When it comes to natural wonders, Iceland has many incredible sights to boast. From vast glacial landscapes to thundering waterfalls and even, on occasion, erupting volcanoes, there’s a very good reason why the Land of Fire and Ice is such a popular film and photography location.
With a slew of diverse and epic landscapes, the Nordic island is quite simply visually stunning. It’s no wonder photographers just can’t resist it! Askja, situated in the lofty Central Highlands, is no exception.
What exactly is Askja?
Askja is a volcanic caldera high in the Central Highlands just north of the Vatnajökull National Park. It is located in the Dyngjufjoll Mountains and its crater measures fifty square kilometers.
Lake Askja fills the crater and is linked to two other smaller craters which helps make it one of the most impressive volcanic formation sites in the country.
Along with the main crater, you will also see Lake Öskjuvatn which measures 11 km square. This crater was formed much more recently during an eruption that took place in 1875. Öskjuvatn is also one of the deepest lakes in Iceland plunging down to about 220 meters.
Finally, there is the lovely Viti. A much smaller geothermal lake that is sixty meters deep, the water temperature here is a not too chilly 25 degrees Celsius, though it does fluctuate a little each way.
Both of these beautiful blue lakes are surrounded by jet-black sand dunes, creating a serious visual contrast. Get your camera in position to snap some lifetime keepsakes!
How old is Askja volcano?
The Askja volcano age is some 10,000 years. The crater, which formed due to a massive volcanic eruption, is classified as a subsidence crater.
This means that it was formed when a lava chamber just below the ground emptied out during the eruption. The roof then fell in, leaving a wide-open crater in its place. This later filled with water, creating the perfect blue and peaceful-looking lake that we see today.
How to get to Askja and when to go
Located in one of the most remote areas of Iceland, you’re promised a challenging drive and real adventure when you visit Askja. As with most of the Central Highlands, Askja is only accessible during the summer months and only when the weather is favorable.
So, keep a good eye on the Iceland weather forecasts to know if there’s a storm scheduled to blow in. If adverse conditions are on the horizon, sit tight; you’ll only want to tackle this trip in fair weather from around June to August.
There’s always the option to book a guided day tour to Askja, which is certainly a good idea if you are nervous about tackling the arduous roads. You will be in safe hands with a qualified Askja tour guide who knows the terrain and the conditions well.
They will also be able to share their knowledge of the area’s geological features with you. However, if you decide to take on the drive yourself, you will need a sturdy 4x4 camper. Get ready to journey along some of Iceland’s famous F-roads, which include river crossings and the like.
Driving to Askja
So, you’re up for the challenge? Well, as mentioned, you should only attempt the drive to Askja in a 4x4 vehicle. This also needs to be a pretty big 4x4 with good clearance for the river crossings..
If you are hiring a 4X4 campervan everything should be set, but check with your camper rental company first. If you have hired a regular camper van, car, or motorhome, you will need to switch up your vehicle. You can easily rent an appropriate 4x4 for a day trip and leave your regular vehicle on safer ground.
The easiest way to approach Askja is via the Northern section of the Ring Road route. First, head east from Akureyri and after passing Myvatn, take the 901 road inland.
From this easy smooth road, take a right to hit the F-roads section of the trip. This will lead you to the F-905 which you’ll stay on for about twenty kilometers. Your real driving adventure officially begins here!
From the F-905, take the F-910 for the full 62-kilometers. This is where you’ll encounter those infamous river crossings. The first one is about 5 km in and is very small, not usually marked on maps. You might also come across several fenced bridges. These can simply be opened and then closed again after you.
Do be mindful that you are staying on the right track, though. There are several forks in the road and you want to keep steadfastly to the F-910.
At the end of the road, you will arrive at a campsite. This marks the last point of civilization on your trip, so pull in and have a chat. There should be a ranger here that you can check in with. They will be able to tell you about current conditions at the volcano craters and offer further advice and information.
These guys are super knowledgeable, so do heed their advice. They are also responsible for closing any dangerous routes or walking paths, so pay good attention to any warning signs or closures.
After setting off from the campsite, you’ll head to the F-894. The drive to the trailhead is about twenty minutes, and from there you’ll be able to park up and continue on foot. The whole drive from Highway One to the trail car park should take about three hours each way.
This is a pretty long day trip to embark on, but with the Midnight Sun burning bright until late, it’s a great plan. Of course, you could also opt to camp for a night at the campsite down the road.
The hike to Askja
It goes without saying that you will need good sturdy hiking boots to hit the trail here. It is the Highlands after all, so there could be snow on the ground; go easy and take your time.
There could also be some thin ice over muddy puddles of cold water. While this is not dangerous, it’s rather unpleasant if you get wet feet so consider proper shoes beforehand.
The first crater lake you’ll come to is the beautiful, mirror-like expanse of Öskjuvatn. The Dyngjufjoll Mountains form a backdrop of the lake and to your right is little Lake Viti. The vast Askja Lake itself lies beyond.
Swimming in the Askja lakes
Both Öskjuvatn and Askja lakes are too cold for swimming and taking a dip in them would be dangerous. However, you can swim in the warmer waters of Viti.
We are not talking steaming Blue Lagoon temperatures here, but Viti is about 22 degrees at its lowest summer temperature, so it’s perfectly swimming friendly.
Bathing should be done with safety in mind, so only swim close to the edge where you can easily reach the shore. As you will have realized by now, the area is super remote, which means that any help needed could be a long time coming.
Sometimes the ranger will close the path down to the lake, causing swimming to be prohibited. In certain conditions, the sides of the crater can get very muddy and slippery. While it may look very easy to traverse down, there would be real problems getting back up the bank. Please heed this advice.
If you get the opportunity to swim in the lake, you will likely be one of just a few people there. You might even have the entire volcanic beauty to yourself! So, lie back and revel in the majesty and magic of this incredible corner of the world.
Exploring the Central Highlands further
The Central Highlands are a vast uninhabited area of Iceland. In fact, they are probably one of the last great wildernesses left in Europe.
These wild landscapes offer all sorts of bizarre phenomena and otherworldly scenes to explore. But as with Askja, two things are essential: a 4x4 vehicle and timing your visit during the summer months.
One of our favorite drives is also the most frequented. The Kjölur F-road crosses the highlands from North to South, going around the Gullfoss Waterfall area in the south to the central North.
The route passes through some truly immense volcanic landscapes, including vast lava fields. You will also go right through the Hveravellir Geothermal Area, a bubbling, steaming, water-spouting zone of mud pots and geysers. Rest assured, this road trip journey is as incredible as it sounds.
Other Iceland volcanoes to visit
If geological wonders are your thing, there are many more Iceland volcanoes to explore. Katja is one that is a brilliant example of a subsidence crater. This is the perfect sight for those interested in an adventure. But for some more easily accessible volcano viewings, you don’t have to look far.
For example, Þríhnúkagígur Volcano lies just south of Reykjavík and is the only volcano in Iceland that you can enter. Visitors can descend 120 meters down into the vast magma chamber, viewing cavern walls that are painted in bright reds and oranges from the mineral deposits in the cooled magma.
At ground level, you’ll find many more volcanoes to take in. In fact, there are approximately 132 volcanoes across 32 volcanic systems in Iceland. So, if you’re an enthusiastic volcano spotter, you’ll have your work cut out for you!
A Worthy Challenge
Summing up, visiting Askja means embarking on an adventurous challenge. Whether you decide to drive there yourself or join a guided tour, it will be a long, bumpy road ahead. However, the experience, the view, and the memories guarantee it is absolutely worth your time.
Some say difficult roads lead to amazing places, and Askja is the perfect example. So, lock your 4x4 camper rental today and start planning the trip of a lifetime!