Askja | Herðubreiðarlindir | Kverkfjöll
As part of an active volcanic zone, the highlands north of Vatnajökull are constantly being reshaped by earthquakes, volcanism, geothermal activity and the interplay of fire and ice.
The Ódáðahraun desert is notable for unusual geological formations, sands and broad lava fields that have been formed by various volcanic sources during different periods. With its spooky, barely passable lava outcrops, its chilly, dangerous glacial rivers and its treacherous outlaws, Ódáðahraun has long awakened fear among Icelanders. In the old days, people avoided the area, though that did not prevent them from telling memorable stories about natural and supernatural phenomena.
One of the most notable features in the highlands north of Vatnajökull is Askja, a central volcano located in the Dyngjufjöll mountains. Askja takes its name from a magma chamber that collapsed, resulting in a deep lake. It is also known for the explosion crater Víti which was formed in an eruption in 1875. Since then, several minor Askja eruptions have occurred: the first between 1922 and 1929, the latest at Vikraborgir in 1961.
Herðubreiðarlindir and Grafarlönd are oases created in the Ódáðahraun desert by springs flowing from under the lava fields and providing water for plants to prosper. Often called the Queen of Icelandic Mountains, Herðubreið is also considered to be Iceland's national mountain. It is a volcanic table mountain which was created by repeated eruptions when the land was covered by ice up to 1,500 m thick during the last Ice Age glaciation.
The Kverkfjöll central volcano includes two calderas, both filled with glacial ice, and is divided into an eastern and western range of peaks by the outlet glacier Kverkjökull. In the western range, the valley of Hveradalur is a true meeting point of ice and fire, since it is one of Iceland's most powerful high-temperature areas. In front of the glacier, the hyaloclastite hills of Kverkfjallarani were formed when eruptions occurred under the much more extensive ice of the last glaciation.
At Hvannalindir, water emerging from under a lava field produces a unique oasis in an otherwise quite unvegetated environment where lava has flowed over the land since the last glaciation.
HOW TO GET THERE
All roads through the areas just north of Vatnajökull are classed as highland roads. While some of these are passable in a smaller 4WD, only a modified, higher 4WD can manage others. Note that some routes lead over large rocks or require slow manoeuvring between lava outcrops. The rivers may rise unexpectedly, becoming treacherous or impassable. Both road conditions and weather may change suddenly, so you should prepare for all possibilities and ask rangers for the latest information.
Long-distance hikers should inform a ranger of their plans. Where there is little traffic, all visitors should carry the most important safety equipment, such as communication and navigation devices. Since these highlands are open to people throughout the year, travel is only restricted by the weather or road conditions. The Road Administration shows when roads are open on its website, www.vegagerdin.is/english.
Since the highland soil is delicate, damage caused by off-road driving may take decades to heal. Should you witness any off-road driving, please report it to a ranger. In winter, however, vehicles may be driven over snow on frozen ground, both on and off roads.
Visit Hiking trails for information about hiking opportunities in the area.
In summer, park rangers are based in Drekagil by Askja, Kverkfjöll and Hvannalindir. They provide information and education about the national park:
|Ranger station||Location (GPS coordinates)
||N65° 02,514 W16° 35,691
||+354 842 4357
||N64° 44,850 W16° 37,890
||N64° 53,349 W16° 18,426
Please note that neither food nor fuel can be bought in this area.
At Drekagil and Herðubreiðarlindir, the Akureyri Touring Club offers accommodation in huts and campgrounds, while the touring clubs of Fljótsdalshérað and Húsavík offer similar services at Kverkfjöll. No accommodation is available at Hvannalindir over the summer.