Day Five of our Ring Road Trip around Iceland found our family of four arriving early afternoon at Mývatn Lake, probably one of the most geologically fascinating places I’ve ever been in my life. By this point in our trip, we were all a bit exhausted with all the driving and moving around. We had already slept in four different places, drove over 758 kilometers and had not been in one place for more than a night. (Here is our route and stops via google map since we left Reykjavík).
We had visited an active volcano, raced through the capital, and drove hours on the Ring Road barely having a moment to catch our breathe. Then finally we pulled into the tiny village of Reykjahlíð, located on the shores of Lake Mývatn in the north of Iceland, and we were at peace.
After a delightful lunch of fresh cod at the quaint Gamli Bærinn, we headed around the lake to our lovely apartment, the Stella Rosá, which was the best place we stayed at during our entire trip in Iceland. It was utterly a treasure of a find and the perfect place to base ourselves for the next two days in Mývatn.
Before booking our trip, I honestly had no idea that Mývatn Lake combined with neighboring Kafla, was such an absolutely surreal place. I had only known that it was a recommended stop along the Ring Road Tour and thankfully it was the only place we allowed ourselves two full days. There is so much to do, see and explore there that we could have almost used another day. It ended up being one of my favorite places in Iceland because of all the incredible sights together in one place. We often felt like it was the closest place to being on another planet all together. It is that surreal.
In order to understand why this place is so incredibly unique, it is first important to understand a little bit of its geology.
Geology 101: The Krafla Volcanic System
Iceland has one of the most geologically and volcanically active landscapes in the world due to its location at the intersection along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which separates the North American and Eurasian plates causing frequent volcanic activity. Often referred to as “the Land of Fire and Ice”, this small country often grabs the attention of adventure travelers, landscape enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies with its 30 active volcanoes and multitude of glaciers. In fact, there are over 269 named glaciers and ice covers 11% of Iceland’s land mass. It is no wonder tourists love to visit this magical place!
Mývatn is so unique given where it is. It is located within the heart of the Krafla volcanic system, which sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and is immense, (encompassing an area of 10 kilometers wide by 90 kilometers long), making it one of the most active parts of Iceland. Its epicenter is the Krafla caldera, a massive crater which is surrounded by a surreal landscape of bubbling mud pots, hot springs, fumaroles, lava fields, craters and more. Mývatn is a beautiful, serene volcanic lake with some of the most diverse waterfowl species in the world, and its own set of unique volcanic features. Despite the strong smell of sulphur, and the annoying midges (where Mývatn got its name), the Krafla-Mývatn area is one of the most spell-binding, out of this world place I’ve ever been and we loved exploring its mystical treasures.
While we tried our best to research ahead of time how to best explore all of the sights in the Krafla-Mývatn over the course of two days, it was confusing. Although we managed to see everything on our bucket list we wish we would have had a game plan beforehand. So here is my recommended game plan for how to properly experience Krafla-Mývatn in two full days. While you can swap the order, I would recommend starting with Krafla first to get a sense and understanding of how Mývatn was made.
Day 1: Start the morning in Krafla
First stop Hverir
Explore the bubbling mud pools, steaming, stinky sulfuric vents of Hverir where the scope of Iceland’s massive geothermal power rises right before your eyes. We did not follow the trail to continue on and climb up above Hverir which would take at least an hour. I wish we did because I can only imagine the incredible panoramic views of Krafla and Mývatn.
After our visit to Hverir, we headed to the Víti Crater Lake. On the way, you pass by the unattractive yet fascinating Krafla Power Station which was built in 2006 and actually has a visitor center for those who want to learn how Iceland has become one of the greenest countries in the world by using its geothermal power.
Short Hike up to Víti Crater Lake
Take a short 30-minute hike up to the beautiful, aquamarine Víti Crater Lake. This crater was formed in 1724 by a massive explosion as part of the Mývatn Fires which lasted five years and created a lot of volcanic landscape and formations you see today in the area.
Hike the Leirhnjúkur Lava Field
Take the short hike to and a longer hike around the Leirhnjúkur Lava Field, which is located within the Krafla Lava Fields. From the parking lot it is less than a 15 minute walk to the start of the lava fields where you first see a stunning blue-green sulfur pool of bubbling water. You walk a few minutes past the lake and there you will discover a hidden, unbelievably strange world of the immense lava fields. You can walk around the steaming vents but be sure to continue on for another half hour or longer down into the moonlike terrain of this bizarre place. It is absolutely incredible and if you time it right (especially in the evening hour), you will have the entire place to yourself!
Take a walk with me…
Make sure to continue on….you won’t regret it!
The eerie sounds of steam and geothermal energy.
What most people would do after a long day of exploring is visit the Mývatn Baths, North Iceland’s “Blue Lagoon”. However, after being around the strong smell of sulphur all day long my two teens preferred going back to our place and unwinding instead. So we passed on the baths. I’m sure it would have felt wonderful.
Evening stroll along the Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters
After dinner at our cozy Airbnb, we decided to explore the breathtaking pseudo-craters located right across the street from our place. The Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters were formed by gas explosions, when boiling lava flowed over the wetlands creating their unusual formation. The pond surrounding them affords some of the most diverse waterfowl population in Iceland so it is a popular and protected area for birdwatching as well.
It is best in the evening when the colors are extraordinary.
Here is a short video clip of the pseudo craters at night….
Take a short walk around the Kálfaströnd peninsula on Mývatn Lake
A short 30-minute walk from the parking lot at the series of Kálfaströnd farm will lead you to a series of mushroom-shaped lava formations sprouting up through the lake. It is best to visit in evening when light and colors are more dramatic.
A short slide-show of these beautiful formations
Day 2: Mývatn
Wake up early for a morning hike up to the peak of Vindbelgjarfjall, a pointed 1,736 feet (529 meter) mountain that affords a breathtaking view of Lake Mývatn. It is about an hour up and 30 minutes down the relatively steep and extremely buggy hike yet worth the stunning views on top.
Explore and Hike Storagjá, Grjótagjá, Hverfell, and Dimmuborgir
Storagjá, Grjótagjá, Hverfell, and Dimmuborgir are connected by a recommended and well-marked trail (allow most of the day) but you can also easily drive to the start of each trail, and hike to the sights that way. We chose the driving option and it still took us several hours.
We started at Dimmuborgir where we had a fantastic lunch at Kaffi Borgir and tried their homemade bread that is baked underground using geothermal energy. They are also open for dinner.
The unique lava formations of Dimmuborgir were created when the crater row erupted around 2200 years ago. Lava flowed over the ancient Lake Mývatn and down the valley out to sea. A network of walking trails provide an excellent opportunity to explore this unusual place. Some of the lava pillars reach up to 20m (66 ft.) in height and nothing quite like these formations exists anywhere except on the ocean floor.
Grjótagjá and Storagjá are caves that are filled with naturally-heated geothermal water and used to be used for bathing. While they are somewhat interesting to see and not far from everything else, I wasn’t impressed enough to take photos given everything else amazing that we saw. But it is still worth a stop.
Hike up Hverfjall
A hike up to the top of Hverfjall is an absolute must and a highlight of any visit to Mývatn. Hverfjall was created around 2500 years ago leaving behind an incredibly impressive crater, measuring roughly one kilometer in diameter. The leg-burning 45 minute hike up is worth the effort given the insane views of the massive crater and surrounding area. Allow another 45 minutes or so to walk around the crater and be prepared for the wind.
Once on top you are blown away by the perfect formation of this giant crater!
The rim of Hverfjall crater is roughly 80 to 180 meters m(260-590 feet) above the surrounding area and it belongs to a crater row that includes some of the most beautiful and well-formed tephra craters in Iceland. It was the perfect grand finale to two adventurous, jamp-packed days in North Iceland.
Where to stay:
We adored staying on the southern part of Lake Mývatn at the Stella Rosá,apartment. It was a beautiful accommodation with a lovely view of the lake and a neighboring farm. The pseudo craters are right across the lake with walking trails to explore them and also the various waterfowl.
While our lovely Airbnb had a fantastic kitchen, we soon realized that there was not a good grocery store in town. Had we known, we would have stocked up in Akureyri before heading to Mývatn. Finding good grocery stores once you leave the larger cities was always very hard in Iceland. However, thankfully there are some great eats in Mývatn. We enjoyed eating one night at Daddi’s Pizza, and also ate at Gamli Bærinn and Kaffi Borgir, all great family venues. There are one or two fancier places but with Iceland already being very expensive, these places were just fine for us.
What we missed:
Many of the sights are connected by a long trail and if you have the time you can hike to each sight instead of drive to a nearby parking lot and do the hike. We chose driving to most sights however I wish we would have had the time to hike up above Hverir. The hike affords a birds-eye view of the steaming, bubbling mud pots and steam vents below and it would have been cool to truly get a view of the surrounding area. We also did not visit the baths.
What we loved:
Here are a few tips for making the most of your stay and beating the crowds. If you can, start early in the morning and also venture out after dinner at night. Not only will the light be amazing, you will have a lot of the sights all to yourself! We went to the lava field in the evening and there was no one there except us. It was so magical! Also, we hiked around the pseudo craters in the evening and fell into a trance over the peaceful beauty of the birds and the glow of the evening light in the land where the sun never sets.
In a nutshell
We all loved this place so much. The combination of adventure, utter surreal landscape and beauty was wonderful. Plus it was no where near as touristy as the South of Iceland. In my opinion, a must visit and if you have the time, stay longer and go to the interior of Iceland on a 4 x 4 tour for a day or more.
Like it? Why not PIN it for later!