Destination Isolation: Road Trip in the Icelandic Wilderness

Iceland
In Ice­landic, the word ævin­týri means both adven­ture and fairy tale, a nifty lin­guis­tic cou­pling in a land so defined by its oth­er­world­ly beau­ty (seri­ous­ly otherworldly—astronauts trav­eled here to prac­tice lunar land­ings). If you hear the call of the wilder­ness in a big, spec­tac­u­lar way, your fairy­tale adven­ture awaits you at the top of the world.

Won­ders of the Nat­ur­al World
The best word for Iceland’s geog­ra­phy is intense. Formed around 25 mil­lion years ago, the nation is geo­graph­i­cal­ly one of the youngest land mass­es on the plan­et, and it boils with vol­canic activ­i­ty. Its most recent erup­tion was Grímsvötn in 2011. Lava and gey­sers are as much a part of the scene here as cac­tus are a part of an Ari­zona desert. Along­side all that molten heat, though, more than 11 per­cent of Ice­land is frost­ed by glac­i­ers. It’s a nation of fire, ice, black sand beach­es, roar­ing water­falls and arc­tic mid­night sun. Ice­land is grow­ing, spread­ing about five cen­time­ters a year where two tec­ton­ic plates meet. Ice­land also boasts the world’s most recent­ly cre­at­ed island, Surt­sey, which was formed in a 1963 vol­canic erup­tion. Whether you stay near the coast or ven­ture for the inte­ri­or, you’ll be see­ing some of the most vivid land­scapes on Earth.

©istockphoto/Seljalandsfoss ©istockphoto/Anna Omelchenko

Explor­ing Via the Ring Road
Cov­er­ing 800 miles, Route 1—Iceland’s famous road trip route—provides an awe­some sam­ple of Iceland’s most impres­sive sights. It takes you in a huge loop around the country’s perime­ter. Dur­ing the sum­mer, you can take advan­tage of extra-long sun­lit hours to put in plen­ty of per-day dri­ving, espe­cial­ly on the sum­mer sol­stice, where the sun shines in parts of Ice­land for the full 24 hours. If you’ll be tack­ling this adven­ture dur­ing the fall or win­ter months, make sure your rent­ed vehi­cle is a 4x4 and be pre­pared for weath­er delays (such thrill seek­ing isn’t advis­able for any but the most white-knuck­le drivers).

The harsh unpre­dictabil­i­ty of this land is the gen­e­sis of its thrilling open spaces. The dis­tance of the Ring Road loop is doable in sev­en to ten days, with ample oppor­tu­ni­ties to encounter some of Iceland’s most stun­ning places—though in a land as dra­mat­ic as this, it’s almost hard to find a place that’s not stun­ning.

©istockphoto/ Schroptschop
You may start in Reyk­javik and move south­east. Dur­ing the first days of your excur­sion, you’ll feel the pum­mel­ing fury of Sel­ja­lands­foss Water­fall as it spills over its jab­bing, crag­gy cliff side into its steely blue pool. You’ll mar­vel at the ice caves under Vat­na­jökull glac­i­er. Frozen in motion with all the eerie rip­ple and stun­ning blue of a tun­nel through an aquarium—or the halls of an ice princess’s castle—the caves will hold you spell­bound. In East Ice­land, you’ll sur­vey rugged moun­tains and lone­ly coast. Watch out for reindeer—this is the only part of the coun­try where they live wild.

In the country’s north­ern extremes, you’ll want to vis­it the city of Akureyri, known for its good view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties of the north­ern lights. While you’re up here, day trip to some of Iceland’s active vol­ca­noes, which may reward you with a molten pyrotech­nic display.

Seljalandsfoss ©istockphoto/technotr