Aurland,  Destinations,  Outdoor Activities,  Things to do

Aurlandsdalen Valley – Complete Hiking Guide

Norway has a diverse range of landscapes to explore, with everything from fjords to rivers, waterfalls to mountains, and glaciers to lakes. This extraordinary variation in terrain makes it perfect for hiking, and so Norway has become a haven for outdoor enthusiasts through the year. The Aurlandsdalen Valley is one of the hikes Norwegians and tourists alike have on their bucket list. As a result, I am quite proud to tell people that I grew up here and that I have this hike in my back yard!

The Aurlandsdalen hike is not just rewarding in terms of scenery but it is also one of Norway’s best hikes – no lie! In fact, Aurlandsdalen Valley (or just Aurlandsdalen, as “dalen” is Norwegian for Valley) is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Norway, so there.

The well-known hiking trail through the valley was once the main route connecting the western and eastern parts of Norway. The area is wild, rich in plant and animal life, overflowing with historical and cultural treasures, and is full of untouched beauty. Add to that the stunning geological features across the entire trail that give you plenty of chances to soak up the Norwegian nature, including deep canyons, steep gorges, rugged mountain formations, roaring waterfalls, and old farms.

Hiking Aurlandsdalen is one of the most popular things to do in Aurland. For more ideas for your trip there, head this way to my complete village guide.

couple on the aurlandsdalen hike
Photo: Trond Giæver Myhre

Aurlandsdalen Valley – Hike information

The complete Aurlandsdalen Valley hike is about 50 kilometres long. It starts from Finse, a small mountain village located in Ulvik municipality, and ends at Vassbygdi, located in Vestland county (and in the Aurland municipality where I grew up).

The trail follows this route: Finse – Geiterygghytta – Steinbergdalen (also known as Stemmerdalen) – Østerbø (or Osterbo, if you like) – Vassbygdi. This path covers the full length of the Aurlandsdalen Valley and requires three to four days of walking to complete the hike. The hike opens up only in July after the snow has sufficiently melted in the upper section.

Of course, if you only want to hike from Østerbø to Vassbygdi, which is still considered as hiking Aurlandsdalen, this can be done in a day. Most visitors to the area opt for this part of the hike, in order to find time for the other activities by the fjord.

Head this way to read my complete guide to the villages along the Aurlandsfjord.

While the complete Aurlandsdalen hike is considered hard in difficulty level, the last part of the hike is considered easy to moderate in difficulty level. It opens up by the end of May. This shorter route of 20 kilometres can be easily covered in a day (takes about 6 hours), and you won’t lose out on any of the spectacular scenery on the hike by doing just this bit. This trail is quite popular among trekkers and is often considered one of the best day activities from Flam.

Whichever route you choose, longer or shorter, the major part of the hike is a descent through the Aurlandsdalen valley and runs parallel to the Aurland River. If steep climbing is your thing, you can follow the route in reverse and start the hike from Vassbygdi (note that this will take you longer than the time stipulated in this hiking guide, unless you are Superman).

Complete Hiking Guide to Aurlandsdalen

As mentioned, I have compiled a 4-day hiking guide to the Aurlandsdalen Valley. Each section of this hike is also suitable as a single day tour. If you plan to do the shorter day trek from Østerbo to Vassbygdi, simply skip to Day 4! As the final stretch from Østerbø to Vassbygdi is the most common, and what most people think about when they plan on hiking Aurlandsdalen, this is the most detailed. I still thought I’d include days 1-3 briefly, to give you an idea of the full hike!

Side note: most hikers opting for the complete hike of Aurlandsdalen combine Day 2 and 3. You can chalk out your day-wise halts as per your pace and schedule, so do make your own judgments here.

Day 1: Finse to Geiterygghytta

  • Season: from July
  • Total distance: 8 kilometers
  • Total time: 5-6 hours

If you decide to do the full hike when hiking Aurlandsdalen, you will start from Finse in Western Norway. Right from the railway station at Finse, you will see Finsevatnet Lake and Hardanger glacier (“Hardangerjøkulen”, the sixth largest glacier in Norway). As you cross the railway line, you come across large red T signs that mark the entire Aurlandsdalen hiking trail.

Please note: hikes in Norway are usually marked with these red T’s, so remember to keep an eye out for them to stay on your trail. The T’s should always take precedence over written guides such as this one.

Starting with a relatively easy hike along the base of Jomfrunuten, you’ll soon cross the small suspension bridge over a river gorge.

The landscapes slowly start opening up as you start a steady climb northward to a peak named Sankt Pål. Walking further on the undulating rocky formations, you reach Klemsbu, a mountain cabin where you can rest for a while. When you reach Klemsbu, you will have climbed 400 height meters from Finse (and walked around 6 kilometres).

After crossing several lakes, the trail descends steeply towards Omnsvatnet Lake and again opens up in the flatlands at the head of Geiteryggvatnet Lake, near Bakkahelleren Pass. Some more climb, and you will see a wooden building in the distance. That’s Geiterygghytta mountain lodge, your home for the first night of the Aurlandsdalen Valley hike.

Book your stay at Geiterygghytta in advance here.

greenery in aurlandsdalen valley, norway
Photo: Trond Giæver Myhre

Day 2: Geiterygghytta to Steinbergdalen

  • Total distance: 10,2 kilometers
  • Total time: 3-4 hours

Please note that many locals also call Steinbergdalen “Stemmerdalen”. Hand on my heart, I don’t know which one is correct. I have grown up using and hearing both.

On day 2 of hiking Aurlandsdalen you will see yourself climbing the western slope of Sundhellerskarvet Peak. The trail levels out as you cross the Rossdalen Lake, and you cross a steady aluminium bridge across a rushing stream. You tread another ascent beneath the summit of Bølhovd Peak and descend again to find Breibakka River rushing down a ravine.

Crossing the small wooden bridge over a ravine, you enter the start of the Aurlandsdalen Valley. You will find large fells with grazing areas on both sides of the valley here. The path leads you down a ridge slope to Steinbergdalen (Stemmerdalen). Another warm lodge waits for you here for a night’s rest.

Book your stay at Steinbergdalshytta here.

Day 3: Steinbergdalen to Østerbø

  • Total distance: 10 kilometres
  • Total time: 4-5 hours

From Steinbergdalen, you slide your way up along the western slopes of Nosafjellet Peak. From a spot called Skoradn, you get a really good view of Øyestølsvatnet Lake down in the valley and beautiful vistas of the high pastures up the valley. The trail drops down steeply further ahead as you cross the river. After many small ascends and descends through the zigzag paths, you reach the grassy valley of Sauavaddalen near the Grøna River.

Sauavaddalen Valley is covered with colourful wildflowers where you can spend some time admiring the open landscapes. Crossing the old wooden bridge over the ferociously flowing Grøna River, you again ascend to reach an abandoned farm. Soon, you enter a forested area and steeply descend to find the Aurdalsvatnet Lake. Østerbø Fjellstove/lodge, your pitstop for the night, is located right beside the lake.

Book your stay at Østerbø here.

river in aurlandsdalen, aurland, norway
Photo: Trond Giæver Myhre

Day 4: Østerbø to Vassbygdi

  • Season: from the end of May
  • Total distance: 20 kilometres
  • Total time: 6-8 hours

The stretch between Østerbø and Vassbygdi is an extremely popular hiking trail in the Aurlandsdalen Valley. Most tourists/hikers (even if they would have had the four days to do the complete trek starting from Finse) choose this shorter route from Østerbø to experience the best part of the natural beauty the hiking trail has to offer.

The hike opens up in May and the hiking season lasts until October; hence it gives a broad 6-months period for interested hikers to make use of this trail.

From Østerbø/Osterbo, you follow the gravelled trail northwards to eventually join a pretty decent foot track. You will soon see Nesbøvatnet Lake in all its glory. After crossing the wide ledge down the rocky cliffs lining the lake’s edges, you reach the grass-roofed stone building of Nesbø farm. You can make a brief pitstop here and get to know how Norwegians lived and worked on remote summer farms up until the 1900s.

Fun fact: many Norwegian farmers still make use of their summer farms, called a “støl”. In Undredal, they keep their goats at the støl all summer, which might be why they make the best goat’s cheese in the world, in my opinion.

aurlandsdalen hiking trail over nesbøvatnet

A few kilometres from Nesbø Farm the trail splits and you will reach a junction. To the right is a steep ascend above the valley via Bjørnstigen and to the left is a slow descend along the Aurland River.

The route via Bjørnstigen offers fantastic views of the Aurlandsdalen Valley from a height. However, it is very steep, adds a few hours to your total hike time, and should be avoided if you are scared of heights or if it’s slippery because of rain. Likewise, if you are hiking early in the season, it might be more slippery due to the melting snows. So unless you are an avid hiker who aren’t scared of heights, opt for the “normal” route following the river.

If you choose to climb Bjørnstigen, you will join the main trail path a little later near Vetlahelvete.

If you continue the straight route from the junction, you go down the valley and walk near gorgeous green pools along the Aurland River. The trail winds up and down gradually where you tread next to the river most of the time. The track surrounded by dark walls keeps getting narrower and narrower, and you are offered incredible views of the valley.

Note that during times with a lot of heavy rain and snow melting, the river can get quite high. It is not unheard of that the river floods the trail. When this happens, make sure to use the roped hand railings along the rock wall.

Do not miss taking a detour further down the line to visit the Vetlahelvete. This is a giant cave filled with water and an opening in the ceiling. It’s just like a sinkhole where the sunlight creeps from above. It is the biggest glacial pothole in the Aurlandsdalen Valley, and hiking Aurlandsdalen isn’t complete with a quick swim in Vetlahelvete.

Want to know what Vetlahelvete means? It literally translates to “the small hell” or “little hell”. “Vetla” is the local dialect word for “small”, and “helvete” means “hell”. So now you know..

Back on the trail, you continue to climb and cross a wooden bridge over the Veiverdalselvi river. For tourists who aren’t used to the rivers and waterfalls of Norway, this is usually a fun experience (all thought it is a very short bridge). This is also a good place to stop and fill your water bottles.

Another few kilometres along the trail takes you to Sinjarheim, an abandoned farm perched on a ledge in the Aurland valley. Sinjarheim (pictured, left) is a popular place to stop and enjoy your lunch (hopefully you brought some with you).

almen farm, in aurland valley

After a quick descent from Sinjarheim, you come across lots of small waterfalls, including the twin falls of Grovselvi. The trail leads you to another abandoned hill farm named Almen, the last mountain farm in Aurlandsdalen before Vassbygdi. Almen (pictured, right) is interestingly enough protected from boulder attacks under a large rock.

A little further along, you reach the last leg of your journey into the forest, across huge boulder fields, and out onto the hamlet of Vassbygdi covered by rich greenery.

Aurlandsdalen hiking map

If you are looking for the Aurlandsdalen hiking map, you can see it below. This map covers the last part of the trail (day 4) from Østerbø to Vassbydgi. If you want more details, and the possibility to zoom in and out of the map, head to the link in the caption below.

aurlandsdalen hiking map, with marker and trail
Find a direct link to the map here, courtesy of Ut.no.

Hiking Aurlandsdalen: Tips & Tricks from a local

Below are some of my best tips and advice for a successful hike down the Aurland valley.

  • The entire trail of the Aurlandsdalen Valley hike is marked with big red T’s, which are easy to find. Follow these, and you do not have to fear getting lost.
  • The trail markers might get buried in patches of snow if you hike early in the season, making it difficult to follow the path. So make sure to be extra diligent when looking for them. And, remember that you if you get very lost, you just have to follow the river down to the fjord.
  • Even though the hike is rated moderately difficult, it can turn out to be a difficult hike for an inexperienced tourist (no offence, but I’ve seen a lot during my years of living by the fjords). Make sure that you are in good physical shape before your hike starts and that you have proper hiking shoes.
  • Save the hike for your sunniest day. You would not want to be drenched in the rain, skid on the slippery snow, or get dirty in the muddy puddles.
  • Carry a walking pole to relieve the stress on your knees. Lots of people do this, and there’s no shame in it.
  • No food is available throughout the hiking trail (except at the mountain lodges). Carry snacks. You can fill your water bottles from the flowing rivers, waterfalls, and streams. These are clean, and the water is safe to drink. I dare say Norway has the cleanest drinking water in the world (this is not a statistical fact, just my personal guess).
  • Needless to say, wear comfortable clothes and good trekking shoes. Do not forget to pack a lightweight windbreaker and a rain poncho, just in case.
  • The valley is a risk area for flooding and rock/landslides. So check at the cabin at Østerbø before you start your walk, to hear if they know of any warnings for the area. It is always good to speak to the locals before going on a hike, regardless 🙂

How to get to the start and end of the Aurlandsdalen hike

There is a bus service which is the easiest and most practical transport offered to the hikers of the Aurlandsdalen Valley (at least the final part of it). It runs on the route between Flåm, Aurland, Vassbygdi, and Østerbø. The bus schedule is planned based on the average time a hiker needs to trek the valley; hence there are few chances of you missing the return bus. It runs on all days during the hiking season, and can be booked here.

If you have your own car and need more flexibility, you can drive your vehicle to Østerbø and park there. After your hike completion, you can book a taxi from Vassbygdi to bring you back to your car. Alternatively, I might recommend that you drive to Vassbygdi, park the car there, and then hop on the bus to Østerbø. You can also hire a taxi and get dropped off at Østerbø. I like the latter option, as it lets you get in your car when you have finished your hike and not be dependent on public transportation.

The options mentioned above are possible if you plan to hike the shorter route from Østerbø to Vassbygdi. If you want to do the complete Aurlandsdalen Valley trek, you will have to reach Finse to start. For this, you can first take the Flåmsbana train from Flåm to Myrdal and then a quick 20-minute express train from Myrdal to the small station of Finse. Your trek starts as soon as you cross the rail line in Finse. Finse is also a stop on the train between Bergen to Oslo, meaning you can directly reach the starting point from either Bergen or Oslo, if you are starting your adventure in either of the cities. The train, whether you are starting in Flåm, Bergen or Oslo can be booked here.

Great hiking shoes for the Aurland valley hike

As mentioned in my hiking tips above, the right gear is very important, and especially good hiking shoes. If you don’t have any, make sure you invest in some proper hiking shoes before your trip to Norway. A quick Amazon search came up with the following results:

Accommodation options near the starting point of Aurlandsdalen

If you prefer to start early for the Aurlandsdalen Valley hike, you must stay as close as possible to the starting point. Østerbø Fjellstove is the mountain lodge at the start of the hiking trail and offers comfortable rooms and delicious meals to its guests.

You can also opt to stay in one of the closer hotels in Flåm or Aurland. Personally, I recommend having one of these villages as your base for your hike, and taking the bus up to Østerbø on the day you plan to do the hike.

The historic Fretheim hotel in Flam offers excellent hospitality. Hotel Aurlandsfjord in Aurland ensures you get the much-required rest before and after the hike by providing you with the utmost comfort during your stay. These two hotels also offer a hiking package that includes two nights stay, breakfast, dinner, and a packed lunch to take for hike.

As for the lodging options during the complete 3-4 day hike, there are mountain lodges in Geiterygghytta and Steinbergdalen. I have linked them all in the itinerary above.

Booking.com

Well, this hiking guide to hiking the Aurlandsdalen Valley was pretty lengthy, so thank you if you stuck around till the end! I hope this guide helps you in planning your hiking trip, and I sincerely hope you enjoy your hike through Aurlandsdalen.

Do you have any more questions about hiking Aurlandsdalen? Leave them in the comments section below, and I’ll do my best to help you with the latest information!

Read next: visiting the Stegastein viewpoint in Aurland, Norway

7 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *