I’m not sure what comes to mind when you first think of ICELAND, but I can tell you the internet is oversaturated with Blue Lagoon articles and damn photogenic Icelandic Horses . . . I know this because it’s what I saw during the early stages of planning my trip. I will admit that both are worthy of seeing if you are making a long haul trip to the country, but exploring VOLCANOS on both the mainland and on Iceland’s very own island of Heimaey deserve a little more love than given. So without further ado, here are my recommended hikes to several Volcanic Craters in Iceland by region.
They say that many of the best discoveries are the ones that happen by chance. Truth is though, I don’t believe in chance anymore. I have seen too many times now that nothing is random, that nothing happens by accident. On the second day of my Roadtrip through Iceland, I drove from the must see Snæfellsnes Peninsula clear across the country via the Ring Road (Highway 1) until I reached the Mývatn area. It’s a stunningly scenic drive that I will highly recommend to you, full of treasures all along the way. Do you like waterfalls? Goðafoss is along this route and does not disappoint (I’ll be writing a WATERFALL Specific Post soon with tons of details and photos). Do you want countryside views? Take your pick. I couldn’t stop pulling over throughout the drive to take in the landscapes and passing green flatlands and hills perfect for grazing horses, sheep, cows. You’ll also have coastal views as you approach Akuyeri town with its cute harbor and snow capped mountains standing in all their glory. But let’s focus on HVERFJALL, the Volcanic Crater nearly 1km in diameter which greeted me as I made my way to the Mývatn baths. I couldn’t help but stare, in silence, in awe of its magnitude, and the ever present sunlight past 8 at night (the Midnight Sun during Summer is Real) made this first encounter a memorable one. Behold. . .
What would you say if I told you that I actually slept not too far from this massive Crater in my rental car because that was how I rolled in Iceland? With 24 hours of light during Summer most “nights” I was only able to sleep 4-5 hours and as I had limited time in the country, I wanted to make the most of every hour. You could call it a short sleep or a long nap, but whatever time I woke I was ready to tackle the day. First matter at hand, find out if I could climb that thing. Googled it and I definitely could climb it. Great now my morning was sorted. It was then that I realized where I had parked my car overnight, in the lot of the Dimmuborgir Lava Fields, which is an incredible site to visit in my humble opinion. I had not even been aware of them, and yet here I was. Good Morning Iceland, take me on an adventure today!! The best thing about waking up before 7am every morning was that most people were still sleeping. I entered Dimmuborgir, which in Icelandic means Dark Castles, with no expectation and no other souls either. It was the still of the morning and the day’s overcast that allowed me to sit amongst the towering volcanic lava pillars and just Be. I sat and birdwatched, listening to their morning glories. I looked around wondering what kind of place this was. What was it like during the Volcanic Eruption? Energy flowing, transformation of the physical realm; remember that from destruction comes also new life. The greenery all throughout the fields proved that; the cycles of the Earth in perfection. Come here to walk incredible trails kilometers long, with phenomenal views of volcanic pillars and caves, and you can even catch a glimpse of nearby Hverfjall or the Yule Lads (the Santa-like figures from old Icelandic folklore live in these caves) if you come during Winter.
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields (east of Mývatn)
After wandering around for likely a few hours, I heard other travelers on the trails nearby and was ready to head over by car to the big boy. . . Hverfjall. If you have the time and desire, you can also get to Hverfjall on foot. From the “Church Arch” pictured above, there is a trail that leads to your more challenging hike, the approximately 2800 year old Volcano. The trails are pretty well marked with distance and level of difficulty throughout the park. Drive just 10 minutes and you will arrive at Hverfjall’s base. There are two access points, Northwest and South. Once you arrive do a little stretch, make sure you have some drinking water and maybe a power bar and head on up, I promise the views are supreme.
Hverfjall (east of Mývatn)
approx. 2800 year old Volcano
1km long in Diameter
140m deep, 396m tall
Just a 20 minute hike up to the Rim
You can also walk the Entire Rim of the Volcano
I related to this massive body of rock, earth and ash because I could see its veins of life. I could feel its energy. I felt so alive up high, a common theme of my most recent travels in Israel. Up High you certainly get a new perspective of a place. I’ve hiked Diamond Head Crater in Hawaii before, but it was nothing like this. This was something altogether other worldly. Not to mention, hardly anyone was up there when I arrived at the top. I stared down into the depths and felt the closest connection ever to other planets in the Universe. I liken the experience to exploring an unpopulated planet on foot. Every step moved me into the Unknown, and I like the Unknown.
Up at the top was were peace and tranquility lived. So few tourists here. Nobody bothered me, as most seemed to take the opposite trail (a counterclockwise walk) which left me to my devices when I took the trail clockwise. I was inspired here. I felt on top of the world, or ÍSLAND at the very least. I played some more with my auto-timer to capture some fun photos on the crater. Create Create! Play! You are Free! Later, I swear to you I took a very relaxing nap under the sun up there, probably because my swollen ankle (yea I had a slightly infected and swollen ankle from a razor cut days prior) required a real rest after the challenging climb. I couldn’t have felt more at home, though home looked like another planet altogether. I think I was channeling my inner geek, the one that loves The X Files and that believes there has to more out there in the Universe. I appreciated the solitude and the connectedness, for I truly believe all living things are connected.
Víti Maar (part of Krafla Caldera)
Welcome to “The Crater of Hell”. . . Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Looks too celestial to be Hell. Well Summer in Iceland just kept delivering for me. . . I never encountered bad or difficult weather while out exploring (though often during my drives I got heavy rainstorm) and I had spectacular views and cooperative weather on all my Hikes, especially the VOLCANO HIKES! Universe had my back. This Volcanic Crater is just a short drive from Hverfjall, 30 minutes long and off the Ring Road. Víti is pretty well marked, as this is just one site in a 10km active Volcanic Zone called the Krafla Caldera. This area has been bubbling and brewing for centuries, the most recent volcanic activity being the Krafla Fires in the 1970s (which lasted 9 years). It’s been measured that 1000m underground temperatures reach 200 degrees Celsius (392F degrees), and even lower 300 degrees Celsius (572F degrees). My favorite thing about the drive was that it was Sci-Fi film ready. You’ll pass the Krafla Power Plant and see some futuristic dome structures all working to convert Geothermal Energy into usable energy for the country of Iceland. Steam rising sporadically throughout the landscape reminds how much is actually happening beneath the surface unbeknownst to us. Geothermal activity in full force. But you know if the sheep are still grazing these hills, I’d say it’s safe enough for me.
born in 1724 when Krafla Volcano erupted
300m in Diameter
Víti means Hell in Icelandic
The Lake changes color depending on the sun/clouds
You can also walk the Entire Rim of the Volcano
Just off Highway 1
After parking your car, take in the endless mountain views in the surrounding. They come in various shades: deep purples sprinkled with snow, tans, browns, maroons. If you’re lucky like me you’ll see sheep grazing and follow them around for awhile. Now for your hike. It’s not a steep climb like Hverfjall, and the view down into the crater is one all its own: Viti Lake, whose Turquoise/teal water changes slightly depending on the sunlight, so perfect that you won’t want to look away. The hike around Víti Maar’s rim would likely take an hour, but if you are like me, you’ll want to stay much longer. When would I be standing here again in this moment of my life, traveling around Iceland Solo, going with my intuition and discovering exactly what I was meant to? Never Again. The present is fleeting, so I took my time to enjoy every second here.
Hike around to a smaller lake for milky blue views and less people. I sat here endlessly. What is time anyway but a Human Creation? Earth knows energies, cycles, connections. I honored this. Víti Maar and surrounding is one of the most beautiful places in all of Iceland for me, hands down, and gets serious bonus points for its uniqueness. Summer hikes in Iceland are surely easier than in other seasons, but one must be conscious in Iceland in all seasons at all times. Steepness, rock slide, freak-storm… any one of these could totally change the game so BE CAUTIOUS NOT COCKY!
And be MINDFUL of where you are. Treat Nature and Mama Earth with lots of love and respect. This is how you Honor her
So there you have it, Part 1 of Iceland’s Volcanos and Worthy Hikes. Every one of these hikes was Free! I didn’t spend a dime. With that said:
Other QU-EEN Recommendations***Bring plenty of water. Bring snacks in case one hike turns into a few hours of exploring, which happens often in beautiful Iceland. Be aware that the weather changes very frequently in Iceland. I got blessed with cloudy skies at times, but no rain, severe winds or snow. I’m glad I visited in PURE SUMMER because I got to see most of the sights with great weather conditions, but certain hikes are obviously more dangerous during rain or other conditions. Don’t be that Cocky Traveler. SEE ICELAND in all its glorious seasons. Summer was right for me, but I’ve seen photos and heard first hand that it’s stunning in Fall, Winter and Spring too. On another note, you are in the middle of nowhere without bathroom facilities for long periods of time. Stop often and frequently when you see civilization or a visitor center somewhere in the region to do your business.