If you’ve already read our Iceland Ring Road Trip Part 1, then you know we left off our story having visited the iceberg lagoon of Jökulsárlón. Continuing East and then Northward, our drive along Highway 1 became a more secluded and sparse experience of Iceland. The further we ventured away from Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, the less populated it became and consequently, the less touristy. This also meant longer drives between points of interest. Luckily for us, what Iceland began to lack in tourist spots, it made up for in breathtaking routes and landscapes.
Iceland Ring Road Trip: Driving Northeast
We had read very briefly about wild reindeer that live and travel in the higher altitudes of East Iceland, but we never imagined we would see any for ourselves. While seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we were lucky enough to encounter a family of Reindeer in the distance, wanting to cross the road ahead of us. After a scramble to grab the camera, we were able to capture a few of them on film.
Continuing our drive up the east coast of Iceland meant we would soon be ascending into the mountains that would then descend down into the Northeastern towns. As the ascent began, the unpredictable nature of Iceland’s weather rang true when a thick fog settled in and cut our speed in half.
Driving slowly and with much caution, we eventually made it through the fog and to the highest elevation. Though the terrain was fully covered in snow, it was by far the warmest weather we had experienced since being in the country. All we were ever told about Iceland is how cold and damp it is. It turns out, the Northeast of Iceland is where the warm weather is at. We parked our campervan, took off our jackets and walked around for a bit.
Our descent took us all the way to the small town of Egilsstaðir. It only has a population of roughly 2,200 people and not so much in the tourist department. But sometimes when you’re consistently on the go, there’s nothing you want more than a simple, calming spot to relax, unwind and take in the views. We parked our van in front of lake Lagarfljót, sat at a nearby picnic table and enjoyed.
Our next stop was Iceland’s largest forest, located about 25 kilometers from the town of Egilsstaðir. Up until now, most of our hikes had been on land covered in moss with no trees in sight. Needless to say, it was a bizarre experience to suddenly encounter an abundance of trees, not having realized your mind had unconsciously missed them.
There are over forty kilometers of marked trails and footpaths in the Hallormsstaður National Forest, making it a perfect spot to hike and picnic for the day. We walked for a while, enjoying the heat of the sun, then plopped down for lunch with a view of the mountains beyond.
We didn’t end up staying for long but had us more time, we would have looked into renting a campsite for the night and booking one of the horse-riding tours for the following day.
Dettifoss, Selfoss & Goðafoss
Have we talked your ears off about waterfalls yet? It’s funny because when we started our road trip, we were amazed by all of the waterfalls we encountered, stopping at each and every one. After a couple weeks, however, we became a bit more picky about the waterfall detours we would take. These three are worth stopping for, and you can visit our dedicated ‘Iceland Waterfalls Aplenty‘ post to read about them in detail.
Iceland Ring Road Trip: Mývatn Region
Mývatn is the name of the lake situated not far from the Krafla volcano. Created by a large eruption over two thousand years ago, the area is mostly spluttering mudpots, weird lava formations, steaming fumaroles and volcanic craters. The name is nowadays not only used for the lake, but also for the whole inhabited area that surrounds the lake. Having already been to the Blue Lagoon, we opted not to visit the nature baths.
Our first stop in the region was the giant lava field at Dimmuborgir which, according to Icelandic folklore, connects Earth to Hell.
The area is composed of volcanic caves and rock formations, giving it its name which literally translates to ‘The Dark Castles’. You can hike three marked color-coded trails: Church Circle, Small Circle, and Big Circle. Church Circle is 2.25km and takes about an hour, whereas the other two are much shorter at 550m and 800m respectively.
We then visited Hverfell, a crater that came into existence over 2,500 years ago. It rises close to 500m from the ground and stretches for over 1000m. Composed solely of loose gravel, it reminded us of what you see after a dumpster drops gravel at a construction site. You can hike up from the parking lot with a bit of effort.
Höfði Nature Park was our next stop. A private reserve with hiking paths located in the southeastern corner of the region, Höfði is similar to Hallormsstaður in that you will feel like you are in a different country as you walk through the paths surrounded by the small forest. It also has great viewpoints that overlook other volcanic rock formations.
Traveling a bit further, we found the pseudocraters located in the small village of Skútustaðir. These craters, resembling a beginner course in Mario Kart, were formed by trapped subsurface water that came to a boiling point and exploded to the surface. We followed the path up and down, enjoying the wonderful views over the lake and dogging random banana peels along the way. Google an aerial view of this place to see what it really looks like.
Our last stop in the Mývatn region was at the steamy sulfur vents of Krafla. We parked in the lot and immediately after getting out the campervan, Adamo was smacked in the face with the smell. The odor was unlike any we had encountered before. This wasn’t simply the smell of rotten egg: the air was so pungent that it instantly gave him a headache and he found it hard to breathe. We started walking toward the mudpots for Adamo to take some photos, but he only managed a couple before he had to run back to the van. I think he was being dramatic, he thinks I’ve lost my sense of smell.
We also briefly visited the small city of Akureyri. After the capital of Reykjavik, this is the second largest urban area in the country. To be honest, we didn’t do much in Akureyri, using it merely as an opportunity to relax and take in the sun. It was around 21 degrees Celsius when we got here! There was, however, a nice library where we took some time to plan the rest of our route.
After arriving at Kolugljúfur, we instantly knew we would be spending the night there, and it became one of our favorite memories from our trip. Take notes, because you have to experience it the EXACT same way we did. This is where we arrived after spending most of the day experiencing other sites. We had gotten there around dinner time, driving up to this incredible canyon in the middle of nowhere, seeing the houses across the way and realizing we were the only travelers for miles.
Legend has it Kolugljúfur was originally the home of a beautiful troll. She was named Kola and she dug out the canyon to make it her home, hence the reason the canyon and waterfall are named after her. If you look closely, you can even make out her bed as well as her cauldron where she used to cook the salmon that she caught from the river.
We prepared our meal and crossed the bridge overlooking the canyon to make our way to the conveniently located picnic table. Eating there in solitude was unforgettable. Because it’s daylight for most hours of the day, you kind of has to decide for yourself when it’s time for some shut-eye. So shortly after, we hunkered down in our campervan and turned in for the night. Listening to the sound of the waterfall was so relaxing and made for the perfect night’s sleep.
The westernmost point in all of Iceland, Látrabjarg is the only spot where we were successful in our quest to see puffins up close and personal. We had been unlucky throughout our entire trip and Látrabjarg was ultimately our last opportunity. It was a long drive that was a significant detour into the Westfjords, but we knew we had to try. And it’s a good thing we did: puffins were everywhere. In fact, millions of birds call the cliffs of Látrabjarg home. If you want to the details about our entire Puffin encounter, visit our ‘A Quest for Puffins‘ post.
Believe it or not, Iceland also has a couple of golden sand beaches: one named Breiðavík and the other named Hvallátur. With turquoise water surrounded by rocky cliffs, it makes them ideal spots for taking a breather and enjoying the views.
You can also make a quick stop in this area to visit the old salvaged fishing boats and aircraft that are on display.
After driving throughout the country for over two weeks, our Iceland Ring Road Trip took us back to Reykjavik where we decided to use our last full day to visit the island of Viðey. Just off the coast of the capital, Viðey is situated in Kollfjörður Bay. It was said to contain the best farming land of the country and in the early 20th century, roughly 150 people lived on the island. Currently, however, Viðey is uninhabited.
Visiting the island of Viðey can make for a great half-day trip. The Elding ferry will take you there in 15-30 minutes, depending on your point of departure. It is only $1,200 ISK for a return trip, but free for anyone who purchases the Reykjavik City Card. The island also has several hiking paths. You can explore the paths by foot or, in the Summer, up the ante and rent a bike or horse. We decided to walk as it was a beautiful day and we were planning on being there for several hours. You can also look into combining your trip to Viðey with a whale watching tour, a special offer provided by Elding.
The island is home to Iceland’s oldest stone house (now a restaurant, gallery, and museum), Viðeyjarkirkja church (don’t ask us how to pronounce that), and the John Lennon Imagine Peace Tower (shooting brightly into the sky for two months in the Fall). One thing we really wanted to visit was the Imagine Peace Tower: an outdoor work of art conceptualized by Yoko Ono in memory of her late husband, John Lennon. Annually, the Peace Tower is lit from October 9 until December 8. the former being his birthday and the latter the day of his assassination. The tower’s base is engraved with the words “imagine peace” in 24 different languages.
If you happen to be there in late August, make sure to join the locals to pick caraway seeds that grow on the island. They are supposed to be sweeter and have a more distinctive taste than what we are used to buying and apparently go great with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.