Iceland is a country full of natural beauty but also extremely rugged terrain. Anyone who wants to walk on the wild side will get their fill in Iceland, given that its location along a volcanic seam of the Mid Atlantic Ridge has produced truly stunning natural formations worth exploring.
Climb Inside a Crater
When approaching Kerið from the main road of the Golden Circle, it doesn’t appear to be much. However, when you look over the lip of the crater lake, you realize just how amazing this volcanic caldera is. The rock surrounding the lake is deep red, with the water itself a crystalline blue. While many simply hike around the top of the crater lake, there is also a twisting and switchbacked path down to the water itself. Looking out across the unearthly water makes you wonder if there might be a monster in its depths. Even though many caldera lakes are incredibly deep, this one is actually only 7-14 meters deep (23-46 feet).
Walk Behind Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Even from the road, you can see the 60-meter high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, but it isn’t until you get up close that you see that there is a trail that goes behind and under the waterfall. Be forewarned: wear your raincoat for this trek, as well as some mud-proof shoes with good traction! A small cave opens up behind the main waterfall, and the rainbows that are thrown off by the falling water can be spectacular.
While many stop at the most frequented major waterfall, the ridge continues down a beautiful path. Along the way, there are more waterfalls and overlooks you can scramble atop to see everything for miles around. There are no handrails or specific handholds, so watch your step and hold on tight as you scale the craggy surface.
Trek Up a Glacier… or Snowmobile Over!
Glaciers cover a large area within the interior of Iceland, and hiking along the crest of one, with the proper equipment, can be quite the rush. These treks are best done in a group with an experienced guide, since few people outside of Iceland can put “experienced glacier walker” on their resumes. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the geological history of Iceland, the way that glaciers expand and contract, and the relationship between the icy glaciers and the fiery volcanoes around the country.
If you cannot get enough of the glaciers, one way to cover a lot more ground is to go on a snowmobile tour. The interior of Iceland is crisscrossed with “F-Roads,” or roads that frequently sustain extreme weather that normal cars usually cannot cope with. These roads are used by extreme weather vehicles, which can transport you and other tourists to spots where you can snowmobile over frozen terrain and along large expanses of glaciers. While relatively comfortable because you won’t be doing any manic downhill tricks, snowmobiling definitely is a rush and helps you to see even more of this unique landscape without having to walk for days to cover it all.
Enter the Ice Caves
One result of the seasonal changes in temperature and the underground geothermal heat is that ice forms in unique ways around Iceland. The natural seams in the glaciers Vatnajokull and Langjokull, in different parts of Southern Iceland, create amazing ice caves that will look like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
A few tips for seeing these brilliant sights: plan as far in advance as possible, basically as soon as you book a trip to Iceland, because the tours that are available tend to get booked very quickly and completely. Also, the experience is pretty much all-day, so trying to do an ice-cave tour as a day trip out of Reykjavik is a poor plan. Instead, choose a town closer to the caves you are visiting and spend at least one night there – you’ll get to know what smaller-town Iceland is like and you’ll not have to rush quite so much. Believe me: spelunking in an ice cave is more than tiring enough! You don’t need a round trip drive on top of that. Lastly, consider doing a package deal that includes a glacier walk and the ice caves along with lodging and possibly meals: the touring companies know the area well and will choose places you are likely to enjoy.
Hike to the Hidden Swimming Pool
Selljavallalaug is not a typical swimming pool with a cabana and maybe some umbrellas for shade. In typical Iceland fashion, it is both much more difficult to get to, but also much more rewarding as a location. In 1923, there was a fear that locals in Iceland couldn’t swim despite living near and fishing in the ocean. They built a swimming pool that was fed by a natural hot spring, meaning that it was always a comfortable temperature even in cold weather. It’s amazing that there was a time when Icelanders weren’t proficient swimmers, since pools are one of the most popular recreational activities now, with multiple large pool complexes in Reykjavik.
If you make the many turns necessary to find Selljavallalaug’s sparse parking area, you will be confronted with about another 20 minutes of walking over rocky terrain and on hard-to-find paths. Sure, it takes a little while to earn this swim, but trust me, the view alone is worth it. The simple dressing rooms give you space to change into a swimsuit, and the pool itself is mossy and green from the algae that grow in the warm water. A whole wall of the pool is a rock face and you can watch the steaming water drip down it; on the other side of the pool is a magnificent valley that truly looks like something from a fantasy film of another world. The swim is a nice relaxing moment after the drive and hike, and usually, the spot is not very busy, especially in the morning.