The Mývatn Area – Rifts, Craters, Caves, & The Yule Lads

If you do find yourself doing a  Ring Road trip or a trip to just the northern part of Iceland, the Mývatn area is definitely worth checking out. One of the really nice things about this area is that there is so much to do in such a small area that you could easily fill an entire day, possibly two days. And, while the hubby and I were there that’s exactly what we did.

First up in this area for us was the Stóragjá Rift. This is a (relatively small) rift in the earth and can be hard to find but a pretty cool and quick stop to add into your day. What makes it worth stopping is that you can actually get down into the rift and walk a path along the bottom to get really cool views of the rock formations. If going down into a mini crater isn’t your thing, you can always walk the path up top as well.

For directions: When you’re driving east along Route 1 you’ll come to the intersection with 848. Google will likely tell you to turn right onto 848 and then it’ll be on the left. This is true; however, in order to not miss the turn off for the head of the path, rather than turn onto 848, you’ll see a small pull off right at the intersection of 1 and 848 that’s in front of you while you’re still on Route 1. This is what you want to pull off to so you can park your car. You’ll know you’re in the right place by finding the sign labeled “Stóragjá”. This is the beginning of the trail, and you’ll find the rift just past the sign to your right.

Trailhead Sign

After Stóragjá, we drove down 848 for about 5 minutes and came to the turn off for Hverfjall Crater. This is definitely worth making a stop for. The crater is gigantic! As you drive up to it, you realize just how big it is. At 1 km in diameter, it’s actually pretty mind blowing seeing it up close. It’s the biggest crater I’ve ever seen, and standing on its rim makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another planet.

A couple cautions to keep in mind: The drive on the access road is pretty treacherous. You can take a standard or even compact car on it, but you’ll need to take it very slow. It’s very bumpy with lots of holes to bottom out in, and it’s narrow in parts so you’ll have to be prepared to pull off while another car passes. Once you get to the parking lot, the nice thing is that there is a facility with paid bathrooms (2 krona/use).

The second piece of caution is the hike up to the rim of the crater. A path that takes you pretty much straight up has been created, which seems nice…until you get about halfway and realize you’re way out of breath. I’m pretty fit and still in my 20’s and had to take a few breaks to catch my breath on the way up. It’s doable for the average person, you’ll just likely need to take it a little slow and give yourself breaks.

Once you do get to the top, you’ll be able to see into the huge and otherworldly crater. You could also take a stroll around the rim of the crater. Just be sure to give yourself enough time. With the 1 km diameter, it’s going to take a bit of a time commitment to make it all the way around.

View of the crater from the access road
The steep path to the top

View down from the top of the path

Next up for us, was the Dimmuborgir area. This area has plenty of hiking to take part in, which will take you through forest areas as well as rocky terrain. There’s also a facility with paid bathrooms and a cafe just left of the parking lot.

For hiking, I would highly recommend the Kirkjan Trail. This is a pretty easy and flat trail but offers really great views and eventually leads you to a rock formation that resembles a church (makes sense considering “kirkja” in Icelandic means church). You can climb down into the cave-like structure and see what looks like could be benches that have been created inside. It’s really beautiful and easy to access.

The Kirkja, aka church

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and into Icelandic folklore, you could continue on with your hike to the Yule Lads Cave. Continuing on this path will take you a bit of time (it was around a 30 minute hike for us), but it was well worth it for us since we have loved learning about the culture here.

To get to the cave, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the sign that directs you to get off the main path you had been following up until this point. (There is English on it, so don’t fret about not being able to understand Icelandic.) Once you turn left onto the new path, it’s only about 800 meters until you get to the cave.

When you arrive, you’ll immediately notice the signs and skis laying at the top of the cave. Climb down and you’ll be brought fully into the Icelandic tale of the Yule Lads. There are several beds with wool blankets, cooking utensils, books, and more. They have it all set up as though the Yule Lads themselves were living there. It makes for a fun little adventure and great photos.

Entrance to the cave. Notice the sign.
The Yule Lads clothes hung to dry
The beds all made up with sheep wool blankets and all

When you’re all done, just return to the main path, and you’re only about 10 minutes away from the parking lot.

To finish out the day, another cave to check out is Grjótagjá. This cave has a small pool inside that is heated by geothermal activity. At one time, it was a popular bathing spot, but the temperature has increased over the years and is now too hot to get in. Legend has it that a fugitive also used this cave to hide from the authorities.

When you arrive, there are two entrances that will take you down to the pool within the cave. Both offer really cool views and chances to get pictures. There is also a short walking path to the right that will take you along a rift at the top of the cave.

This one did seem popular with tourists. Even when we visited in early May, we had to wait to actually get into the cave and down to the pool. Keep in mind that if you are coming during high season, you might have to wait quite a while to climb down inside.

Pool down inside the cave
Rift above cave with short walk around it

That wraps up our time in the Mývatn area. There are more things that you could explore, like the Mývatn lake or the Mývatn nature baths, but this was what we had time for and really enjoyed. Hope you found it helpful in your travels, and I’ll see you soon for more Ring Road exploring!

This is the third post in the Ring Road Series