Þórsmörk and Jökulsárlón: In Love with Iceland, Part 2

It probably wasn’t fair that I asked my friends to name their favorite parts our Iceland trip, but most of them humored me. Not surprisingly, several people cited the the people and our group dynamic as the best part.

The best part was exploring such an amazing place with a group of people I truly enjoy being with – Lisa

Recap: In October 2016, I organized a 10-day trip to Iceland with my women’s hockey team. The first half was a road trip around southern Iceland, from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón, and back. We spent the remainder of our time exploring Reykjavik and playing in a tournament. My travel companions voted Þórsmörk and Jökulsárlón as their favorite parts of the trip. Check out Part 1: In Love with IcelandPart 3: Iceland Travel TipsPart 4: Skal! Sampling Iceland’s Craft Beer, and Part 5: Wandering Reykjavik.

Picking Favorites

From a sightseeing point of view, the favorites by far were the Þórsmörk Super Jeep tour and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. As we were reminded time and again, Iceland’s landscape is in constant flux from the pressures of its geological situation and climate change. Both Þórsmörk and Jökulsárlón provided striking, breathtaking examples of this in very different ways.

thorsmork-hikingHiking in Þórsmörk

Þórsmörk, Thor’s Forest

Þórsmörk is a popular hiking area in Southern Iceland, just northeast of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Though we had only a short time, we wanted to experience some of Iceland’s more rugged, less accessible areas, so I booked a day-long Super Jeep tour.

To access Þórsmörk, you need a specially modified vehicle with high clearance and good tires (i.e., a Super Jeep), and better yet, a local driver who knows what he’s doing. Seriously, don’t try this in your RAV4; on our way in we passed some poor guy who’d broken an axle on his small SUV, and he hadn’t even gotten to the really rough part yet.

No challenge is too great for the Super Jeep

The tour departed from a campground near Seljalandsfoss, and we quickly left what looked like recognizable roads and headed into the countryside. Despite the clouds and occasional rain, around every bend, another jaw-dropping landscape emerged. The Super Jeep ride itself got our adrenaline a few times as we headed straight into seemingly impassable rivers and climbed up and down meter-high embankments. I’m pretty sure our guide / driver Árni was having a bit of fun with us. 


On the first stop, as we stood in a barren field of rock and ash at the foot of Gígjökull glacier, Árni explained the forces acting on ever-changing landscape of Iceland: volcanic eruptions, shifting tectonic plates, climate change.

Gígjökull glacier descends the hillside among volcanic ash

Before the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano, a glacial lake had filled the basin where we stood, but the force of the eruption and the floods that ensued washed it all away. The glacier, too, was becoming a casualty of environmental forces. The ice on the hillside in front of us had become disconnected from the main glacier higher up on the mountain and was now called, somewhat depressingly, “dead ice.” 

Still, even among that stark landscape, new growth was emerging.

Tiny, delicate plants growing among the volcanic ash


After lunch at a campsite restaurant, we hiked along a trail in the hills that led us to the cave Snorrariki, the supposed hiding place of Snorrar, a legendary outlaw. Árni showed us how to climb up into the cave, though most of us decided our climbing skills weren’t quite sufficient. 

Emily represented the group as the designated climber

Then Árni left us to follow the trail on our own down to another hiking camp, Skagfjordsskali, where he picked us up in the Jeep. The trail we followed is part of the 55-km Laugavegur trail that connects Þórsmörk with the hot springs area Landmannalaugar. I’d love to do the entire route someday.

Every tour, hike, sightseeing event was amazing but the very best one was the Super Jeep tour. I absolutely loved that especially the very last part where we saw that amazing waterfall after doing a difficult hike. – Dianne

In awe at Nauthúsagil


Our final stop of the day was the mystical ravine Nauthúsagil, where a small, fast-moving stream flows through a narrow cleft in the rocks. We hiked in along the stream, enclosed on both sides by moss-covered rock walls, the last daylight filtering through the small trees above us. It wasn’t easy keeping our feet dry, hopping from rock to rock or clinging to the side of the hill. In fact, after slipping one too many times, I gave up and just walked through the water. However, the scene inside, with its succession of three increasingly dramatic waterfalls, was worth the wet feet. When we emerged again, the sun, which had finally emerged, was just setting in a brilliant array of colors and clouds.

Otherworldly Jökulsárlón

On the day following our Þórsmörk adventure, we finally got a day-long break from the rain and clouds. In the late afternoon sun, icebergs floating in Jökulsárlón and washing up on the black sand Diamond Beach glowed varying shades of cool, serene blue. Some were translucent and others milky or striped with black volcanic ash. We’d truly never seen anything like it on earth.

Icebergs floating in Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon (photo credit: Lisa Labovitch)

Diamond Beach

Before visiting the lagoon, we spent some time wandering along the Diamond Beach, taking pictures among the natural ice sculptures. Against the backdrop of the beach’s black sands, the ice chunks really do sparkle like diamonds.

Ice chunks that are thousands of years old sitting on a beach, pretty extraordinary! – Lindsey

Ice “diamonds” shimmer on the black sand beach

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón is a lagoon at the end of glacier Breiðamerkurjökull, an outlet of the larger Vatnajökull. Before you even arrive at the site, you catch glimpses of the glacier spilling down into the water.

While you can get a good view of the lagoon from different vantage points on shore, the boat tours take you even closer. We took the 4:30 (16:30) amphibious boat ride as I’d read that sunset yields some of the best views. As the sun sank lower, the colors of of sky, ice, and water intensified before our eyes. Floating among ice that had formed high up on a mountain a thousand years ago, we couldn’t help but think, “Is this for real?”

jokulsarlonIcebergs floating in Jökulsárlón (photo credit: Lisa Labovitch)

Fragile environment

It’s hard not to feel a bit melancholy among all this beauty, though. The lagoon itself is only about 60 years old and, sadly, we have climate change to thank for it, as the glacier once reached the ocean but has retreated, leaving a growing pool of melted ice in its wake.

Time and again, we were reminded that Iceland’s environment is fragile and ever changing. What you see today might not be there tomorrow, but something just as beautiful might have taken its place.

Share your favorites

Have you been to iceland? What were your favorite parts? If you haven’t been yet, what are you most looking forward to seeing?

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Want more Iceland? Check out Part 1: In Love with Iceland, Part 3: Iceland Travel TipsPart 4: Skal! Sampling Iceland’s Craft Beer, and Part 5: Wandering Reykjavik of the In Love with Iceland series as well!

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