Backpacking in Iceland - featured image

Two weeks ago, my friends asked me if I could give them some tips regarding backpacking in Iceland. As I realized that I have a lot to tell about that, it triggered an idea to put this all together as a blog post and share with the world. So here it is – my story about backpacking in Iceland.

Arrival – The Beginning of the Backpacking in Iceland Adventure

The story starts on Thursday the 17th of August – this is the day when our men’s expedition started. At 19:15 we left our small town and head towards Rostock to catch the ferry next day morning at 6:00 to transfer us to Denmark. In Copenhagen, we had a plane departing at 13:15. Three hours later we were landing in Reykjavik – the capital of Iceland.

Backpacking in Iceland - arrival
First encounter with Iceland

A few words about our group – this was a male’s family trip – two brothers with their sons – altogether we were 5 guys hungry for adventure in Iceland – a land of fire and ice.

Our plan was to go through the whole country including Interior desert with own car. Therefore, just after arrival at the airport, we had to pick up the all-wheel-drive car which we have booked in car rental:

Backpacking in Iceland - AWD
Car picked, ready to move on

Day 1, Friday: Reykjavik

I remember that my first feeling about Iceland was that there are almost no trees and it’s windy as hell. The weather was cloudy and rather cold. Reykjavik is a very positive place – only low buildings, situated on hilly terrain. I liked very much the Hallgrimskirkja church – the architecture of this building is awesome.

Backpacking in Iceland - Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik
Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik – as you can see, the weather was… so, so

We walked a little bit around the city, eat some good fish soup and seafood and we went to bed as we were quite tired after a long trip.

Day 2, Saturday: Thingvellir National Park

Next day, on Saturday we left Reykjavik and moved into the Thingvellir National Park direction. This is a beautiful valley surrounded by wavy lava fields. In this valley in year 930, Icelandic people started to gather there to debate for the first time. That was the start of the Icelandic parliament – Alp’ing.

The lava fields are covered by colored moss, which turns the ground into the giant carpet – looks amazing.

Next, we got into the car and moved through the Kaldidalur valley to reach the Surtshellir cave. The road gave us a preview of what we will deal with in the next few days – empty, gravel roads with long distances.

On the way to the Surtshellir cave, there is another must-see place – Hraunfossnar waterfalls. In my opinion one of the most beautiful in Iceland. The water seems coming from nowhere and the color of the water is just amazing.

Hraunfossar waterfalls
Hraunfossar waterfalls
Hraunfossar waterfalls
Hraunfossar waterfalls

We planned to finish our second day of the trip in Olafsvik (Ólafsvík) – a small fishing village located on the Atlantic where we had our accommodation.

Ring Road views
Somewhere, over the rainbow

All together we traveled 360 kilometers that day as shown on the map below:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 2 map
Distance traveled on the second day.
Source: Google Maps

Day 3, Sunday: Isafjordur and Latrabjarg cliffs

Next day morning, we tanked our car and moved to the next destination – Isafjordur (Ísafjörður). We planned to drive approximately 500 kilometers and we end up with 640 kilometers. The road along the fjords was very long. We had a feeling that it takes ages… despite the beautiful views on the road.

We went off the course to see the biggest cliffs in Iceland – 14 kilometers long and 411 high Latrabjarg cliffs.

Latrabjarg cliffs
Latrabjarg cliffs
Abandoned ship Hilmir close to Isafjordur
Abandoned ship Hilmir close to Isafjordur
Dynjandi waterfall
Dynjandi waterfall

We reached Isafjordur (Ísafjörður) – in my humble opinion, the most isolated town in Iceland, around 10:00 pm. The town is surrounded from three sides by mountains and a bay. It really looks marvelous. We were so tired, that it did not take a long to fall asleep.

Approaching Isafjordur
Approaching Isafjordur

And this is the map of this part of the journey:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 3 map
Distance traveled on the third day.
Source: Google Maps

Day 4, Monday: Hvammstangi

On Monday we wanted to reach Hvammstangi, a small town where we booked accommodation on the farm. This day was rather just to move forward with the road as we covered another 400 kilometers.

Sheep met on the Fiord road
Hi there 🙂

That was another day with Fiords. However the views were beautiful, the road was quite long and dull in the end. As you can see below, you can find some really nice spots along the road.

Abandoned ship Gardar
Abandoned ship Gardar

Did I tell you that Iceland is very expensive? Not yet? Then it is – it’s really expensive. I remember the visit to a restaurant in Hvammstangi – we paid 140 Euros for a lamb soup and 4 beers… But to be honest, the food was great 🙂

Ring Road views 1
Ring Road views

Another map log from our backpacking in Iceland you can find below:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 4 map
Distance traveled on the fourth day.
Source: Google Maps

Day 5, Tuesday: Akureyri, Myvatn and Hverfjall

Tuesday was a day packed with attractions. We planned to visit:

  • Akureyri city
  • Waterfalls Godafoss (Goðafoss) and Dettifoss
  • Myvatn (Mývatn) lake
  • Extinct volcano Hverfjall and Hverarond geothermal area

As all these places are located along the way and in the area of Myvatn lake, we decided to book our accommodation for Tuesday on the Guesthouse Stong farm, located in the Myvatn lake area.

It means the total distance for that day was 460 kilometers.

Akureyri

The first visited place was Akureyri city. This is the second biggest city in Iceland, just after Reykjavik. Well, when I’m saying the second biggest it means that it has around 18,5 thousands of habitats. It’s a really beautiful place, just to cite my brother Mike’s opinion that “it would be ok to live here”.

Waterfalls Godafoss (Goðafoss) and Dettifoss

Waterfalls Godafoss and Dettifoss made a great impression on us. Especially Dettifoss, as this one is huge. No wonder, each second 500 m3 of water goes through this waterfall.

Godafoss waterfall
Godafoss waterfall
Dettifoss waterfall
Dettifoss waterfall

Myvatn (Mývatn) Lake

The area of Myvatn lake and lava fields surrounding it with makes this area one of the most interesting places to visit in Iceland. Having this landscape in front, you will understand why people call Iceland as fire and ice land.

Hverfjall and Hverarond geothermal area

Time was running and we had to move on – towards the Hverfjall volcano. This extinct volcano is 463 meters high and looks incredible. You can hike to the top and down to the extinct crater.

Hverfjall volcano
Hverfjall volcano from the distance
Hverfjall volcano
Hverfjall volcano
Hverfjall volcano
My brother loves FC Chelsea 🙂

Just after breathtaking visit of the extinct volcano, we moved to see Hverarond geothermal area – here you can see and hear what is happening under the ground – it’s like boiling kettle. Everything there is smoking, boiling, making noise, smell bad (due to sulfur). That’s like a scenery from the sci-fi movie.

From Hverarond fields we moved straight to our accommodation in Guesthouse Stong.

Accomodation at Stong Farm
Accommodation at Guesthouse Stong farm

That was the most intensive day so far in our backpacking in Iceland. And as you will see next, that was just a beginning.

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 5 map
Distance traveled on the fifth day of our backpacking in Iceland.
Source: Google Maps

Day 6, Wednesday: Through the Interior

On Wednesday we planned to enter the Interior – rugged highlands of Iceland, accessible only in summer. We were all expecting an adventure but, honestly saying, nobody expected it to be that hard as it was in reality. Anyway, that was a real test for us and also, what you will see in a moment, for our car.

Askja and Oskjuvatn Lake

The first point we wanted to reach was the Askja. We picked up the road F88 to get there and later we planned to take the road F910 to reach Nyidalur valley and stay there overnight in a mountain hut.

Early in the morning, we hit the road in a good mood. Just when we left the concrete road and moved to the gravel one, we realized that to move on we have to cross a few rivers… with the first river crossing our adrenaline level was pumped up, and that was just the beginning of what was ahead.

river crossing on the way to Askja
Yep, no other way… need to cross the river with car

After a couple of hours in the desert we got used to it and In the end, we reached Askja without any difficulties.

Askja is a vast caldera (50 km2). The volcano eruption that formed it occurred in 1875. In the result of this eruption, the surface on 11 km2 has collapsed 300 meters deep forming a 217 meters deep Öskjuvatn lake. Looking at the lake’s bank you will see the Viki crater and how the lava was poured to the lake:

Askja Volcano - Viki Crater
Viti crater
Askja Volcano
Viti crater – you can see the congealed lava which was moving towards the lake…
Askja Volcano
… and finally reaching it.
Oskjuvatn lake
Beautiful Öskjuvatn lake
Oskjuvatn lake
The lake is so still that it creates perfect reflection of the mountains
Oskjuvatn lake
Viti  lake with water 25 C degrees hot

Well, we were all happy to see such awesome things – that’s really something to remember. Area of Askja is still seismically active – the eruption from 1875 can happen again anytime. The latest event happened in 1961 when the chimneys, close to the road to caldera exploded forming small craters.

Road F910 to Nyidalur Valley

Finally, we had to move on. We had 100 km to the mountain hut in Nyidalur valley where we wanted to stay overnight. That was the most difficult part of our backpacking in Iceland and also the most thrilling ride in our lives.

It took us 7,5 hours to go through this road.

First doubts if that was a good idea to pick this direction came to us after a couple of hours of driving. We noticed that we are at least 100 kilometers far from any civilization, in the middle of the desert and in the seismically active area.

After a while, we noticed that the road is getting worse and worse and finally it turned into a kind of path with some pillars stuck every 200 or more meters which were the only navigation point not including the wheel tracks of other cars which passed this road in the past. Well, that was the moment when we understood why this road is not accessible in winter…

Just to give you the impression what I mean:

Through interior desert - road to Nyidalur
That’s how the road to Nyidalur valley looked like at the beginning…
Through interior desert - road to Nyidalur

… and this is what the Road to Nyidalurroad turn in after a while – that was tough
Interior - lava rocks
Lava rocks – Road F910

On the picture above you see a lava rocks desert. The most amazing feeling is to stop there, get out of the car and you will hear the complete silence. These rocks act as a perfect noise canceling – the structure of these rocks is like a sponge. You feel like in the music recording studio – incredible feeling – completely does not match with this giant space in front of you.

A Bit of Unluck

But that was not the end of our adventure. As you can see below the rocks are sharp and edgy, this weakened our tire and in the end, it exploded…

Luckily we had one spare tire and in the end, we reached safely the Nyidalur valley. Just as a tip for those of you who would like to repeat it – we thought that it’s much easier to go through this road. We had a really perfect sunny weather and just one flat tire. If just one of these two factors would get worse, we could be stuck there for longer including a night at the dessert.

Note that there is no GSM signal to call for help…

But we were lucky. The satisfaction from passing this route is great and since then, I know what means Interior. It’s huge, wild, extreme. Going through Iceland and excluding Interior you will never recognize the wild nature of this country.

Through interior desert
Most of the way behind us
Interior desert
Almost there
Sunset in Interior
Sunset at Nyidalur valley

The sixth day of our backpacking in Iceland was the most extreme from the whole trip. As I told wrote above, the last 100 kilometers we were traveling the road which is not marked on the majority of maps – at least not in Google, that’s why I marked it more-less as a straight line measuring the distance:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 6 map
Distance traveled on the sixth day of our backpacking in Iceland.
Source: Google Maps

Day 7, Thursday: Landmannalaugar

On Thursday our target was to get to the shelter in Landmannalaugar – a valley at the altitude of 600 meters above sea level surrounded by colorful mountain range made from rhyolite.

Landmannalaugar schelter

When we got there, we could see a marvelous view – mountains look like from a fairy tale – especially at the sunset.

Landmannalaugar - rhyolite mountains
Colorful mountain made from rhyolite
Landmannalaugar - rhyolite mountains
Incredible views at the sunset

That was a relief to see other people and come back to some kind of civilisation after long hours in wild Interior. We rest little bit and recover after extreme experience therefore we didn’t want to rush ourselves moving this day only 128 kilometers forward:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 7 map
Distance traveled in day number 7 of our backpacking in Iceland.
Source: Google Maps

Day 8, Friday: Efri Viku

On Friday’s morning, we decided to relax a little bit in the natural geothermal pond. This day we used to charge our batteries and the target was just to reach our overnight accommodation and that’s it.

We did as we planned. This segment of our trip looked like that:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 8 map
Distance traveled in day number 8 of our backpacking in Iceland.
Source: Google Maps

Day 9, Saturday: Skaftafell National Park

We rest a little bit and full of energy we could hit the road to Skaftafell National Park. The target was to see the Vatnajokull glacier with Hekla volcano, one of the must-see points when you do backpacking in Iceland.

Skeiðará Bridge

Before we reached Skaftafell we stopped at Skeiðará Bridge Monument which is an extraordinary example of the effects nature can have on man-made constructions.

What’s the story behind? The eruption of the volcano Vatnajökull in 1996 melted portions of the glacier and created massive floods. However the Skeiðará bridge was built to withstand heavy flood waters, it was not ready to absorb the size of the house icebergs which were brought by flood. A number of these giant ice rocks crashed into the bridge, turning it into a heap of scrap metal.

The remainings of the Skeiðará bridge are located close to Iceland’s road number 1 and shows the power of nature.

Skeiðará Bridge Monument
Skeiðará Bridge Monument
Waterfall in Skaftafell National Park
Hiking in the Skaftafell National Park

Svartifoss Waterfall

We reached Skaftafell National Park after an hour of drive. To get to the main attraction of this place we had to take a walk. The first beautiful thing on the way was the Svartifoss waterfall. These rocks are awesome. It’s big and looks like a Minecraft graphics… 🙂

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell
Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell National Park
Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell 1
Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell National Park

Vatnajokull Glacier

Next, we moved into the direction of Vatnajokull glacier – the biggest glacier on Iceland and one of the biggest in Europe.

Vatnajokull glacier from the distance
Vatnajokull glacier from the distance
Skaftafell National Park - Vatnajokull glacier
Skaftafell National Park – Vatnajokull glacier

As we reached the glacier, we were offered the snowmobile ride. That was fun riding through the glacier on the snowmobile.

 Snowmobile Adventure on Vatnajökull Glacier
Snowmobile Adventure on Vatnajökull Glacier
Snowmobile Adventure on Vatnajökull Glacier - hole in glacier
Watch out for holes in glacier

Jökulsárlón – The Glacier Lagoon

Next, we moved to Jökulsárlón – a lake made of melted water coming from Vatnajokull glacier. This place is also called glacier lagoon as the lake is full of small icebergs. What’s interesting, the lagoon is getting bigger and bigger due to melting glacier. This shows the progress of global warming.

Jökulsárlón - Glacier Lagoon
Icebergs from Vatnajokull – Jökulsárlón, the Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón - Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón – Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón was the last point of interest for this day. Our final destination was Vik – a small town where we stayed overnight. We passed 320 km this day what you can see on the below travel log map:

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 9 map
Distance traveled in day number 9 of our backpacking in Iceland.
Source: Google Maps

Day 10, Sunday: Geysir and Gullfoss

Next day our target was to see the famous Iceland geysers. In the morning we went to Reynisfjara black sand beach which is located close to Vik town.

Black sand on Reynisfjara beach

After a quick look at the marvelous beach, we headed into the Seljalandsfoss – a beautiful waterfall very close the Ring Road (road number 1).

Passing by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, we could see beautiful glaciers like Gigjokull. As you probably remember, in 2010 the volcano eruption grounded all aircraft in the southern part of the world. That was Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

Gigjokull glacier under Eyjafjallajokull
Gigjokull glacier under Eyjafjallajokull
Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Beautiful Seljalandsfoss waterfall
behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall from behind

Finally we reached Geysir where are the most famous geysers in the world. After looking at some eruptions we moved forward to the Gullfoss waterfall which was located nearby. We were lucky as we could see a beautiful rainbow over the waterfall.

Geyser in Geysir
Geyser in Geysir
Litli-geysir a small brother of the big one
Litli-geysir a small brother of the big one

Another day full of attractions, we overcome the distance of more than 300 and we reached Reykjavik to take a rest.

Backpacking in Iceland - Day 10 map
Distance traveled in day number 10 of our backpacking in Iceland.
Source: Google Maps

Day 11, Monday: Blue Lagoon

The last day of our stay was pure relax. We wanted to visit Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. That’s pure pleasure to swim in natural hot water and taking rest after all these adventures.

Monday was our last day. We were ready to come back to our families with stories and experiences which were really unique.

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

Day 12, Tuesday: Keflavik Airport

After we drove 3000 km through Iceland, on Tuesday we packed our stuff, returned the car and we were ready to leave the land of fire and ice… At 7:15 in the morning we left Iceland and the next day, 4:00 in the morning we were back with our families.

I will never forget this trip. Iceland offers great opportunities for adventure with minimal risk. Every beginner Indiana Jones will be delighted of such trip.

Iceland is first of all full of beautiful raw landscapes, friendly people and crazy high prices. Iceland will stay for long in my memory.

Aftermath

If you think that’s the end of the story – you are wrong.

Recently, we had a barbecue at our home and I told my friend that I’m collecting memories from backpacking in Iceland and he said that it’s one of his dreams to go there. That’s a perfect foundation for the next year’s summer vacation. I just can’t wait to sit behind the off-road car’s wheel and start the journey across the land of fire and ice.

PS: Yes, we go there in 2020 – it’s already set up. Yesterday, we decided with our friends that we are going to visit Iceland next year with our families. That’s really perfect. Of course, you will know all the details from my coverage.

Photos and  featured image: Lucas

Backpacking in Iceland – How to Visit the Whole Country in Two Weeks - Pinterest
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