Iceland Day 7: Jökulsárlón and Skaftafell

I woke in the morning from my campground in Hofn, having slept in until about 9:30 AM. I was about to enter the southern strip of the Ring Road and hit some of the more popular and touristy sites that Iceland had to offer. Everything from here on out was a relatively short drive away. First stop: Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon.

The lagoon is one of the most popular stops in all of Iceland. I first pulled into the main parking area of the lagoon. It was packed. Tour buses and floods of people populated the area. I felt uncomfortable. I immediately pulled back out of the parking lot, crossed a short bridge, and parked on the opposite side of the highway. Here, I could easily access the black sand beaches that the lagoon flows into. The beach was littered with different sized pieces of ice that floated down stream from the lagoon. A very cool sight indeed. The beach went on for quite sometime, but I just explored about a half mile of it or so. It was lightly raining at this point, but I really wanted to get some beach shots of the ice and sand. 

Got my feet and lens wet. Worth it. 

After diddling around the beach for a bit, I headed back across the highway to the adjacent parking lot. This lot was across the river and lagoon from the main lot. Far less people here. I ventured down a path that brought me to the edge of the water. It was cloudy and gloomy, but the rain calmed down to a very light drizzle. I continued walking along the water, getting different perspectives of the lagoon and glaciers, even spotting a few seals in the process. The bright blue waters was a sight to see, but the troves of people across the way and tour boats floating through the glaciers took away some of the majesty of it all. It was still a pretty cool place though. 

The weather was cold, so I heated up some water and made a quick pot of Earl Grey tea before I got back on the road. Up next was Skaftafell National Park. A short drive away from the lagoon, I knew I was headed to another busy location. Nevertheless, I was excited to do some exploring. After a short drive, I arrived at another crowded parking lot. Much expected considering it was a pretty large park, with a visitor center, tour guides, campground, and restrooms. There was a particular hike I wanted to do here, so I packed my gear, and made my way to the map outside the visitor center. 

After plotting out my course, I knew which trails to take, and was off. The weather was still very gloomy, but my hopes were up that the sun would eventually shine through. I made my way up the trail that led to the Svartifoss waterfall. The trail climbed pretty rapidly up the terrain, past the campground and deep into the park. Elevation gain was quick, so I had to lose a layer before I started sweating too much. After about 20 minutes of a brisk pace, the hike brought me to the beginning of the trail down to the waterfall. It was love at first sight. 

The waterfall was so unique from anything I had seen before. The rock formations around the falls were naturally carved out by lava flow however many years ago. Apparently the type of lava and rock that was in that area created these natural vertical rock slates. A beautiful backdrop for the waterfall itself. I ran into several people there, including a fellow amateur photographer from Vancouver. I hung out for a bit, getting various perspectives of the fall. For a few minutes, I even had the entire area to myself. I played around here for a bit and grabbed some fun shots. 

After my time at the falls, I continued back up the mountain and toward a lookout part called Sjonarnipa. I continued along the trail at a leisurely pace, enjoying the quietness. At this point I was the only person on this particular trail. It was so peaceful and quiet. All I could hear were the small creeks that ran close to the trail and the birds chirping. It took me a good 45 minutes before the trail leveled out and I was at a pretty high elevation. I approached a big lookout area, and made my way toward the edge of the mountain. Another surreal moment was about to take hold of me. I've lost count at this point.  

The view from the top was simply breathtaking. On one side I had a clear view of the large glacial area that ran through the park and surrounding mountains. On the other side, an endless view of the landscape that seemed to go on forever. It was a huge valley covered with small winding rivers and barren terrain. I took my time just staring out into it all. It was probably the most peaceful and powerful feeling I had had so far in the trip. The raw beauty and power of it all was unbelievable. Small bits of snow started to slowly fall while I was up there. A nice dramatic touch to the already surreal moment. I eventually snapped out of the dream-like state, and began to make my way down the mountain.

Mile and miles of amazement. 

After about an hour of descent, I finally made my way back down to the visitor parking area where my car awaited me. I grabbed some water and sat for a moment, trying to comprehend the amazing things I just witnessed. It was getting late at that point, and my body was tired. I drove down the road a bit and parked my car, cooked up pasta, and decided to call it a night. Another successful day of amazing Icelandic nature. The trip was making its way into the home stretch. I anticipated the next day's adventure as I comfortably fell into a well-deserved sleep.