Skaftafell Glacier, Iceland

Ring Road Trip Around Iceland: Hike to Skaftafell Glacier

Curving alongside the southeastern tip of Iceland lies the immense Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap outside of the poles which has over 30 glacial tongues sliding down its mystical ice mass to the volcanic ground. A drive around the Ring Road passing the “Glacier of Lakes”, the Icelandic translation of Vatnajökull to English, is a magical, wondrous journey. It is a drive that encompasses some of the most spectacular glacial scenery on earth passing by nostalgic Icelandic farms with everlasting green, Icelandic horses, glacial tongues falling from the sky, the black sand beaches of Vik, the waters of the sea and the dreamy glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón with its sensational icebergs floating harmoniously atop its aquamarine waters. The South of Iceland is so incredibly striking that it feels like a dream.

We left Jökulsárlón around noon continuing our incredible drive south along the Ring Road. I had remembered this very drive from 13 years ago when I first came to Iceland and was mesmerized by her beauty. At each bending turn, one is rewarded with an enormous frozen valley of ice jetting off from the ice cap down into the black, hardened lava fields and dead gray sand.

If it is a cloudy day which is frequent in this part of the world, the view is even more fantastic and mystical. At times it looks like the ice cap rising above is floating high up in the sky like a cloud. It is such an impressive sight that the drive took us double the amount of time to account for each and every stop along the way to take photos of these mammoth glaciers. The glacial tongues seemed to be everywhere and go as far as the eye can see. I continually had to pinch myself to see if I was really there in such an unbelievable place, in a world that is still in the process of being created.

South Iceland

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Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Travel During the Pandemic: A Visit to Jökulsárlón

I rose late after a restless night of endless tossing and turning and worry. The perfect trip that I had planned for our family to Iceland had been drastically altered. I tried to think about the options and the “what if’s” over and over again, spinning circles in my head. The more I tried to research everything online, the less answers I found. I felt like we were in one big mess and there was no easy way out.

We were still in Höfn, with two days left in our Ring Road Trip itinerary. We were in a bit of a pickle as there was no way for me to get back without riding in the rental car with my family who all tested negative, and it would take a minimum of six hours to drive all the way back to Reykjavik. We had already paid for our hotel in Vik and had two of the best days planned of our trip ahead. The only solution we had was to go on with our trip as planned, and try our best to distance me from the rest of the family and not go near anyone outside of our family for the next three days. I layered up in three masks, only left the room to use the bathroom once the whole car was packed up and we set off with all four windows open, heading to our next destination, Jökulsárlón.

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Travel during a pandemic: When things go wrong

We were seven days into our ten-day Ring Road Trip around Iceland when our long-awaited family trip turned upside down. That morning, after a lovely hike along the waterfalls outside the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður, we loaded up our rental car and set off for what was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: A two day visit to the majestic South.

The South of Iceland is so magnificent that most tourists simply fly into Reykjavik and head straight there. Nowhere in Iceland has such immense beauty and hypnotizing magic. Home to the mighty Vatnajökull Ice Cap encompassing 12% of Iceland’s territory, the South of Iceland is graced with endless glacial tongues dripping down to the plains, countless waterfalls, evergreen farmland and stunning seashore all wrapped up in one surreal place.  It is so insanely beautiful that it takes your breath away.

I will never forget my visit 13 years ago, when my father and I first went to Iceland and set off from Reykjavik heading south along the Ring Road to Vik and ending in Skaftafell National Park. I had fallen in love with the South of Iceland and this time, thirteen years later I’d be back bringing my family to this incredible place. I knew exactly where I’d take them, what views we would see and what hikes we would do. Little did we know, our special family trip would soon turn upside down.

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A Stay in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

Nestled at the bottom of the rugged Fjarðarheiði mountain pass at the end of a long, narrow fjord in Eastern Iceland is the magical coastal town of Seyðisfjörður. Given its remote location (it is about a two and a half hour drive east from Mývatn and another 3 hours to the more popular town of Höfn), and its unique surroundings, we were in for a real treat. It was our sixth day in Iceland following our Ring Road family trip adventure, and we had just spent two fantastic days in Mývatn and Krafla exploring its volcanic wonders. Now it was time to enter into a fairytale world of endless waterfalls, lush green mountains and blue sea as far as the eye could see.

We arrived in the late afternoon, down a long, serpentine, gravel road, pulling out of the clouds and into lush green valley and fjord that surrounds the village. It wasn’t hard to find our hotel or the center of town given the compact size of Seyðisfjörður. Yet instantly we were charmed by the lovely, colorful wooden buildings for which Seyðisfjörður is known for. Since Seyðisfjörður is quite small, many travelers simply pass it by. However, if you love taking a hike and having literally the entire mountainside to yourself followed by world-class Icelandic dining, then a night in Seyðisfjörður is definitely something you should do and highly recommended.

Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

First glance of Seyðisfjörður

Seyðisfjörður Iceland

The tongue of the long fjord

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Iceland: Two days in Mývatn and Krafla, Iceland

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.

Entering the lava fields feels like walking on the moon….

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A Hike up to Iceland’s Newest Volcano: Fagradalsfjall

On July 29, our family of four took our first trip out of the country since before the pandemic to the magical, surreal landscape of Iceland. I had first visited Iceland back in 2008 with my father and was spellbound by her unearthly beauty and astonishing mystique. While I had wanted to return to this phenomenal country and explore it more, the idea quite frankly did not pop back into my head until late in the Spring when our family had all been fully vaccinated and heard the news that Iceland with its small population of roughly 368,792 hearty souls was welcoming back vaccinated tourists. As someone who follows travel news closely, Iceland’s clever tourism pitch got my attention.

Icelandair has long had direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavík, and to meet the increase in demand, Delta Airlines also launched a non-stop flight from my home town airport as well. The flight to Iceland from Minneapolis is roughly six hours. The only downfall is that the flight is too short to really get any sleep and the time change is a difficult five hours ahead meaning jet lag was going to be an issue that first day. The good news is we would have nine full days to adjust.

The route from Minneapolis to Iceland takes you directly over Greenland. The view was jaw-dropping!

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Hike to Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France

Unforgettable Hikes along the Tour de Mont Blanc: Hike from Col des Montets to Lac Blanc

Sometimes in life, the best comes last. Serendipitously, this proved true with our very last hike on our intergenerational do it ourselves Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). After ten glorious days of hiking the TMB – from the stunning Val Ferret and Val Vény in Courmayeur to our hike above the gorgeous Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finally to a variety of different hikes in Chamonix-  our hike to Lac Blanc proved to be the one hike that had us wondering when on earth we’d ever be able to come back to this magical place. The hike to Lac Blanc reminded me exactly why I hike in the first place: To feel utterly, insanely alive. And, there is nowhere I feel more alive than outside. The pure, raw beauty of the Alps and the Tour de Mont Blanc itself can all be captured in this one hike. It is a must-do for anyone in Chamonix and anyone hiking the TMB.

We had heard about Lac Blanc from our hotel and had desperately wanted to hike there earlier but the gondola lift to La Flégère was closed. So instead, we filled our first two days with a hike to the top of Le Brévent that affords stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc, and we did an incredible hike along the Grand Balcon on Mont Blanc to the Mer de Glace. While both hikes are exceptionally stunning for some reason I had to see Lac Blanc. I had this nagging, unexplainable urge to do this hike so I persisted. Our hotel manager told us we could reach Lac Blanc a different way – albeit a bit longer of a hike – if we drove past Argentière and parked at the Col des Montets located in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles-Rouges. It was rated a difficult hike but was doable in anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on level of fitness. I got my dad and son to agree and on our last day in Chamonix we set off for what would be the greatest hike of the entire trip.

We arrived at the trailhead shortly after ten. There were plenty of parking spots remaining which was of course a good sign that this beloved hike was not too busy yet. It was an absolutely perfect day for hiking with a few scattered powderpuff clouds, brilliant sun and glorious blue sky. We could not have asked for a better day for our last hike.

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

The start of the trail is right behind the Reserve Naturelle del Aiguilles Rouges, France

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

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Mer de Glace, Chamonix

A Panoramic Hike Along the Grand Balcon Nord to the Mer de Glace in Chamonix

After our sensational ride up to the top of Aiguille du Midi, it was time to board the gondola and head back down to the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m/7,602 ft) for our afternoon hike. The day before we had hiked to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we wanted to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.

We boarded the gondola at Aiguille du Midi and were taken down in roughly ten minutes to a much more pleasant temperature. It was freezing up top at Aiguille du Midi as we were mostly covered in the clouds with a fierce wind blowing off the peak of Mont Blanc. I am glad we weren’t strapping on a pair of crampons and hiking up there!

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix

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Mont Blanc Aiguille du Midi

Take a ride with me to the top of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix

Getting to the top of Aiguille du Midi to catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc was without a question a must do experience when we were hiking in Chamonix this past summer. Roughly 21 years ago, my own dad summited this mighty beast being one of the thousands who attempt to climb Mont Blanc every year. Given the three-generational trip, it seemed fitting to show my 14-year-old son the top of the peak his grandfather conquered and I was equally as curious to see it for myself.

After hiking to the top of Le Brévent across the valley from Mont Blanc, we decided to spend our second day hiking in Chamonix along the stunning panoramic Grand Balcon Nord on Mont Blanc. This high alpine trail can either start at the top of Montenvers (you can take a train ride up) or you can begin as we did at the Plan de l’Aiguille (the first gondola stop on the way up to the top of Aiguille du Midi. The 6.1 kilometer hike zigzags along the side of Mont Blanc affording stunning views of the surrounding Alps and even Mont Blanc if you begin from the Montenvers/Mer de Glace direction.

After we purchased our gondola tickets, we learned that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif (even including the train ride up to Montenvers). It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to ride as many gondolas as possible to get all of the incredible views. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice. Despite our mistake in not purchasing the multi-day pass from the start, we did get our money’s worth over the next two days in Chamonix.

Map of Mont Blanc. Map credit: Mont Blanc Natural Resort

Our plan of attack for the day was to first ride the gondola all the way to the top of Aiguille du Midi (3842 m/12,605 ft) for magnificent high alpine views of Mont Blanc, and then to continue back down to the midway point at Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m) where we would get off and begin our hike along the Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers.

As we began our ascent, the sky was a robin’s egg blue with a few white fluffy clouds hovering about. The day seemed to be much better than the day before when we were hiking at Le Brévent in a thick layer of irritating fog. Since this was the prized view we were desperately waiting to see we hoped the fog wasn’t going to jeopardize our chance of seeing Mont Blanc up close.

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If only the sun had come out.

Chamonix, France: Hike to the glorious Le Brévent

On our first full day in Chamonix, we opted for a shorter hike as the weather was unfortunately overcast and foggy. Despite knowing that the views would not be perfect, we decided to take the gondola lift up to Planpraz and then follow the steep hike up to the top of Le Brévent, which affords stunning views of the glaciers surrounding Mont Blanc. If only the weather had cooperated, this would have been an absolutely stellar hike and I deeply regret not taking the cable car back up for some photos on a clear day before we left Chamonix. Regardless, if you have three days in Chamonix, visiting the top of Le Brévent is a must as it gives you an incredible appreciation and perspective of not only the entire Chamonix Valley but of the Tour de Mont Blanc itself. On top of Le Brévent, you will delight in panoramic 360-degree views of it all and it will truly blow you away, even in the clouds.

To reach the start of the hike, you have a few options. You can hike the entire thing which would take roughly five hours one way or you can ride the cable car to Planpraz  (the station is located walking distance from town) up to 2000 m/6,562 feet, and then begin your hike up to Le Brévent at 2525 m/8284 feet. Once on top of Le Brévent, the options are endless as you connect up with the Tour de Mont Blanc and can hike from there toward Lac Blanc or Les Houches. For us, we simply went to admire the incredible panoramic view of Mont Blanc.

Chamonix, France

We purchased our tickets and learned after the fact that it is most economical to purchase a multi-day gondola pass. You can purchase 1,2, 3 or 6 day passes on the Mont Blanc MultiPass which covers all 8 areas in the Mont Blanc Massif. It is a great deal and a must-have as you will certainly want to visit the famous Mer de Glace and the Aiguille du Midi while you are in Chamonix. Best of all, it is unlimited so you can hop on and off taking time off your hike or else just ride the gondola up to get some photos if the weather is nice.

For our hike, we chose to do the route on the lefthand side of the map. Some hikers go behind Le Brévent to continue along the Tour de Month Blanc while others continue on towards La Flégère and Lac Blanc. Unfortunately, our timing was off as they were updating the Flégère gondola so we were not able to easily reach Lac Blanc from Chamonix. Instead, it was a full day of hiking (which ended up being the best hike of our entire trip).

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Chamonix: The Most Beautiful Town at the Heart of Mont Blanc

It was perhaps a bit serendipitous that we chose to spend the last four days of our Tour de Mont Blanc in the glorious mountain town of Chamonix in France. For it was here, back in the summer of 1966 that my dad made that fateful call to my mother, resulting in their marriage a few weeks later in Switzerland. My dad had been backpacking through Europe with a fraternity brother and was only a month or so into the trip when he arrived in Chamonix, saw the stunning beauty of Mont Blanc and realized that he couldn’t be there without his favorite girl. My mother flew to Europe with all the money she had which wasn’t much, met my dad and they were married at the town hall in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

That story had been told to me over and over again throughout the years, and I finally got to see Chamonix and Mont Blanc for myself when I was thirteen years old on our first family trip to Europe. I don’t remember much about Chamonix however I do remember riding the train up to see the Mer de Glace and being absolutely taken away by its beauty and scale.

I returned to Chamonix again in my late 20s on a ski trip with my family and a few years later brought with my husband to show him this special place. My father even scaled Mont Blanc when he was about my age which after seeing it in person is quite an impressive feat. Fondue dinners, stunning vistas of glaciers and of course Mont Blanc are always the nostalgic memories that come to mind when dreaming about Chamonix. So you can imagine the utter joy I felt at ending our Tour de Mont Blanc in this glorious place and for introducing my son to Mont Blanc. I could hardly wait to see if he would be as smitten by its beauty and mystique as the rest of my family.

The Alps in flight

Flying over the Alps on our flight to Geneva

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Champex-Lac, Switzerland

Our Black Diamond Hike to the Top of La Breya in Champex-Lac, Switzerland

After our beautiful drive through the Grand-Saint-Bernard Pass in Switzerland, we headed to the traditional Swiss town of Champex-Lac to meet up again with the Tour de Mont Blanc. Champex-Lac is one of the most idyllic Swiss mountain villages I’ve ever seen as it is surrounded by a beautiful lake with the magnificent Alps towering above in nearly every direction. Nestled in the French-speaking Canton of Valais, Champex-Lac is the perfect place to linger and spend a day or two soaking in its beauty and taking a hike.

Champex-Lac, Switzerland

We arrived in the early afternoon with a few hours to spare before continuing on to spend the night in neighboring Martigny. Had we known how special it was in Champex-Lax, we would have definitely preferred to stay there. We found Champex-Lac to be quite stunning and charming. Set at an altitude of 4,921 feet (1,500 m) with the peak of La Breya (7,198 feet/2194 m) rising high above, this traditional mountain village has a lot to offer in addition to being one of the starting and ending points for the clockwise circuit of the Tour de Mont Blanc.

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