We started the third day of our Iceland Ring Road journey with the one and only activity/sight that hubby chose during our whole trip, Gígjagjá, aka Yoda Cave. I’m very much a planner, whereas hubby is laid back and likes to wing it when it comes to our vacations. This has turned out to be a good balance for us because hubby is very flexible and doesn’t mind going where I have meticulously planned and tell him we should go.
Yoda Cave was just a quick stop off the Ring Road that hubby chose simply because he wanted to take our vehicle for its first-ever drive (with us) off payment. Truth be told, we hadn’t even realized that the cave we were visiting was shaped like Yoda and nick-named the Yoda Cave until after our trip was entirely over and we were reviewing the photos. Oops! But hey, good choice hubby!
After Yoda Cave, we visited Eldhraun, a moss covered lava field. Eldhraun wasn’t even a stop so much as an entire sight that could be seen from our vehicle for a large stretch along the Ring Road. The lava field is one of the largest lava fields in the world, covering 565 km and was caused by an eruption spanning two years in the late 1700s. We were so glad we could admire Eldhraun during a foggy morning, which set the perfect mood and backdrop for this gorgeous landscape.
Our next Ring Road stop was a famous one found in many photos of Iceland’s south coast. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a picturesque canyon with a river winding through the bottom of its massively tall walls.
For as much as I eagerly looked forward to Fjaðrárgljúfur, it just as equally let me down. The sight was an easy, walk up sight, which should have been the tip-off right away that it was going to be one of our least favorite type of attractions since they are always riddled with throngs of tourists. We almost gave up on this sight entirely because of the drizzly weather and lack of parking, but we managed to get a parking spot just in time. After the initial frustrations of traffic and parking, we knew we wouldn’t be in a good mood to spend much time here and we were right.
It’s impossible to tell from photos, but the iconic scene pictured in most photos of this canyon is actually just a fenced off overlook that takes no more than a minute to walk to. While it is, no doubt, a gorgeous and stunning sight, dealing with the typical tourists that stand around having unnecessarily long conversations conveniently right in the small spot where photos can be taken detracts from the beauty and serenity of the sight. We waited our turn to snap a single photo and we were out of there quicker than a toupee in a hurricane.
There was an additional, short, paved foot path that could be walked beyond the overlook that lead to another iconic viewpoint, but with the amount of tourists around, it was a hard pass.
Instead, we opted to drive up an F road that we had passed just before reaching the Fjaðrárgljúfur parking lot. Iceland’s F roads are roads that require 4WD vehicles, which we had. This was our first opportunity to put our vehicle to the test of tough terrain, but it turned out we didn’t even need the 4WD capability for the road, at least the portion we drove.
We only drove a short section of the road before getting distracted by a stunning roadside waterfall that we stopped at for lunch. The waterfall looked massive in person, but after seeing photos of us later walking across the top of the waterfall for scale, it didn’t seem nearly as big!
There was not a single person in sight while we visited this waterfall and we could not have been more grateful for the tranquility paired with the surrounding beauty.
As much as we wanted to be mad at Iceland for its touristy sights, it was easy to see why Iceland is such a favorite place for people from all around the world to visit. So many sights can be seen so easily just a short distance from the Ring Road or even on the Ring Road itself without leaving your vehicle, and most weren’t nearly as crowded as Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.
Dverghamrar was one such example. It was a free road-side attraction with basalt column cliffs that could be viewed while on a peaceful afternoon stroll.
You’d think we would have learned our lesson after Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon to nix any more overly touristy sights from our itinerary for the rest of the trip, but our very next stop an hour away happened to fall right in that same category.
Svartifoss was a waterfall I had desperately wanted to visit during our first visit to Iceland in 2018, but at that time, we had set up “base” in the main city and capital, Reykjavik, and only did a couple of day trips out to sights on the south coast.
Svartifoss is located four hours from Reykjavik and we had tried to make it to this famous waterfall during one of our day trips, but we ended up abandoning our plan because it became too late in the day after visiting several other south coast sights.
I hadn’t done any research on visiting Svartifoss at the time of our last Iceland trip and still hadn’t done any on our present trip; otherwise, I would have known ahead of time that the waterfall is actually located in the epitome of touristy places, a national park, and required a short hike to get to.
After our previous stops of the day, we were already coming to the close of our day and needed to start finding a campground, so we briefly considered bailing on this sight once we found out it was not only in a national park, but required a parking fee and a hike.
After much debating in the parking lot, we decided to visit the waterfall, since we were already there and the hike was supposed to be a short one. The hike up to Svartifoss was a fairly steep, 1.5-mile hike that only took us 35 minutes.
Like Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, we thought we would just wait our turn to take a photo at the obligatory viewpoint and leave, but it was not that simple. Many of the tourists had gone beyond barriers that were meant to keep visitors from treading on the delicate landscape below the waterfall, so we tried our best to get a photo of the waterfall without tourists littered at the base of it, but eventually gave up in exhausted frustration (and cropped them out later).
No doubt, Svartifoss and its unique basalt columns are unbelievably stunning, but the experience itself was anything but pleasant. Turns out there are other less-touristy waterfalls in Iceland that are also framed by the same mesmerizing basalt columns, so if we visited again, we would definitely skip this particular sight and opt for sights more off the beaten path.
After visiting Svartifoss, it was 4 p.m. and time to start thinking about where we would camp for the night. It just so happened that the national park that Svartifoss was located in had a large and popular campground, but we were sooo over the amount of crowds and tourists that we couldn’t imagine camping there.
There was one more option 13 minutes away that seemed much more quiet, scenic, and even had animals on the grounds, so we couldn’t get there fast enough because we were so excited about staying there!
Unfortunately, we literally did NOT get there fast enough because the campground was already full by 4:15 p.m. and our only alternatives were to go back to the crowded campground near Svartifoss or to keep driving two hours on the Ring Road to the next campground. Driving to the campground in the next town would also cause us pass by several sights on the Ring Road that we wanted to visit and would require more time than we could devote to that evening.
We ended up choosing the latter option and drove to the town of Höfn for camping, and although we somewhat regretted the rash decision to pass up on the convenient campground nearby, that evening, we got an awesome and unexpected sneak preview of one of sights we were to [re]visit the next day, Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon.
Stay tuned for two of our favorite sights on the Ring Road the next day!