Hitting the Trails in Iceland

IMG_6130

If you are traveling independently in Iceland and have the time to spare, there is no better way to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the country’s varied landscapes than by foot. When you take the time to get out of the car (or bus) and see the world without the filter of auto glass shielding you, nature assaults you with its sounds, sights and smells all working together. Besides, as a favorite Chicago band of ours, Poi Dog Pondering, sings: “You get to know things better when they go by slow.” At Take a Hike Photography, you could pretty much guess this is our theme song and motto!

Iceland has so many different topographical features to explore that you cannot possibly exhaust the list of trails in a single trip. Even so, we did our best to put some kilometers on our hiking boots. Here are a few of our favorite treks.

Laugavegur
If you are looking to test your stamina and really get out there, then a multi-day trek through the heart of Iceland’s central highlands may be just what your looking for. the Laugavegur trek is a 4-day world-class hike that is listed among the classic treks of the world. It has several features that make it worthy of recommendation. Check out this fun trailer we made for a quick preview of what the hike is all about.

First, it is accessible by public transportation to and from Reykjavík. The buses actually ford glacial-fed rivers to get you to the starting point, and the scenery along the route is worth the price of admission!

Second, you have the option of either backpacking your gear and camping in a tent at designated campgrounds or staying in mountain huts with dorm-style bunk beds, a common room and loads of hiker camaraderie, reservable in advance through one of Iceland’s hiking clubs, Ferðafélag Íslands. If you prefer greater shelter from the elements—wind, rain and cold— then this is a great option, but you must plan well in advance.

Third, you can extend your journey from 4 to 6 days by adding on the extension that takes you up and over Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that famously erupted in 2010 disrupting European air travel.

Regardless of your choice of length or accommodation, you will be treated to endlessly changing scenery and panoramic views of Iceland’s stunning beauty.

As an added bonus, you will have to ford four bone-chilling, glacial run-off streams, at least one of which will feel like a real accomplishment once you make it across safely. Worry not: there is a cold beer or a shot of Icelandic alcohol at the end to warm you up.

Hveragerði
If your idea of a good day trip is a short 3 km hike through a beautiful valley with a relaxing reward at the end, then Hveragerði is a great destination. Located 45 kilometers east of Reykjavík, the ride to the nearby town hints at the focal point as you pass through rhyolite cliffs with steam pouring out of the rocks. This is one of Iceland’s hottest geothermal sources and the source of much of the country’s greenhouse agriculture.

The hike itself is a pleasant uphill stroll following a warm river to its source, where it comes bubbling out of the earth at a boil. The bonus is that you can take a dip in this naturally heated stream wherever you feel like. The challenge is finding just the right temperature to soothe those aching calves and feet.

We felt like Goldilocks as we tested out several pools until we found one that was “just right!” So if a hike with a built-in hot pool for relaxation is your thing, check out the geothermal paradise of Hveragerði.

Snæfellsnes Coastal Hike
On the West Coast you will find this delightful, short hike that skirts the low cliffs from Hellnar to Arnastapi. If Mt. Snæfellsnes is in view, you may get a glimpse of its snow-covered peak. Along the way you will be treated to views over the ocean where you may even spot whales swimming by. Birds abound as you are treated to a symphony of birds calling and waves crashing.

For photographers, the rock formations and the seaweed covered green stones offer plenty of subjects to explore through the camera. This is a great morning or evening, half-day hike if you are in the area.


Skaftafellsheiði

Located in the great Vatnajökull National Park that dominates the southeast corner of Iceland, Skaftafellsheiði is a full-day hike that will take you past waterfalls and mountain meadows, sweeping views of a glaciated valley heading toward the ocean and finally to a jaw-dropping view of the Skaftafellsjökull. A challenging but do-able 14-kilometer long hike, the views never disappoint.

If you hike the trail in clockwise fashion, you will be rewarded with views of the glacier to your left as you descend for the last several kilometers of the trail. As a way of appreciating the sheer vastness of a glacier, consider this hike a must-do as you are making your way around the Ring Road.


Lake Mývatn: Hverfell and Dimmuborgir
This geothermal region has a number of short trails worth exploring. We spent three days in the area hiking and photographing and were pleased by the variety of scenes. Lake Mývatn itself is a birding destination with several short trails that will get you access to the birds and the water and allow you to see some of Iceland’s wildflowers as well. The Krafla lava fields and the Hverir geothermal mudpots offer an otherworldly landscape.

As a full day hike, we recommend the hike up to the Hverfell Volcano, where you can take a snack break on the rim and gaze out over Lake Mývatn. Next you descend through the strange rock formations of the Dimmuborgir where you may run into trolls. There is a cafe at the far end where you can break for lunch. The return trip is via the same route, though you can bypass the volcano and save yourself a repeat of the vertical climb. At the far end is the Mývatn Nature Bath where you can soak your weary bones after a long day of trekking.


Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss
Considered by many Icelanders to be their “most scenic” spot, Ásbyrgi, with its horseshoe-shaped canyon and trees (yes, trees!) larger than 3 feet high, is the starting point of a 2 day, 33 km trek that follows the x river as it heads toward the dramatic waterfalls of Dettifoss and Selfoss. This hike was a great warm up for the Laugavegur Trek and has two features going for it. First, you can drop your car at the end and take a shuttle bus for a small fee to the start of the trek. Second, there is a campground about halfway that allows you to conveniently break up the journey (and they even accept, in fact prefer, credit cards!).

Along the way, you are treated to stunning rock formations and many picturesque waterfalls as you follow the course of the river. There is one calf-deep stream to ford with characteristically chilly waters.

If there is a downside to this hike, it is that every view point along the way is accessible to the public, so you rarely have the view to yourself. The big reward, however, is at the end. You will hear the falls at Dettifoss long before you see them, and they are certainly impressive. Just a short walk away are the falls at Selfoss which are worth your attention. Here are a few quick videos with more on the highlights of the trail:

Iceland has numerous smaller hikes in the northwest along the fjords and in the difficult-to-reach Hornstrandir, and in the northeast as well. We attempted one day hike near Borgarfjörður Eystri on a cold, rainy and foggy day to Stórurð. It was too wet for our cameras but we would certainly recommend it. We left Iceland knowing that we will return to do more hiking in the Land of Fire and Ice.

Have you done any hiking in Iceland? Are there any other hikes that you would add to this list? In the meantime, you know what we always say, “Take a Hike!”

Posted in Iceland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Your Ticket to Iceland’s Puffin-Palooza

Puffins at Látrabjarg

Every summer, music fans in Chicago look forward to the annual return of one of rock’s annual mega-festivals, Lollapalooza. For sheer people watching, not to mention the variety of music on offer over three consecutive days, the Lollapalooza Festival cannot be beat. For the nature enthusiast, however, who perhaps prefers the birds to The Byrds, this type of concert scene can be a bit overwhelming. We at Take A Hike would like to offer an alternative Summer Tour, lovingly-entitled Puffin-Palooza. The following is your concert guide to four of Iceland’s greatest stops on a summer tour of the country’s most beloved band bird, The Puffins! So grab your (concert) ticket and don’t forget the camera for those groupie fan photos, because you, my friend, are on Summer Tour.

Continue reading

Posted in Iceland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Photographing Iceland’s Waterfalls, Part II

IMG_6858 copyAs promised, we’re back with more on Iceland’s wonderful waterfalls. One of our main goals in creating this blog was to provide helpful information for the independent traveler, so we thought we would follow up with a little more information on where and how to shoot all those beautiful chutes we teased you with in our last post. Even if you never make it to Iceland, perhaps this post will inspire you to go on a waterfall adventure of your own wherever you live. Continue reading

Posted in Iceland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Photographing Iceland’s Waterfalls: Part I

IMG_2135-40_Painterly 2_Border

Iceland is a nature photographer’s paradise, and there is a plethora of fantastic subjects to shoot practically everywhere you look.  Sometimes we felt there just weren’t enough hours in the day to shoot it all, and, with 20+ hours of sunlight, that’s really saying something! From lunar landscapes to rugged seaside cliffs, from grandiose glaciers to gushing geysers, Iceland has it all. And, if that weren’t enough, the country is teeming with waterfalls. Everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes, and many that would warrant state park status in the US hardly get a mention in the guidebooks or a spot on the map. In fact, there are so many waterfalls in Iceland that many of them aren’t even named.   Continue reading

Posted in Iceland | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Spring Tune Up in the Garden of the Gods

IMG_0138

Stop the presses! We know we just announced a series of posts on Iceland, but we accomplished two things this week that we’ve never done before:

  1. Alison did a headstand in yoga class! That might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but, believe you me, it was a long time in coming.
  2. We took a trip in Illinois… our home state… somewhere outside of Chicago!

Shocker, right?

Continue reading

Posted in United States | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Practical Guide to Independent Travel in Iceland

Krafla Lava Fields

Matt and I were recently asked by our camera club to put together a travelogue program about our trip to Iceland in the summer of 2012. Even though that trip was almost two years ago now, it finally gave us the motivation we needed to process and edit the thousands of photographs and video clips we shot while we were there. We spent a lot of time working on our presentation and are really pleased with the final result, especially because it reminded us so much of what an amazing time we had traveling in that incredible little country. What a place! It’s hard to believe that a country the same size as Kentucky has so much to offer. You can see the highlights of our summer in Iceland in this short video:

This blog was born in Iceland, and we’ve come a long way since then. In our next series of posts, we will be sharing some of our best pictures, videos, and travel/photography tips in a way that we couldn’t when we were first posting from the road. We also hope to update some of those earlier posts with new and improved pictures and related videos to help give a better sense of what it was really like to experience Iceland.

To help get started, we thought we would begin with a post explaining some of the practical aspects of traveling in Iceland—you know, the basics of visiting any foreign country—how to communicate with the locals, what to eat, how to get around and where to sleep. We think this will be useful to anyone entertaining the notion of going to Iceland, but we also hope it will be enjoyable to those of you who just appreciate traveling vicariously. So here goes! Continue reading

Posted in Iceland, Travel Tips | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

There’s Something about Telluride

Charming mountain towns are practically the norm in Colorado, but, to me, Telluride somehow seems a cut above the rest. Tucked into a narrow valley with glorious mountain views on all sides, Telluride was established in 1878 and is full of historic buildings, attractive houses, hip restaurants and cozy cafes. With local street fairs celebrating anything and everything, weekly farmer’s markets and major international music and film festivals, you’ll find the atmosphere in Telluride hard to beat.

This is southwest Colorado, so it goes without saying that Telluride is an outdoor paradise. In addition to offering world-class skiing in winter, there are oodles of hiking trails—many leading right from town—to keep the outdoor enthusiast occupied all summer long. And for wildlife lovers, there’s even a herd of resident elk and a pond right in the middle of town with an active beaver lodge. How cool is that? Like I said, there’s just something about Telluride.

Continue reading

Posted in United States | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Backpacking Colorado’s Four Pass Loop

Maroon Bells

This four-day, four-pass backpacking trip is often featured on lists of the world’s classic hikes, and it certainly is worthy of all the hype. Beginning at Aspen’s magnificent Maroon Bells and traversing four 12,000+ passes over its 26 miles, the hike offers magnificent scenery and a good physical challenge. You might think that starting at the Maroon Bells—one of Colorado’s most photogenic peaks—would make the the remainder of the hike somewhat anti-climatic, but each pass offers a new set of vistas that are just as spectacular as the next. The Four Pass Loop is awesome from beginning to end. We highly recommend it! Continue reading

Posted in United States | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Tent with a View: Backpacking to Colorado’s Blue Lake

Above Blue Lake

We were compelled to do the Blue Lake hike outside of the southwest Colorado town of Ouray after seeing a Backpacker Magazine article touting it as having “one of America’s best secret campsites.” Blue Lake also happens to be located just below 14,150-foot Mt. Sneffels, which is named after the Snaefellsnes peak in Iceland. At the time, we had just returned from six weeks in Iceland, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to do this particular hike based on that fact alone. What can I say? I guess we’re suckers when it comes to travel nostalgia… Continue reading

Posted in United States | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Hiking Colorado’s Ice Lake

On the Trail to Ice Lake

Have we ever mentioned how much we love Colorado? In the summer of 2012, Matt and I attended a college friend’s wedding in Denver and then went hiking and backpacking for two weeks. Last summer, I returned for my annual end of summer trip with my mother (sadly Matt was already back at work in Chicago and green with envy). My mother and I stayed just outside of Telluride, and, even though I only had a few days to explore the area, I was ready to convince Matt that we needed to sell the house in Chicago and move out there. As teachers, I am pretty positive that we wouldn’t be able to afford a house— much less a shoebox in Telluride—but we’re so smitten with Colorado that we might just be willing to live in a tent to make it happen. Ahh, another dream of moving out west… Continue reading

Posted in United States | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments