Visiting Þórsmörk, the Icelandic highlands
Þórsmörk national park is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places you can find in Iceland. In this magical valley you’re surrounded by glaciers, moss-covered volcanoes and branching glacial rivers. This is simply the photographer’s paradise and leaves no nature lover disappointed. The hiking routes are endless and often lead you to complete isolation, giving you the true feeling of being one with nature.
How to get to Þórsmörk Valley
How you get there is another story. It’s not just a quick stop from the ring road. On the contrary you’ll have to cross a couple of rivers which are ever changing in depth, power and route. The road is also a bit bumpy and not always clearly visible in bad weather conditions. Personally I think the torrential route to get there is beneficial for Þórsmörk and protects it from mass tourism.
Start by renting a 4×4 car
If you are not getting there by bus you’ll definitely need to rent a powerful 4×4 truck with sufficiently large tires to cross the river, especially Krossá river! Otherwise you don’t stand a chance and risk ruining your rental car during the crossing.
Þórsmörk is a summer paradise with especially good weather conditions due to the sheltering mountains. Usually we come there for a few days during our summer holidays but this time we decided to visit for a weekend in the middle of January. The tourism activity during this time is at a minimum, mostly because of impassable road conditions. However the winters have been getting milder in Iceland so we grabbed the chance when the forecast seemed decent.
Our 98′ Honda HR-V has taken us almost anywhere in Iceland, but we knew it definitely wouldn’t cross Krossá river without a catastrophe! So we decided to arrange for a 4×4 truck that was high enough to cross the river. Geysir car rental managed to provide us with the perfect monster: Toyota Land Cruiser, which even has a “snorkel” that keeps water from flowing into the air intake.
Hitting the road on a beautiful winter day
Happy in our spick and span rental truck we took off from Reykjavik early morning and made a turn for Seljalandsfoss waterfall. After passing the waterfall we just kept going on the same road with the Markarfljót river on our left hand side. Suddenly the tarmac road turned to gravel and small rivers started flowing over the tracks again and again. The route here is so beautiful which makes the drive so enjoyable. Up to this we had managed to cross the rivers with ease, but next up was Krossá river. We stopped here and went out of the car to check the conditions. After evaluating the depth and finding a spot where the rivers was wide and less powerful we decided to go for it. It was a really stressful moment but our truck more than delivered.
There have been a few deadly accidents in Krossár river, so if you haven’t crossed a river before we highly recommend waiting for another truck and follow his track. The stream can vary immensely due to raining or glacial melting.
Þórsmörk Volcano Huts is the perfect accommodation
Full of adrenline after crossing the river we drove for a couple of minutes until we reached Þórsmörk Volcano Huts, our stay for the night. They offer a variety of huts for different budgets (from private cottages to shared dormitories).
They’re situated in Húsdal valley, right by the roots of Valahnúkur mountain which leads you to one of the best views in Þórsmörk. If you’re not staying, we still recommend stopping by at the LavaGrill restaurant for some delicious local delicates. On the premises you’ll finda a sauna and a natural pool. They even offer yoga lessons! We really liked the restaurant hall which has a pretty cozy vibe to it, allowing you to sit back with a couple of beers from the bar and mingle with fellow guests.
A photographers paradise
Over the winter months you’ll mostly find the toughest nature photographers hanging out here. After an early rise we decided to join them for a hike up to Valahnúkur mountain to really soak in the amazing views at sunrise. The hike is a bit steep at times but not very high (458 m). At the top you get an unbeatable view over the valley and the surrounding mountains, including Eyjafjallajökull glacier, Mýrdalsjökull glacier and Tindfjallajökull glacier. In the valley you can see the Krossá river branch in every direction, until it emerges with Markarfljót river on the south coast. It was a mesmerizing moment to see the first sun rays reflect in the branching rivers below.
When got back to Volcano huts we found a family of foxes strolling by the restaurant. The fox is the only native mammal in Iceland and usually they are very afraid of humans. Here, however, they seem to be quite accustomed to human presence, allowing you get some amazing shots.
Hiking in the area
You can easily spend a whole month exploring Þórsmörk. There are endless hiking routes! One popular route is the hike from Þórsmörk to Landmannalaugar, a 2-3 day hike with stops at huts between. Aside from Valahnúkur we recommend a hike in Stakkholtsgjá canyon (don’t miss the waterfall at the end of the canyon). Also stopping at Gígjajökull glacier on your way to Þórsmörk is a must!
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