Hornstandir Nature Reserve is an incredibly beautiful place, located in the north part of the Westfjords. Its untouched nature and outrageous history are making this place unique in Iceland. Hornstandir is home to approximately 260 plant species, some of them being native in the area, and for some native mammals like the arctic fox and the field mice.
The Hornstandir area was established as a nature reserve in 1975 and covers a total area of 580 km² full of tundra, flowering fields, cliffs, and…ice because we are in Iceland, right?
The history of the area is outrageous as you will wonder how people could live in such a remote area. But because the area is so isolated even for the whole region of Westfjords, its history is quite distinct from the rest of the country.
The main activities of the people who lived there were fishing and hunting. These activities were the only ones that provided them with food since the land could not be cultivated because of the rocks and high cliffs. They were hunting birds, as there were a lot of birds nesting during the summer. But the food was not the only struggle for people living there. The distances between the houses were considerable and during the wintertime, it was hard to travel from a farm to another. That made life in Hornstandir being lonely and difficult.
Back in time, in the Hornstandir area, there were polar bears that end up in Iceland after they came on floating ice blocks from Greenland. Nowadays there are no polar bears in Iceland, and the last time they can be found in Iceland was in the Mini Ice Age from the beginning of this millennium. Polar bears represented often a threat for people who traveled to Hornstandir to embark on the ships to travel abroad and start a new life.
Nowadays, the area is not populated by humans anymore. Since 1950 they left the area and there is no human presence excepting the occasional travelers. Leaving the area by the people meant that nature was untouched since then and lots of plants grew naturally. Also, there are no animals that could have grazed in the area so nature is quite untouched. As I mentioned above, the area is home to the arctic fox and field mice and for many bird species that come in the area. Nature there is following its cycle without other factors to change its course. There is also a hunting ban on the area so animals can live in peace.
Nature there is untouched for so many years so if you are traveling there make sure to let everything untouched. Be careful, the animals have no fear of humans but they are not dangerous. The area is accessible during summertime and only by hiking as there is no accessibility for motorized traffic. If you want to go hiking there to explore the area and want to stay overnight then you will need to bring a tent, food, water, warm clothing, sturdy hiking boots as there are no hotels or any kind of accommodations. There are organized tours in the area during the summertime (May, June, July, and sometimes August) and it is the only way you can access it. During the wintertime the area is closed for tourists and access is permitted only in exceptional cases.
Hornstandir Nature Reserve is definitely worth seeing as nature there is untouched by human presence and we kindly ask you to let nature as you found it. Do not let garbage on the area you camp, do not take flowers or other plants, and just enjoy Mother Nature’s beauty. What we definitely recommend is to take a lot of pictures there, but do not put yourself in danger for a photo.