Iceland has become more and more popular for the spectacular and rather accessible places with waterfalls, canyons and geothermal spots, that everyone can enjoy while driving the main ‘Ring Road’. But did you know that it is also full of stunning valleys, canyons, lakes and colourful mountains? Many of them lay ‘hidden’ in the highlands, accessible through some stunning but also challenging routes.
But before we start…
Before you follow reading we need to advise you that the routes that lead to those places are not easily passable, some of them aren’t marked in the most visible way and cut with many rivers which level can rise significantly following the heavy raining previous days or even exceptionally high temperatures that affect glaciers. During summertime, you’ll need a good 4WD car and some previous experience driving in such conditions. Notice also that it’s essential to check the weather every day before you’ll hit the road, on the Icelandic website www.vedur.is and the road conditions on www.road.is, including sharing your plans with the local Rescue Association (ICE-SAR) https://safetravel.is/travel-plan. Also if you have any doubts, we will be more than glad to help you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Security – checked! Below you will find 5 isolated gems in the Icelandic highlands with a big significance and incredible origins, where you can disconnect from the outer world and feel the power of nature:
-1- Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk)
The fields and forests of Thor, also known nowadays as the valley of Thor. It’s a very popular place for nature lovers, hikers, and professional and amateur photographers, surrounded by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and Mýrdalsjökull and Tindfjallajökull glaciers. A true pearl with plenty of things to do and places to explore, both on the way and already there; you can’t miss one of the best and accessible viewpoints on the whole valley: mountain Valahnúkur or the visit to the Stakkholtsgjá canyon. Here is also where the famous trekking of Laugavegur finishes, with its beginning in Landmannalaugar. If you’re up for a challenge we recommend a hike that goes up 1000m between two volcanoes/glaciers and rewards you with a magnificent view of Godaland, the deep highlands and the south coast. It’s a challenging one and hiring a local guide or joining our small-group adventure would be highly recommendable. Also, don’t forget that to access Thórsmörk you will need a proper 4×4, with big tires and great experience in crossing powerful rivers.
If you think of a great experience in the remote highlands, it’s not possible to forget about Langisjór (¨the long sea¨) lake. Fortunately, still not so popular among tourists, this place is unique for the breathtaking view of Vatnajökull glacier in the background and surrounded by the Fögrufjöll (the beautiful mountains) and Tungnaárfjöll mountain rigs. The combination of the green mountainsides, with the bright glacier and the powerful turquoise of the water, makes this place another paradise for hikers and photographers. Located there Sveinstindur mountain offers the best viewpoint of the ¨long sea¨ lake, the mountains and most likely one of the best and panoramic views in the whole Iceland. The hike takes approximately only 5,5km but with a medium-high physical demand for the elevation gain. To access the Langisjór you’ll need a 4×4 to cross part of the F208 route from the south and the F235, the road is quite demanding, with many cracks and big rocks, especially on the way to Landmannalaugar.
Everybody knows that Iceland beats many nature records with its glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes, but did you know that deep in the southern highlands it hides the biggest volcanic canyon in the world? Fire canyon, known as Eldgjá, is a volcanic fissure created by the largest flood of basaltic lava ever recorded in human history, between 934 and 936, that’s 40 km long, 270 m deep and 600 m wide To imagine the magnitude of the flood it’s enough to say that it was responsible for a change in the global climate, lowering the temperature in the northern hemisphere for 2ºC! The canyon and its area offer a variety of trails with gorgeous views, such as the 5km hike to Ófærufoss (The impassable waterfall) or 14km, challenging and a physically demanding trail to the Gjátindur mountain that stands at the end of the fissure.
-4- Thakgil (Þakgil)
Thakgil is a campground located in the middle of a canyon. A small gem quite easily accessible and near the main road, south of the Myrdalsjökull glacier, that will take you less than 45min to enter with a gravel route. The access starts next to the Hotel Katla 5km away from Vik and for its impressive views on the enormous landscape created by the powerful Múlakvísl river many of our travellers called it a ¨Jurassic Park¨ scenery… we couldn’t agree more, it really is this epic ;). When in the campground you can choose from Remundargil Ravine Loop of about 13km that hides a beautiful waterfall with the same name, Austurfrett Range trail that ends with an incredible view on the Myrdalsjökull glacier or short walks around the campsite such as the 15-min walk to the natural pool. This famous valley was formed by ice that melted from the glacier in the layers of ash which Katla volcano kept for many and many centuries.
-5- Mælifell and Strútur
Maelifell it’s a green volcano located in the north of the glacier Myrdalsjökull, in a unique black sand dessert with a white background of the glacier. It became a famous location thanks to the pyramid-like shape of the mountain that’s been photographed more and more both from the land and the sky. To arrive there from the south part of the ring road you must be equipped with a 4×4 car and have some previous experience as you’ll need to cross the Brennivínskvísl river more than once. If a simple visit to that perfectly shaped volcano isn’t enough, just in front of its south-east face you’ll find a road that goes to the Strútur hut, which took its name from the mountain that lays nearby. The area offers various trails, starting from the Strútur’s summit and finishing on the 75-km long Strútsstígur trail. Another trail, that’s, for now, a well-kept secret, that arrives at an emerald lake, that created a small lake inside of a volcanic crater covered with red iron, rock formation… ¨Just¨ another hub with natural wonders in Iceland spread in the only 28km2.
To make sure that you’ll enjoy all these 5 isolated gems in the Icelandic highlands with full security, prepare yourself not only by renting a proper car, material or resources but also bear in mind that the weather or river/road conditions may simply force you to turn back. But if you want to be sure to reach them and trust someone with more knowledge and experience, consider joining our new adventure “UNEXPLORED HIGHLANDS” that will bring you to all the places mentioned in this article, which you’ll explore under the eyes of professional guides and drivers that know all their little secrets ;).