Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Lake Myvatn in Iceland, a World Heritage Site, is a huge geothermal region that blows the mind with its geysers, steam caves, natural thermal baths, volcanoes and wacky volcanic rocks. In winter, the lake freezes over and its snowy surroundings become otherworldly landscapes criss-crossed by volcanic fumaroles.
During a day we explored Lake Myvatn, Iceland’s equivalent of Yellowstone National Park, and hopped from sight to sight around the lake’s ring road. Fortunately, in biting cold conditions, most sights are close to a car park. Thus we were able to warm up in the car between sights, before going out to discover new wonders of nature.
Whether you’re coming for its Game of Thrones connection or for the famous natural geothermal baths where you can watch northern lights, I recommend you save a day to explore Lake Myvatn with your family.
Here’s a taster of the fun things you can do, see and eat in Iceland’s gem of the north.
Dimmuborgir, the Dark Fortress, is home to Iceland’s dark riff on Santa Claus, the 13 Yule Lads. Said to live in a hidden cave at Dimmuborgir, a giant jagged lava field with walking trails, the Yule Lads are pranksters who are more likely to play tricks than to give treats.
As the tradition goes, they come down the mountain, one by night, for 13 days before Christmas. Each night, kids in Iceland place their best shoe on their windowsill before going to bed. The following morning, they find little gifts in the shoe from the Yule lad that came down the mountain. However, naughty kids might find raw potatoes instead. When we visited in March, the Yule Lads were long gone but walking through the towering lava pillars and arches was really cool.
Hverir is a true Yellowstone experience featuring an ochre desert, sulphurous gas fumaroles and hot bubbling mud pots. As we arrived, we started walking around mudflats and were drawn by a hissing sound. It was a mud chimney spewing steam like a factory. Soon my girls were running to its white cloud, reaching in it with their hands to enjoy some steamy heat on a winter day. Further on, from the safety of cordoned off pathways, we watched in fascination as hot bubbles rose to the surface of boiling mud cauldrons.
I’ll admit, this was the first sight I picked to visit around Lake Myvatn. Sure, a lot of Game of Thrones scenes were filmed in Iceland but this cave was the one where Jon Snow succumbed to the charms of Ygritte. Located off Road 860 and marked with a sign, the Grjotagja cave is simply awesome.
Outside, it’s pure winter with snow fields and freezing winds. Down below where very little light filters, it’s a volcanic cave flooded by water so hot you can’t even dip your finger for more than a few seconds. Sitting on a stone by the water, listen to water drops echoing in the cave. It’s very eerie.
Warning: do not let your kids touch the water. Very hot.
When we visited Skutustadigar, the parking lot was full of army tanks and trucks as a movie company was filming car racing scenes for Fast and Furious 8. Skutusdadigar is the epic site of a whole field of pseudocraters. Looking like true volcanic craters, they are in fact giant lava bubbles that burst and became cones and craters.
Now, tourists can walk around and on them following easy walking trails. We enjoyed hiking around pseudocraters but had almost as much fun watching 4-wheel drives with cameras at the end of cranes driving and filming furious cars racing on snow tracks. The Hollywood film industry is well and alive in Iceland.
One of our best Lake Myvatn memories is hiking through a winter birch forest and discovering ducks swimming between lava stacks in geothermal turquoise-blue waters. Hofdi is quite the understated sight but it delivers big time on the wow and zen factor.
Hiking on snowy trails, we spotted half a dozen ptarmigans as they cluck-clucked through the forest and my girls loved climbing a few trees. Make sure that you walk all around the small headland to enjoy spectacular shore sights of the lava pillars.
This was one of my girls’ favorite parts of the trip–eating dinner while watching cows being milked. If eating in a barn watching Daisy is on your to-do list, you should definitely stop at Vogafjos, a barn restaurant with viewing windows on the stables and dairy enclosure.
To do it right, you have to be there at milking time (5.30pm or 7.30am) and ask if you can taste fresh milk. The local delicacy is hverabraud, a volcanic bread baked in geyser-heated underground ovens and tasting slightly of caramel. You can eat it with smoked trout or buy a loaf in the shop and bring it home.
The Myvatn Nature Baths have become a must-do experience in the north of Iceland, just as the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. We decided to do it at night after dinner, as this allowed more time for sightseeing during daylight hours. Even in winter, the nature baths close at 10pm and they are actually quite popular for northern lights-spotting. We didn’t see northern lights but my girls loved the warm experience of a hot bath after a full day outside in the snow.
A full-on spa, the Myvatn Nature Baths include:
The great thing was that we didn’t need to reserve and simply paid at the door. Relaxed and clean, we felt that this was the perfect end to a day around Lake Myvatn in Iceland.
In the winter, the average temperatures at Lake Myvatn are 35-37F/1-3C. During our visit in late March, the day temperature was around 2C and the night temperature -12C. Since you’ll be experiencing bitter cold as well as hot steam and possibly, hot water, you’ll want to pack:
What are you most looking forward to for Lake Myvatn?