Many people ask us about Askja (couldn’t resist) and whether it’s worth a visit during their trip to the island. The answer may surprise you based on some things the majority of visitors don’t know about and may differ based on the season.
So, if you’ve got an upcoming trip to Iceland or you’re still planning on visiting the island, read on. You might just decide to schedule your trip at the perfect time to get the most out of Askja Caldera in Iceland.
What is the Askja Caldera in Iceland?
This can actually become a complex question. Some would say that Askja is a volcano (which is true). Others would say that Askja is a volcanic crater (which is also true). And some might even describe Askja as a crater with a lake (also true).
Whichever part of Askja you tend to focus on, Askja is officially considered to be one of our active volcanos here on the island, even though the last eruption was in 1961. But those thinking of Askja as just a crater/hole filled with water will also be correct. As the crater is known for its unique bright blue-green water that can be seen on many a postcard.
How was Askja Caldera Formed?
The Askja Caldera, as we see it today, was the end result of a series of events. The volcano erupted in 1875. There was nothing unusual about this eruption, yet shortly afterward, the land started to collapse, forming the crater (aka caldera). The bright blue-green water is also not water that has been caught in the “hole”, as one might suspect, but is the groundwater seeping through as the land receded to below the underground waterline.
Where is Askja Caldera in Iceland?
The Askja Caldera is situated in the largest national park in Iceland, called Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull National Park constitutes 14% of the island’s total landmass and is named after the largest glacier in Europe that can also be found within its borders; Vatnajökull Glacier.
It is just north of this glacier that you will find Askja. This region is referred to as the Highlands in Iceland and is considered to be one of the most remote (and cold!) parts of the island.
What Makes Askja Caldera So Special?
What makes Askja so popular is its trademark bright blue-green water that seems like the caldera is a bowl that just scooped up the ocean somewhere in the Caribbean. But, if you take a look over the edge of this “bowl”, you will find yet another reason why Askja is so special.
Right “next door”, you will find Okjuvatn Lake, also often referred to as Askja Lake due to its proximity to the caldera. This is the second-deepest lake you will find here on the island, reaching depths of 220 meters, and that’s not even taking the fact that the lake already lies 50 meters below the caldera floor into account.
The lake is also a result of the 1875 eruption and stretches across 12 square kilometers. The lake also serves as a bit of an indicator of what’s happening in the area. During the colder months, you’ll find that the lake is frozen, but if it’s ever found that the water is exceptionally liquid, despite the season, it could point towards a potential eruption.
Getting to Askja Caldera in Iceland
Visiting Askja Caldera can be done in two ways:
Visiting Askja Caldera Via Guided Tour
There will be an Askja tour waiting around every corner (well, most anyway) when you come to the island. Especially if you’re in one of the bigger cities, such as Reykjavik. You can book your spot on a guided day tour or opt for a multi-day guided holiday package tour which includes Askja as one of the local attractions on its itinerary.
A tour of the area also doesn’t need to consist of just stopping and walking around; you now have a wide variety of exciting ways to explore Askja. If you would like to go on a guided tour of Askja, the following are our top picks:
- Askja by Super Jeep from Myvatn
- Helicopter Tour from Akureyri: Askja Highland and Surroundings
- Askja and Kverkfjöll 2-day Tour
- Askja Classic from Myvatn
- Askja and Holuhraun by Super Jeep from Myvatn
Driving to Askja Caldera in Iceland Yourself
We are still firm believers that there is no better (and more affordable!) way to explore the island, and our local attractions than by driving yourself and making a road trip out of it. This is because, although guided tours are great when it comes to knowledge sharing, these trips can become very expensive, very fast, and you don’t have much of a say when it comes to the itinerary or the time schedule.
You are pretty much left at the mercy of the tour operator and the various Jacks and Janes who want to take what feels like an extra 1000 photos or take one and want to hit the road again. But driving to Askja will make a GPS essential, and you’ll need to make sure that you have a few downloaded or hard-copy maps of the area with you before heading out. This is because of a number of reasons:
- Askja is situated in the Highlands, one of the most remote regions in the country. It’s not a stretch to say that there’s a chance you’ll lose signal or connectivity here.
- Driving to Askja will require you to travel on the F-roads. These are unpaved roads that can get pretty tough at stages, and you are literally not allowed to drive them without a 4x4 vehicle (as stated by law!). So, these are definitely the roads that you could end up getting in trouble on, and the last type of roads here on the island that you want to get lost on.
The F-roads to Askja
You will need to do some prepping when it comes to the F-roads in Iceland:
- You will need to ensure that you get the right vehicle. As we’ve already established, this needs to be a 4x4, but which will depend on the needs and requirements of your specific party and the routes you are planning on taking whilst visiting the island. So, please have a chat with your rental agent, and they can advise you accordingly.
- As we mentioned, the F-roads can get pretty hairy, so once again, you’ll need to have a discussion with your rental agent regarding car rental insurance options to ensure that you are sufficiently covered for the risks that come along with these roads. There are some rental agents that won’t cover you at all if you’re taking on the F-roads here on the island and will hold you completely responsible for any/all damages incurred.
- The F-roads are kept closed throughout the colder months here on the island. So, don’t plan your trip to Iceland for mid-winter with Askja on your trip itinerary when you won’t even be able to get there in the first place.
Driving Directions to Askja
***Please be advised not to take the Ring Road and F88 route.***
- Take the Ring Road that goes past Akureyri (the capital of the north) and Myvatn.
- Turn off on Road 901.
- Turn right onto F905.
- Continue on the F905 for about 21 kilometers before turning into the F910.
- The F910 will take you directly to the campgrounds.
- Ask the ranger on duty whether the conditions at Viti and Askja make it safe and worthwhile to continue onwards.
- If you got the A-okay from that ranger, take the F894 and continue driving on it for about 20 minutes.
- After about 20 minutes, you will see the Askja parking lot, where you can park free of charge.
When is the Best Time to Visit Askja Caldera in Iceland?
Very rarely will we advise visitors to explicitly visit a site or attraction on the island based on seasons. This is because most attractions have a different kind of magic when visiting them in different seasons. But when it comes to Askja Caldera, you shouldn’t even consider visiting the crater if it’s not during the summer months here in Iceland (in other words, between June and September). This is because of the following:
This is the one place that actually loses its magic during the colder months. Gone is the Caribbean-like bright blue-green water of the crater, and in its place, a frozen milky fluid. The landscape is covered in a thick blanket of snow, and the lake is also frozen in place with the same milky tint. What you get at Askja during the colder months is definitely not what is sold on the travel brochures.
If you are planning on making a road trip out of your travels here in Iceland, you’ll have an uphill battle getting to Askja. Not only is the north, but especially the Highlands, plagued by various road closures due to weather conditions during the colder months, the F-roads you need to use to get to Askja in the first place are also most likely to be closed as per a standing arrangement.
If you’re thinking of keeping accommodation costs down by camping, think again because there will be no camping during the colder months in this area of Iceland. You need to remember that the north of the island is much colder than the south, so whilst the rest of the country might still be experiencing fall, the north is already entering full-blown winter. And attempting to camp in these cold conditions along with harsh weather elements such as the legendary Icelandic winds is complete madness.
Things to Do at and Near Askja Caldera in Iceland
The benefits of visiting Askja Caldera don’t begin and end with staring at its bright blue-green water and the lake; there are plenty of interesting and exciting things to do at Askja and its surroundings. These include the following:
Hiking to Viti Crater
This hike is short and suitable for most ages and experience levels. The starting point of this 2.4-kilometer hike is at Vikraborgir Car Park, and it won’t take you longer than 45 minutes if doing it at an extremely relaxed and leisurely pace.
Swimming in Viti Crater
This is probably one of the most special experiences one can have because the opportunity is very rare. On days when conditions are absolutely perfect (in other words, clear blue skies, no wind, and calm water), the rangers will actually open the crater up to the public and allow them to take a dip in its warm waters.
The water is typically around 25-30 degrees Celsius, so it’s a real treat. The path to the water is steep and can get pretty muddy, though, so just watch your step.
Exploring Holuhraun Lava Field
This 85 square kilometers of black sand and gravel is probably the closest you’ll get to an apocalyptic world without the world actually ending. Its vastness and size serve as an ode to nature’s power, as the lava field is the result of a powerful volcanic eruption that occurred more than 230 years ago.
Exploring Drekagil Canyon (aka Dragon Gully)
It may sound like something out of Harry Potter, but this canyon feels more like you’ve landed on Mars. The canyon was formed by a river of hot, flowing lava thousands of years ago, and its twisted cliffs tower above you whilst the canyon is filled with many strange rock formations and even a waterfall.
Getting to the canyon is not as easy as taking a pathway down, though, and you will need to go behind the Drekil Huts and clamber over a few rocks to reach it. So, leave the tiny tots and the elderly at home when taking on this outing.
Where to Stay Near Askja Caldera in Iceland
With so much to do and see at Askja, we highly recommend that you stay over and explore the area and all it has to offer properly. If you would like to save on accommodation costs, the best way to do so is by renting a campervan in Iceland and then going camping in comfort at Snæfell Campground.
Visiting Askja Caldera; a Room with a View and Plenty to Do
As you can see, a trip to Askja promises a wide array of things to do and see, including breathtaking views of its bright blue-green waters, the lake, and the Icelandic landscape.
For the most immersive and budget-friendly visit, we highly recommend that you rent a campervan in Iceland and add Askja as a stop along your Ring Road road trip. Grab your front-row seat to this “room” with a view and plenty of things to do.