Taking on the Ring Road at the Edge of Summer
We took off from Reykjavik in our Renault Kangoo that we rented from Rent.is on a sunny Monday afternoon in mid-May. After much searching through the various camper companies in Iceland, we found we didn’t want to be nickel and dimed for all the accessories, and were so happy to see that Rent.is includes all the necessities in the rental: free WiFi, sleeping bags and pillows, a camp stove and dishes, and a camp table and chairs, and the much-needed interior heater that we used as much for drying our gear as for staying warm throughout the night. There was a comfy mattress in the back that made seven nights of camping much more tolerable.
Our first stop on our ring road itinerary was the Golden Circle outside Reykjavik, and we were able to fit all three sites in and get to our campground near Geysir before dusk. We even caught a rainbow at Gullfoss! It doesn’t ever get fully dark in Iceland in May, so we found it easy to push our sightseeing until late evening to maximize our itinerary.
The rain started that evening as we were making dinner outside our camper, and we had to quickly finish up and stow our table and dishes in the camper’s easy storage areas before snuggling in for the night. Luckily, most of Iceland’s campgrounds have great covered kitchen areas so we were able to prepare our meals and our coffee most mornings without being as affected to the rain and wind.
Our second day on the road found us heading southeast in more rain towards Vik, checking out the thundering waterfall Skógafoss as our first stop. Mist was covering the tops of the mountains along the coastal road, but we were able to see green cliffs with waterfalls tumbling down around every bend. We braved the rain to hike up over the falls. We made use of our camper’s interior heater to dry our gear after a very wet hike! That evening in Vik, we went the public pool for a shower and sauna, a great way to dry out and warm up.
The next morning with mercifully better weather, we set out for a long day of sightseeing, first stopping at Reynisfjara black sand beach to check out the basalt columns. We saw puffins nesting in the rocks above, and an Icelandic couple braving the chill to take wedding photos on the beach!
We drove east, stopping in moss-covered lava fields that reminded us of a moonscape and then marveling at the vast black volcanic sand flats, or sandur, on Iceland’s southern coast. Our favorite stop of the trip thus far was at Skaftafell, part of a national park where we did a great five-mile hike to catch a view of the massive Skaftafelljökull glacier as it reaches the sea. We looped around to witness my favorite waterfall of the trip, Svartifoss, and its horizontal basalt column backdrop.
Our last stop of the day was at Jökulsárlón, the peaceful glacier bay right off the ring road with blue chunks of ice floating in the water. We trekked to the beach on the other side of the highway bridge to catch the sparkling ice chunks on the volcanic sand before driving to the campgrounds in Höfn for the evening.
Thursday was dedicated to the East fjords, and we caught the most impactful views of the whole trip driving down into Seyðisfjörður, an adorable artsy town on the eastern coast. We stopped for a Viking beer in town and then drove up to Borgafjörður Eystri and spent the evening mesmerized by the puffins and other seabirds nesting in the outcropping of cliffs at the edge of the fjord. We camped there that evening, taking a walk through town to a historic turf house at 10:00 PM because we still had great light.
The next day found us heading towards Lake Mývatn in Northern Iceland, and we explored the stinky geothermal areas with the bubbling sulfuric pools before trekking up the Hverfjall crater to catch a view of the area. That afternoon, we explored the lava formations at Dimmuborgir nearby, before heading up the hills towards the Mývatn Nature baths, a cheaper Blue Lagoon alternative that has great views and lovely amenities. After braving the freezing jog from the locker areas towards the pools, we spent a few hours soaking and enjoying the sauna to cap off a great day of exploring.
Leaving Mývatn, we stopped at Goðafoss, yet another impactful roadside waterfall, before spending an afternoon in North Iceland’s largest town Akureyri. We enjoyed the town’s botanical gardens and beautifully designed café. That afternoon, our camper took us around Tröllaskagi, or Troll peninsula, exploring the northern fjords and a series of long mountain tunnels connecting the small coastal towns. We stopped at the northernmost tip of Troll Peninsula to commemorate being as far north towards the arctic circle as we would be on probably in our whole lives.
We explored the northern coast near Hvammstangi the next morning, running into lots of Icelandic sheep and spotting some seals off the coast before heading south towards our final stop, Snæfellsnes peninsula. The rain had started again, but we braved a short sprint toward secret roadside hot springs off route 54, the pool barely big enough for the two of us. We braved the rain and wind to watch seabirds along the southern cliffs and camped that evening in Ólafsvik, with its gorgeous campsite among the cliffs outside town.
Our final morning in Iceland was beautiful and sunny for our drive to Stykkishólmur, where we did a short walk up to the lighthouse overlooking the largest fjord in Iceland. After enjoying some delicious pastries at the local bakery, our camper sped us back towards Reykjavik, where we dropped it off in Keflavik and got a quick shuttle to the airport.
We didn’t luck out with the weather every day, but found that traveling in May has its perks: fewer crowds and more space at campgrounds, sunlight until the wee hours of the morning, and of course, puffin nesting season!
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