An overcrowded iconic hike, but still well worth it for the fantastic view.
Preikestolen in Norwegian, or Pulpit rock in English, is a famous exposed rock ledge towering above Lysefjord in Western Norway. Reaching it makes for a rather easy hike, so it’s extremely popular with tourists, as you only need to be reasonably fit to finish it.
Officially the hike is 4 km one way and it is recommended to plan for about 4 hours (2 up and down) + the time you’re planning to spend on the rock, but when I hiked it in August 2019 I needed about an hour and a half up and a bit more down due to the crowds. I’m not a strong hiker by any means, because I’ve only recently grown to like hiking and don’t do it very often, but I was still able to do it easily with a moderate tempo. The path is very popular and easy to find, as it is signposted along the whole way and well maintained.
However, it is still a proper hike in the mountains and you should be careful and aware of your physical boundaries: the bare stones on the path are almost always slippery, because Norway is a windy, rainy country even during the summer, and the stone steps are quite tall, so my knees weren’t very happy with that on the way up. There are two steep stretches, as Preikestolen is located 600 m above sea level and you need to cover about 330 m of height difference, so it is definitely not a walk in the park and shouldn’t be underestimated if you have joint problems or are generally not used to physical activity. If you’re nervous about hiking on your own, you can also book an organised tour, like this one here.
On the way
The path is quite narrow on the steep parts and there are no fences or ropes on the exposed parts or the rock ledge itself. The Norwegian rescue services are super busy with Preikestolen every year, because irresponsible tourists get injured or over-exhausted on the way, so don’t be that guy! Wear proper hiking boots like I did, check the weather forecast and pick a good day, bring enough water and some food and take breaks when needed. Also, familiarise yourself with the Norwegian mountain code, mountain safety tips and emergency service numbers and make sure you don’t leave any trash behind.
Obviously there are no facilities at the top, but there is a huge parking lot and a food kiosk at the bottom. However, under the Norwegian allemannsretten (every man’s land) act, you are allowed to wild camp overnight pretty much anywhere in the surrounding nature, except on the Pulpit rock itself. There’s a huge, beautiful flat plateau on the top before you reach the rock and I would definitely give it a go if I was planning to camp.
Impressions of Pulpit rock
Once you reach the Pulpit rock, you’ll hopefully get a gorgeous view over the Lysefjord and the rock is an interesting natural formation by itself. I was there on a rather cloudy summer day, but I still got lucky with a good view. The Norwegian weather is, unfortunately, notoriously fickle, so a favourable weather forecast doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good view on the top and it can often be grey and foggy. However, the fog is also quite likely to clear out in an hour or two, so if you are reasonably confident in your hiking skills, you should definitely skip the organised tours, hike up and wait around for the potential fog to clear out. Organised tours usually only allow 30 minutes to an hour on the top, which means you might miss the view if you get unlucky. Besides, I’m generally not a fan of organised tours and prefer to spend my money on more interesting things. 🙂 Also, if hiking is not your thing, you can always see Lysefjord on a boat trip and you’ll be able to spot Preikestolen from below.
Now, as I’ve said in the beginning, Preikestolen is probably the most popular hike in Norway, which means CROWDS with all caps. Since I was there in the morning and on a cloudy day it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but there were already so many of them that I can’t even imagine being up there on a perfect sunny day. The only way to avoid crowds is to either start hiking extremely early (like 4 am) or very late (after 4 pm). During the midnight sun season it really doesn’t matter, because Norway gets almost 20 hours of day during the summer, but you will need to stay in the area or have a car for that, which is pretty inconvenient. I started from Stavanger, a major city further west, and there’s an express round trip bus to Preikestolen and other popular hikes from there. It is a bit expensive (29eur roundtrip in August 2019), but if you don’t have a car it is the best time saving option out there. When I was there the bus included the ticket for the ferry between Stavanger and Tau, but they have since built an undersea tunnel, which the bus now takes. Ryfast tunnel is actually the longest and deepest undersea tunnel in the world and they just opened it now in 2020. The other option is to start from Sandness and take the ferry there, but there are less organised transport options from there.
As you can see on the photo above, the Pulpit rock is normally full of people trying to take the iconic photo on the front edge, even on a bad day. They lined up in an orderly queue in true Scandinavian fashion and waited for over an hour to take that one photo, which I thought was absolutely insane. Although I’ve also waited for fancy photos of myself in famous spots a couple of times, I never understood the point of taking the exact same photo as everyone else if there are other options. And trust me, on Preikestolen there definitely are.
Some kind strangers took my photo (the one below) on the exact opposite edge of the rock, which was entirely empty and I didn’t need to wait a single minute. In fact, I actually prefer this one, because there are no other people on it and I even started a trend amongst the onlookers, who rushed to take their photos there afterwards too. We humans are weird herd animals sometimes.
Anyhow, it always pays off to look around a bit and explore the famous spots from unconventional angles. For example, there’s a relatively accessible ledge just above the Pulpit rock, from which you can see and photograph the whole rock, and only a few people even noticed it as an option. You’ll need to do a bit of climbing up over the rock face and boulders at the very back of the Pulpit rock to reach the top of the ledge, or backtrack and reach it from the trail on the plateau before the rock. If you don’t want to climb, you can also just take a few steps up on the boulders and get a good view over the whole rock like I did (see the cover photo).
Another unexpected discovery was a valley with several lakes, waterfalls and a long river off the right side of the trail just before reaching the rock. The view from the plateau before Preikestolen is absolutely gorgeous and I was surprised that these lakes aren’t mentioned anywhere at all. Obviously the nature in Norwegian mountains is beautiful and the Pulpit rock is the highlight of this hike, but I noticed that people didn’t even bother glancing off the trail until they reached it, so I strongly recommend you keep your eyes open and look around at all times too.
I was actually up there for 2 hours trampling over boulders and rocks on the plateau, checking out different views, rock cracks and strange moss growths. I encountered several Norwegians having a picnic or just chilling on the rocks, but no foreigners. I also found several small rock towers, which seem to be quite popular trail markers in Scandinavian mountains, although I’d also seen them in Australia.
The details of Preikestolen
The way down took me much longer than the way up, because the trail was so full of people going up and down, that I had to actually stop and wait on some of the more narrow parts. I was very glad I took an early express bus from Stavanger and started hiking in the morning, so I only had to deal with that on the way back, and it was less hot going up than during the day.
You’ll need a lot of patience for this hike, because you will most likely encounter plenty of obnoxious, unprepared hikers, so if people are not your thing, there are also other hikes in the area you can do instead of (or besides) Preikestolen. There’s the Flørli 4444, the hike up 4444 wooden stairs (the longest wooden stairway in the world) in a ghost village located deep within the Lysefjord; Himakånå, another interesting rock ledge, but much easier to get to (up to an hour each way); Trollpiken (the troll’s penis), another rock formation that I wish I’d known about when I was there and only about an hour’s hike; a 30 minute hike to Månafossen, the tallest waterfall in the region, and the Gloppedalsura, which is accessible by car if you don’t want to hike at all. If you want a real challenge, you can also hike to Kjeragbolten, a rock caught between two cliffs, which a more demanding, steep 6-10 hour hike that I skipped, because I didn’t feel up to it solo.
Personally I think the hike up to Preikestolen was definitely worth it, because the view was fantastic and the rock is famous for a reason. Just be prepared for the crowds and buy yourself a well deserved ice cream when you’re done! 🙂