Outside magazine, August 1994
To drive 30 miles across the black lava flats from the Keflavik airport to Reykjavík, Iceland's capital, is to realize that you've arrived in Europe's lunar outback. A stark contrast of glacier and volcano, Iceland is a great, ghost-blown emptiness that's perfect, in its primordial way, for hiking, biking, running, pony trekking, and camping.
During most of the year, ferocious winds erode and animate the landscape, shredding the flags that fly over Reykjavík. Influenced by both the Gulf and Arctic Streams, Iceland's weather is prone to drastic barometric mood-swings. In summer, however, mostly temperate conditions--as well as the midnight sun--prevail, for which makes it prime time for visiting. But even in August, when temperatures average about 60 degrees, you should come prepared for the occasional cold snap.
Whimsical weather aside, here are some of Iceland's best outdoor options:
Hiking in Snaefellsnes
Start at the outpost of Arnarstapi, where only two families live in winter. The trail begins about a mile and a half east on Route 574; ask for directions at Arnarbaer, the village's only restaurant and inn. It's an easy four-hour hike to the 4,744-foot summit (bring crampons if you plan to do any trekking on the glacier). From the top you'll see the snowcapped West Fjord Mountains to the north, and lava fields giving way to electric-green pastures full of sheep. Snaefellsnes is slated to become a national park in 1996; until then you're free to camp anywhere on the glacier without a permit.
For maps, books, and information on regularly scheduled hikes, contact the Iceland Hiking Club at 011-354-1-68-25-33.
Biking the Golden Circle
A great four-day, 146-mile route begins south of Reykjavík on Iceland's Ring Road. Once beyond the capital, where half of Iceland's 260,000 people live traffic thins out and you'll find yourself riding through wild heaths and farmland. From the town of Hveragerdi, ride over a mountain pass to Selfoss, the dairy center of southern Iceland. Thirty miles farther, bear left onto Route 30 and head north along the Pjorsa River through the villages of Olafsvellir, Hreppholar, and Tungufell, and on to Gullfoss, one of Europe's largest waterfalls. Six miles up the road is Geysir, after which all the world's geysers are named. It's no longer active but nearby Strokkur is a faithful stand-in, spouting hot water up to 100 feet every seven or eight minutes. From there, ride 30 hilly miles to Laugarvatn, where you can swim in the 60-degree lake water. On your way back to Reykjavík, stop by Pingvellir National Park, home of the Viking parliament from AD 930.
For more information, call BSI Travel (22-300), which rents year-old mountain bikes for about $18 a day. The best places to stay are in family-run bed-and-breakfasts or on working farms. Rates range from $30 to $40. For a complete list, contact Icelandic Farm Holidays at 62-36-40. A camping guide is available from the Icelandic Tourist Board; call 212-949-2333. For information on outfitted cycling tours, contact Samvinn Travel at 69-10-70.