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Iceland is called the “land of fire and ice”, and there’s plenty of fire to check out in northern Iceland near Lake Mývatn. Curious about the best way to see Iceland in general? Read my report about driving around Iceland in a camper van.
Hiking and other things to do near Lake Mývatn
Hiking the lava fields
The lava fields near Dimmuborgir can be accessed in a few different spots.
The first is a turnout from the main road along the eastern side of Lake Mývatn, south of the main Dimmuborgir parking area. There is limited parking but there’s another turnout across the street. It’s signed for Birtingatjörn Nature Reserve. This is a relatively new network of hiking trails; a 1-km loop will take you around a small pond and you can also continue 3.5 km to the other Dimmuborgir trails. The ground here is extremely delicate; stay on the trails marked with white posts.
The second network of trails through the lava fields starts at the Dimmuborgir visitor center, south of the town of Reykjahlíð. You can spend 15 minutes or 4 hours exploring these trails – pick your poison! There’s a great description of the trails at the trailhead in both Icelandic and English.
The trail we chose to do was to walk through Hallarflöt, past Hverfjall, on to the cave at Stóragjá, back to climb Hverfjall Crater, and then retracing our steps back to the parking lot. This round-trip hike ended up being about 7 miles and taking us approximately 3 and a half hours.
The lava fields on the way to Hverfjall are quite amazing, especially in the fall. A myriad of plant species just grow out of the lava rock, and the trail will take you past interesting lava formations like arches and spires.
When you get to the end of the lava fields, Hverfjall Crater looms overhead. This distance is approximately 2.2 miles.
Hiking to the cave at Stóragjá
We wanted to save Hverfjall crater for last and continued to the cave at Stóragjá. These interesting fissures are supposedly where the two continental plates meet, and it’s full of bright turquoise hot water from recent geothermic activity. This is also right off the road, so you can just park there if you don’t want to walk it.
Entering the water here is prohibited, but if you’d like to take a soak you can continue on to other hot springs further down the trail at Grjótagjá. You can still enter the cave and explore the fissures.
Hiking Hverfjall Crater
There are two ways up Hverfjall. The more difficult route is up the southwest slope right where you’ll come out of the lava fields. Numerous switchbacks on loose rock will take you right up the side, and I imagine it’d be quite difficult in the rain. The easier way is on the northwest slope of the crater where there’s a bathroom and parking lot (for those who want to drive here). This is also where the trail junction to Stóragjá lies hidden behind a fence.
The Hverfjall crater trail goes all the way around the rim of the volcano. We climbed up the easy way after coming back from Stóragjá, walked the west rim, and then back down the difficult route to re-enter the lava fields back to the car. If you want to hike around the entire rim you’ll end up hiking approximately 2.6 miles.
The highest point around the rim is 590 feet above the start, and the crater is over a half-mile in diameter. It’s relatively new; scientists estimate it erupted just 2,500 years ago. It’s said to be one of the most well-formed tephra craters in Iceland and the largest of its type on Earth. Hverfjall is so unique that it’s designated as a national monument.
The views of the geothermal areas to the north and Lake Mývatn to the west are quite incredible!
Hverir geothermal area
I wouldn’t really want to walk here from Dimmuborgir. Hop in your car and make the short 5-minute drive over the hill to the east of Hverfjall. You’ll immediately see the steam from all of the fumarole vents. A parking lot for this area is on the south side of the road.
Just use special caution here! You’ve heard stories of people ducking ropes in Yellowstone National Park and getting boiled alive in the geysers and other thermal features. Iceland uses the Big Boy approach – don’t be a dumbass. There are some boardwalks and ankle-high strings in some areas, but you’re more or less free to roam on the hollow-sounding ground.
Hverir is home to some very interesting, large, deep mudpots. Scattered vents spew steam from the ground, and a few fumarole cones actually whistle! This area isn’t necessarily large, but it’s fun to spend an hour exploring.
Dettifoss & Selfoss Waterfalls
The other major attraction kinda near Lake Mývatn is Dettifoss and it’s smaller neighbor Selfoss. These waterfalls are one hour northeast of the Hverir geothermal area.
Dettifoss is, by volume, the largest waterfall in Europe. Hydrologists estimate that over 100,000 gallons of water pass over the apex per second. The falls are about 140 feet tall but they’re massive. Hiking to the west side of the falls will take about 15 minutes. Selfoss is upstream of Dettifoss and is another 15-minute walk.
Check out the video:
What else did you like to do near Lake Mývatn?