Iceland’s awesome running trails are a great way to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in its incredible landscape.
It feels very strange to go on holiday without a stupidly oversize bag of outdoor gear in tow, but this time around, a tent, my fell shoes and my brand new FINDRA running gear were pretty much all I needed. It was 11 weeks since my shoulder operation and although I was more or less back to normal I was still not allowed on my bike – apparently in case I fell off it. So after waving Ed off on his biking adventure, with a vague plan to meet up on the ringroad somewhere east of Reykjavik in two days’ time, I set off on my own running trip on the south coast.
I was super excited to explore the Icelandic landscape on foot since, for a short trip, running means you can cover more trails and get away from the crowds more easily than hiking. My trip started in a more relaxed manner though with the obligatory dip in the Blue Lagoon. It’s obvious why this natural vibrant blue hot spring pool surrounded by black lava rocks coated in white silica is so popular and it’s worth a trip although it is rather pricey. The lava landscape around the lagoon and neighbouring Grindavik is a dramatic introduction to the sights of Iceland, with miles of black rock piles and clefts covered in luminous green moss. Grindavik has a number of local overland trails to other coastal villages so I spent a while exploring the lava fields that they cross.
After a lonely drive through the coastal wilderness I headed inland to þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. This park is home to some pretty exciting tectonics, being the place where the North American and European plates are gradually pulling apart, creating a rift. It is also home to the world’s oldest parliament and Iceland’s law and justice system. Altogether this makes it some sort of shrine to Iceland’s history.
After cruising through the low scrub and woodland around the vast Lake Þingvallavat, with great views of the surrounding mountains, I finally reached the area of the rift itself. There is a network of well-surfaced trails exploring the sights here.
I started by heading up to the dramatic Öxarárfoss waterfall, where the river cascades into the canyon, and then along the rift to the horridly scenic ‘drowning pool’ where Iceland’s historical justice system meted out punishment to adulterers and the like. The path then climbed through the canyon itself, with a section of boardwalk covering an area where a hole had appeared in the ground not so long ago, revealing the path to be a hollow ceiling over the yawning chasm of the plate divide below!
From the top viewpoint I was greeted by an awesome panorama over the rift canyon, lake and mountains, with steam vents issuing white plumes in the distance.
I stopped for a breather to enjoy the view before descending to explore the trails that wind their way around the lakeshore.
Then it was time to retreat to the park campsite for the night. With the micro tent pitched end on to the wind I was super cozy, even if the dinner menu only extended to supernoodles and soup.
Given the pessimistic forecast I was very excited when I awoke at 6:30 without the sound of raindrops drumming on the tent roof. I packed up quickly and hit the road, back towards the flat coastal plain with towering mountains hovering in the distance. I was heading for the beautiful but rather crowded Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and as I drew closer I could see it cascading over the side of a band of cliffs.
You can walk round into the cave behind the falls and I was glad of my cozy FINDRA neck warmer and beanie to keep the cold spray off!
Next it was on to another waterfall: Skogafoss. Here I hoped to escape the crowds with a trail run up the canyon above the waterfall. The fall is a good spot for rainbows when the sun’s out:
After climbing up beside the waterfall the trail followed the top of the deep rocky canyon formed by the river. It was a gorgeous place to run with fantastic views of the mountains, coastal plain and a series of cascades and waterfalls as the river churned its way towards the cliff.
The conditions were good for running after a dry couple of days and the air was warm although there was a bit of a breeze. I was warm enough in leggings and my long-sleeved FINDRA Tress top, with a hat for when I got up a bit higher.
I passed trekkers with their big rucksacks heading to Landmannalaugar and it felt good to be travelling light, although I definitely want to come back to explore some of the long distance trails as well.
The views just got better and better and I was loath to turn around but with only three days there was so much else to try and fit in!
Back on the road I followed the winding route round coastal hills and turned off to Reynisfjara, an impressive black sand beach. Here, hexagonal basalt columns form an imposing arch and the basalt band extends along the beach and up diagonally into the cliff. The geometric shape is formed during cooling of the volcanic rock as it shrinks and fractures propagate through it.
The beach near the arch was busy but I jogged along the black sand and lava gravel to escape the crowds and admire the views of the sea stacks and sea arches at either end of the bay. Even in the sun it was pretty chilly in the sea breeze.
As I drove on the weather became pretty changeable with the rising wind. Sunshine and showers was the order of the day and the cloud was heavy inland although I did get some glimpses of the mountains. I was driving across a huge floodplain crossed by impressive braided rivers and some pretty long metal bridges over the channels. I also started to glimpse glaciers beneath the clouds, tumbling down towards the coastal plain from the high mountains.
Finally I got a call from Ed to say he had made it back out onto the ringroad from his cross-country adventure. He had benefited from the dry weather and not been held up by any impassable fords so now all I had to do was find him! We finally managed to meet up and headed to Skaftafell for the night, at which point my carefully rationed snack selection was quickly depleted by a hungry cyclist.
Arriving with a couple of hours’ daylight left we decided to set off for a walk up to Svartifoss waterfall and on to the viewpoint over Skaftafellsjökull glacier.
I couldn’t resist going for a bit of a run and left Ed behind with the camera. The views over the glacier were incredible even in the fading light and we had the place to ourselves.
Back to the campsite as darkness fell we quickly cooked up the weird selection of food we had left (teriyaki noodles / veg cousous / cheesy pasta mix anyone?). Happily I got another cosy night in the tent whilst Ed was zipped into the bivi bag in the rain.
Another early start to make the most of our final day and we continued a little further east to the glaciers of Fjallsjökull and Breiðamerkurjökull. Here the glaciers tumble down from the mountains to calve into the lakes at sea level. At Fjallsarlon we were treated to some lovely reflections as the sun made an appearance through the clouds at last.
There were some weird and wonderful iceberg shapes and textures to see.
We carried on to the busier Jokulsarlon, a much bigger lake with less crowded icebergs but an outlet river into the sea. Here the icebergs ground at the outlet to the lake until they eventually break up and are carried out to sea.
After a break we started the long trip back to Keflavik, with a couple of inadvisable further stops to see waterfalls which left us dashing along the highway to get to the airport. With only a couple of minutes to spare we made it onto the flight home and had a last treat of a view of Iceland from the air, its lava flows, volcanic cones and corrugated glaciers visible for a while until they were swallowed up again by the dark clouds.