Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Waterfall

Minelot Falls in Thacher State Park

Thacher State Park

If you’re a fan of waterfalls, Thacher State Park might be a perfect escape in the New York capital region. Located about half an hour west of Albany, it’s a great spot to visit if you find yourself in the area. It’s an easy drive, and at only $6/vehicle for a day pass, it’s an affordable place to explore.

I visited in the evening after work, so I didn’t have time to explore the whole park. Even though I only had a couple of hours before dark, playing in nature beats sitting in a hotel room watching bad tv reruns any day. Based on recommendations from some of the locals I was working with, I focused on the Indian Ladder trail. It’s a relatively easy hike that can be completed in less than an hour if you don’t spend too much time enjoying the scenery. From end to end, the trail is about half a mile.

Minelot Falls in Thacher State Park

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25 Pictures to Put Iceland on Your Winter Bucket List

You’ve probably heard about the spectacular beauty of Iceland. After spending a week roadtripping around the country, I’m convinced that it’s the most condensed concentration on natural beauty that I’ll ever see. It’s a relatively small island, but every corner is crammed with swoon-worthy sights. 80% of the landscape doesn’t even look like it belongs on this planet. Here are my favorite 25 pictures that will put Iceland on your winter bucket list.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

We were incredibly lucky to have this ice cave in the Vatnajökull glacier to ourselves for a few short minutes. The blue light filtering through the ice was incredible. We visited as part of a snowmobiling and ice caving tour – read about our adventure here.

Blue ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

This one looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Sunset over the fjords in Borgarnes, Iceland

Sunset over the water from Borgarnes was the perfect way to end a day. The pinks and purples on the snow-covered mountains were spectacular. Don’t miss the fjord region on your visit.

Northern lights in Iceland

Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for the longest time. We got incredibly lucky and saw them on four different nights on our trip. We relentlessly refreshed cloud tracking maps hoping and hoping for clear nights, and on this evening driving along the Ring Road, we appeared to be in the only pocket of clear sky in the whole country.

Northern lights in Iceland

A tripod and a slow exposure are key to getting good Northern Lights pictures, but don’t forget to enjoy the show yourself while snapping pictures.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

This zebra striped iceberg floating in the Jökulsárlón was my favorite. The black stripes come from volcanic ash deposited by long-ago eruptions.

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The mirror-like water of Jökulsárlón was thoroughly captivating.

Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

I could’ve spent an entire day just taking pictures of Jökulsárlón.

Dusk over Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon in Iceland

Jökulsárlón is just as magical at dusk.

Ice boulders on Diamond Beach in Iceland

After the icebergs leave Jökulsárlón, some of them make it out to sea. Others get washed up on the shore at Diamond Beach. The black sand there is covered with ice boulders that have been pushed in by the relentless waves. It’s a stunning scene.

Entrance to an ice cave in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

The entrance to this ice cave looms at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier under the pink skies of sunset.

Entrance to the cavern hiding the Gljufrabui waterfall in Iceland

Gljúfrabúi, the “secret” waterfall hidden behind a rock ledge peeks out through the opening  carved out by the stream flowing away. In order to see the whole waterfall, you have to wade through the water to enter the cavern or climb up the front of the rock wall. Read about exploring it here.

Gljufrabui, the

Getting to see all of Gljúfrabúi is worth getting a little wet.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. You can walk behind it along the edge of the cavern in the rock wall during the warmer months.

DC-3 plane wreckage in Iceland

In 1973, a US Navy plane crash landed on this stretch of black lava desert – don’t worry, all crew members survived – and the wreckage has sat here exposed to the elements ever since. It’s about a 4km walk from the Ring Road, but it’s an eerily beautiful sight. This picture wasn’t black and white – it’s still in true color. The sky was perfectly grey that day.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s not the ultimate experience, but it’s still a lot of fun. I enjoyed the swim-up bar and the relaxing artificial cave. If you visit in the winter, make sure to explore the whole lagoon to find the warmer spots.

Northern lights over the Geysir area in Iceland

We stayed across the road from the famous Geysir area one night and were treated to some spectacular Northern Lights. The geyser Strokkur erupted several times as we watched the dazzling show in the sky. It was an incredible Iceland experience.

Horseback riding on a black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

The adorable Icelandic horses can be spotted all over the country, and what better way to get up close and personal with them than by taking a horseback ride? I think we found the best spot possible  when we stumbled across riding stables in Vik. Trotting along the black sand beach with the iconic Reynisdrangar rock formations just offshore was incredible. Read about that experience here.

Northern Lights over the Foss á Síðu waterfall in Iceland

The Northern Lights weren’t as bright when we passed by this lesser-known, but still beautiful waterfall called Foss á Siðu, but they make for a perfect backdrop.

Steaming earth and an eruption of Strokkur geyser in the Geysir area, part of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Geysir area is covered with steaming pools and geysers that give it an unearthly feel. Though the famous Geysir rarely erupts any more, the smaller geyser, Strokkur, right next to it shoots water into the air every few minutes.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland in winter, part of the Golden Circle

The snow and ice surrounding Gullfoss make it somehow more beautiful.

Winding road through the Golden Circle in Iceland

This road, part of the popular Golden Circle route winds through the Icelandic country side.

Waterfall in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This waterfall, found in the Þingvellir National Park tumbles down into the rift valley formed by the North American and Eurasian continental plates separating.

Rift valley in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland, part of the Golden Circle

This broad flat valley formed by the continental rift was also the site of the first Viking parliaments, giving it both geological and historical significance.

Icelandic horses in Iceland

Don’t pass up the opportunity to see the beautiful Icelandic horses while you’re visiting. You’ll want to spend hours photographing them.

What would you most like to see on a visit to Iceland?

Looking for an itinerary that encompasses all of these photo spots? Look no further. Here’s my perfect 6-day southern Iceland roadtrip itinerary.

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25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, ice cave, and the Northern Lights25 photos to put Iceland on your winter bucket list. Includes the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, Jokulsarlon, an ice cave, and the Northern Lights

Niagara Falls State Park

After spending the weekend on the Canadian Side of Niagara Falls, I decided to pay a visit to Niagara Falls State Park, on the New York side. Not only does it offer the closest overlooks of the falls, but it’s the oldest state park in the country. Even better: it’s open 24/7, so you can experience the majesty of the falls any time of day.
American Falls lit up at night viewed from Niagara Falls State Park in New York

I went back at night a few weeks later to see the lights.

 

I lucked into some free street parking nearby and then headed into the park. There are some gorgeous overlooks of the American falls right from the start.

 

Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

Exploring Goat Island

Walking or driving across a bridge will take you to Goat Island, which is what divides the Canadian falls from the American ones. You can explore the island, and get up close right at the brinks of all three waterfalls.

 

Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

 

One of the coolest spots is on Luna Island, the tiny little bit of land that separates Bridal Veil falls from the rest of the American falls. Standing right between two waterfalls is a really neat experience. Looking straight down at the rocks below gives a pretty good idea of why those barrel-over-the-falls thrill-seekers back in the day picked the more intimidating Horseshoe falls for their stunts.
Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

Looking straight out over the top of Bridal Veil Falls

 

Walking around the island gives you a chance to enjoy every angle of the falls. I love taking pictures, so just wandering around with my camera was a great way to kill the afternoon.

 

Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

 

On the south side of Goat Island, you can access bridges to the much-smaller Three Sisters Islands that take you out into the main river channel. You can see the water around you picking up speed as it rushes toward the upcoming drop. One couple nearby decided to climb the railings and take some selfies right along the river bank. I was pretty sure that I was going to see natural selection in action, but they made it back in one piece.
Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

This is not a good idea.

Rainbow Bridge Crossing

International Boundary Line between the United States and Canada on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls

As I was leaving the park, I noticed the sign for the walking bridge to Canada. The closest crossing to the falls has a pedestrian lane so visitors can walk back and forth between the two sides. Since I still had my passport on me, I decided to go for it even though I was pretty well frozen by that point. I’ve crossed international borders by plane, train, and car before, but never on foot, so this experience was something new. The mist coming up from the water kind of obscured the view of the Canadian falls, but walking out on the bridge gave a unique view that I’d never seen before and was well worth it. Keep in mind that this is an international border, so once you set foot on the bridge, you’ll need a passport to get back into the US.

International Boundary Line between the United States and Canada on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls

Read about our time on the Canadian side of the falls here.

Have you ever visited Niagara Falls? Let me know in the comments.

Don't miss a chance to visit Niagara Falls State Park on the New York side of the river to get up close to the famous waterfalls.

A Weekend in Niagara Falls

While I was working in the Buffalo area, I had to stay out there for a weekend. Since it’s so close to Niagara Falls, and Niagara Falls is only a few hours from home, I invited my boyfriend to join me on a semi-work-funded mini-vacation. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There’s just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Wandering Buffalo

He had to drive in from Detroit after working a full day, so I had Friday evening to kill on my own. I decided to head to downtown Buffalo to find some dinner, but quickly realized that that wasn’t in the cards because the Sabres had a home game that night. I wandered around a little looking for somewhere to pull over so I could look up some other areas on my phone and ended up stumbling across an outdoor hockey rink with a bar and restaurant attached. That was good enough for me, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and watched some kids play through the glass. It was such a cool location right along the river and as a life-long hockey addict, I loved hearing the sounds of pucks and skates echoing while I had my dinner.

Outdoor hockey rink in Buffalo, New York

When I was done eating, I decided that it was time to head up to Niagara Falls to check into the hotel. I had booked the Holiday Inn on the Canadian side because it’s super cheap (at least during the winter), only a couple blocks from the falls, and I generally have good experiences at IHG properties. I had looked and looked to try to find a reasonably priced room with a view of the falls, but I ended up choosing price over such niceties and was generally pleased. I also appreciated the free parking right on site.

Waterfall Fireworks

I was planning to wait to go see the falls until the next morning with my boyfriend, but the hotel clerk mentioned that there were fireworks displays on Friday nights and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see fireworks over a waterfall. I walked down to the overlook and tried to find a spot that would allow me to see the fireworks over the Canadian falls. This would’ve required a lot more walking than I was prepared to do at that point because the location the fireworks were being shot off from was further down by the American falls.

Fireworks display at Niagara Falls

The fireworks show was nothing mind-blowing, but it was kind of neat. It’s definitely a unique setting for a display like that. It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday night in December, but I would imagine it could be pretty crowded in more popular tourist seasons. The fireworks don’t go up very high, so getting there early to grab a spot by the railing would be a good idea if it looks like it’s going to be crowded.

Of course, the lights on the falls provide a spectacular enough view that there’s really no need to dress them up any further, but fireworks are always appreciated by this blogger.

The Main Attraction

If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, you’re obviously going to spend some time enjoying the view of Mother Nature’s handiwork. When we got up the next morning, we grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at the Fallsview Casino. We ate at the Famous Diner, a little restaurant with thoroughly cute décor and delicious food.

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls, New York

The American side. The Canadians definitely won the waterfall game.

After that, we started our walk along the overlooks at the falls. We stopped to take pictures from every imaginable angle, of course. My boyfriend had never been there before, and it had been years since I visited, so we took our time enjoying the view. You get the best wide-angle view from a little ways down the walkway, but don’t miss the chance to look straight down at the brink of the falls. The thunderous roar and sight of the water rushing over the edge really gives you a feel for the power of the river as it tumbles downward.

Brink of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Clifton Hill

I had discovered a coupon for a thing called a Beaver Tail in one of the guidebooks at the hotel, and as a lover of all things sugary, I absolutely had to have one. We walked down to Clifton Hill, what I would classify as the cheesy tourist area of Niagara Falls, and hunted down the delicious fried pastries covered in an assortment of sugary toppings. It’s both very good and infuriating that there isn’t an easily accessible location where I can get these little bites of heaven on a regular basis.

Beaver tails on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls

This was eight kinds of delicious.

If you’re looking for family fun, this is the place you want to be. Every corner had attractions ranging from fun houses to wax museums to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Even on a chilly day in the off-season, it was bustling with people.

Exploring outside of town

We opted out of the cheesy tourist attractions (sadly, the Maid of the Mist boats were not running since it was winter) and instead hopped into the car to drive up to the whirlpool where the river takes a sharp turn to the right. It’s so pretty up there and we got a good view from the cable car platforms that were closed for the season. We decided to keep going up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped at a few other scenic overlooks along the way.

Whirlpool at Niagara Falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake was a cute little town, but it was swarmed with crowds of people that day. There appeared to be some sort of festival going on, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. We ended up finally finding a place to park at a little lakeside park, so we walked down to Lake Ontario and climbed around some of the boulders on the shore.

Dinner with a view at the Skylon Tower

We had dinner reservations at the rotating restaurant at the Skylon Tower for their early prix fixe meal. This also entitled us to a free trip to the top of the tower. Don’t make the mistake we did – go early for your reservation. We showed up with enough time to ride to the top before our time slot, but we ended up seated in the interior of the restaurant behind a tall group of people (seriously good genes in that family) so we couldn’t see anything out the windows.

American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York lit up at night

Since that was kind of the point of eating there, I asked if there was anywhere to move. All of the window tables were full, but we were offered a pager to wait for one to clear. We decided to do that and headed up to the observation deck to kill some time before we could eat. When our buzzer rang, we went back down and were seated at a perfect table, but discovered that we were no longer allowed to order off of the prix fixe menu. It made dinner a LOT more expensive, and I wished that the staff had told us that waiting for a table would mean that we’d have to take the late dinner menu.

The food was delicious though, and even my boyfriend who hadn’t been feeling great all day downed his entire dinner. You really can’t beat the view from up there, and my boyfriend was excited to have his first meal in a rotating restaurant. I’d never been up in the tower on my previous visits, and getting an aerial view of the falls was amazing. They’re especially beautiful at night, and spending that much time up in the tower gave us a chance to see the lights rotate through the different color patterns.

We had also gotten free tickets to the Skylon Tower from the hotel, so we decided to use those the next morning to check out the view during the day. I wouldn’t have paid to go up again, but since they were free there wasn’t much sense in letting them go to waste. Daylight definitely brings a different perspective to the falls. Whereas the lights at night give them a soft, dreamy feel, seeing the roaring water tumbling down into the gorge during the day gives a much more impressive insight into the raw power of mother nature.

Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada from the Skylon Tower

Ice wine

This part of Ontario is actually quite famous for its wine. The Canadian climate also provides for a unique type of treat: ice wine. This super sweet local specialty is made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine and then very quickly harvesting them while they’re still frozen. I don’t know a lot about the wine-making process (outside of that one episode of I Love Lucy), but the freezing process somehow makes the wine extra sugary, which, as noted above, is exactly my kind of thing.

We took the ice wine home and drank it a couple weeks later and it was incredible. I’m not a wine fan at all, but this was so sweet it was more like drinking juice. It’s hard (and expensive) to find elsewhere, but if you find yourself in the Ontario wine region at any point, definitely make a point to try it.

Have you visited Niagara Falls? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments.

Read about another winter weekend adventure in Canada:

Highlights of a couples weekend in Niagara Falls, including the best sights, dining, the Skylon Tower, and ice wine.Pin - Niagara2Pin - Niagara3Pin - Niagara4

Discovering Gljúfrabúi – Iceland’s Secret Waterfall

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, odds are you’ve seen pictures of the most famous waterfalls. You’ll be able to recognize Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss on sight. Far too many visitors overlook the “secret” waterfall, Gljúfrabúi aka Gljúfrafoss on their visit, though. You may have heard the phrase, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” before, but this is one occasion on which you should definitely ignore those words of wisdom.

Whereas Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are easy to spot as you approach from the Ring Road, Gljúfrabúi makes visitors work to experience its beauty. It’s well-worth the effort to get up close to this hidden gem.

If you’re driving the Ring Road, you can’t pass up a chance to take pictures of Seljalandsfoss and explore the cave behind it. However, far too many people end their visit there and miss Gljúfrabúi without even realizing how close they are to another beautiful sight.

If you cross the bridge over the stream beneath Seljalandsfoss and keep walking along the path along the cliff, you’ll be treated to several small cascades tumbling down from above. It will be tempting to turn back because it doesn’t look like there’s anything up ahead, but keep going, because Gljúfrabúi isn’t much further.

View of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

It doesn’t look like much from the outside. (Try to ignore all of the water on my lens)

It doesn’t look like much as you approach because you’ll only be able to see the top of it before it disappears behind a wall of rock. If you want to enjoy the full view – and it’s worth it – you’ll have to either wade into the cavern through the stream or climb the rock wall in front of it.

Wading Through the Stream

Walking through flowing water didn’t seem very appealing on the chilly winter day when we visited, but we were already thoroughly soaked from rain and mist from Seljalandsfoss, so we decided to go for it. You’ll definitely want to make sure you have waterproof boots for this adventure.

Opening leading to Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

Prepare to get wet

We followed another visitor in, and she did most of the hard work for us. She figured out that there were enough larger rocks that you could step from one to the other without having to put your feet all the way into the stream. Staying to the right allows you to hold onto the wall for balance. I managed to get in and out without getting my feet wet, but my sister slipped on the way out and took some water over the top of one of her boots. I wouldn’t attempt this if you’re afraid of falling.

The walk through the stream only lasted about 15 feet before we emerged into the cavern with a full view of Gljúfrabúi. Once you get back there, you’re on dry land again.

Well, solid land. Nothing back there is dry. The cavern is full of swirling mist from the waterfall and anything you bring back there will get wet. I had a protective plastic bag around my camera and it still got soaked. I didn’t even attempt to shoot any good pictures because I was afraid that I was going to ruin it.

Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

There was one other couple back there, so the five of us took turns snapping quick pictures of each other. It was a cool feeling to be back there enjoying the “secret” natural wonder roaring down in front of us.

The View From the Top

After we waded back out, we decided that it would be worth it to climb the rock wall to get the view from the top. It’s a slightly tough climb that was made a little treacherous by the mud caused by the constant rain that day, but we made it easily without any special equipment and less-than-ideal hiking boots.

We worked our way up about half way and then got to a spot where chains had been bolted into the rock face so you could hold on as you scooted along a narrow ledge. We were pretty high up by that point, so looking down below was a little intimidating.

View from the top of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

When we got to the top, we were faced with another rock wall. I had seen pictures of a small ladder there before, but it looked like it had been broken. Only one plank was still there, wedged up against the base of the bulging rock.

My sister tried to walk up it like a balance beam, but it was slippery from water and mud and her rain boots didn’t have the kind of traction needed, so she slipped off of it. We figured out that if one of us got a leg up on it and the other held their foot in place so it wouldn’t slide down, we could get up high enough to grab onto the rocks and make our way up to get a view.

View from the top of Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall

I’ve done some rock climbing on artificial walls, but this was my first time doing anything like bouldering in the real world. It was a lot of fun, but kind of stressful because 1. my boots did not have the kind of grip necessary for that 2. I was carrying a $1000 camera and 3. my American health insurance doesn’t cover me outside of the US.

After taking a few pictures, I determined that the best way down was just to lower myself as far as possible and then jump the last few feet. I passed my camera to my sister, felt my way backward down the face of the rock, and then took a leap into the snow-covered mud.

Bottom Line

This was a little adventure, but we had so much fun. It was by far my favorite out of the waterfalls we saw in Iceland, just because of the adventure involved in getting to it. I’m used to seeing sights like that safely behind railings and safety barriers, so getting to experience this waterfall up close and unrestrained felt wild and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

We were thoroughly soaked and covered with mud, so it’s a good idea to plan on changing clothes if you’re going to attempt this. Or wear those super cool rainproof pants that I chose not to buy for the trip. The good news is that there’s a bathroom – tiny and not exactly spotless, but functional – near the Seljalandsfoss parking lot, so you’ll be able to change if you need to. Guard any electronics you bring with you closely, as they can quickly become soaked. I wished I had brought the waterproof camera I had in my suitcase for this adventure because I came pretty close to ruining my good one trying to take pictures in the cavern.

Have you visited Gljúfrabúi? Have you had any other unique experiences in Iceland? Let me know in the comments.

Read more Iceland tips:

Discover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbingDiscover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbingDiscover Gljúfrabúi, Iceland's hidden waterfall by wading through a stream or doing some light rock climbing

Your Perfect Six-Day Southern Iceland Itinerary

Driving the full Ring Road may be the ultimate Iceland vacation itinerary, but if you’re short on time, you can still experience plenty of spectacular scenery in the southern part of the country.

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja and the Leifer Eriksson statue

Day One: Reykjavik

Start your trip in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city. It’s pretty small compared to other capitals, but that makes it very walkable. Most of the main tourist sites are within 10-15 minutes on foot, and it’s an incredibly safe city to walk around in. I didn’t fall in love with the architecture like I have in other European cities – most of the buildings are pretty plain – but a couple do stand out. The Harpa conference hall is pretty by day and night. Try to catch it on a sunny day for the best lighting and views of the harbor, but it’s also worth checking out at night when the glass panels are lit up. I found that the lighting looked better from a little bit of a distance, as the closer I got, the more I could pick out the individual light bars inside instead of seeing the full picture.

Hallgrímskirkja is another must-see building in Reykjavik, and it’s hard to miss. I loved the iconic church atop the hill with it’s striking exterior modeled after the basalt columns present throughout the country. It’s very plain inside, so if you don’t get a chance to enter the church, don’t feel like you’re missing out. You can also take an elevator to the top for 900 ISK, but the line was very long the morning we visited. We stood in line for a few minutes to see how it was moving, and at the rate it was going it would’ve taken us close to an hour to get to the top.

Learn about the country’s Viking history at the Settlement Exhibition, which houses the remnants of an old longhouse dating back over 1000 years. For more Icelandic history, you can head over to the Saga Museum in the Old Harbor area which uses very lifelike wax figures to tell the stories of several heroes and villains. Bonus at the end of the audio tour: a chance to dress up in Viking costumes and weapons to take pictures. (If you’ve never worn full chainmail, you’ll be astounded at the fact that anyone was able to run and fight while weighted down by it.)

This will also be your best chance to sample Icelandic cuisine. Once you’re out in the small towns, restaurant options are limited, and we found that a lot of them had pretty standard American fare. Torfan Lobsterhouse is a great place to sample langoustine (or puffin salad if you’re brave), and right next door is Lækjarbrekka, which offer a variety of food options, including traditional fish stew (mashed potatoes with haddock and onions mixed in). Food in Iceland is incredibly expensive, but if you’re looking for a cheap eat, check out one of the many stands serving Icelandic lamb hot dogs. I don’t eat plain hot dogs very often (and I’m not a huge fan of lamb), but I really liked mine. It had a very satisfying snap to it and tasted pretty much like the ones I’m used to getting at home.

Sunset in Borgarnes, Iceland

Dusk in Borgarnes

Day Two: Fjords

Depart for the western fjords region. Depending on how early you get on the road, you can make it pretty far into the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and admire the beauty in a part of Iceland that’s much less touristy than some of the other stops on this route. Along the way, marvel at the 6 km-long tunnel under one of the fjords (and make sure you have enough money for the 1000 ISK toll). On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the massive Snæfellsjökull volcano looming at the western end of the peninsula.

This area is sparsely populated, but Borgarnes is a cute little seaside town that has a few hotels, as well as a highly-rated Settlement museum. We opted not to visit the museum since it was 2500 ISK per person, but had a delicious meal in their restaurant.

While you’re in Borgarnes, make time to walk or drive across the bridge out to the dock/breakwater area for great views of the town and surrounding mountains. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, the end of the dock is a perfect place to sit and watch the sunset at night.

Strokkur and Geysir

Strokkur and the Geysir field

Day Three: Geysir

Backtrack a little from Borgarnes to pick up the route for the Golden Circle. Coming in from the west, your first stop will be Þingvellir National Park, which contains a spectacular rift valley where the continental plates are spreading apart. It was also home to the Viking parliaments of old. Admission to the park is free, but there is a fee for parking. Stop into the small gift shop for a look at maps of the area and a little bit of the history and then head out to soak up the scenery and history.

There is a path that takes you down between two ridges into the rift valley, and you can see spectacular views of the rivers and small buildings in the distance. If you continue walking, you’ll come across a small waterfall leading to a pool that was used to drown women convicted of various crimes. There are several walking paths to explore, but don’t linger too long because more great scenery awaits you.

Your next stop on the Golden Circle will be the Geysir area. Though Geysir (the English word “geyser” comes from this one) rarely erupts anymore, you should be able to see several smaller eruptions from neighboring geyser Strokkur during your visit. It erupts every few minutes and can reach heights of up to 40 meters high. There are several smaller geysirs and hot spring pools along the walking paths, but make sure to stay on the marked trails. Once you’ve had enough geothermal activity, you can grab a delicious meal in the visitor center across the street.

The last stop on the Golden Circle is Gulfoss, a double-tiered waterfall that sends water tumbling down into a canyon. Start with the views from high atop the gorge, but don’t miss the chance to get up close by climbing down the stairs to the brink of the falls.

Backtrack a little to stay at the hotel Litli Geysir, located right across the street from the Geysir area. It’s less famous than the Hotel Geysir, but offers a better view of the geyser field. We were able to see Strokkur erupting from our room’s window.

For dinner, try the Litli Geysir’s restaurant, or venture a couple minutes down the road to Skjól, a campground/hostel with a restaurant that serves up some pretty good pizza in a fun, quirky atmosphere. Musical instruments line the walls, and rumor has it that if you play a  few songs well enough to earn applause, you’ll get a free beer. It’s worth a shot.

Skógafoss in southern Iceland

Skógafoss

Day Four: Road to Vik

Day Four of your journey will be filled with waterfalls. Take the road toward Selfoss to pick up the Ring Road again, and then head east toward Vik. A significant portion of your drive today will be lined with small waterfalls, but the first major one you’ll encounter is Seljalandsfoss, famous for its rainbow and the cave behind it that enables visitors to see the cascade from all sides. Seljalandsfoss is visible right from the Ring Road, and it’ll be hard to miss as you pass by. There’s a large parking area and bathrooms on site, as well.

Once you’ve had your fill of Seljalandsfoss, keep walking across the little bridge and up the path that parallels the cliff side. You’ll pass a few smaller waterfalls, and it will be tempting to turn back, but there’s one more hidden surprise – the “secret” waterfall Gljúfrabúi. It’s easy to miss because you can only see the top portion from in front. In order to view the whole thing, you need to wade through the stream or climb up the rocky outcrop blocking it from view. Both options are a lot of fun, though you will get very wet in the cavern even if you manage to keep your feet dry in the stream.

When you get back to your car, keep heading east toward Vik. The next notable sight you’ll see is Eyjafjallajökull (you may remember this volcano as the one that interrupted European air travel in 2010). There’s a small visitor center and a pull-off area where you can take pictures of it with a small farm in the foreground.

Next up is Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls. This one is also visible from the Ring Road, and it’s beautiful 200 foot drop is hard to miss. You can’t walk behind this one, but you can get close enough to get soaked again. There is also a staircase winding up to the top of the cliff, but we didn’t think the view from the top was worth the effort of climbing the 429 stairs.

The last stop on today’s route is the famous DC 3 plane crash site. It’s the abandoned wreckage of a US Navy plane that was forced to crash land there in 1973. Don’t feel too macabre about posing with plane wreckage – all of the passengers survived. It takes about 45 minutes to walk out to the wreckage, and it felt even longer than that. When you finally make it to the wreckage, it offers great photo opportunities. The overcast sky on the day we visited, combined with the black sand made my pictures look like black and whites even though my camera was set to color.

If you have time today, you can stop by Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach nearby, but you’ll want to take your time there and it will be better to visit on the way back to Reykjavik.

Spend the next two nights in Vik, the biggest town in the area. There are a few hotels and restaurants there, which is quite a bit in comparison to the rest of this area. We stayed at a fantastic AirBnB, but the IcelandAir hotel looked very nice when we wandered in in search of breakfast.

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón

Day Five: Jökulsárlón

The drive to Jökulsárlón takes a little less than 2.5 hours without stops, but you’ll want to give yourselves at least an extra hour. You’ll be passing by some cute little waterfalls, and desolate landscape shaped by glacial floods. During the 1990s, floods caused by a volcanic eruption washed away a couple of the Ring Road bridges in this area, and there is a pull-off spot where you can see some of the wreckage left behind.

When you make it to the Jökulsárlón area, stop at Diamond Beach first. The parking lot is located just before the bridge you’ll see. This black sand beach offers stunning photo ops with ice boulders that have been pushed ashore by the surf. It’s a great way to witness the power of the ocean as waves continue to slam into larger ice bergs that haven’t made it all the way to the beach yet.

From here, continue across the bridge to the Jökulsárlón parking area. The beautiful blue glaciers striped by black volcanic ash from long-ago eruptions are mesmerizing as they float in the calm water of the lagoon. There are great paths to walk along close to the water, as well as a hilltop vantage point. There is a small building with snacks, bathrooms, and a gift shop at the back of the parking lot. This is also where the glacier tours meet.

We took an ice cave and snowmobiling tour that was phenomenal. The ride out on the road through the national park is rough, but it’s so worth it. If snowmobiling is too intense for you, you can take tours just to the ice cave or go hiking on the glacier. We went with Glacier Journeys and absolutely loved our guide. Read all about our tour – and stranded snowmobiles – here.

It’ll be late by the time you get back, and there aren’t a lot of places for dinner in the area. If you start heading back toward Vik, Hotel Skaftafell is one of the first places you’ll come across. They have a bustling restaurant that has Vatnajokull beer – brewed with water from icebergs in Jökulsárlón – on the menu. It’s a great way to get a taste of ice from the glacier you’ve spent the day touring.

Keep your eyes on the sky as you head back toward Vik. There is very little ambient light in this area, so if the skies are clear, you’ll have a good chance at spotting the Northern Lights on your way back.

Reynisfjara beach in southern Iceland

Rock formations at Reynisfjara beach

Day Six: Reynisjara and Blue Lagoon

Start the day with an early morning ride along Vik’s black sand beach with an early morning horseback ride with Vik Horse Adventure. This was a spur of the moment choice for us, and was one of the highlights of the trip. If you’ve fallen in love with the Icelandic horses that graze seemingly everywhere, this will be your best chance to get up close to them. It was also the most scenic horseback ride I’ve ever taken.

When you hit the road to head back toward Reykjavik, your first stop will be Reynisfjara. The rock formations and basalt columns are spectacular to look at, but stay well back from the water. Dangerous rogue waves are known to come ashore there and tourists have lost their lives after being swept out to sea. There is a small café there with good food and great desserts so you can fill up before hitting the road.

The drive to the Blue Lagoon will take you 2:45 minutes without stops, but like all drives through Iceland, the scenery will make it pleasant. You’ll spend a while backtracking, so you can revisit some of the waterfalls from day four if you have time.

The last major stop on your itinerary is the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also fun. There’s no better way to wrap up your stay in Iceland than by relaxing in the powdery blue water. Be sure to book your tickets in advance to ensure that you get in.

If you have time before an evening flight, you can stop at the Bridge Between Continents, a symbolic bridge that spans a rift canyon between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. If your flight isn’t until the next day, you can stay at a hotel right at the Blue Lagoon, or head back up to Reykjavik for one last evening.

Did I miss anything that’s a must-see in south Iceland? Let me know in the comments.

Pin - Iceland Itinerary4

From Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon, here is the essential 6-day Iceland roadtrip itinerary.

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

Strokkur geyser in Iceland

Jokulsarlon lagoon and black sand beach in Vik, Iceland

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