Iceland’s Highlands Are Full of Treasures

23.01 2015

The Vikings of old rode their horses, or walked alongside them to get from here to there. Always, man and horse relied upon one another for survival, often for companionship. Those ancient Icelanders traversed a landscape that could take a life at any moment, within the blink of an eye. Once a year every chieftain of Iceland journeyed from his settlement to Þingvellir to participate in the Alþingi, the centralized parliament that governed the country. At times travelers  took out-of-the-way routes nearer the flatter, more lush landscape of the coast to avoid the mountainous and barren interior—a highland believed to be inhabited by trolls, elves, and diabolical outlaws. Even in our current times, travelers must be properly prepared, because weather, river levels, and transportation conditions (driving or walking) change constantly, and suddenly.

Full Disclosure: The Icelandic Highlands, at times and in certain places, can be brutal. Many describe the landscape as desolate; The country lacks trees, lava deserts cover much of the land, and snow, for many months of the year, covers everything else. It’s all a matter of perspective, however, and one’s sense of adventure and personal challenge. For many, Iceland is an interesting land of surrealistic beauty and breathtaking wonder.

The Highlands of Iceland cover most of the country’s interior, an area roughly centered between Langjökull glacier in the west, Mýrdalsjökull glacier in the south,Vatnajökull Ice Cap in the east, and the towns of Akureyri and Vopnafjörður, and lake Mývatn in the north. The Iceland interior is divided in two by Sprengisandur, an important ancient passageway for Icelanders who traveled the island from north-to-south.

The whole area is characterized as an uninhabitable desert of gray, black, and brown lava fields, with vegetation growing only along the banks of glacial rivers. But around certain bends, and hidden within the nooks and crannies of the desolate highlands lie Iceland’s most magnificent treasures. The Highland is splashed by roaring rivers and thundering waterfalls, is lined and dotted with rock formations which defy the imagination, and steams with hot springs and mud pools. Everywhere you look, volcanic mountains loom just a breath below the clouds. At the edge of Vatnajokull ice cap, volcano Bardarbunga still flows with lava from its August 2014 eruption.

Here and there in the Highland a particular oasis pops up, primarily in river basins, like Herðubreiðarlindir near volcano Askja. Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall, plunges 45 meters (148 feet) on the highland river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The river flows through the surrealistic Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, with its “echoing rocks,” myriad waterfalls, a birch forest, and tectonic fissures.

In the southern Highland, Landmannalaugar reigns as one of Iceland’s most precious gems, with its rivers, waterfalls, volcano Hekla, and geysers just to the northwest.

The Highlands of Iceland seem forbidding, but only at first. Once you delve into the inner secrets held within the realm of fire and ice, a sense of adventure takes hold and guides you through a world that you could never have dreamed. Much of the Highland is accessible only by horseback or hiking, and even those places which you can reach by car seem more magical and spectacular when you leave the mechanical engines behind.

Riding Iceland has tours that cover the scope of the Icelandic Highlands. Our horsemen know the history and geography of the country to give you an adventure that will run through your mind forever, and maybe even after. Check out our Iceland Riding tours. We’ve got something for everyone, through a land that will take your breath away.

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