Myvatn Lake area is one of the most visited place in Iceland, because of its diversity in terms of geological features and avifauna. However, there’s a small inconvenience: hordes of gnats, which have actually given their name to the lake (Myvatn basically means “gnats lake”). I’ll always remember that fact! Thankfully, they don’t bite, but they can be really annoying, especially in June. Avoid wearing white clothes (it attracts them) and make sure you bring a net fly to put on your head.
That being said, you should definitely visit Myvatn Lake area during your trip in Iceland!
Renting a bike is a really great way to discover the area! You can rent one with Hike and bike (location: Reykjahlíð 4, 660 Mývatn). Price per bike for one day is 5,000 ISK, including a helmet, lock and safety vest (4,000 ISK for kids bike). Rental hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. There is an extra fee of 1,000 ISK for late drop off (if you want to have the bike until midnight). You might think midnight is late to ride your bike, but do not forget Iceland gets lots of natural light during summer. When I travelled there in June, I had fun riding my bike until 11:30 p.m. And I was completely alone on the road, yay!
Once I rented my bike, I first rode it to Hverfjall (east of Myvatn Lake). The climb usually takes about 30 minutes, but because I had my bike and the crater soil consisted of gravel and black sand, it took me a little over an hour… It was harder than riding a bike on a beach, because of the elevation gain (about 250 meters). Once up there, the 360-degree view is amazing, as well as the view from inside the crater. The size of the crater is such that the walk at the top will take you almost an hour.
After that, I hiked down from another side of the crater to get to Dimmuborgir lava fields. It was really difficult, especially with a bike, because the slope was very steep, and had many short switchbacks. I slipped and fell a couple of times. And my arms were in pain because I had to carry and hold back my bike. Back on the ground, I walked a little and had to climb a small ladder with my bike to pass over a barbed wire fence. What an adventure!
Dimmuborgir lava field was really impressive and fun to discover. There are 6 different well-maintained hiking trails you can follow to admire the rock formations (different length and difficulty levels). I spent about 1 hour and a half there.
At the end of this post, there’s a map that indicates you how to combine Hverfjall hike and Dimmuborgir. The itinerary is not exact, but the path is easy to find and then you just have to follow the signs.
After exploring the lava field, I stopped at Kaffi Borgir, a restaurant right next to Dimmuborgir, where I ordered the soup of the day (mushroom soup with refills) with Geysir bread (also called Rúgbrauð, which is the famous hot spring bread they bake themselves at Bjarnarflag for 24 hours). It cost 1,950 ISK in February 2017, according to the restaurant’s website. Very welcoming staff and tasty food! You can either eat inside or outside, where you get a nice view on the lava field. There’s also a gift shop right next to the restaurant.
I continued my bike tour to the South of Myvatn Lake, until I arrived to Skútustaðagígar pseudo craters (also called rootless cones). They look like volcanic craters, but they’re not, as lava has not erupted from them; they were formed by steam explosions when flowing hot lava crossed over the lake.
That’s where I got most annoyed by the gnats. I left my fly net in my backpack at the hostel, because I did not see any gnats around my hostel in Reykjahlid in the afternoon. As soon as I stopped my bike, they were trying to get in my ears, nose, eyes and mouth. I was so tired of them, I decided to get back on my bike and pedal as fast as I could to get away from them. Because of that, I couldn’t feel my legs when I got back to my hostel around 11 p.m.
On my second day in the area, I used my rented bike to go to Námafjall mountain (Námaskarð), 6 km east of Reykjahlid, on the side of Road 1. I had a hard time going up the hill between Reykjahlid and that place, because I was tired of my bike tour the day before. It took me 1h30 to get there (although it’s only a 6-kilometer distance, and it took me only half an hour to get back to my hostel).
It was arduous, but well worth the effort! On top of the hill, I was stunned by the beauty of landscapes around me. I hiked a bit on Námafjall Mountain, which looks like it’s made of sand. I was amazed by orange, white, blue, and black spots on the ground, with white smoke that was coming through it. That was surreal; I felt like I was on an other planet or in an alien movie! Of course, there was this rotten-egg smell due to sulfur, but the view was worth it! I could have stayed there for hours to admire the colorful minerals, but I had a bus to catch (anyway it’s not good to breath sulfur for hours!).
The area of Hverir, located at the foot of Námafjall on the side of Road 1, was particularly remarkable for its solfatares, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pools.
Here is the recommended itinerary (the best is to stay in the area for 2 days and a minimum of one night). On the map, blue line is for day 1 itinerary and orange line is for day 2 itinerary. Note that day 1 itinerary can be completed on a bike, as I did (but it will be more difficult to hike Hverfjall and you will have to walk next to your bike in Dimmuborgir area).
- Jardbödin Vid Myvatn (thermal baths): From Reykjahlid, take Road 1 to the east and after 3-4 km, turn right (follow the sign). Various entrance fees, depending on date of your visit.
- Grjótagjá: On Road 860, follow the signs. There’s a little parking lot and the cave is right next to it. The caves are not very big, there’s not much to explore, but it’s a nice stop. The caves were once appreciated for swimming, but now “no swimming” signs warn people about the water temperature that could be too hot. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you might particularly enjoy this visit, as the fifth episode “Kissed by Fire” of season 3 was filmed there.
Where to stay:
- Hlid Hostel: I stayed in the “bunker”, as I called it (first picture below, on the left). Inside, there were many 4-bed dorms. With Hlid Hostel, you can also rent cozy cabins, which are more intimate, have more space, and offer a pretty view on a lava field.
- Other accommodations in the area (I did not stay there, but they seem like good options):
- Bjarg Camping
- Hlid Camping
- Grimstunga Guesthouse (30-40 km of Reykjahlid)