The Mývatn region in the northern part of Iceland surrounding a lake (the eponymous Lake Mývatn) contains a large number of interesting geologic features related to the still-active volcanoes in the region. Since there were so many things to do there, we decided to spend a whole day exploring the region.
Our first activity in the general area is not technically part of the Mývatn region. We approached the Mývatn region at the end of a long travel day that started in the southeastern part of Iceland, taking a slight detour towards the end of our long driving day to visit Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
We took the fairly new well-paved road to a parking lot on the west side of the falls. From there it was about a kilometer down a surprisingly barren path to see the Dettifoss. The water for the falls comes from the Vatnajökull glacier, the same one we had been exploring the day before. At the falls, there is both an overlook and a closer viewpoint.
There was an optional trail to Selfoss, another waterfall, but we were feeling tired so only walked far enough to see it from a distance.
After getting a good night’s sleep (see below), we were ready to see the sights around Lake Mývatn. We didn’t end up taking the most optimal path between sights, but with our campervan it meant that we didn’t end up wasting too much time.
Our first stop for the morning was the eerie lava fields of Dimmuborgir. We got there at 10 for a guided hike led by a park ranger. With her, we walked through the shorter loop, learning about the geology and flora of the area. We also saw the cave of the “Yule Lads”, 13 elf-like creatures (each with a different personality) that function like Santa Claus, bringing different gifts in the 13 days before Christmas.
After the guided walk, we did the larger loop on our own to see the Kirkjan (Church) lava tube formation. All in all, we spent about two hours in the park, but would have spent less if just on our own.
Note to future visitors: the bathrooms here require a fee. Also, the small gnats are quite annoying, and do not seem deterred by bug spray. Luckily, they do not bite.
Lunch Break at Vogafjós
While self-catering our meals helped us save money, it did tend to get a bit repetitive. And, we had a hard time feeling like we were getting enough good vegetables. So, we decided to splurge and eat out for lunch at Vogafjós restaurant. It is attached to the cowshed of a local farm! Eric got a lamb sandwich, and Della got a crepe with rice and mushrooms. Both came with a salad with house-made cheese. And of course we had to get the ice cream made from the cows on the other side of the walls; it came with two flavors: geysir bread and schnapps.
Being fans of Game of Thrones, we had to check out Grjótagjá, the small cave in the area with a thermal spring inside, made famous as the location of an intimate moment between Jon Snow and Ygritte. The cave was smaller than we expected, but the water was very pretty, and we could feel the heat rising off of it. Unlike the characters on the show, regular visitors are asked not to get in the water. We also enjoyed exploring the rift that the cave is formed from, and tracing its path all the way down to the rift we saw in Dimmuborgir.
Námafjall Hverir geothermal area
Walking through this area of orange soil, screaming steam vents, and bubbling mud pots made us feel like we were walking around the surface of Mars! What doesn’t come across in the pictures is the strong smell of sulfur that permeates the area. We found the whole area very fascinating and enjoyed taking it all in.
Hverfjall Crater Hike
After initially thinking it might be too tough, we changed our minds and decided to hike up the Hverfjall Crater which dominates the views around Mývatn. It only took us about ten minutes to hike up to the rim. The skies cleared into a sunny day, so we took about an hour to walk the circumference of the rim and take in the views of the surrounding area.
Mývatn Nature Baths
As a literal hotbed of geothermal activity, Iceland is known among other things for a plethora of geothermal pools to bathe in. Some of the geothermal waters have been converted into full-scale facilities that are popular tourist attractions. The most famous is the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík. The second most popular is probably the Mývatn Nature Baths. We visited these baths at the end of our long day exploring the Mývatn region.
Before entering the pool, we followed the local custom of taking a full shower first (in gender-specific bathrooms). We were a little concerned about whether Della could swim in the pool, since she was six weeks pregnant at the time. But, we had read that it was ok as long as the water temperature was at or below body temperature. A constantly updating chart in the visitor center showed that one end of the pool met this criteria, so we spent almost all of our time lounging in the water there. Eric did explore a little bit of the warmer parts as well. The mineral-rich water has a cloudy consistency and left a smooth sheen on our skin. It was a very relaxing way to end out day exploring Mývatn!
The main hub for the Mývatn region is the town of Reykjahlíð, which has a few camping options. We chose the Hlíð campground just outside of town because it was slightly less expensive and less crowded than the Bjarg campsite closer to town. We actually didn’t even take a spot, but instead just “camped” in the parking lot because that kept us close to the bathrooms for nighttime visits. The shared kitchen and dining facility is outdoors, but enclosed in plastic so it was pretty warm.
We definitely enjoyed the wide variety of activities in Mývatn, and are glad we dedicated a complete day just to the one region! But, after the unique experience of camping in the same place for two nights, the next day we would hit the Ring Road again and continue on to more natural wonders of Northern Iceland.