Day one of our Ring Road in a Week adventure consisted of swimming in a hot river, hiking to the “most beautiful place in Iceland” and standing beneath (and behind) some pretty impressive waterfalls. Keep reading to find out more …
We arrived in Keflavik International Airport (30 minutes away from Reykjavik – the capital) at 6:30am to a misty drizzle. After clearing customs, we walked a couple of blocks to our car rental agency, Blue Iceland. We picked up our brand new, automatic** Kia Sportage and started off on our Ring Road adventure.
** FYI – many rental cars in Iceland are manual.
Technically, we drove 20 minutes from the airport to the Ring Road (Route 1) … but who’s keeping track. 🙂 Once we arrived at the Ring Road, we turned east. At Hveragerði, we turned off and purchased a pre-paid gas card from an N1 gas station. Then, we just had a short drive to our first stop, Reykjadalur Hot Springs.
To get to the Reykjadalur trail head, continue on the main road out of Hveragerði until you come to a dead end with a gravel parking lot. There is a little cafe (not open until 1 pm) and some restrooms (which come in handy if you need to change clothes.) 🙂
Before our trip, I attempted to research the Reykjadalur hike. However, I didn’t find much information other than that the hike was considered “short.” Not thinking much of it, we just decided to check it out, regardless, and started off climbing up the steep hillside into the fog.
The fog was pretty dense, which made it difficult to see the valley that our trail was surely circumnavigating. After about 30 minutes in the fog and with little sense of direction other than the trail beneath us, we started to think that this “short hike” was actually much longer. 🙂 Luckily not long after our brief moment of doubt, we met some fellow hot spring-goers who reassured us that we were almost there.
Sure enough, 45 minutes into our hike we stumbled upon this network of well-constructed walkways and little changing stations running on either side of the hot spring river.
With the consistent mist and 45°F temps, we practically ripped off our clothes and dove in. 😉 I have to say, it wasn’t as “hot” as I would have expected it to be, but the river was still a nice way to shake some of the chill and relax.
That is, until we left …
We didn’t know that there were going to be changing stations. So, neither of us brought a change of clothes on our hike. We begrudgingly put our dry clothes on over our damp swimsuits (we did bring towels!) and quickly booked it out of the area to try and stay warm. Just our luck, it started to pour – and continued to pour almost the entire way back. 🙂 Let’s just say our return route (which was luckily almost all downhill) took way less time.
Over the last ridge, we thankfully descended out of the pouring rain and dense fog. As we descended, we enjoyed finally seeing and walking amongst the various steam vents seeping out of the hillside.
Once we arrived back at our car, we quickly dried off and changed before jumping into our Sportage and cranking the seat warmers (#spoiled). Even though this mini-adventure had taken longer than anticipated, we were still on “schedule”, so we plugged in our GPS and headed toward our next destination = Stöng.
The trip to Stöng required a significant detour off of the Ring Road (Route 1) on Route 32 through the beautiful Þjórsárdalur Valley. Even with forewarning, the turn off to Stöng was easily missed. In fact, we managed to pass by without realizing it and drove 15 minutes out of the way.
Note: Although the Ring Road (Route 1) is very well marked, once you branch off onto some of the lesser traveled roads, signage and road quality can be a little unpredictable. Also, GPS is helpful, but only if you have a specific address or coordinates. I often found our paper map to be a more useful and reliable method of navigation.
After turning around and “retracing our steps”, we managed to spot the tiny yellow sign pointing towards Stöng and turned onto a bumpy, gravel road. Five minutes later, we arrived at a small parking lot with informational signs and a couple of paths heading towards Stöng.
Stöng we learned was an old viking farm thought to have been buried by an eruption of nearby Mount Hekla in 1104 AD. S0, super old. 🙂
We popped inside and took a peek at the well-preserved ruins, considering they’re 900+ years old, before heading outside and hiking beyond the farm.
When researching for this trip, I stumbled upon some information about a valley named Gjáin. Apparently it has been deemed the “most beautiful place in Iceland.” Naturally, we had to take a gander. 🙂
Beyond the Stong settlement a path took us up a hill and over a tundra-like prairie before dipping down into the Gjáin valley. At first, we saw some neat rock formations and a pretty waterfall and we were thinking well that’s pretty cool, but hardly “most beautiful place in Iceland”-worthy.
Until we got a little closer …
These pictures can’t even do this place justice! Once we climbed further down into the valley, there were waterfalls literally everywhere we looked. And, with the foliage just starting to turn colors, the view. Was. Amazing!
This may be my favorite photo from our trip … maybe 🙂
From Gjáin, we continued on to the less traveled east side of the Þjórsárdalur Valley (Route 26)** to rejoin Ring Road (Route 1) and make our way towards our next stop, Seljalandfoss. Note: We took the 1 h 45 min route above.
** The first 15 km or so of Route 26 coming from Route 32 is unpaved and a little bumpy.
I really liked Seljalandfoss because there was a path that took us around and behind the waterfall! The path was slippery and full of tour groups,but overall a neat experience!
Near Seljalandfoss, in fact just down the path from the main attraction, there is a hidden waterfall named Gljufurarfoss.
To fully experience Gljufurarfoss,** you have to scale a steep(!) and slippery rock-face to look down into this unique waterfall.
** The waterfall is just peeking out at the top left of the picture above.
The view from the top was amazing! That is, until we looked back down the way we had came. At that moment, I kicked myself for letting Al talk me into climbing up to the top. Although pretty adventurous, I’m not a fan of heights, especially uncontained heights. From the top, it looked and felt like we were going to tumble straight to the bottom. I definitely had several brief “oh shit” moments on the way down, but we made it!
From Gljufurarfoss, we continued on to our final sight of the day, Skogafoss.
Although you could only catch glimpses from the road, once we parked our car we could hear the “roar” of this truly impressive waterfall.
This picture does not do Iceland justice. We walked up as close as we dared to snap some pics. And, I was humbled by the sheer volume of water that was continuously gushing over.
Note: We did also hike up to the top of Skogafoss. (See the windy set of stairs two pictures above.) Honestly, we felt a little underwhelmed by the view of the falls from above. Personally, we enjoyed the view from below much more!
The sun was starting to set when we finished at Skogafoss. So, our timing was perfect because we just had a short drive to our hotel in Vik.
By the time we arrived at Hotel Edda Vik, we were ready for a warm meal. Our first of the day! Luckily, we had many delicious options available right at our hotel at the Berg Restaurant. I ordered the Icelandic Lamb Soup (left) and Al ordered a delicious Duck Breast with Cherries (right). Both were tasty and satisfying! The perfect way to end Day 1.
Day 1 Details
Travel: Keflavik to Stong to Vik
Eat: Berg Restaurant
Sleep: Hotel Edda Vík