Day 17 - South Iceland - Jökulsárlón & Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoons, Waterfalls, Rainbows, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, and Laki Craters
Though yesterday's touring was shortened due to the rain, we made up for it today with lots of driving and visits to a variety of beautiful locations.
In the morning we back-tracked to Jökulsárlón & Fjallsárlón, and then we proceeded back west where we visited a wonderful canyon, and then drove into The Highlands to visit the Laki Craters section of Vatnajökull National Park.
We had some rain overnight, but it ended this morning and there was some blue sky in between rain clouds to start our day. From our campground, we drove east to go back to the glacier lagoons we visited yesterday afternoon.
On the way, we saw farmers herding their sheep with ATVs under rainbows.
It was September 1, and apparently that was the day to start rounding up the free-range sheep to house them for the winter.
Soon we were back at Jökulsárlón, and we were early enough that the crowds hadn't arrive en masse yet. The tide was coming in, so the smaller chunks of ice were suspended at the mouth of the lagoon.
The bridge in the above photo is Ring Road, so you can see this is a very easy-to-access attraction, and the Atlantic Ocean is just on the other side of the bridge.
Today, the bits of ice on the shoreline that we saw last night had melted, so we didn't have the ice "diamonds" today. However, larger, more colorful icebergs had floated nearer to the parking lot.
And there were more Harbor Seals today. They were quite frisky, and they were enjoying playing in the icy water while the people that had never seen a seal before were taking videos and squealing with delight.
There are several tour operators at Jökulsárlón, and you can choose from amphibious boat tours, zodiac tours, and kayaking tours. Here's a zodiac driver bringing a boat around for some guests.
Though pretty much everybody considers one of the boat tours a "must do", we determined that we could see enough from shore, and decided to save the money for something else.
Leaving the parking lot and turning west across the bridge, there are several gravel lots where you can pull off and view the lagoon. We made a quick stop to get a photo of a rainbow over Jökulsárlón.
Multiple glaciers can be seen from that vantage point.
Moving on, we had this view from the road.
Here are the same glaciers as we prepare to enter the side road leading to the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon. The new visitor center and restaurant is located in the lower left of the photo below.
We parked and walked up and over the hill where the lagoon was revealed below. And we were blessed with the bonus of a full rainbow.
It was so beautiful from the top of the hill, we didn't even bother walking down to the edge of the lake.
We just had someone take our picture and then headed back to the parking lot.
As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, Fjallsárlón is about 11k (7 miles) west of Jökulsárlón, and while it used to be the wilder, and far less-visited of the two, tourists have discovered it, and it is now a destination where tour buses stop and tour companies guide boat trips.
Before getting to the van, I did stop and ask the tour company about a kayak trip on this lagoon, but they had canceled everything for today due to high winds.
Back on the road, Linda drove and I took more photos of the amazing scenery. Here is a "hanging" glacier snuggled in the mountains with a small rainbow of its own and several waterfalls.
Soon, we passed the farm/campground at Svinafell where we stayed last night.
As we drove, more glaciers came into view.
I knew we would see glaciers in Iceland, but I had no idea how many we would be able to see from the Ring Road.
More roadside scenery.
Each farm seemed to have its own private, magnificent waterfalls.
Eventually, we turned off to visit the Skaftafell Visitor Centre in Vatnajökull National Park. There were several hiking trails there, but the only one I was considering was to the Svartifoss waterfall, one of the many highly visited falls in South Iceland.
But there were a lot of people, and it was raining, so we decided to skip this waterfall that is known for its surrounding basalt columns. We had seen other similar falls, and I was okay with passing on this one.
While we were there, however, we booked three tours with Icelandic Mountain Guides. We had done only one commercial tour to that point, so we splurged a little and set up times over the next couple of days to do a glacier walk, kayaking in a glacier lagoon, and an ice cave tour.
Leaving Skaftafell, we continued west making another stop in the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. We went to the National Park's Skaftárstofa Visitor Centre to learn about the road conditions up into the Highlands and the Laki Craters area.
The very helpful ranger there said we should be fine on the F-road (F-206) with our AWD campervan, and she recommended the drive. I wasn't sure it would be worthwhile driving 50k (30 miles) each way on a rough road with three or four river crossings, but we took her advice.
We headed out on Road 206, but a short ways in (about 3k or 2 miles) we made a side trip to the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, one of the "hidden gems" I had read about.
Well, once again, it's no longer hidden. Apparently, the canyon was featured in a Justin Bieber music video, and lots of fans known as "Beliebers" have descended on the canyon.
There is a decent parking area with restrooms, so we found a nice spot, and I headed out. Linda decided to sit this one out as it started to rain a little.
I walked over to the nearby bridge to take this "up canyon" shot.
You used to be able to hike up the canyon if you were willing to do some wading in the icy water of the river. But now there are signs prohibiting that.
The other option is to hike up the designated trail from the parking lot to right side of the canyon rim. In the photo above, you can see tiny people up on the edge.
So, I walked up to take a few photos of the most scenic section.
There were worn paths out onto some precarious rocks that are now roped off so the vegetation will recover .... and for safety.
This is a view of one of those areas that was included in the music video.
The trail continued along the canyon rim for quite a ways, but I headed back to the parking area.
The section from Ring Road to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is gravel, but it is fine for any kind of vehicle in the summer.
From there, we backtracked to an intersection and took a left on F-206 heading up into The Highlands. That road was much rougher with potholes and washboard sections, but it wasn't as bad as other F-roads we had been on thus far.
Remember though that only high clearance 4WD or AWD vehicles are allowed on "F-roads". And some rental companies prohibit you from fording any rivers.
The landscape distracted us from the less than ideal road quality.
Eventually, we came to the first river crossing.
That one wasn't too bad. Next, we had one of our "sheep-in-the-road" encounters we've become accustomed to. They hustled off into the grass as we passed.
The scenery on the drive continued to impress.
We came to our second river crossing, which seemed tame enough. But the water was flowing a little faster, and it was a bit deeper than it appeared.
That one made Linda more nervous than some of the other fords we had done on our trip thus far.
Shortly after that crossing, we found a sign for the Fagrifoss waterfall. It's 17k (10.5 miles) from the Ring Road.
We parked and walked up the hill and over it. The waterfall is hidden until you get up over the hill, but it's not a long or difficult walk.
This less-visited waterfall quickly became one of our favorites due to both its beauty and isolation.
The above photo is taken from the single, small viewing platform, but there are other spots on the trail for nice views and pictures.
Leaving Fagrifoss, we saw yet more rainbows.
As we got closer to Laki, we came to our third river crossing. This one definitely had deeper water with markers showing the arc of the path we were supposed to take. Warning signs with instructions were also present.
Perhaps it was the markers guiding the way or the slower-moving water, but Linda found this ford less nerve-wracking than the prior one.
Finally, we came to the boundary of the Laki area.
Laki is actually the name of a mountain in the area, so the more correct name is Lakagigar (Laki craters) which is a volcanic fissure here.
The fissure erupted in June of 1793 and continued for eight months into 1794. It is considered the largest lava eruption in recorded history, and the gases released killed or stunted crops and vegetation causing a famine and the loss of 75% of Iceland's livestock and 20% of the island's human population.
As we proceeded into Lakagigar, the description that came to mind was other-worldly.
After driving through the moss-covered lava, we parked at the Visitor Center, which is more like a visitor hut with a couple of restrooms.
It was cold and blustery, and a dedicated ranger came out to greet us and tell us about the park. He furnished us with a brochure and map and pointed out some of the highlights. Here is a link to hiking trail descriptions.
I think he was just glad to see other people out here in the middle of nowhere.
The road makes a large loop through the Laki Craters area as shown below.
Just remember the trip to Laki from Ring Road is two hours each way, so make sure you have time to complete whatever stops and trails you choose. There is a campground and huts just off the southern part of the Laki Loop. That was our back-up plan should we run into any type of delay.
The red trail on the top of the loop on the maps above is the hike to the top of Laki Mountain which the ranger recommended. But neither of us was up for that elevation change nor being more exposed to the cold wind.
We drove up the hill just past the Visitor Center and parked at the trailhead for the Visitor Trail, a .5km loop that is supposed to take about a half an hour.
This is an interpretive trail with its own brochure guide. The first part was easy, but then the trail descends into a crater. The path is steep and rocky, and Linda decided she shouldn't chance it with her knee issues.
It's a cool little hike and, although it's short, it's not easy. The hike up out of the crater to complete the loop is also steep and rocky. The photo below is looking back down into the crater after hiking out.
I was trying to complete this hike rather quickly and was huffing and puffing by the end. But it's worth doing.
From there we drove on and took a side spur to an overlook where we had some nice views.
Our next stop would be the Tjarnargígur crater below.
We descended on the crushed lava road bed to the valley floor.
We turned into the Tjarnargígur parking lot where there are picnic tables and restrooms.
Once again, Linda decided to stay warm in the van, so I set out on this short, easy hike to get some pictures. The next shot is looking back at the parking area.
The path turned into a boardwalk around to the back side of the crater.
There was a worn path all around the rim of the crater, but it appeared they were starting to try to prevent people from doing that.
The boardwalk ended at a viewpoint overlooking the pond within the crater.
After snapping a few photos, I just returned to the van, and we continued on.
More lovely scenery.
The loop took us to another river crossing in this oasis area.
Not long after that, we complete the Laki Craters loop, and we were back on F-206 making our way back to Ring Road.
The second time through, the river crossings don't seem as daunting, and Linda was more comfortable with the drive, so the return trip was quite a bit faster.
Back on Ring Road, we pressed on to the west where we stopped for the night in the town of Vik, and parked at the Vik Campsite.
It was the most crowded campground we had experienced in Iceland to date, but we found an out-of-the-way place to park with mountains and a golf course behind us.
Whew. That was a long, but very rewarding day. If you've viewed the photos, there isn't much else to say. Icebergs, seals, glaciers, waterfalls, rainbows, rivers, canyons, volcanic craters, and more incredible scenery - what an experience!
Day 17 Driving - 350k (217 miles)
Note: The map below doesn't show the part of the drive from Fagrifoss waterfall to Laki and back - for some reason Google maps doesn't recognize that part.