A volcanic adventure in the Icelandic Highlands

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During our adventure in Iceland with kids, we spent as much time exploring the interior and the highlands as we did our 14-day Iceland tour through the ring road and western and central Iceland. Our trip through the interior brought us through rivers and over glaciers and eventually led us into the Icelandic highlands where we made our way towards the Dyngjufjöll mountains with a goal of trekking to Iceland’s Viti Caldera. We had based ourselves the night before outside of the town of Husavik, the northernmost town in Iceland at just 60 km from the Arctic Circle and were all rested up for a serious day of hiking.

Be prepared for the Icelandic Highlands

The Icelandic interior is incredibly beautiful but unforgiving for those entering unprepared. The area does not see heavy traffic, even in the high season and there are an extremely limited number of places to stop for food, water, and fuel. If you plan on venturing deep into the interior, make sure you have enough supplies to last you, and a little extra, just in case.

Royalty and Waterfalls

We started our route up near the stunning Asbyrgi canyon where we paused to take in the massive rock formation that divides the central valley before continuing along route 864. It is a rough but beautiful road that led us to the mightiest waterfall in Europe, the spectacular Dettifoss. We stopped and hiked along the rim of the river up to the incredible Selfoss.

A woman and toddler watch a wide and roaring waterfall in Iceland - Icelandic Highlands

After taking a break to admire the rushing water we continued on our way towards the junction at Route 1 to F88 where we caught the view of the Queen of the Icelandic Highlands, Mt. Herðubreið.

Herdubreid mountain in the Icelandic Highlands is capped with snow amidst it's desolate surroundings.

Herdubreid, also known as the Queen of the Icelandic Highlands sits 1682 M above the surrounding landscape.

Askja Caldera and Viti Crater

Askja is about 100 km from the popular Ring Road (Highway 1) and is a popular destination. It even has two mountain huts and a campsite where visitors can sleep, however, there is no food or drink available. If you are thinking of going that route, make sure you pack enough supplies to cover your stay. Known popularly as the Askja Caldera, the word Askja is actually Icelandic for Caldera, so this would make it the Caldera Caldera.

The gravel roads leading up to the Highlands are rough and offer little forgiveness. You should not even attempt to drive the interior unless you have a reasonably capable 4 wheel drive to do so. You don’t, however, need a monster truck. We made our journey in a Volkswagen Tiguan and it handled everything we threw at it with little effort.

A volkswagen tiguan sits on rough ground with green hills in the background - Icelandic Highlands

Our trusty steed for the journey, a Volkswagen Tiguan stands proudly on the rough terrain of the Icelandic Highlands

The landscape in the Icelandic highlands is spectacular, barren and rough. It’s no wonder why Iceland’s interior is an empty place, as living here would be a feat of its own. This was the coldest day of our 18-day journey through Iceland, and as we parked our car at the top of the switchbacks in the Askja parking lot, a cold rain began to fall and the clouds dropped and soon seemed to be sitting just above our shoulders. We mounted C into our Deuter Kid-Carrier and attached the rain jacket to help keep him dry for the journey and began to trek out towards the Caldera.

Even in early July, the hiking glaciers in Iceland means trekking on a thick blanket of snow and ice. The snow was soft and wet and made the hike a slow one, especially with the added weight of the backpack and C on my back. Christina and I had brought hiking poles with us and having them went a long way towards helping me retain my balance as the icy carpet crunched beneath my feet. In the places where the field of snow gave way to bare ground, we were met with a soft, muddy base that quickly covered our boots. C was having none of this cold, wet hike and promptly dozed off in the dry, cushiony softness of his kid-carrier. I was treated to the sounds of his snores through the rest of my journey across the ice.

Man carrying infant in a kid-carrier standing on rocks and snow in the Icelandic Highlands

We arrived at the Viti explosion crater after about 30 minutes and were wowed by the milky white water of Lake Askja. Viti sits a short distance from Öskjuvatn, the main, and much larger crater lake that was formed when a massive volcanic eruption took place in 1875. The aftermath of the explosion was so devastating that it lead to many Icelanders migrating to Canada to escape the poisonous ash and damage it caused to crops and livestock. The lake is covered with ice the majority of the year, only thawing for a short time between June and July. We were up around 1300-1500 m above sea level and the Viti (Warm lake in a crater) Geothermal Lake. The water in the crater sits about 50 m down from the rim. The water in the caldera is usually around the 30°C mark, although the temperatures do fluctuate, and many people who hike to it climb down into the crater and go for a swim.

Beyond its gorgeous scenery and spectacular background, the Askja Caldera has been used by NASA as a training ground for its geology research. In fact, 9 of the 12 men who set foot on the Moon did some of their training in Iceland.

The milky white waters of the Viti Crater in the Askja Caldera of Iceland - Icelandic Highlands

A lesson in adventure parenting

I had brought my swimsuit, having every intention of making the climb down to the crater and bathing in the warm waters below, but after testing the grounds and watching the struggles of others who had made it to the bottom attempt to climb back up the crumbling, loose rock and mud walls of the crater, I looked at my wife  and son and decided that should I need to be rescued from a volcanic crater in the middle of the Icelandic Highlands, I would surely never hear the end of it from them during my lifetime. This hike left me with a sense of respect for my position as a parent while travelling. I learned that as much as I love adventure, there are now people who rely on me to stay safe and available. This doesn’t mean I will avoid all risk moving forward, it just means I’ll weigh the risk vs. rewards before doing things that might cause trouble for myself or my family.

Exhausted after a long day of trekking through Iceland’s highlands, we made our way back across the snow field toward our car. We would make the drive to Hofn, where our next day would be spent exploring the spectacular Iceberg lagoon and another adventure that none of us expected.

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Iceland Hiking the Viti Crater - Pinterest
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Kevin Wagar

Kevin Wagar is a creative designer and technology expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life.
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.
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73 Comments

  1. Your photos are really beautiful and that map you have is very helpful. No surprise NASA would use that spot as research— looks out of this world. Hope to go to Iceland soon.

  2. Wow, those are some incredible sights! I’ve never even heard of a milky white lake…beautiful! Also interesting to know NASA used the place for training. Iceland seems like an awesome place to visit!

  3. Iceland is one of my favorite places on earth and so much kudos to you for bringing a one-year-old into the Icelandic tundra! What a funny anecdote about deciding whether or not to jump into the thermal pool in that crater. Good choice that you opted otherwise for the sake of your poor wife who would’ve been frantic with a baby in tow having to rescue you down a crater. You are absolutely right that as a traveling parent, priorities completely change and that’s a great way to prepare you for this new chapter of your life. Also, on a blogging note: great theme! I love how readable your blog content is. Can I ask what theme you used?

  4. We did Iceland last June but it looks like you guys covered far more ground than we did! Our rental car cost too much to have it for more than a day so we only got to the first part of the Golden Circle 🙂

  5. Your photos make me jealous. Iceland is stunning with it’s rough geographic formations, ice, and water. I must visit soon, lest my jealousy get the best of me. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I happen to be sitting in Heathrow Airport waiting for a flight to Reykjavik as I write this, and it’s making me desperately wish I had more time on this trip to actually get out of the city! Major kudos on the adventure parenting! I’m not sure I could hike some of that alone, let alone with a 1 year old!

  7. Wow! Iceland is so beautiful! I have always loved traveling with my kiddos, but I am not sure I could have done such a rough trek with a 1 year old in tow so kudos to you all. 🙂 And I am also not sure I could have resisted that geothermal lake!

  8. I always see Iceland as such a magical place, rain or shine. It seems to be one of the last remaining great wildernesses in Europe. The fact that the first men on the moon trained here says it all. Interesting post, especially how you managed it with a 1yr old, kudos!

  9. We’ve toyed with the idea of going back to Iceland (I went alone) and I really do think we just need to price it out and go. The hiking and features look and sound so incredible, I know we’d love it.

  10. hahah good call not climbing down for a swim in the crater Kevin; I’ll have to come back to Iceland and get out there a little more – took it very easy on our quick 3 nights trip

  11. Those photos are incredible, and your attention to detail made it a great article. Loved the last paragraph, its always nice to hear of people growing and changing for different reasons, and yours was touching and inspiring to read. 🙂

  12. Wow, I would have loved such a holiday as a kid! We ‘only’ went to Denmark. That is as far north as we have been together. I am migty impressed that you trekked with the little one.
    And you’ve got some amazing photos there, makes me totally yearn for Iceland.

    One more thing: I absolutely love the map at the end with yout previous destinations. May I ask what plugin you’re using? 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

  13. I would love to take our boys to Iceland! I think they would love it! I also liked your mention of risk vs. rewards when traveling as a family. This is something we are always mindful of.

  14. What an incredible adventure for you and your son, and your photos are amazing. We did the ring road way back in 1998 – we also had a tot with us, my one-year-old niece. We weren’t quite as bold as you though, and only explored some beautiful beaches and short hikes. Awesome post!

  15. Your website is gorgeous – as are the photo’s. I’m looking forward to travelling to Iceland, so it is very interesting to read all about your adventures.

  16. I cannot wait to go – it just looks like fairytale land. Unlike you I want to take my very old dad. We went to La Reunion together last and he was ‘entertaining’ me with a lot of volcano jokes so I will love it to get them out again for Iceland 🙂

  17. Never get tired of seeing photos on Iceland! Such a magical country, and yet one we haven’t discovered! Did not know about NASA using it as a training ground but it makes sense. And kudos for traveling with such a young one, very impressive.

  18. You know this was a great read. I liked the fact that l was not doing it..haha! It just looks so cold to me 🙂 . Very adventurous. I am not surprised that the VW Tiguan could handle it. My friend has one and it seems to be able to handle anything in Big Bear. I loved most what you said about being adventurous, but you have to also weigh in the fact that you have people depending on you. Well said. Happy and safe travels to you and the family.

  19. Oh Iceland, how I need to visit you!! It looks absolutely stunning. I think you made the right decision not heading down to that crater with son in tow. Sounds like you had a great trip 🙂

  20. Ahh what beautiful photos! I just got back from a road trip in Iceland myself but due to bad weather we had to skip most of the sights you mentioned in this post (including Dettifoss, which I am so disappointed about!) Thanks for making me feel like I was there 🙂

  21. So, I went to Iceland in 2014, and this post has proven to me that I need to get back ASAP. Next trip will involve renting a car, driving the ring road, and a trek like yours!

  22. Wow, no wonder so many people have been traveling to Iceland lately. It’s beautiful! I haven’t noticed too many being as adventurous as you and your wife, though—and with a baby in tow, to boot. Sounds like an awesome adventure.

  23. Wow Kevin, that was one heck of a hike! Glad you made the smart decision to stay out of the crater. We haven’t been to that side of Iceland yet, but will definitely check it out next time we are there.

  24. The landscape in Iceland is litterally insane, I need to go! I also am really into trekking so you can imagine the appeal is even higher for me. Its great that you went a little off-path to the highlands tho, Maybe I will loolk into doing the same when I go 🙂

  25. Hoth may as well have been Hoth Kevin. Off the grid! You guys are hearty souls. I have left the beaten path in warmer climes but not in a spot like this. Well Done, Indiana Dad!

    Ryan

  26. That’s an epic adventure. The entire trekking is an enough excitement so I might not try as well to go down and feel the warm water. Haha. All photos are incredible! 🙂

  27. Wow! The view of the crater was jaw dropping! And I was surprised that you bring your one year old son. He is so lucky to travel at the young age. The milky water lake of askja looks so nice. Iceland is such a beautiful country looks like a good place for adventures:)

  28. Iceland is so beautiful but it is a sad place for me because my hubby and I had to cancel our September trip due to conflict with our business in Panama. It was a bummer because I had that super $404 air from Iceland AIr. ;( Your trip looks great. I would love to see the craters.

  29. First, I had no idea that NASA used Iceland as a training ground! Makes perfect sense, but still, that’s very cool. Second, I give you guys major bonus points for doing this kind of adventurous travel with a young child. Sure, you didn’t make it down to the crater for a swim, but you still did so much! I love the photos, and more than ever now I want to go to Iceland!

  30. Great adventure and very brave doing it with a little babby on your back! Iceland is one of the few European countries we have still to visit and we’re thinking this has to be rectified pronto – thermal springs are one of our favourite things and we are MAD for swimming in that Caldera (although probably will die climbing down to it).

  31. Gotta give you props for hiking and trekking with a 1 year old! Most people I know can’t go anywhere without their kids or leave them home. This is amazing. More people should do this.

    Btw, Iceland, wow! Keep seeing more and more posts of this amazing country and I am making it a mission do-or-die to visit next year.

  32. I love your photos they are beautiful and secondly kudos to you on bringing a year old kid with you, that’s the most amazing part of your blog.

  33. First of all, I would love to say how great you guys are for educating your children about traveling at such young age. They will have plenty of stories to tell! Next, this adventure is fantastic, and you guys know how to make the most of it. Lastly, congratulations for not being selfish and did not go to the crate to take a dip leaving your family alone. It was the right move! Thank you for being such a good role model!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! It was tough not going down into the crater, but I’m pretty sure I made the right decision. With my luck, I’d probably still be down in that crater today 🙂

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