Drift Through Iceland
by Andrew Pasquella. Top and bottom photos by Benjamin Hardman
Iceland, the home of fire and ice, is full of extreme geographical contrasts. In between those extremes, however, lies an unmatched raw and untouched natural wonderland, ready to be explored. Volcanos, Northern Lights, waterfalls, geysers and glaciers are just some of the varied landscapes and sights you’ll see while road tripping through Iceland. The country has a small population of only 332,000 and most people live in the few city centers, leaving an extraordinary amount of open space. The high tourist season is from June to August with September and October being considered the “shoulder” period when the number of tourist drop-off and the weather begins to change and become more… well, icy.
In the shoulder season, before the ice, snow and cold, there is a window of time that is one of the most special in Iceland. Expanses of trees transform from a sea of lush green to vibrant Fall oranges, reds and yellows. The ice formations in the fjords become more pronounced and the Northern Lights start making more frequent and bright appearances. With fewer people and cheaper costs across the board; this is the time to go.
You’ll need anywhere from 7-14 days, and a well-planned route, to see all the major destinations and to mentally absorb the beauty of the country. The Ring Road literally circles the entire country and will be your main path of exploration. Technically, the Ring Road would take less than 24 hours to drive completely, but with breath-taking beauty around every corner, distractions abound and you’ll want to linger and experience every stream, cliff and shaggy Icelandic horse sighting.
There are opportunities to go off the Ring Road and onto 4x4 gravel roads, called “F-Roads”. Specific locations for purer off-road adventure exist, but while it may be tempting to drive off the beaten path everywhere you go, don’t. Iceland is very protective of their natural environment. You can do real damage to plants and terrain; damage that would take years to correct. The fines and punishment are extreme to dissuade everyone, local or tourist, from putting wheel to moss. They take their green moss very seriously.
You’ll need a vehicle. Luckily, the tourism business in Iceland is very well organized, competent and offers a range of vehicles depending on your needs. Everything from Land Rover Defenders, Mitsubishi 4x4’s, to camper vans and sassy Suzuki Jimny’s are available with varying equipment. If you go during the depths of winter, we highly recommend getting one of the Super Jeeps that come equipped with huge snow tires to plow through the deep drifts and icy water crossings. Remember to bring along a few Wolf Packs to help separate all of your gear and belongings and keep your rental tidy.
The Flip Pop Tent and Kitchen Utensil Set will be essential gear. The stretches between possible lodging are wide so many choose to take advantage of the campsites, which are plentiful and well managed. These vary from a simple piece of land to full service sites with showers, grills, and convenience stores. Fires are not allowed in many sites so leave the Braai at home this time, and bring the Skottle instead. Fuel tanks are readily available and you may tire of the famous, or perhaps, infamous, Icelandic gas station hot dogs with crispy onions (of course). Sure, there are restaurants in the urban areas but be warned- food is notoriously expensive.
With your belly full of hot dogs, your camper van rented, and you gear sorted out, it’s time to do what adventurers do best; start adventuring! Just outside Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland) is the well-known Blue Lagoon which touts itself as one of the 25 Wonders of the World. A man-made geothermal oasis of relaxation. You’ll need a reservation as it's a popular tourist destination, which is why many forgo the popular attraction for one of the smaller, more off-the-beaten-path, thermal springs.
The Golden Circle should be on your list of stops and is comprised of Pingviller National Park, the geysers at Haukadalur and the Gullfoss waterfall. Water in Iceland seemingly comes out of nowhere, so sights of streams and waterfalls are not in short supply, but some have made it the tourist must-see list for their unique beauty. If you plan on going to the Seljalandsfoss or Skogafoss waterfalls, remember to pack your day gear in the durable and waterproof Monsoon Bag. These waterfalls are each 200 feet tall and give off a soaking spray- especially if you venture behind them. Keeping your gear dry is important and the Monsoon Bag was made for just that.
Keep following the southern route of the Ring Road and you’ll hit the hiking entrance for trekking to the Solheimasandur Plane Crash site; the wreckage of US Navy plane that crashed in 1973. Not far from the crash-site you’ll find volcanic black sand beaches. Keep your eyes out for trolls; yes, trolls. Legend has it they once roamed the beaches trying to snatch ships out of the water. The lore around elves, trolls, and other beings is strong in Iceland. We cannot confirm or deny if elves fit inside Cub Packs but we can tell you we do have some mischievous humans in the Front Runner offices.
In the colder months, the glacier lagoons of Jkulasarlon will be full of bright blue glaciers and striking ice formations. And, when you’ve had enough of black volcanic sand and ice, hike to the cliffs of the Fjaoragljufur canyon or get some color in your life with the fall foliage of Asbyrgi Canyon. These are both longer hikes so make sure you top off your Front Runner Adventure Temp Flask with pure Icelandic water before heading off.
Some of the F Roads will be closed for two-wheel drive vehicles so make sure that if you're renting a vehicle it has four-wheel drive. You’ll want to be able to navigate some unpaved roads and the occasional water crossing to reach even more spectacular sights like the Alderyjarfoss waterfall and Barnafoss where the fall foliage is set against crashing waterfalls and a glowing blue river.
As you’re winding your way back to Reykjavik, do yourself a favor and spend the night at the Ion Hotel. After being a road warrior for nearly two weeks you deserve a proper shower and bed. It’s also another opportunity to see the Northern Lights, from a warm hotel pool no-less, before you fly home. You’ll need some time to reflect on the truly awesome natural wonders you’ve just witnessed. Some leave Iceland wondering if they’ll ever see anything as beautiful as that again. Will it ruin all of your future travels because they won’t compare? Luckily, you were Born to Roam and part of the Front Runner family. You’re not the average traveler; more unique memories and experiences await around the corner.