The Diamond Circle: Myvatn Lake Area

The Diamond Circle: Myvatn Lake Area

Myvatn Lake & Surroundings

So much of Iceland is surprisingly green, for a place with “ice” in the name; however, around Myvatn the landscape drastically changes, due to volcanic eruptions. As the heart of geothermal activity on the island, Myvatn and the surrounding area a must visit, simply because of it’s uniqueness.  Myvatn is the name for the lake but is often used to describe the area surrounding the lake itself. The true name for the area is Mývatn-Laxá Nature Conservation Area. There is so much to see and do in this area, it is a popular tourist destination and has come to be named the “Diamond Circle.” I highly recommend spending at least 1 night and 2 full days exploring, if not more!

We approached the Diamond Circle from Egilsstaðir, driving north and west, the sights below are listed in the order we visited them. If coming from Akureyrui or the west and heading east, start from the bottom of the post to reverse the order of sights.

Road 848 is the primary road for the east, west and south sections of the Diamond Circle around Myvatn Lake, with the road 1 completing the north section.

East of Myvatn

Dettifoss

As mentioned in my Waterfalls of Iceland post, Dettifoss is an easy stop on your way to the Myvatn area from the south (or as a stop out of the area on your way to the south).

How to get there: there are two ways: from the ring road (1) take either road 864 or road 862. We took 862, which I believe is the more common route, as there is a well established car park with bathrooms. The road did get a little bumpy, as it is gravel, with many pot holes. Take your time – it will take longer than google maps  suggests it does. Both of the roads connect back to road 85, which will take you toward Husavik, or the next stop on the Diamond Circle, as detailed below.

Waterfalls in Iceland

Asbyrgi Canyon

Asbyrgi is a horseshoe-shaped rock formation, next to the northern entrance to the Jokulsa Canyon, which contains the waterfall Dettifoss. According to Norse mythology, the rock formation of Ásbyrgi was formed by the hoof print of Odin´s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. There is also a lot of folklore around this canyon being the capital city of the elvish folk. Asbyrgi Canyon is a popular walking/hiking destination as it offers a little something for everyone, from awesome views to interesting flora. Sadly the day we visited, it was raining and cold – we did not stop for long. To check out some of the walking/hiking trails, click here.

How to get there: from Egilsstadir take the ring road (1) turn right onto road 864, follow it all the way until you can turn left onto road 85. After 2.5 km, turn left onto road 861. There is a visitors centre and camp ground. From Husavik take raod 85, turn right at road 861. From Dettifoss, continue on road 862 until road 85, then follow the same directions as from Egilsstadir. 

North of Myvatn

Husavik

Husavik is most famously known as the whale watching capital of Iceland. It is a quaint fishing town with lovely ocean views, colourful homes and a beautiful wooden church, Húsavíkurkirkja. Husavik is the perfect location to be a ‘home-base’ for exploring the area, only 45 minutes drive north from Myvatn lake. It is a larger settlement than Reykjahlíð, therefore offering more to visitors in the way of accommodation, food and of course the opportunity for whale watching.

How to get there: Husavik lies along road 85. If you have skipped Dettifoss and Asbyrgi Canyon and are going to Husavik from the ring road, you will pass through Reykjahlíð and the Myvatn area.

Around Myvatn

Krafla & Leirhnjukur Lava Fields

Krafla is a volcano caldera, though the name Krafla is often used for the entire geothermal area and the nearby power station that harnesses the energy. The Krafla volcano has had 9 known eruptions. It is now a caldera, housing the stunningly green watered crater lake, Viti. Leirhnjukur lava fields are part of the Krafla caldera. After the eruptions in 1975-1984, the solidifying magma flow created unique formations, patterns, varying colour ranges as well as bubbling pools and steaming sulphuric vents. All of which you can get up close to and wander through/around. You can spend as little as 30 minutes or hours exploring the area.

How to get there: leave Husavik via road 85. Turn onto road 87. Road 87 connects to ring road 1, skip the first turn off to ring road 1 west. Take the turn off for ring road 1 east toward Reykjahlíð. Follow ring road 1 east until you see signs for Krafla. Turn left and follow the road. There will be a car park.

 Myvatn Lake
 
 
 
 

Hverarond at Mt. Námafjall

This area just behind Mount Námafjall, Hverarond, is even more so like stepping out onto another planet. The earth is a reddish-orange colour. The air is thick and heavy with steam and the choking sulphur smell. Rocks are steaming. Mud pools are boiling aggressively.

How to get there: Hverarond is located right off the the road 1 (ring road). From Krafla, head west on the ring road and you will come to a car park after only 500 m.

Grjotagja

One of Iceland’s many natural hot springs; however this one is unique. It is situated inside a cave. How magical, a secret bathing place! Unfortunately since volcanic eruptions in the last 40 years, it is questionable if bathing in these springs is safe (due to increases in temperature). The caves themselves are interesting and beautiful to visit. I have also read that this cave was a filming spot for Game of Thrones, particularly Jon Snow and Ygritte’s steamy love scene. There are 2 entrances to the cave. Both require that you climb down a small wall of big rocks. It is not too difficult but can be challenging for people with mobility issues.

How to get there: From Reykjahlíð take road 1 towards the East. After about 1 km take exit on road 860 (gravel), Grjótagjá is sign posted and there is a large parking in front.

Myvatn Nature Baths

If you missed out on the famous Blue Lagoon, you are in luck! The Nature Baths are similar to the Blue Lagoon, but half the price and do not require a pre-booked bath time. The Nature Baths obtain their mineral spring water from the National Power Company´s bore hole in Bjarnarflag. The water is a toasty 36-40 degrees Celsius, perfect bath temperature! The water is alkaline and is beneficial for many skin, muscle and respiratory issues. The Nature Baths also have a steam/sauna areas, but are lacking the spa services the Blue Lagoon has to offer visitors. Bathing is a very traditional Icelandic activity. I highly suggest you give it a try. There is nothing like feeling toasty warm from the inside out to fight off the cold (if you are camping like we did). Just remember to follow their practices of showering before entering the bath.

Click here to view the website.

How to get there: From Reykjahlíð take road 1 towards the East. After 3 km, turn right at the sign “Jardbodin.”

Hverfjall

Hverfjall is a “tephra cone,” the remnants of past volanic eruptions. Tephra is basically the loose volcanic material that settles onto the ground, which is evident when you walk up Hverfjall. The cone just seems to be made of black sand like matter. Hverfjall looms over the Myvatn skyline in an ominous manner. There are tow ways to ascend the crater – from the North and the South. You can walk around the top ring of the crater, it is a 1 km diameter. The walk up the crater is surprisingly steep and longer than you think. I was huffing and puffing by the time we go to the top. Great panoramic views of the area.

How to get there: from Reykjahlíð take road 848. After 3.5 km turn left onto Rd to Hverfjall. The turn off is well sign posted. There is a car park and bathrooms.

 
 

Dimmuborgir

Meaning dark forts or castles, Dimmuborgir is a unique sight. Over 2000 years ago volcanic eruptions caused lava to settle over a lake/marsh. As the the water began to boil, steam rose through the molten lava and cooled it, leaving behind tall twisted dramatic towers and caves. Now you can take a stroll through the area. It looks as though a sculptor has come through with giant tools to chisel out these towers. There is a small entrance fee. There is also a cafe and gift shop near the car park.

How to get there: a quick ride from the previous stop (Hverfjall). Back onto road 848, drive 1.5 km. Turn left onto Dimmuborgir road, which again is well sign posted. 



Sadly, our trip around the lake ended after Dimmuborgir. As you can see in the photos above, the weather turned on us – cold, windy and rainy. We headed toward Godafoss as our next stop. Afterwards, we carried onto Akureyri and splurged for a night in a guesthouse. Hot showers, comfy bed and a chance to dry everything out!

The 3 sights below were on our list to explore, had the weather not changed. Just means we have to come back to Iceland in the future!


Höfði

Similar to the lava pillars of Dimmuborgir, but these pillars remain surrounded by water and lush lakeside plant life. This area is considered a little peninsula into the lake and offers great water bird watching opportunities, boasting over 15 different species of duck, among other birds. Höfði is actually private land, but has been donated to the county for visitors pleasure.

How to get there: from the last stop, Dimmuborgir, return to road 848, drive for 2.6 km, then find parking. The entrance  starts just inside the gate to Kálfaströnd farm.

Photo borrowed from Flickr

Skutustadagigar pseudocraters

The reason these craters are “pseudo” or “fake” is because they have no roots below the earth’s crust. They are a result of another volcanic eruption. Lava flows over water, causing steam to be trapped under the weight of the lava which then creates pressure.  When the pressure becomes too much it causes steam explosions, after this continuous action and the cooling of the lava, craters are formed. The pseudocraters look like mini mountains dotting the edge of the lake, in many different shades of green, red and blacks. Much like Hverfjall, you can walk along the rim of these craters.

How to get there: continue along road 848 for 7.3 km. You will pass a church and community centre. Find parking and start along the path!

Photo borrowed from Flickr

Vindbelgur mountain

An extinct volcano situated on the western side of the lake. A hike up Vindbelgurfjall (Mount Vindbelgur) offers another awesome opportunity for panoramic views of the area. A 2.4 km hike, with some steep areas but no technical difficulties.

How to get there: from the previous stop, the pseudocraters, continue on road 848 for 5.2 km. Turn right onto road 1. Continue on road 1 east for 5 km. Turn off for signs to Vindbelgurfjall. Alternatively, from Reykjahlíð, head north on road 87. Turn left onto road 1 after 3.7 km. Continue on road 1 west for 7.3 km and follow signs for Vindbelgurfjall. 


Most of the sights listed above can be visited via various hiking/walking paths. Click here for details.


West of Myvatn

Godafoss

Waterfall of the Gods. Also mentioned in my Waterfalls of Iceland post, Godafoss is not a waterfall to skip out on. Visitors are able to get up close to the falls, however I believe they look best from afar. There is a cafe, gift shop and wifi at the parking lot.

How to get there: from Vindbelgurfjall head east on road 1. Road 1 turns left, after 5 km, but continues to be road 1. After another 28 km, road 1 turns left, but continues to be road 1. Turn left at the sign for Godafoss Waterfall, about 10 km after the last left turn. From Akureyri follow road 1 for 48 km until the right turn for Godafoss.

Waterfalls in Iceland


Hope this post helps you plan your trip around Myvatn, or at least inspires you to plan a visit.


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Myvatn Lake


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