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Fimmvörðuháls, the Five Cairn Ridge, is one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland.  Although quite challenging, and even dangerous, many Icelanders and visitors walk this 22 km and 1000 meter high track every summer. Obviously, it has something to offer.  It is a spectacular hike with stunning views and many natural wonders: waterfalls, craters, canyons, glaciers and breathtaking landscape.   In 2010, a small eruption started on the track almost by the most challenging part of the track, Heljarkambur or Crest of Hell.

Most of the hikers walk from the well-known waterfall Skógarfoss to Þórsmörk. At the peak, the track is on the east side of Eyjafjallajokull and west side of Mýrdalsjökull.  Both glaciers house powerful volcanos that can erupt with short notice.  Even the most notorious volcano in Iceland's history as well as geological history, Katla in Mýrdalsjökull, has been due for a long time. 

In 1970, a group of eleven hikers started the trail in good weather determined to walk to Þórsmörk. There was nothing exceptionally unusual about the weather or the condition.  On the top near Heljarkambur, a severe weather hit the mountain and three of the hikers became exhausted and died within hours.  The rest of the group made it to Básar in Þórsmörk with enormous hardship and difficulties.  The story is a constant reminder of the unpredictable weather that two glaciers can produce. It is also a reminder of the necessity to prepare to hike over Fimmvörðuháls thoroughly and take all the percussion possible. 

The track is only accessible from late May until September and is only for highly trained and experienced hikers at any other time of the year.   

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Below is the location of Fimmvörðuháls on the map of Iceland

Although quite challenging, and even dangerous, many Icelanders and visitors walk Fimmvörðuháls 22 km and 1000 meter high track every summer.

Reykjadalur is a small valley (Smoke Valley) just north of the town of Hveragerði in the South Region in Iceland. This magnificent geothermal wonderland is possibly one of Iceland's most famous hiking trails and hiking area. The small river snaking along the valley is extraordinary with its hot pools and mud pots in the river bed making the water hot in various places and creating small natural geothermal hot pot ideal for resting and relaxing.

The hike through geothermal area

A mere five to ten minutes after starting your walk along the trail you are surrounded by wilderness, smoke, mud and, hot water. The hike through the valley to Ölkelda is approximately 3 km long. So if you are hiking from the parking lot near Hveragerði remember that you must walk the same way back.  Along the way, you'll be able to observe gurgling mud pots and superheated natural pools of water close up. Hiking this extraordinary valley is quite pleasant, indeed. It is also relatively easy, with only modestly rocky areas. It is not a challenging hike, and practically anyone can do it. The route is a treat to the eyes, with colorful strata and vegetation typical for geothermal areas.

A nice day at Reykjadalur

A wonderful place for photographers

This valley contains quite some great photo moments and photo opportunities. Upon reaching the end of the trail, at Ölkelda you are in for a treat. There, cradled in the bosom of picturesque mountains, riddled with unusual and gigantic rock formations is a natural pool: Smack in the middle of the river. It is the number one reason for the trail's popularity. The Icelanders love bathing in their natural pools. They also like just sitting there gazing at the fantastic nature surrounding them. So, take your swimsuit along and enjoy the day.

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Below is the location of Reykjadalur on the map of Iceland

Reykjadalur near Hveragerði town

 

Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lake or a lagoon in southeast Iceland. It is one of Iceland's most popular tourist attraction, and not without reason. The lagoon is one of a handful of places where you can get near a glacier without entering the wilderness or the Icelandic highland. It is easily accessible located on the Ring Road, the main road around Iceland.  Lón means a lagoon and Jökulsárlón is usually full of icebergs breaking away from the large glacier tongue Breiðarmerkurjökull, which is part of the glacier Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe. It is a tourist attraction that visitors are more or less stunned after viewing and watching for a few hours.  Watch our VIDEO of the lagoon.

A stunning work of nature

Some centuries ago the glacier tongue reached the coastline by the Atlantic Ocean. Gradually, the glacier started melting and thus declining and forming the lake on the sandy shore.  The lake is getting larger, and the glacier tongue is retreating.  In the seventies the lake was eight square kilometers, today the lake covers 18 square kilometers and is Iceland's deepest lake approximately 248 meters.  The fascination revolves around the ongoing icebergs falling from the glacier tongue, falling into the lagoon, melting,  rolling and floating the one and a half kilometer towards the Atlantic ocean. Sometimes overcrowded with icebergs each with its character and form and sometimes almost empty. It is like viewing and following nature's working hours.Although many glacier tounges are retreating because of Global Warming Breiðamerkurjökull is retreating faster because of the warmer sea forcing its way into the lagoon at high tides.  But then again one of the effects of Climate changes is an increase in ocean temprature in the northern hemisphere. 

Access to the Jökulsárlón lagoon is as simple as it gets and often in movies

If you travel the Ring Road, Road Nr. 1, you can not miss Jökulsárlón as it is practically on the main road between Skaftafell and Höfn.  It is by any measure an impressive sight and has been a setting for many internationally acclaimed films: A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins, as well as, the reality TV series Amazing Race. At one point in time, it was such a popular setting for films that it was nicknamed the Bond Lagoon.  For photographers, it is a wealth of motives as the foreground is ever changing and the background also as it is consistently affected by weather in the mountains and glaciers surrounding the lagoon.

A lot of life in the cold and deep lagoon

Although many visitors might think of the lagoon as a lifeless lake it is far from the truth. The lagoon is full of life and is filled with herring, trout, salmon and krill drifting from the sea with the tides.  Often a large number of seals are playfully enjoying the day in the water, and thousands of seabirds are nesting nearby, especially the Arctic terns, skuas, gannets, and puffins. And after you finish enjoying the lagoon, a walk to the shore, the Diamond Beach is worth the time you spend viewing the melting icebergs moving around on the pebble beach. 

Watch the icebergs float in Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon

Sailing on the lagoon is an experience like nothing else and unforgettable

Several tour companies offer sailing along the lake, which is an experience you are not likely to forget. Be sure to bring your camera along as the lagoon almost always delivers stunning photos. There is always a new form of iceberg around the corner.

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Below is the location of Jökulsárlón on the map of Iceland

Jokulsarlon is simply a great place to stop while driving the ring road selfdrive

When the first settlers started arriving in Iceland between AD 874 and 930, South Iceland was the area with the most arable land. Even so, Þjórsárdalur must have looked like a veritable Shangrila. This beautiful, lush valley, with its fertile soil, picturesque waterfalls and tranquil ponds attracted some people to build gladly farms and crofts and to count their blessings. That is, until 1104 when the ferocious volcano, Mount Hekla erupted and destroyed the valley.  Þjórsárdalur is rather flat, and the soil is mostly pumice due to Hekla's frequent eruptions. And for the very same reason you will find uniquely fascinating rock and lava formations throughout the area. It is also true that whenever an eruption destroys beautiful rivers and waterfalls, it equally creates new natural wonders. Apart from Mount Hekla, there are other volcanoes adjacent to Þjórsárdalur, e.g. the Vatnaöldur volcanic system that produced Iceland's largest lava field, Þjórsárhraun (The Þjórsá Lava Field).

But, the Icelander's are nothing if not resilient. Today, Þjórsárdalur is mostly fertile farmland as both farmers and the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland work tirelessly at reclaiming the earth covered by pumice with lupine and several varieties of grass.

There is much to see and admire in Þjórsárdalur – and if you go to the Stöng farm, you will get a piece of history. Stöng was covered in ash in the 1104 eruption, but was excavated in 1939 and has now been rebuilt. It is an excellent opportunity to learn what life was like in Iceland in ancient times.
 

Þjórsárdalur has many interesting spots

 

Officially, settlement began in Iceland in AD 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson came to settle permanently on the island. Throughout the next century other Norwegians, as well as Celts, followed in his footsteps. District assemblies were formed and very early on the settler realized they would need a general assembly to establish laws and settle disputes.  In 930 the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, was founded at Þingvellir – and remained there until 1798. Alþingi now resides in Reykjavík. In 1930 Þingvellir National Park was organized, marking Alþingi's 1000th anniversary. Later on, it was expanded to protect the area's nature and environment and in 2004 Þingvellir became a World Heritage Site.

A reason why Þingvellir is such a sacred place for Icelanders

Þingvellir is extremely precious to all Icelanders. It is the single most important place in the history of Iceland. Across the centuries, the area is at the center of every story and every major decision. It was at the center of everybody's fate. The Alþingi assembly wasn't just Iceland's supreme legislative authority, but also the judicial authority until 1271. It was there you would learn whether you would lose a finger, hand or an arm; it was there you were told whether you would hang, burn or drown – usually for misdemeanors or relatively small crimes. But, mind you, according to the Sagas everybody was very well dressed in colorful apparel made of silk and such when attending Alþingi.

ÞIngvellir is an importnat historical place and has also appeard in popular culture

Þingvellir is a site that has more than historical importance but also cultural and geological. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The rift is clearly visible in the cracks traversing the region. The largest rift, Almannagjá, is a veritable canyon. As a result, earthquakes are quite common in the area. The Þingvallavatn Lake is Iceland's largest natural lake and enhances the combined beauty of Þingvellir. The landscape at Þingvellir is also stunning with colorful lava and beautiful mountains in the background.  It is a place many visitors like to see and view.  Like many places in Iceland, part of Þingvellir, Almannagjá, appears in Game of Thrones as the road to the Eyrie leading to the Bloody Gate.

Access to Þingvellir and Almannagjá

From Reykjavík, you drive to Mosfellsbær village on the Ring Road Nr. 1. When passed Mosfellsbær you turn east on Þingvallavegur Nr. 36 all the way to one of two to three parking lots.  Access to Þingvellir, Almannagjá, Öxarárfoss, Drekkingarhylur and some of the magnificent landscape is quite simple but requires a bit of a walk. 

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Below is the location of Þingvellir National Park on the map of Iceland

Þingvellir in autumn 2017

 

The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier. The glacier covers an area of approximately 8.100 square km and the thickness of the ice cap ranging from about 400 to 1100 m. The subglacial landscape is a plateau with valleys, canyons, and gorges all hidden under the ice.  Formed thousands of years ago, Vatnajökull has approximately 30 outlet glaciers, or glacier tongues, flowing and bursting from the icecap as the ice crawls down to the lowland.  One of Iceland's main tourist attraction, Jökulsárlón, is a lagoon that feeds of one of the many glacier tongues, Breiðamerkurjökull (Wide Forest Glacier).  The glacier also hides some powerful and highly active volcanoes, including Bárðarbunga, Öræfajökull, and Grímsvötn that has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland.  Near Jökulsárlón lagoon and Fjallsárlón lagoon, there are interesting Ice caves that people can visit from November to March.  In the caves, where you can go under the edge of the glacier and have a view from down under.  It is truly a remarkable sight.

Eruption and humongous glacial bursts from under the glacier is constant fear factor

The latest eruption in Grímsvötn and by far the strongest for 100 years was in May 2011. It started with 12 km high plumes, followed by multiple earthquakes and an ash cloud rising to 20 km. Glacial bursts are quite common following eruptions and never cease to affect the live and amazement of Icelanders. They simply love their island's volatile and powerful nature, no matter what the consequences. Although the latest eruption connected to Vatnajökull did not occur under the ice cap but just north of the ice cap forming the new lava Holuhraun, it is very much part of the threat from the volcanoes under the glacier. The eruption occurred in August 2014 and was one of the larger ones in Iceland's history. So the glacier or the vast ice cap has many active threats and angry volcanos and could actually at any point produce some monumental disturbances in Iceland and possibly also in Europe.

The Ice Cap is melting away as global warming continues

For quite some years, Vatnajökull ice cap has been melting at a rate of one meter per year. Some of the glacier tongues have been melting even faster, like Skaftafellsjökull near the famous camping site Skaftafell in the South Region. But, Iceland has actually seen periods of warmer climate before (during the Middle Ages) where glaciers receded, only to reshape into their former glory when cooler period sets in. 
When you drive the Ring Road on a good day, you have the glacier Vatnajökull and all its might in front of you for hours.  It is a magnificent natural wonder and a joy to view against the blue sky.  Simply a beautiful sight adding to the pleasure of driving the Ring Road in Iceland

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Below is the location of Vatnajökull on the map of Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier is Europe's largest glacier.

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns. It falls 20 m into a beautiful ravine that is accessible along a trail starting at the Visitor's Centre. You can follow the trail to the bottom of the ravine, thus enjoying the fall and the walls up close.In the 20th century, the walls surrounding Svartifoss were an inspiration to various Icelandic architects. The impression from their extraordinary formations is quite apparent in Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, as well as, in the ceiling of the Icelandic National Theatre. Svartifoss is also where the world-renowned sculptor Richard Serra drew his inspiration from for his sculpture Milestones, located in the Viðey Island, offshore from Reykjavik.

The base of the ravine is quite remarkable. Apart from the small lake created by Svartifoss, it is strewn with sharp rocks that have broken away from the hexagonal columns, as new column sections break faster than the water wears down the edges.

The hike from the Visitor's Centre, or the Skaftafell camping site, only takes 30 minutes. But once by the fall, visitors tend to linger for quite some time, simply to admire nature's unique sense of beauty and harmony.

Below is the location of Svarifoss on the map of Iceland

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns

 

In South East Iceland, right by the Ring Road, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park. The park and the surrounding area is nothing less than a natural wonder.  Skaftafell is a stunning place created throughout history by ferocious natural forces. If there is any one place in Iceland where you can see what is an island made of ice and fire means, it is the Skaftafell National Park.  Today Skaftafell is part of the Vatnajökull National Park.  For anyone traveling the Ring Road, it is a serious consideration to staying in Skaftafell for two to three days and taka advantage of the many spectacular hiking trails available.  It is also a paradise for families traveling with energetic kids on a family vacation. 

Skaftafell is an oasis of warmth beneath the glacier

The Skaftafell park covers the glacier Skaftafellsjökull (an outlet glacier of the Vatnajökull ice cap), the mountain range Kristínartindar and the Morsárdalur valley. The Skaftafell geologic history is marked by eruptions and volcanic activity under the ice cap and glacial floods bringing forth silt and sand to the mighty and dangerous Skeiðarársandur south of the National Park. It is also marked by the calm climate conditions as the great ice cap protects the area against the harsh northern winds. Strangely enough,  although surrounded by the glacier and ice, Skaftafaell has a rather pleasant weather and more sunny days than elsewhere in South Iceland.

Skaftafell hiking trails and reasons to stop

In Skaftafell some great hiking trails are leading from the Visitor's Centre. The most popular trail, a short hike, leads up the hills above to the Svartifoss waterfall.  For those more energetic a few hours more and take the path to Kristínartindar peaks, a fabulous way to get a breathtaking view of Skaftafell and surrounding area. Another exciting trail is the Skaftafellsjökull hike where you have a great view of the glacier tongue.  For those who want to take a day tour a hike to Bæjarstaðarskógur is highly recommended.  So there is no lack of activity and interesting things to do during summer in Skaftafell. It is a place for energetic and healthy outdoor families with intelligent members that like to prepare their vacations and study the places they visit.

The camping ground and visitors center

Skaftafell Visitor Center offers a lot of information about the area, hiking trails, and activities.  The campground is one of the best in Iceland although the soil is quite hard and sometimes difficult for the tent pegs. The time to visit Skaftafell is from the middle of May until the middle of August.  During summer the campground is always packed and a bit like a base camp for activity, a very exciting and excellent place to be during summer. It is also the headquarters for companies that organize exciting hiking tours with guides, like hiking up to the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur. For those who like to stay at one place, Skaftafell is also a neighbor to other interesting natural wonder only a hours drive or less away.  Natural wonders like Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón to the east and Fjaðrárgljúfur and Dverghamrar to the West. 

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Below is the location of Skaftafell on the map of Iceland

In South Iceland, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park

 

There are an almost endless number of waterfalls in Iceland. High and low, broad and narrow, this island has all the varieties. But, they all share a common feature; they are gorgeous in their own way. Particularly for people who have never seen waterfalls or are not used to passing by one when taking a Sunday drive out of their city or town. Of course, some are thunderous and menacing while others are melodic and inviting. One of the most visited waterfalls, though, is Seljalandsfoss.

Having fun in front of Seljalandsfoss waterfall

 

The waterfall is conveniently located near the Ring Road (1) and easily accessible by the road (249) leading to Þórsmörk in the lower parts of the Icelandic Highlands. It is in the river Seljalandsá and is own of the highest waterfalls in Iceland and drops 60 m from cliffs that were the coastline in long gone millenniums.  The river has its origins in the mighty and powerful volcano glacier Eyjafjallajokull.

 

Seljalandsfoss in the Southern Region in Iceland located by the Ring Road

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most visited places in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss is a picturesque and majestic waterfall. It is also unique and probably on the list of 10 most photographed natural wonders in Iceland. Not only is the waterfall captivating but you can also walk behind it on a walking trail.  It is also quite popular to take photos from behind the water, which makes it unique.   It is extraordinary experience being able to observe the surroundings from nature's backstage. Though the trails are wet and a bit slippery venturing behind Seljalandsfoss is by no means dangerous. You just have to be careful with your step and hiking shoes are preferred. During winter the whole surrounding and the trail behind the waterfall is very slippery and requires traction cleats.  Once there you will get a bit wet (not soaked) from the drizzle and ever so light breeze from the falls. But, never mind, you will dry very quickly.

What happens behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Seljalandsfoss is a great place for photographers 

Seljalandsfoss is great for photography, especially at night with the Midnight Sun shining from the West.  It is also beautiful from any angle outside or behind.

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Below is the location of Seljalandsfoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

It is quite popular to take photos behind the waterfall Seljalandsfoss

 

The Atlantic Ocean is quite the sculptor, much apparent in various locations around Iceland. Reynisdrangar, just south of the dramatic black beaches of Vík village are three spiky basalt sea stacks rising from the ocean 66 m into the air.  Legend has it that the three stacks were formerly two trolls dragging a three-mast ship towards land throughout a night. Alas, it was a slow maneuver and the night wasn't long at that time of year. At the break of dawn up rose the Sun and cast its rays on the trolls, instantly turning them into stone. The stack next to land, Landdrangur, is the fogy, Langsamur the ship is in the middle with the old hag, Háidrangur, at the rear end.

Photogenic stone trolls

This disaster was, by no means the end of the trolls. Even today you can hear their wails and laments when you drive from Vík village to observe them up close. They never have and never will accept their destiny. So close to their warm and cozy home in Mount Katla, the most ferocious volcano in Iceland and all their labor lost.  But fortunately for us, the two trolls and their looted ship are incredibly photogenic and always worth visiting. 

Be on alert and aware of the DANGEROUS waves on the beach

Although both folklore story and landscape are fascinating for the camera and anyone's imagination, you must remember if you visit Reynisdrangar, either from the east side from Vík or from Reynisfjara on the west side, that the ocean and the waves are often extremely DANGEROUS. Much more dangerous than trolls.  Especially when the tide is high and winds are strong. The waves might look innocent and calm as they softly crawl in and cover the beach, but they are often quite strong and demanding on the way out; almost unpredictable. Everyone visiting should read the signs and understand that the waves are not only dangerous in high tide and strong winds.  Everyone visiting Reynisfjara should BE CAREFUL.

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Below is the location of Reynisdrangar on the map of Iceland

Reynisdrangar, just south of the dramatic black beaches of Vík village

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