10 day Roadtrip around Iceland
Our journey began on October 1st when three best friends decided they were going to board a plane in Chicago and go on a 10 day road-trip around Iceland. This could be epic or end up disastrous considering all three of us had never vacationed together, much less spend that much time together in a camper van. But this journey ended up being the best thing we had ever done together, in the most gorgeous country imaginable.
October 2nd 2016
The three of us get off the plane full of excitement for the journey ahead. Our excitement is quickly halted when we find out one of us leaves our passport on the plane. Luckily this was only a minor setback, as the staff in the airport was so kind and had it back in our hands within 45 minutes. We then went to get our luggage. We had 8 pieces of luggage between us, which included way too many clothes, 12 pounds of food, a ton of electronics, and an itinerary of our trip. Once we had all our belongings we headed out the two large doors leading to a covered path running through a parking lot. This path has signs that show all the rental companies (it does not say Rent.is but don’t fear). Walk that path all the way to the very end and there will be a bright yellow shuttle bus. Just hop on, it’s completely free. When you get to the rental section you will quickly notice the colorful Rent.is vans and you will know you’re in the right place. Head into the “Go Iceland” doors and they will take it from there! The staff showed us around the van and explained how everything worked and we were surprised by the amount of space. All 8 pieces of luggage fit under the bed no problem.
We are big disc golf fans so the first thing on the agenda was to hit up some courses in Reykjavik before taking on the Ring Road. We decided upon Fossvogsdalur first. It was a very beautiful course and we got lucky enough that an Icelandic family allowed us to park in their driveway, because we were still getting used to driving there. The boys went to play a round and I took this time to organize the van. I was shocked by the amount of space and that there was even room to put all the food we had brought along.
If you’re curious here’s a list of the food that we brought:
• 2 loaves of bread, pasta sauce, 6 boxes of noodles, garlic butter, 16 little cups of fruit, 3 boxes of pop tarts, pancake mix, syrup, chocolate chips, Gatorade powder, peanut butter, jelly, pouches of trail mix, granola bars, bags of beef jerky, snack cracker packets, boxes of macaroni and cheese, 3 things of cheese slices for grilled cheese, and fruit snacks.
The only food we bought while there for the camper van was eggs and hamburger.
Read more: What to pack for October camping in Iceland
Then it was time to really begin our journey. We decided to see Iceland counter-clockwise, which made our first stop Seljalandsfoss. As we were driving there we quickly noticed how beautiful the land truly was. We couldn’t stop talking about it. We are used to fields and woods back in Indiana. This was very different….the land was rocky, yet green. Not like any other country we had visited. As we pulled into the parking lot at Seljalandsfoss it took our breath away. The waterfall itself was so much bigger than we had expected and so stunning. This waterfall you can walk all the way around, and it was such a cool experience to get to go behind it. We couldn’t believe this was just the first stop of the day.
This was a perfect spot to stop and make lunch in the van for the first time. Also, helpful tip, if you don’t bring your own groceries we highly recommend stopping at a Bónus. It’s the cheapest/largest grocery store we found and they have them in every large town. We made grilled cheese on our campervan stove and that was the perfect little lunch for us.
Next we made our way to Skógafoss, another amazing waterfall. To the right of the waterfall you will notice many stairs to get to the top. We HIGHLY recommend you do this; there is so much more up there than just the top of the waterfall.
You can also camp here for free, just pay for the showers and toilets. They also have a couple sinks that make great dish washing stations.
We then headed off to the Sólheimasandur plane crash. When we go there we realized it was going to be a very LONG and WINDY hike. We didn’t know that is was 4km away from the parking lot. We didn’t let this stop us however. As we were walking it seemed like an eternity of nothing but black sand and the horizon in the distance. We took turns blocking each other’s wind as it was hard to walk with the winds so strong. We felt like we were in a black sand dessert but it wasn’t quite as warm, so we decided the experience was more like being on another planet. Finally we could see the plane in the distance. Once we got there we were shocked you could walk in it and on it and whatever you wanted. It was quite eerie in person.
The walk was much longer than we had anticipated in the schedule, and it was getting dark quickly. In October it is dark by 7pm. We decided to head back to Skógafoss for the night since we knew there were showers and we could camp there for free. Our day one travel route is below.
The first night sleeping in the van was perfect. The beds were surprisingly comfortable; and the heat lasted all night and kept us toasty. We were still shocked by the wind in October as we could hear it howling all night. It just became the noise of nature that put us to sleep every night. In the morning we made some chocolate chip pancakes and continued our journey.
Read more: Camping in Iceland
October 3, 2016
First stop of the day was Dýrhólaey Arch. This reminded me a lot of the coast in the states, of California. It is a very steep winding road to see it but very doable in a campervan. We got to see it at sunrise and it was quite beautiful.
We then headed towards Landmannalaugar. Note to fellow campervans…THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE, YOU MUST HAVE A 4×4. We saw that the road leading to Landmannalaugar was not an F-road so we thought there must be a way for us to get there. About 30 minutes in you come to a fork in the road the road on the left is an F-road (meaning only 4×4 can drive it) the right is labeled a normal road. This road was very smooth however after only being on it for maybe 2-3 miles we found out you must cross flowing water. We did not take the chance with the van and decided to turn around. We did however explore by foot for about an hour to make it worth our drive.
Here is our little van safe and sound, I would recommend never taking it through flowing water.
Read more: Camping laws and regulations in Iceland
Took a little team work to get across but as you can see it was beautiful on the other side. The lesson to be learned here is even if you end up lost or your plans don’t end up how you imagined them, you can always make the best out of a situation when everything around you is so beautiful and special.
Next stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. This was one of my personal favorite spots. I felt like it was straight from a fairytale. It was so vast and just stunning in every way.
Don’t forget while in Vatnajökull National Park to make the hike to Svartifoss as well. The basalt columns that surround this waterfall make it very unique, and it is a relatively short hike.
Our Next stop was Jökulsárlón Lagoon. On the way here you will pass through a mossy lava field that has pull-offs to take pictures. I highly recommend stopping, as they are like nothing we had ever seen before, but you will see a lot of in Iceland.
On our way there we also found a cool little stop, the last piece of an old bridge. In November 1996 a massive flood destroyed the bridge over the river Skeiðará. From this location we also got our first sight of snow!
Once you reach the Jökulsárlón Lagoon, there are large icebergs on one side of the street and then on the other there are large chunks of ice that line the black sand beach.
After this it was getting dark and we eneded up staying the night in a fishing town just past Höfn. It was cool seeing all the boats, and we called it a night with some pasta and garlic bread we made in the van.
October 4th 2016
This morning we woke up to some eggs, hamburger, and toast to start our day. At this point we have still only eaten food we can make in the van.
The plan today was to head towards Dettifoss and just see what we could find on the way. Half way there we needed to stretch our legs and decided to hike a little at a pull off. At the pull off we met a guy with a drone, which was pretty shocking on account of the crazy winds we were having that day. We also brought a nice drone but were too scared to fly it.
You will also make your way through quite a few cute towns.
This day was also full of high cliffs and winding roads, which, for me being scared of heights was not the greatest, but it was so beautiful and that helped a lot. We came across a little waterfall and a stream and ended up filling up our water jugs here. The water is so clean and pure in Iceland.
To get to Dettifoss, you drive down a road that looks like you are out in the middle of nowhere and we constantly were second-guessing ourselves and wondering how there could possibly be a waterfall out here. There were black rocks and dirt as far as the eye could see. When you park you have to walk throught these large black rocks and then you see the mist in the horizon. Dettifoss is massive! The sound of the rushing water that comes off of this waterfall is amazing. It is the most powerfull waterfall in all of Europe!
From here we headed to Mývatn , this town was by far our favorite place in Iceland. It had craters, caves, lava fields, volcanos, a nature bath, a lake, geothermal areas, and was the place we saw the northern lights. We knew once we got here we wanted to spend the night.
The first thing we saw was the Krafla power station (you actually drive right under it). It’s amazing that almost all of Iceland is powered by natural sources.
Then we headed over to Viti Crater. There was a slight hike up hill involved, which honestly wasn’t too bad at all, but when you get to the top it was incredibly windy. So windy in fact that many people were tripping over themselves. I had to take my scarf off and put it inside my coat so it didn’t fly away.
Basically right across the street are the Krafla Lava Fields. As a group this was by far our number one must see in Iceland. I don’t even know where to start. You get to literally walk up to the Krafla caldera; there have been 29 reported eruptions here in the recorded history (The last one being in 1984). How amazing is that!?
Walking around these lava fields was a unique experience we will all remember for the rest of our lives. You really feel like you are a part of nature in Iceland and want to respect the land so much. It is also worth noting that while you’re walking there is steam randomly coming out of cracks in the ground and you can put your hand right up to them and feel the warmth, it truly is surreal.
On the way back to Mývatn we stopped to wash our dishes in the coolest way! There is a random sink and shower powered by geothermal water right off the road.
We decided to end the night at the Mývatn Nature Baths and spend the night at a camp ground in town. The baths cost $30 USD, which I felt was a fair price considering they were very warm even at night when we went and we got to take showers and use the restroom etc. It is very important you shower naked before getting into the baths. They will not let you pass through till you do, so be prepared for that.
While here we got to see the northern lights which was pretty special, and we also saw the most amazing sunrise in the morning.
Read more: Camp like a boss
October 5th 2016
We woke up rejuvenated and feeling great from the nature bath the night before. We decided to head to the Grjótagjá Cave first. It was a small but beautiful cave. You can’t swim here because the water is too hot.
We then made our way to Hverfjall Crater. This is another volcano in Mývatn. It is very large and a very long hike up. There are nice new restrooms here as well.
After this we headed out of Mývatn to Goðafoss. Goðafoss was yet again a very large, beautiful waterfall.
The last stop of the day was Hvítserkur, which we called rhino rock. The road once you get close is so torn up with pot holes that we ended up getting there after dark so we made camp in the parking lot, getting lucky that campervans were allowed, just no tents.
October 6th 2016
We woke up and made the short hike to see Hvítserkur. It was creepy to see it in the foggy morning light. We also saw many jellyfish and a few star fish, but no seals this day. I have heard sometimes they hang out here though.
After this we had to go back down the very bumpy dirt road and make our way to Snæfellsjökull National Park. On the way there we gave our van a much-needed bath! We realized you can wash your van at most gas stations for free.
We also got to pet some Icelandic horses. They were so friendly and I think they loved the attention.
One of the coolest places in the national park was along the coast. There is an area that looks like it’s snowing but it is actually the sea foam floating in the air.
After exploring the national park we headed to Þingvellir so we could start the next day on the Golden circle. We didn’t end up making it all the way there and ended up sleeping in the tunnel parking lot. The tunnel I’m talking about is the Hvalfjörður Tunnel. This tunnel is an under the ocean tunnel that is about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) long! It does cost about $9 USD (10 ISK) to go across it but they take both cash and credit cards. Also, take this as a warning now, there are 3 speed cams in the tunnel. YOU DO NOT WANT A TICKET! One of the cameras is on the downhill park so ride your brakes and make sure not to go too fast. We were extremely careful about our speed but I can see where this is a tricky spot.
Read more: Travel apps for Iceland
October 7th 2016
This is the Golden Circle day for us. First up, and the coolest part on this route was Þingvellir national park. Here you get to walk inside tectonic plates. There are also plenty of waterfalls. You do need to pay for parking, but there are free bathrooms if you keep walking past the paid ones. Most people see the first part of the national park and don’t keep walking unfortunately. Take your time and walk to the very end of the path. You will get to see the plates with few to no people. There is also a gorgeous waterfall. The first two pictures represent what most people see the next three represent what you will see if you keep walking to the end. The walk is all very easy and not too strenuous. Also, we got to get up close to some sheep.
The next stop was the Geysir. This was really cool, and it goes off quite often (about every 10-15 minutes).
After exploring the ring road, the golden circle seemed so touristy to us. It’s because so many more people do this route and it’s an easy day-drive from Reykjavik. The golden circle really made us thankful that we got a campervan and got to explore more.
After this stop we went to Gullfoss and Kerið, another crater with paid admission. We ended up getting through the Golden Circle quite fast, and once we were done we had an a couple options — Go to Reykjavik or head to Skógafoss again, where we know there is a great free place to camp and shower. We decided to re-do part of our route and head to Skógafoss to camp for a second time. On the way there we found online that there was a somewhat remote geothermal pool, and we decided to make a pit stop. We had no idea what was truly in store for us this night. We made unexpected friends, got lost in the middle of the night, and made life-long memories.
The Geothermal pool is called Seljavallalaug. It is right before you get to Skógafoss (coming from Reykjavik), and is tucked up in the mountains. We arrived at the dirt parking pull off area followed by two Canadian girls in another car. At this time it was completely dark and all we had were cell phone flash lights. Important note: If you ever go hiking here at night keep your interior LED van lights on! They will help immensely on your way back trying to find your vehicle, and they run on the second battery so the van won’t die. As we all hiked together there was no real marked path, and at night it just looked like rocks. But we finally found the baths. When we got there is was so creepy at night, and at this time the wind was incredibly strong. And to top it all off it was raining, so we hopped in only to find out it’s not super warm. We would describe it as “temperate”. Everyone stayed in for maybe ten minutes, but the storm was getting a little worse so we all decided to head back. The Canadian girls left about 10-15 minutes before us.
We left after them only to run into them on our way back. They had been lost and came back to see if we could help. We felt like we knew the way, but apparently not. For over 45 minutes we were all lost and no one knew the way so we decide just to continue straight. No one was around, we could see the road miles and miles ahead, and we kept running into streams. All of a sudden we looked back and saw what looked like a car light about a mile back. We decided to head back that way, hoping it was the parking. Long story short, had a group of people not been camping in that parking lot, and had they not turn on their van lights so they could cook we would have been lost for a significantly longer period of time. This leads to what I said before about leaving your own van lights on in case you end up somewhere after dark. It was a fun memory though, no one got hurt, and we made some friends along the way.
Read more: Ten don’t do in Iceland
October 8th 2016
This day when we woke up we realized we had done all of the ring road, so we brainstormed what we wanted today to be like. We decided we would drive to the black sand beach that we skipped and check out the basalt columns and then head back to Reykjavik. This sight is called Reynisfjara.
There are also signs stating to be careful when by the water. The waves are so strong if they were to grab you they could pull you in. The rock in this picture is where a tourist was standing in 2015 when a wave grabbed him and he didn’t make it. So keep that in mind and be safe!
We spent all morning talking about our crazy adventure from the night before and decided we wanted to go back and see it in the day time on our way to Reykjavik.
Here is the hot springs I mentioned before in the day time. We also made a friend that followed us all the way back to the van. We wish we could have kept him!
After this we headed towards Reykjavik and decided to hit up The Icelandic Phallological Museum. In Reykjavik we found out parking is free in the evenings and Sundays! It was evening by the time we got there so we got lucky, and the following day was Sunday so we could sleep in the parking lot and park free all day the following day! The museum was very interesting and made us laugh a lot. They had every penis labeled with what animal it was from, from a field mouse to a sperm whale. It cost $12 USD (15 ISK) to get in and they have a cool gift shop at the exit.
October 9th 2016
We spent this entire day in Reykjavik. We went disc golfing again and actually taught a local woman how to play as well. She just walked right up and said she lived by the course and always wanted to learn how to play. She was actually all into it which was super cool.
While in Reykjavik we explored a bunch of different bars and talked to so many people. We went to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, a large church that you can see the city from, saw some boats at the harbor, bought souvenirs, saw the Sun Voyager, and visited the local pool. It was a nice relaxing day on foot. And we have still eaten every single meal from our van. Here are a couple pictures from the events that day.
October 10th 2016
This was our day of spending really. We booked a tour and ate out for the first time. The tour was $175 USD per person, and was called Into the Glacier Tour. We absolutely loved this 4-hour tour and felt it was well worth the money. You get to go into a glacier tunnel and drive on top of the glacier. We chose to save money and drive ourselves to Húsafell since we had our trusty campervan. Once at Húsafell we had to take a shuttle since we couldn’t go on the F-road to continue to base camp. We paid for this in advance so it wasn’t an issue. This is the shuttle below.
Once the shuttle gets you to base camp you had a choice to wear your own clothes or you could put on a snow suit and/or boots which they provide free of charge. We all dressed appropriately so we wore our own clothes.
Next we got in a vehicle that could drive on the glacier itself. Once we got to the glacier entrance we were escorted down the tunnel hallway and given traction cleats that slip on over your shoes so you don’t fall on the ice. The tour guide we had was amazing. She was so funny and taught us so much about glaciers. It was cool you could see the ash from different eruptions in the ice. We also got to see where the glacier was shifting and gradually pulling apart. I also want to make a note that I’m claustrophobic, but this tour was lit up very well and I never felt scared. There is also a chapel in the tunnel for weddings or proposals, hint hint…
Once we got back to Reykjavik we made reservations for Sjávargrillið and tried some local food. Only two of us went and the other person explored the bars and night life. For the two of us we got 7 courses and paid $165 USD total. So it was definitely our night of luxury, but we did eat camper van food every single day for every meal and decided we deserved some real, local food before we left.
October 11th 2016
This was the day we had been dreading, the day we all had to leave this amazing place and go back to the real world as working adults. We would miss our campervan, the journey, and the countless memories we made together, but all things must come to an end. We woke up bright and early and went to the nearest gas station, washed all our dishes, washed the van, and swept and cleaned the inside. We made sure the van was left in the same condition we got it. We filled her up with gas and then headed for the airport. We dropped the van off quickly and painlessly with no hassles whatsoever. After that we said our goodbyes and it was homeward bound for us. Till next time!
1,610 miles in 10 days- this is our exact route
October was truly a perfect time of year to go, it was less crowded, and cheaper. It was also a great time to see the Northern Lights. On top of that we got to see the fall colors along with it still being green and lush. Yes the days are shorter but honestly the days are just long enough so you can get a good night’s rest every night. I highly recommend going in the off-season for your next trip.
TIPS FOR FELLOW CAMPERVANERS:
• Bring a couple trash bags from home — you will need to throw stuff away while in your camper van and this makes it easy to do so.
• Bring plenty of car chargers and a convertor for your computer if necessary.
• Always wash your campervan when you pump gas. It’s free and easy.
• Bring food from home, it will save you money and you can bring 6.5 pounds per person.
• Make sure you bring a lighter; you will need it for your stove.
• It’s not necessary to pull out cash; every place takes credit cards.
• Bring towels. You will need them for your showers and hot springs.
• Bring water bottles! It’s so much easier than drinking from cups in the van.
• Always abide by the speed limit. They have speed cameras! Just because you don’t see cops or everyone else is passing you, doesn’t mean it’s okay.
• Make sure to pack a first aid kit just in case.
• Pack layers! The weather truly changes from one minute to the next. You never know what you’re going to get.
Happy Camping! #WohoCamper
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