If you’ve been looking into visiting the island, you might’ve come across the name Askja somewhere during your reading. This is because Askja is considered one of the must-visit attractions in Iceland.
But do you actually know what it is? And do you know enough to want to add it to your Iceland trip itinerary? In this article, we discuss everything about Askja in detail, so you can be well-informed and arrive prepared on the island.
What is Askja in Iceland?
Askja is quite a geological phenomenon. It is one of the largest calderas (volcanic craters) on the island. And, although it is still considered an active volcano, it hasn’t had an eruption since 1961. Today it is more famous for its scenic hike and the amazing photo opportunity it offers. You'll agree with this once you see the lake with its milky, bright blue-green water that now fills the crater.
How was Askja Formed?
Essentially, the process started when the volcano erupted in 1875. It is only after the eruption that the land started to collapse, forming the caldera/crater. What is called a lake today is indeed groundwater that simply seeped to the surface as the land collapsed below the (then) water table.
Where is Askja in Iceland?
Askja is situated in the famous Vatnajökull National Park (the biggest national park in Iceland) just north of the Vatnajökull Glacier. If you take a map of Iceland, you’ll be able to spot it in the remote regions of the central Highlands of Iceland.
How to Get to Askja in Iceland
There are basically two ways to get to Askja:
Getting to Askja in Iceland via a Guided Tour
There are plenty of guided tours that one can take as a day outing or as part of a multi-day tour. If this is something that you are considering, the following Askja tours come highly recommended:
- Askja by Super Jeep from Myvatn
- Askja and Holuhraun by Super Jeep from Myvatn
- Helicopter Tour from Akureyri: Askja Highland and Surroundings
- Askja and Kverkfjöll 2-day Tour
- Askja Classic from Myvatn
Getting to Askja in Iceland via a Self-drive Tour
We believe that there is no better way to discover the island than by driving it yourself. This way, you are the master of your own fate and no one can dictate how long you need to stay (or cannot stay) at a certain place.
If you are using a GPS, you might find that it gives you a couple of options as to how to drive to Askja. Still, take it from us, you need to avoid driving to Askja via Ring Road 1 and the F88. Stick to Ring Road 1 past Akureyri and Myvatn where you turn off on Road 901. From here, you’ll be turning right on the F905.
After about 21 kilometers, you’ll take the F910. Carry straight on with the F910 till you reach the campsite. Even though this is not your final stop, we recommend that you ask the ranger on duty at the campsite about the conditions at Viti and the Askja trail. Doing so before you drive all the way will avoid ending up being left stuck or disappointed. If they give you the all-clear, you’ll need to drive on the F894 for about 20 minutes till you reach the parking lot.
*Please take note that you will not be able to do this self-drive route with a 2-wheel drive. Not only can the road get pretty rough in parts, but you’ll also need to cross three rivers, which you’ll be unable to do unless you have a 4x4 campervan or car.
When is the Best Time to Visit Askja in Iceland?
Although Askja is technically open all year round, we highly recommend that you make this stop a part of a summer trip to Iceland. That is between late June and mid-September. This is mainly because of two reasons:
Askja is situated in the Highlands. The Highlands almost become a no-go zone during the colder months. In fact, many of the roads/routes in the Highlands close as a rule of thumb during the colder months each year. And others are subject to sudden road closures due to weather conditions.
Even if you are lucky enough to catch some of the Highland roads open, the roads in the northern part of Iceland are incredibly tricky to navigate. This is due to road conditions caused by the colder weather (ice, snow, winds, etc.). So, if you are not used to driving in these kinds of conditions, Askja in the colder months is definitely out of the question for you.
The Hike and the Lake
Look, trying to hike in the middle of winter and with only a few hours of daylight is already not advisable. But imagine hiking all the way in terrible and cold conditions only to find that the experience does not live up to expectations.
This is mostly the case during the colder months at Askja as the lake tends to be frozen during that time of year. If you’ve been gunning for a view over bright blue-green water, a dull sheet of ice is a pretty big let-down.
Things to do at and Near Askja in Iceland
You will find plenty to do at and around Askja. The following are some of the things to consider:
Hike to Viti Crater
This is a short 2.4-kilometer hike that will take between 30–45 minutes. It is not considered to be very challenging, especially when visiting during the summer months. The trail starts at the Vikraborgir Car Park.
Take a Dip in Viti Crater
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you need to grab hold of if you’re ever lucky enough to get the chance. For the rangers to open the crater to the public for a swim, conditions need to be absolutely perfect as there are various safety concerns.
It needs to be a clear and dry day with absolutely no wind. Just be careful when going down as the path is very steep and usually very muddy. At least you’ll get rewarded by relaxing in nice, warm water of 25-30 degrees Celsius.
Explore Drekagil Canyon aka Dragon Gully
This is a super interesting place to visit. It consists of a bunch of strange-looking rock formations. Twisted and steep-sided canyon walls formed by the flowing lava centuries ago, and even a small waterfall. You’ll find it right behind the huts at Drekil.
There’s a little bit of effort involved with having to climb over rocks (so not a great idea with tiny tots and the elderly). However, this part of the walk will only be about 10 minutes.
Visit Holuhraun Lava Field
If you’ve ever wanted to visit a spot where it looks like a big black blanket of lava is draped over the landscape as far as the eye can see – Holuhraun Lava Field should be on your Iceland bucket list.
Not only is it an incredible feeling to drive across 85 square kilometers of black sand and gravel that was the direct result of a massive eruption over 230 years ago, but if you’re looking to take a few eerie-looking snaps, the desolate Holuhraun Lava Field on a cloudy day is absolutely perfect.
Where to Stay Near Askja in Iceland
You will find a variety of accommodations around Askja that will suit your preferences as well as your budget. Some of the options that come highly recommended are:
Helpful Tips for Visiting Askja in Iceland
The following helpful tips will ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable trip to Askja:
- As one of the most remote regions in Iceland, gas stations are few and far between. You need to ensure that you fill up every chance you get to ensure that you’re not left stranded next to the road.
- You’ll also need to stock up on supplies in the bigger towns/cities such as Myvatn since you won’t find many shops along the road.
- Because of the rough 4x4 roads to Askja and the general conditions (you’re almost guaranteed to find snow even in the summertime), you’ll need to set aside roughly 8–10 hours for a day trip (yet another reason why we don’t recommend a visit to Askja during the colder months).
- Check the Iceland weather forecast as well as the Iceland road conditions before heading out.
- Always download a few offline maps or have a few hard copies with you, just in case the signal fails (it is the more remote part of the island, after all).
- If you are just one car traveling to Askja, ensure that you notify others of where you’re going and when you’re planning on being back. This way, they can sound the alarm if you have not returned. Since it’s such a remote part of the country, the odds of someone just stumbling on you with a flat tire, empty gas tank, etc. is not very good.
- Keep to the road! DYIng your own off-road experience or parking on the side of the road is highly illegal here in Iceland. This is not just because of safety concerns, but also for the sake of our sensitive ecosystem. Especially in places containing Iceland moss. Any damage can take decades to be prepared (if at all!).
Askja; Well Worth the Visit During the Summer
As we mentioned earlier, there is plenty to do and see at and near Askja. Things that are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will create lifelong memories. But, please do not attempt this outing during the colder months unless you are well-versed in extreme winter weather conditions. This way, you won’t be too disappointed if the weather chucks a spanner in your Askja plans.
But for a summer trip, it is quite the adventure. And if you rent a campervan in Iceland and stay at some of the campsites, you can even extend your Askja adventure for a couple of days.