I had learned a trick from a young Danish traveler earlier in our trip: hold a hiking pole above your head. Since skuas go for the highest part of your body they are easily tricked into going for the pole instead of you.

Katie uses a hiking pole to hold off the skuas.
Katie uses a hiking pole to hold off the skuas.

During this hike Justin came up with a nickname for hiking in the Faroe Islands: grass mountaineering. Where we had thought the inclines were steep on the previous day’s hike, they seemed even steeper today. We both wished we had brought hiking shoes with more support—we almost felt like we were hiking on the sides of our feet side hilling on the steep inclines in trail runners.

Total distance hiked: 13.7 miles

How to make a trip to the Faroe Islands happen

  • Getting there: Atlantic Airways is the only airline that flies to the Faroe Islands. You can connect in through numerous European cities. I chose to fly in through Iceland and Justin through Scotland. Alternatively, if you have more times ferries are also available.
  • Camping: Camping information can be found at https://www.visitfaroeislands.com/plan-your-stay/accommodation/camping/ Isobutane fuel is commonly available. However, as most campsites have kitchens, we got by fine without purchasing it.
  • Hiking information: There is lengthy guide to hiking available at https://www.visitfaroeislands.com/see-do/hiking/ Furthermore, I would highly recommend visiting Pól’s website at https://hiking.fo/?_l=en You can also visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/hikingfo/.
  • Car rental: Automatic cars are rare and expensive—it is worth having someone along that can drive a manual transmission. Additionally, reserve early as cars book up quickly. We rented from Avis and were happy with the service.
  • Bus service: A public bus service is available, but as we only used this briefly once I cannot offer much information.
    Getting from island to island: The main islands are connected by tunnel. Some tunnels are one lane (with pull offs for oncoming traffic without the right of way). Most islands without tunnels are either connected by ferry and/ or helicopter.
Justin LaFrance
Justin LaFrance

About Justin LaFrance

Captivated by travel and adventure since childhood, Justin LaFrance has travelled to over 40 countries and all of the continents.  Justin, who hails from Canada, is attracted to off-the-beaten-path locations and the resulting authentic travel experience.  Favorite outdoor activities include trekking, biking, and mountaineering.  You can visit his travel blog at www.eatingsnow.ca.

About Katie Smith

Katie Smith has been hiking since she could walk.  While the difficulty of the hikes has increased, the curiosity to discover what is around the next bend continues to drive her.  Currently living in the Boston area, Katie most frequently hikes in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

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