02 Feb Hiking and Puffins in Iceland at the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs
Ever since I was very young, I have been slightly obsessed with puffins. I had an adorable stuffed puffin, which sent this bird to the top of my favorite animal list. Well, that obsession never faded, so I was on a mission to find puffins on our first visit to Iceland a few years ago. We ended up failing miserably on that first trip, but I resolved to correct it on our return visit this past summer.
There are around 10 million puffins in Iceland between mid-May and September, so if you are in the right spots, such as the Westman Islands or Latrabjarg, there is a decent chance that you will spot some puffins.
When we made plans to visit the Westfjords, we put the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs on our itinerary and crossed our fingers that we would see puffins! These cliffs are one of the most western points in Europe and they also happen to be the largest bird cliffs in Europe. The 440 meter high cliffs are home to a dizzying amount of birds—the main attraction is a large colony of puffins but you can also find birds such as razorbills, arctic terns, snipes, snow buntings, white-tailed eagles and the list goes on.
On the second day of our Happy Campers road trip with Evan and Hilary, we drove the bumpy gravel road out to the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs. The road is 36 km long and there are no gas stations nearby, so be sure to fill up on gas before you head out on your adventure.
We arrived at the cliffs to find a fairly full parking lot but not a lot of people in sight. After a quick picnic lunch, we set out on a hike along the cliff’s edge and kept our eyes open for the iconic bright orange beaks and feet that make puffins so adorable and easy to distinguish.
The dirt trail led us along a 14 km path near the edge of the cliff. We could see thousands of birds swooping in and out of their homes that were built into the side of the cliffs, and Evan and Hilary spotted an elusive Arctic Fox, but we couldn’t seem to find any puffins. The further we walked, the more discouraged I became.
We weren’t planning on hiking the entire 14 km trail, so eventually, we decided that we needed to turn around and head back towards the car. Even though we weren’t finding puffins, we decided to make the best of it and soak up the gorgeous landscapes surrounding us. The lush green grass, rocky cliffs and wild ocean created a scene that was beyond stunning.
Once we made it back to the car, Evan decided to go for a little walk to the lighthouse near the parking lot. Just as I was trying to come to terms with not seeing any puffins, Evan came back and announced that he spotted some on his walk. I was beyond excited and we rushed over to the section of cliffs that we had previously overlooked.
These cliffs have white lines drawn a few feet from the cliffs edge—you are not allowed to stand anywhere over the line, but you can lie down and peer over the edge. The reason for this is that the puffins build their homes by hollowing out a space under the edge of the cliff. If you stand on the weakened ground, there is a chance that you will fall through and become an unwelcome visitor in their home. Lying down flat over this area is fine though because your weight is distributed evenly which means you won’t fall through.
We got into position and waited. In mere seconds, a puffin popped out of its house and stared back at us. One by one, we watched the birds perch on the grass in front of their homes—I whispered excited screams each time another one decided to hang out right in front of us. I swear, these birds must have had a modeling contract; they were quite the crowd pleasers.
After 45 minutes or so of bird watching, we finally pulled ourselves away. I didn’t want to leave, but I was happy to have finally fulfilled one of my childhood dreams of seeing a puffin in the wild. It was one of my favorite days of the entire trip and we would definitely recommend stopping at the Latrabjard Bird Cliffs if you are in the Westfjords!
Trail Information & Tips:
Distance: 14 km (8.7 miles), but to see the Puffins try checking the cliffs that are just a short walk away from the parking lot.
GPS Points: N65° 30′ 8.760″ W24° 31′ 46.749″
- Don’t get too close to the edge of the cliff because the rocks can be fragile and might break away.
- Be sure to stay behind the white lines along the edge of the cliff so you don’t fall into a puffin’s house!
- Don’t be disruptive when observing the puffins. Keep your distance and leave no trace.
- Remember to get gas prior to heading to the cliffs as there are no gas stations nearby.
- It’s also a good idea to pack snacks as there are no restaurants around the area.
- We couldn’t find bathrooms nearby, so be aware that you might not find any either.