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Unique River Rafting Experience in Iceland with Viking Rafting

As a travel blogger, I’m usually focused on finding the most awe-inspiring sights, the most remote wonders of nature or the most unique experiences in the country I’m travelling in. This is getting ever more difficult during our times of modern globalisation.

However, like many, I have the tendency to thread over every bit of land abroad, but neglecting what my own country has to offer. It sometimes seems as all my holidays start by finding a flight off this faraway island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Iceland is actually a paradise for the outdoorsy types, with endless activities (when weather allows). These thoughts led me to wonder what has been my most unique experience in my home country? What could I personally recommend to my foreign friends?

It didn’t take me long to decide, my all-time favourite experience in Iceland was definitely going river rafting down the East Glacial River in North Iceland.

This powerful glacial river runs through Iceland’s most remote and unspoilt nature and has some class 4+/5 rapids. No wonder it’s consistently rated one of the top rafting rivers in Europe!

There are two rafting companies in Skagafjörður that operate on the river, but after some research me and a few friends booked our tour with Viking Rafting.

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The legendary owners of Viking Rafting!

They came highly recommended from friends and rating websites, and if safety is your concern then Viking Rafting is definitely your best choice. They are the only company recognised by the International Rafting Federation and all guides and safety kayakers are certified. The company is owned and operated by the guides themselves who have a tremendous passion for paddling white water and will go the extra mile to offer personalised service and guaranteed low guest-to-guide ratios.

If you like to know more what makes Viking Rafting unique among its competitors, click here.

With butterflies in our stomach we set off on a 4 hour drive from Reykjavik to Skagafjörður (a deep bay up north) where the base is situated (1 hour from Akureyri). The road to Skagafjörður makes for a very scenic ride; you pass fjords and farm fields, ride over mountains and rivers before finally reaching the beautiful bay.

Skagafjordur Iceland

Farm fields and mountains will keep you’re eyes busy on the way

None of us had ever tried rafting before and we didn’t exactly know what to expect. It was a beautiful sunny day in Skagafjörður and the rafting base had this comfy relaxed hostel atmosphere. After choosing a properly sized dry suit, which prevents you from freezing to death (remember its a glacial river!), we hopped on a bus to take us upstream where our full day rafting adventure would begin. We chose the “Whitewater Action” day tour, the most action-packed day trip on the list, but they also offer less extreme, more family oriented options.

Upon arrival we were told that the river was quite powerful today since a lot of snow had melted the last couple of days. Hearing this and seeing the huge river in front of me I could feel the butterflies becoming even more agitated. Our guides, Chris and Anup, both owners of Viking Rafting, made a brief safety speech and synchronised our paddling with some on-land training. This quickly soothed my nerves…I knew I was in good hands.

Skagafjordur Iceland Rafting

With duck-taped necks to keep us dry, we felt ready!

Now I’m finally on the rafting boat and soon we are paddling through white water, splashing through one rapid after the other, surrounded by this massive gorge in the middle of nowhere. I have never experienced such a consistent adrenaline rush!

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Whitewater Action!

Getting knocked off the boat is almost a guarantee, you never know when it happens, but eventually the river will demonstrate its power. This makes the experience even more thrilling. I was expecting to get wet and cold when falling off board, but I actually remained fairly dry and well insulated throughout the journey, thanks to quality dry suits. There are a few rapids that are more challenging then others and require you to be alert and focused on paddling. The most famous is probably the so-called “Green Room”. I won’t go into much detail on that here but Viking rafting always does a safety check before heading down the more demanding parts.

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Safety kayakers with mad skills keep you safe if you get into trouble

Being trapped in a glacier river in the middle of nowhere, you get very surprised when a basket of freshly baked waffles with whipped cream and rhubarb jam are sent down from a nearby farm using a zip line…just brilliant! You also get some hot coco to warm you from the inside. This was definitely one the highlights of the trip; waffles have never tasted as good! Perhaps the revival off my empty sugar stores played a role as well.

About midway down the river, you get a quick brake and those brave enough get a chance to plunge off a terrifying rock straight into the gorge.

Cliff-jumping

Rafting the East Glacial River is not all about action and adrenaline; here you get a chance to witness unspoilt nature at its finest that’s hardly reachable otherwise. The beauty of the gorge is out of this world! The feeling of riding down this mighty river in-between towering cliffs of moss-lined lava rocks is truly magical. It will literally take your breath away!

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The gorge is stunning!

As you get closer to the finish line, the river stops being “white” and calms down. This is a good time for some more boat-on-boat splash wars and a chance for the toughest Vikings to get into the freezing water and float down the river.

You don’t have to worry about signing up solo for the tour; usually there are a few other groups that will be joining you down the river and your fellow boat members, who start as strangers become like old friends at the end of the day. The guides are all really outgoing and energetic, and love to ignite splash-wars between the boats to ease the mood.

When you’re off the boat and back on land, after 3 heart-pumping hours of  struggling white water, you really feel like you have achieved something. You feel incredibly proud and content after your hard day’s work. There is nothing like it!

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One happy group after a hard day’s work!

Still not convinced? check out Viking Rafting’s promo video:

[videos file=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W44Ubga6up0″ width=”700″ height=”466″][/videos]

Other activities in Skagafjörður

Aside from rafting there are a range of other activities to enjoy in Skagafjörður like mountain hiking or a trip off the beaten path with one of the 4WD tours.

Horseback riding

Skagafjörður is also one of the top destinations for riding the famous Icelandic horse. They are smaller then most horses but what makes them really unique among all other breeds are the 5 different gaits (most horses have only 3). The most famous is “tölt”, where at least one foot touches the ground at any given moment. The result is the smoothest ride you’ll ever experience! You could easily have a cup of tea while riding without spilling a drop 😉

There are a number of operators in Skagafjörður offering horse riding tours of various lengths for every level of expertise. You can find more information here.

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Drangey

I personally recommend a boat trip to Drangey, a small island in the middle of the fjord. It’s a bird’s paradise and famous for sagas of the strong outlaw, Grettir, who lived on the island. Your guide will tell you all about it!

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The steep cliffs of Drangey island

Grettislaug

When you get back to shore you can warm up in the natural hot spring pool, Grettislaug (Gretti’s pool). There is nothing better then relaxing in hot geothermal waters after a nice day hike. The smell of sulfur gets easily used to.

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Grettislaug

Taste the local beer

Microbreweries have been popping up in every corner of the country the last years. One of the finest craft beer in Iceland, Gæðingur, is produced in Sauðarkrókur, a small village in Skagafjörður. If your’re in Reykjavik you can also visit the Microbar pub in Austurstræti street, they always have at least 4-5 different types of Gæðingur on tap.

Gæðingur micro brewery

More info on activities in Skagafjörður can be found here

Where to stay?

You can easily spend a few days in this historic gem of North Iceland and there are many overnight options. If you are looking for the ultimate Icelandic experience, stay at Sölvanes, a local horse and sheep farm that offer clean and cozy rooms and emphasize on personal service. The farm is close to many walking trails and the family (Eydís, Máni, Elín and Magnús) will help you with all your questions regarding the fjord’s activities and history. Don’t worry, farms in Iceland usually have an excellent wi-fi connection.

More information on Sölvanes here.

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Get off the beaten path!

Most travellers in Iceland will stop at the main tourist sights, visit the Golden Circle (Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir), the black sand beaches of the south coast or simply get drunk at a bar in Reykjavik.

If you’re looking for something different, something special, then visit Skagafjörður and tackle the East Glacial River and everything that follows, it’s the ultimate Viking experience.

Did you like the post? Check out our favourite hiking trails around reykjavik 

Planning a trip to Iceland? Contact me through Guide To Iceland and I’ll help you to plan your Iceland trip for free! 🙂 Click the image below. 

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Leigh
    June 29, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    I love whitewater rafting, but I have goosebumps just reading this….brr!

    Leigh
    ~campfiresandconcierges.com
    Leigh recently posted…San Diego – Business and Pleasure!My Profile

    • Reply
      Andri Wilberg Orrason
      July 2, 2015 at 3:34 pm

      Hey Leigh! 🙂
      Then you should definitely try it in Iceland some day!
      We have been rafting in other countries and few rafting trips compare to this one! Everything is so professional from the beginning to the end and the river itself makes the experience even more thrilling 🙂 It sounds cold, but actually Viking Rafting will provide you with good equipment and dry suits, so we didn’t feel cold at all. In the end of the trip, when the confidence was up we were starting to throw ourselves in the river and enjoying the splashing 😀 Truly recommend it!

  • Reply
    Amanda - @ Global Degree
    July 2, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Wow! This I will have to try when I go to Iceland! Can this be done in winter?

    • Reply
      Ása Steinarsdóttir
      July 2, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      You really should Amanda!
      Unfortunately this tour is only during summertime from late may to mid september. But that’s because weather conditions in Iceland during winter are really unpredictable! And the air temperature get’s quite cold.
      But I usually recommend travellers to visit Iceland during summer time. Even though you can’t catch the northern lights there are so many other things you will get instead! Like the bright summer nights, more stable weather, with more options for hiking, sea kayaking and rafting! 🙂
      Enjoy your travels!

  • Reply
    Linn - Digital Nomad
    July 2, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    This sounds truly unique! I didn’t even know you could go rafting in a glacier river haha!

    Great post guys!

  • Reply
    Camille
    July 14, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    I am dying to visit your beautiful country Andri, and this looks right up my street! Adrenaline, adventure and stunning scenery – I’m sold! Adding it to my Iceland musts 🙂
    Camille recently posted…Finding the Edge of Oslo on an Alternative TourMy Profile

    • Reply
      Andri Wilberg Orrason
      July 15, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Camille, you won’t be disappointed! It’s one of those experiences that truly leave something behind 🙂

  • Reply
    James Dutreaux
    August 25, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    Love this post! I’m an avid kayaker based out of Los Angeles. Now Iceland is on my list of places to kayak. Thanks for the great post! Really appreciate it!

  • Reply
    Ray
    October 6, 2016 at 9:53 am

    That’s a fantastic post – and it even had waffles and hot cocoa! Iceland is definitely on the bucket list – thanks so much for such a vivid account of your experiences.

  • Reply
    Christina
    December 12, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    It’s good to hear you enjoyed your experience with Viking Rafting. Getting a chance to experience a significant adrenaline rush and hard work sounds like it was a nice change of pace.

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