#highland

Iceland has many natural wonders and many places you can visit and enjoy.  Although some of our natural wonders like Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir hot spring have gained popularity among visitors, there are still many peaceful and exciting places that people rarely visit. Places that are not as accessible and require more effort to visit.

What is the reward of getting to the top?

 

Bárðarbunga is the second highest mountain in Iceland next to Öræfajökull standing a bit over 2000 meters tall. Like many mountains in Iceland Bárðarbunga has many different faces.  In addition to being a mountain, it is also an outlet glacier placed on the north-west side of the large ice cap Vatnajökull. On top of the mountain is an 800 meters thick layer of ice covering the mountain and its surrounding valleys and canyons.  Picturing the white sight of ice on top of Bárðarbunga is, of course, fascinating and the glacier can be seen in all its greatness from the center of the Icelandic highland. But what lies beneath is probably more interesting and possibly frightening.  Not so deep under the mountain Bárðarbunga waiting patiently is a huge magma chamber with glowing magma eager to surface. So in addition to being a mountain and a glacier, Bárðarbunga is also a volcano. Ad in addition to being the second highest mountain is also the second largest volcano in Iceland with a volcanic system that is 200 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide. The mountain is a humongous natural force that everyone hopes will never be released.  So when earthquakes begin in Bárðarbunga, everyone should be intimidated.

The scary magma beneath

One of the primary indicators predicting eruption are the earthquakes occurring when the magma is moving around near the surface.  The magma is like a giant red monster of thousand degrees trying to find its way to the surface and simultaneously moving the earth's crust causing collapses and movements. Moving its many arms from the chamber into all the cracks, fissures and crevasses it can find with the intention to surface with its tail extended deep into the earth's core. It is a frightening beast and not without success. The last time Bárðarbunga erupted was only three years ago, in 2014. Fortunately for everyone, the eruption occurred on the sand only a few kilometers north of the Bárðarbunga glacier.  And even though it was just another eruption in Iceland, it was one of the largest one in modern history measured by the volume of lava. If the monster had found its way under the glacier, only a few kilometers south, the story would have been entirely different and more like the Eyjafjallajökull eruption with more massive floods.

Eruptions in Bárðarbunga and nearby places

Although scientists predict devastating floods and even a natural disaster if the beast surfaces under the glacier the effect could be less. In 1996 a short but powerful eruptions occurred near Bárðarbunga in Grímsvötn. The eruption lasted for two weeks and melted a tremendous amount of ice producing a massive flood that found its way to the south shore instead of flooding to the north over the highland. For Icelanders, the flood was a natural disaster with devastating effects for the landscape and roads and bridges were the main victims.  Fortunately, no life was lost.  In addition to this eruption and the 2014 eruption, it is believed that a small eruption occurred in 1797. So we are yet to see a large eruption in Bárðarbunga with devastating effects for the northeast part of the country.

Bárðarbunga is the second highest mountain in Iceland

Rauðfoss waterfall, or Red waterfall, is a unique waterfall located a short hike from the mountain road Nyrðri Fjallabak, the Dómadalur track.  Like Dynjandi waterfall in the Westfjords, it has a form of a veil, falling in a beautiful stream and stretching out on both sides as the fall reaches the ground.  Rauðfoss waterfall got its name from the berg behind the waterfall that is red or orange.  The waterfall is part of the river Rauðufossakvísl that originates in Rauðufossafjöll Mountains.  This is also what makes Rauðfoss unique and different.  The waterfall is about 60 meters high and surely is an impressive sight. 

A refreshing and relatively easy hike

When driving Dómadalsleið or Nyrðri Fjallabak mountain road coming from the west by Búrfell mountain you will notice a sign Rauðufossafjöll.  The turn will lead you to a parking lot only minutes away from the road F225.  From the parking lot, there is an old dirt road that is forbidden and illegal to drive.  Today it serves as a walking path to the waterfall Rauðfoss.  The walk takes about 30 minutes, and although the waterfall is visible from the main road, you will only start to see it on the walking path as you get up the first hill. 

Finding your way to Rauðfoss

When you drive from Reykjavík, you find your way to Dómadalsleið on Nyrðri Fjallabak mountain road.  We recommended that you rent a good 4X4 vehicle if you intend to drive a Mountain Road in Iceland.  On the southern part of the Ring Road, you look out for the road Landvegur Nr. 26 after you pass the bridge on the mighty river Þjórsá.  You need to drive approximately 50 kilometers north on Road Nr. 26, and by the mountain Búrfell, you take a right turn on Dómadalsleið mountain road Nr. F225.  About 25 kilometers drive will get you to the sign Rauðufossafjöll on the south side, the right side coming from Búrfell.  Enjoy and take care as the vegetation in the Icelandic Highland is very sensitive. 

Nearby places

Valagjá - Rauðufossafjöll - Landmannalaugar - Ljótipollur - Hnausapollur

Rauðfoss waterfall

It is a serious business to drive in the highland in Iceland.  Most of the roads in the Highland are challenging dirt roads that are harsh and demanding to drive, both for the driver and the car.  Often you need to cross over rivers and creeks that can easily be too deep and complicated for a small car to cross.  If it starts to rain the volume increases in a short period and a small stream can turn into a river.  Many dirt roads are bumpy and require a slow speed, especially if your vehicle is small and low.  A drive in the Highland needs a good 4X4 car that can take you safely to your des

A wrong rent a car in the Highland often costs a huge amount of money if it breaks down, even though you might want to try to fix the damages on the spot.

The mountain Sveinstindur is positioned near the shout shore of the highland lake Langisjór, practically in the middle of Iceland.  The height of the mountain is 1093 meters, and it is higher than most of the surrounding mountains.  The elevation is about 350 meters as Langisjór lake is placed at an altitude of 670 meters.  Sveinstindur mountain is one of the best places in Iceland to get a good view of the Highland and probably one of the best viewing places in Iceland.  Here you have a view to six glaciers, many great volcanos,  hundreds of mountains, long and winding rivers, and the horizon for hundreds of kilometers in any direction.  You just have to be there to understand the magnitude of the view. 

The path to the top is not difficult

Although the walking path starting near the service center by Langisjór is not difficult or long, it is a bit steep and possibly a bit frightening for people who fear height, at least near the top. The view is also great if you choose to walk the first 150 meters.  The walk takes about an hour and a half upwards almost the whole time.  It is an elevation of about 350 meters and a bit more than a kilometer walk.  But with each step, you get a fantastic view.  On the walk up it is mostly a view to the west, south, and north, but when you reach the top, you get an additional view to the east where you will see the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur and also Lakagígar and Laki, the source of the huge eruption in 1783.  Now keep in mind that there is a great difference to walk on top of Sveinstindur in a calm wind and a wind above 4 to 5 meters.  It is not particularly enjoyable to walk to the upper part on a gloomy and cloudy day.  A reminder that anything you do in Iceland is weather and season related.  And just a reminder, this part of Iceland, the Highland, is only open from the middle of July until the middle of September.

Sveinstindur and Langisjór are part of the Fjallabak Nyrðri drive

The drive to Sveinstindur is a highland road.  It is only for good 4X4 vehicles as it is a hard dirt road with many creeks and rivers to cross. Anyone who takes a small cart to the highland, even a small 4X4 vehicle is always taking a significant risk of damaging the car and adding a considerable cost to the tour.  When you are on the Nyrðri Fjallabak road, you take a turn on the F235 Langisjór mountain road and drive the road to the Service Center by Langisjór lake.

 

Although the walking path starting near the service center by Langisjór is not difficult or long, it is a bit steep

One of the main reasons Icelanders started to travel into the highland, the backland or the interior of the island, was because of the annual gathering of sheep. For centuries sheep farmers in Iceland have sent their stock into the wilderness, the highland, to wander during summer, graze in the mountains and rest the farmland for harvesting late summer. Then in autumn, flocks of selected individuals from each area and farms travel to the Highland to find and gather the sheep.  Early on those trips to the Highland were a test of manhood and sought after by young men. The trips were often quite difficult as the weather in Iceland has always been quite unpredictable.  Also and up until the last century places to accommodate or finding shelter overnight were few and harsh.  Most of the places were caves or even holes in the ground.  But as things developed Icelanders started to build huts in the Highland for the people that stayed in the there for days gathering sheep and often walking distances to search for their sheep in the backland.

Hvanngil was originally a place for farmers gathering sheep

Hvanngil is a small valley in the highland and is a well-known place as it is part of the popular hiking trail Laugavegur.  It was originally one of the places where farmers built their hut to stay in the Highland when gathering sheep in autumn.  At that time the shed was built to accommodate a group of searchers upstairs and sheep downstairs. For those curious about such houses, the yellow hut is still in Hvanngil.  Later, around the seventies in the last century travel clubs started to build huts and houses only aimed at housing people traveling in the Highland for fun and enjoyment.  At Hvanngil one was built in the eighties and is one of the best huts in the Highland.  For those hiking Laugavegur Hvanngil is an attractive place to stay as well as those who want to take time to drive the difficult Highland road Syðri Fjallabak.  There are also exciting hiking trails around the hut. 

How to get to Hvanngil

Hvanngil is only accessible on a well-equipped 4X4 vehicle.  It is a place that is also only possible to visit from the middle of July until late September.  Even in September, you can expect snow.  So this is a place for serious hikers and travelers in Iceland that understand how to travel in the highland and know how to cross rivers.  It is part of the mountain road F210 which is one of the most challenging highland roads in Iceland. 

Hvanngil is a small valley in the highland and is a well-known place as it is part of the popular hiking trail Laugavegur.

If you intend to drive the traditional and popular Highland road Nyrðri Fjallabak, Hólaskjól camp site is a good place to start or end depending on the direction you choose.  It is placed in a beautiful surrounding quite near Eldgjá the famous canyon and Ófærufoss waterfall.  The campsite and all the facilities are excellent but remember and take into account that this is a mountain hut.  It is a campsite away from all the convenience of urban campsites which also gives it another kind of charm.  When you are in Hólaskjól, you are in the mountains.

Start your Nyrðri Fjallabak drive at Hólaskjól

Our recommendation is to drive from the east to the west when driving Nyrðir Fjallabak mountain road.  One of the reasons is Hólaskjól; it is a good place to start your drive early in the morning.  Another reason is the surrounding area. When you have settled in there is an excellent short hiking trail at Hólaskjól up by the river Syðri Ófæra.  It is a good evening walk where you will see interesting basalt column and a magnificent waterfall Silfurfoss.  Just a short hike into the lava field that takes less than an hour and is quite relaxing and good before you a good night sleep in the mountains.


How to get to Hólaskjól

If you plan to visit Hólaskjól, you are probably planning to drive Nyrði Fjallabak. The best way to access the road to Hólaskjól is from the Ring Road some 23 kilometers west of the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  Here you take a turn north on Road nr. 208 and drive approximately 16 kilometers until you take a left turn and enter the Mountain Road F208 Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. On this road, you need to drive about 20 kilometers to reach Hólaskjól camping site.

Hólaskjól campsite in highland in Iceland

The name Silfurfoss is almost unknown, both the waterfall and the name, as it is an unofficial name.  Silfurfoss or Silver waterfall is a reference to the mighty Gullfoss or Gold waterfall as many visitors have felt that there is a certain resemblance between the two.  Silfurfoss, of course, has few visitors when Gullfoss is one of the largest attractions in Iceland. Nevertheless, this waterfall, the surrounding area, and the relatively short hiking trail is a fantastic choice for those who seek to stay out of the main stream tourism and experience the wonders of nature quietly and peacefully.

Located near the camping site Hólaskjól

Silfurfoss is at the edge of the Icelandic Highland near Hólaskjól.  The camping site marks the beginning of one of the most popular Highland roads in Iceland, Nyrðri Fjallabaksleið.  It is one of the entrances to the highland.  The waterfall is part of the river Syðri Ófæra, a fascinating river that originates much higher in the Highland at Syrði Fjallabak and the Torfajökull glacier area.  By Silfurfoss the river runs through a small fissure which is also near the hiking trail.  It is a beautiful place to take an evening or morning hike when you plan to drive Nyrðir Fjallabaksleið and a wonderful place to take children although caution is recommended when near the waterfall.  There are also other cracks and fissures nearby with unusual basalt column formations. 

How to get to Silfurfoss waterfall and Hólaskjól

If you plan to visit Silfurfoss or Hólaskjól, you are probably planning to drive Nyrði Fjallabak. The best way to access the road to Hólaskjól is from the Ring Road some 23 kilometers west of the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  Here you take a turn north on Road nr. 208 and drive approximately 16 kilometers until you take a left turn and enter the Mountain Road F208 Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. On this road, you need to drive about 20 kilometers to reach Hólaskjól camping site and Silfurfoss waterfall. And remember, Hólaskjól is a great place to camp overnight at the camping site has excellent facilities and magnificent landscape and surroundings.

Silfurfoss or Silver waterfall is a reference to the mighty Gullfoss or Gold waterfall as many visitors have felt that there is a certain resemblance between the two.

Valagjá is a name of a volcanic crater located near the mountain road Landmannaleið in the southern part of the Icelandic highland.  The geological term for the crater is maar, and it is a similar phenomenon as a few other craters like Víti, Grænavatn and the nearby Hnausapollur and Ljótipollur, but without the water.  The meaning of the term maar is actually an explosion crater.  Although Valagjá might not be a major attraction, it is an interesting stop for visitors that are not in a hurry and are interested in geology and landscape as Valagjá is actually more than one crater.

Landscape like you can envision at the planet Mars

Arriving at Valagjá, you get the feeling of a distant place and isolation.  The surrounding seems lifeless, as vegetation is struggling.   It is a landscape of sand, volcanic ash and mountains.  But interestingly there is color in the lava, which gives it a more mystical atmosphere.  A walk along the brim gives you a better overview but remember to have your hiking shoes on.  This is a harsh landscape and a bit difficult place to walk, but a short hike is worthwhile.

Landmannaleið road

When you drive from Reykjavík, and you plan to drive (Dómadalsleið) Landmannaleið it is recommended that you rent a good 4X4 vehicle.  On the southern part of the Ring Road, you look out for the road Landvegur Nr. 26 after you pass the bridge on the mighty river Þjórsá.  You need to drive approximately 50 kilometers north, and by the mountain Búrfell, you take a right turn on Landmannaleið mountain road Nr. F225.  About 15 kilometers drive will get you to a split on the road with a sight pointing to Valagjá, which is only about two kilometers from this intersection.  When you have made your stop it is recommended to go back on F225 and continue on Landmannaleið and along the way you can stop at some fascinating places like Rauðifoss, Ljótipollur and of course Landmannalaugar.

Arriving at Valagjá, you get the feeling of a distant place and isolation.

Although nothing but, this beautiful maar or volcanic crater bears the name ugly as a name.  Ljótipollur translated means ugly puddle or ugly pound.  But most craters that have lakes within them are exceptionally scenic and photogenic.  Ljótipollur is no exception with its read and vegetated slopes and visible lava layers at the brim.  Maars are usually quite deep as the water originates in ground water below and do not have any creeks into or out of the lake, only underground.  Most often craters with small lakes have this beautiful turquoise blue lake which gives the crater an enhance value for photographers.   All such craters are great attractions for photographers.

Ljótipollur crater is quite accessible

Like its neighbor Hnausapollur, the meer Ljótipollur is part of the Veiðivötn volcanic fissure system.  It is easily accessible from the mountain road Fjallabak Nyrðri F208 only a few kilometers from Landmannalaugar. And like all natural wonders in the highland of Iceland, only accessible during summer.  If you are going to visit Landmannalaugar, you might want to take the hike from the camping area to Ljótipollur and enjoy the magnificent lava and rhyolite mountains along the way in a peaceful manner. The crater is around 1.5 kilometers long, and the brims are quite high.  The form makes it a bit difficult to capture in one shot son prepare yourself with a 12 to 15 mm lens on the camera.

The view from Ljótipollur is also spectacular

One advantage of driving up the short distance from F208 to the brim of Ljótipollur is the view.  Although the elevation from the road is less than 100 meters, the view to the east and south is spectacular.  All this adds to the photo opportunity, as the view is also a great background to the many colors by Ljótipollur.  Red lava rocks, layers of lava, green vegetation and turquoise blue water on the lake. 

 

Ljótipollur is no exception with its read and vegetated slopes and visible lava layers at the brim.

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