Hiking tours making strides among Iceland's options

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NEW YORK -- Whether it be the popular walking or hiking tours, horseback riding, whale watching, mountain biking or even trips to Greenland, travelers interested in Iceland "are definitely focused on activity programs, rather than just the regular sightseeing," said Ingrid Shumway, president of Five Stars of Scandinavia in Gig Harbor, Wash.

Most travelers will combine two or three of the outdoor activities for diversity, added Stephanie Horton, president of Uniontours in New York, although she has seen such success with horseback riding tours that it will be the only feature activity for Iceland in her brochure this year.

As for other summer activities people request the most when traveling to Iceland, Horton said hiking is second to riding tours, followed by river rafting, whale-watching and mountain biking.

Hikers feel the ground rumble beneath their feet beside Iceland's Dettifoss waterfall. While river rafting might get everyone's heart beating the fastest, Jerry Norsman, president of the Nordic Co., Madison, Wis., said, "With everybody so focused on their health and cardiovascular programs, you can do hiking on your own pace," and therein lies its broad appeal.

Norsman said he believes that throughout the Scandinavian countries hiking is becoming an increasingly popular travel activity "because it's so adaptable to the levels of the person and their age."

"I compare it to cross-country skiing. You'll get your workout, but you can do it at your own level, and experience nature up close," he said.

Norsman said he had just put together for a petite, 75-year-old woman an FIT trip extension involving four days of light hiking in Norway, the most popular and typically challenging of Scandinavian hiking destinations.

Norsman said the senior woman, whose heritage is Norwegian, asked to see the countryside and glaciers at a pace that she could handle.

"She can't believe it," Norsman said. "She is going to extend four days from one of our groups to do some soft hiking in the Lillehammer area's valleys and trails."

Behind Norway, Norsman said that Iceland and Sweden are his most popular Scandinavian hiking destinations.

Although the Norwegian mountains can easily take hikers "from sea level to a glacier in a day," Norsman said, Iceland's topography gives hikers different elevations as well as an interesting "geological journey because of the lava fields, mountains and geothermal activity."

For travelers interested in seeing those sites as well as a hardy walk, the Nordic Co. is offering Hiking Highlights, a four-night program including four days of three to five hours of moderate hiking through sites including Pingvellir National Park and the Geysir Geothermal Area.

The cost is $2,250 per person, including air fare.

The company is offering guaranteed departures throughout the summer.

A land-only package with an identical hiking itinerary and similar name -- Hiking Highlights of Iceland: Landmannalaugar Trail -- is being offered for the first time this summer by Nordic Saga Tours, based in Seattle.

Nordic Saga's three-night package, with departures on July 13, 20 and 27 and Aug. 10 and 24, starts from $1,180 per person double, with a single supplement starting from $155.

"I think [hiking is] what makes people in Scandinavia to be of such a healthy nature and have that longevity," Norsman said, "and Americans are realizing that and want to experience it."

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