northern iceland guide

N24 - Askja *

how to get there
Distance from Lake Mývatn ~ 140 km (89 mi)

From Mývatn take route 1 and head east, then turn to F88. At the very end of the road, the F88 continues as F910. The cross-country road is difficult, therefore it’s quite impossible to predict how much time it will take driving. But allocate the whole day for the trip.
Askja is an active volcano with two crater lakes - milky white Víti and emerald Öskjuvatn. Each of these lakes is unique and of particular interest.

Askja Caldera is an amazing place that boasts of an unearthly beautiful lunar surface. It is no coincidence that the place was used during training for the Apollo program in the ’60s.

If you happen to be in the area, don’t miss your chance to visit this place that looks like another planet and photograph its unusual landscapes.

The volcano Askja, 1516 m (4974 ft) above sea level, is located in the Vatnajökull National Park. The volcano comprises different types of rocks, such as pumice and tuff, densely powdered with ash.

The last eruption occurred relatively recently, in 1961, and did not do much damage. However, a century earlier, in 1875, the volcanic eruption was incredibly powerful and destructive. The eruption, which lasted a few weeks, produced billows of volcanic ash that covered the whole island and resulted in the formation of a smaller 4.5-km-wide caldera (2.8 mi), now filled by Öskjuvatn lake. At the time, residents of nearby settlements were forced to leave their homes and move to other cities, away from volcanic activity.

Öskjuvatn lake is the deepest in the country with its depth of over 220 meters (722 ft). Lake Víti, which was also formed in eruption, is much smaller.

The smooth round shape of Öskjuvatn and its phantasmagorical emerald color is quite spectacular. You can walk along the entire perimeter of the caldera, but the route is not short and spreads over 8 kilometers (5 mi) in length.

The turquoise colored Víti rests among the orange-red rocks like a jewel in a box. Once warm, it cooled down over time. The width of the Víti crater is 100 meters (328 ft), the depth is about 7 (23 ft). There’s a sulfur stench near the lake that adds to the Víti’s hellish appearance, which is exactly how the name translates from Icelandic -- “hell.”

You can descend to the hellishly beautiful lake from the eastern slope, and if you wish, dip your foot into its milky, pale blue waters.

This milky color is pertinent to many volcanic water bodies in Iceland due to the strong concentration of silicate minerals.

You’ll also notice fumaroles on the Viti slope emitting hot gases. Gas bubbles rise from the bottom of the lake, turning it into a natural jacuzzi.

The lava plateau Ódáðahraun, on which Mount Askja resides, is located in the very center of the island, far from civilization. The area is absolutely devoid of vegetation, a geological phenomenon of the so-called “center of emptiness.”

You can only reach this place by driving 4x4 and caring provisions such as spare tires and fuel. It takes a long time driving here, so if you can, stay overnight.

Near the highlands, there is a campsite Dreki with a kitchen, toilet, shower, and tents.