markarfljotsgljufur

Day 6 – Hidden hot spring, Canyon and Road

Day 6 – Hidden hot spring, Canyon and Road

Hidden hot spring. Hidden canyon. Hidden gem. Everybody wants to see this hidden place for himself. And logically, there’s a huge debate on what “hidden” nowadays actually means. Some argue that once you write about it, it’s not hidden anymore. That’s why I don’t like the word hidden at all. Let’s say the places we write about are hard to access. And that’s why, for most of the tourists, they are “hidden”.

map of fjallabak highlands

Map of our day around Fjallabak highlands

Rainy forecast and planning

The third day in a row forecast showed rain almost everywhere in the south and around the places we planned to visit. Once again, we had to alter our plans and chase the only remaining spots of good weather. If you are interested in how we do it, feel free to read our piece about finding a good weather in Iceland.

The forecast showed considerable rain at all the places which remained on our to-do list and even at all my back-up options. So, we basically had the following options:

  1. Drive and hike in a considerable rain and most likely also fog with no visibility – No.
  2. Make it a hot spring day in hot springs we had already visited in the past and around the pretty touristy and accessible southern region – No.
  3. Stay inside, go for restaurants, cafes, museums etc. – No.
  4. Do short hikes and go see waterfalls – we’d already done all we wanted in the south – No.
  5. Go for the only spot where the forecast showed only a little rain, although we’d already been around that area, highlands around F261 and F210OK!
hella cabin iceland

Our cabin between Hella and Hekla volcano

Our friend Haraldur gave us an insider tip to go see the very remote and picturesque highlands hot spring called Strutslaug, located exactly in this area. We couldn’t make it to Strutslaug on Day 2 of our trip, because we already had a pretty packed schedule and Haraldur told us it’s roughly a 4-hour hike roundtrip. This time it looked like the most plausible option – if it rains, at least we can soak in the hot spring. And let’s go for some adventure!

I also wanted to see Markarfljotslgjufur canyon from the west and if we had enough time and favorable weather, maybe also to drive the entire Hungurfit track. We had already driven the first part of the Hungurfit track on Day 2 and it was amazing (although really scary at times). So, this was the plan 🙂

F261 from west to east

f261 Emstruleið iceland

F261 Emstruleið

The forecast was indeed right. We left our cabin near Hekla and it was raining. It was raining also all the way towards F261. But once we got on F261, like a miracle, it just stopped raining and the skies even seemed to clear! Once, again – chase the weather 🙂

The western part of F261 basically leads through the other bank of the Krossá river and you are able to see the Thorsmork area and F249 well from it. This part contains a lot of big gravel and the drive has to be slow and not very comfortable. The scenery is beautiful as always, although, for me, F210 was even more picturesque. This may, however, be due to the effect that we had seen F210 first 🙂

einhyrningur f261 iceland

Einhyrningur mountain next to F261 road Emstruleið

F261 near F210 is composed of big gravel and some steep sections so you have to drive slowly. F261 doesn’t contain any major river crossings, only Blafjalakvisl in the end (next to F210). Blafjalakvisl is considered to be a medium river crossing. At the time of our visit, this area was pretty dry and the water level in the rivers low, so it was pretty easy to cross the river. It’s definitely possible to drive F261 also in SUV like Dacia Duster, although I cannot imagine how uncomfortable it has to be. We recommend Land Cruiser and bigger.

Markarfljotsgljufur canyon from the west

markarfljostgljufur canyon west and east access

Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon west and east access

Near the end of F261, there’s a dirt track leading right as a detour from F261. It’s a detour to the western viewpoint of Markarfljotsgljufur canyon. We wrote about driving to Markarfljotsgljufur from the east here. The dirt track towards Markarfljot canyon is in pretty bad conditions, with some sharp stones all over the road. It’s also steep and narrow at some spots. However, it’s quite short. That being said, if you don’t feel like driving it, it’s also possible to simply hike/walk it.

markarfljotsgljufur canyon west view

Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon from the west viewpoint

The dirt track ends at a flat-ground spot considered to be sort of a car park. There was a group of 3 jeeps driving the track right in front of us, so we all left our 4 cars at this parking spot. There’s a sign pointing to the left (north) with the name “Markarfljotsgljufur” and a walking sign, indicating a hiking trail. However, there’s no clear trail anywhere. Definitely not a marked one.

We managed to find a not very well visible path and follow it. However, this was a real challenge given that it simply disappeared from time to time. We took special care not to walk through any moss or other parts of the fragile nature and managed to somehow always connect to the well-trodden path. The unmarked trail mostly leads along the edge of the canyon.

markarfljotsgljufur canyon west trail

Hard to find the western trail of Markarfljotsgljufur canyon

At this point you are already able to see some parts of the canyon, which is stunningly beautiful, however, you cannot see it in its entirety, because getting to the edge is simply too dangerous. There are no ropes, or barriers to prevent you from falling so you have to be very careful. We walked along the edge of the canyon towards the north for about 20-30 minutes when the path suddenly completely ended. The canyon widened and branched towards left and right at that point. I think the path was supposed to continue to the left (west) but we didn’t follow it anymore and rather turned back.

Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon iceland west

Amazing rock formations of the Markarfljotsgljufur canyon in Icelandic highlands

In the beginning, we also met a group of jeep travelers, who we realized were from Switzerland. They told us they didn’t manage to find any trail and came back to their cars. Luckily, we seemed to find a much bigger part of the trail than they did. Views along the path were beautiful, but they were definitely more stunning from the eastern viewpoint. So, if I chose to visit the Markarfljotsgljufur canyon again, I would definitely go for the eastern viewpoint only.

Strútur track

To get to the Strutur dirt track, you have to first ford the Blafjalakvisl river at the end of F261. We wrote more about F261 here and also in our List of F-roads. Then you have to drive a considerable part of F210 all the way towards Maelifell. We wrote about driving the F210 towards Maelifell here. Coming from the west of F210, right before the majestic Maelifell, there’s a turn left for the dirt track with the sign “Strútur hut”. That’s exactly where we turned this time.

Beware, the Strútur tracks we drove are just dirt tracks. Not even F-roads. This means they are even harder to drive than F-roads. Always check with your rental company if it allows for such roads, choose your car wisely and study the roads in advance. Mostly only super jeeps are allowed to drive the dirt tracks.

strutur track to strutslaug map

Strútur track to Strútslaug map

The dirt track towards Strútur hut (and Strútslaug hiking point) was a beautiful, totally remote track accompanied by many sheep, river streams, and tons of lush green moss. We drove in a cloudy weather and light drizzle, which made the specific lunar atmosphere of the place even stronger.

The Strutur track is not very long but you have to drive through multiple small to medium-sized river streams. The only spot which seemed terrifying at the first glance was a drive literally through the river for a hundred of meters. We reached the spot where the normal road simply ended and we couldn’t see any road, not even in the distance. Just yellow sticks in the river which led into the river and along the river bed (not to the other side of the river as usually).

strutur track to strutslaug

Strutur track to Strutslaug in a foggy weather

We had already driven through the length of the river bed at that point, during our drive via F210, but that was just a very shallow stream. Here the river already had some depth, I would consider it a medium-sized river crossing, but not just crossing, but rather river driving 🙂 There was no current, though and the river looked calm. I examined the river thoroughly and thanks to its calmness I could even see the bottom of the river bed which looked firm and even. The same was true for the rest of the river – at least as far as I could see.

The yellow sticks were located along the right bank, which looked slightly deeper than the left bank. But, I had already realized in the past – the sticks are there for some reason! Don’t try to be smarter than Icelandic rangers. It usually doesn’t end well 🙂 Thus, I came back inside our Land Cruiser, turned on 4×4, low-gear and locked the differential, and drove slowly along the right bank. The crossing was pretty exciting because we were virtually driving in the river for some time, but otherwise, it went smoothly.

As far as I remember, there were maybe 1 or 2 more river crossings but none of them were that big. Soon we arrived close to the Strutur hut on our left, which looked lovely in the surroundings full of moss. There was a wooden sign pointing at several available trails from this point. We aimed at Strutslaug, naturally – this was the trail to the right.

Soon we realized, the trail is actually the road with very clear and well-trodden tracks. Hence we got back into our car and drove 1 more kilometer through this right detour and arrived at the little car park with another wooden sign pointing at different trails. This was the end of the Strutur dirt track. We left our car here and began our hike towards Strutslaug.

Strútslaug hot spring

hidden strutslaug car park

See that little white thing? That’s our car at the improvised Strutslaug car park

The hiking trail towards Strútslaug is roughly 5 kilometers long, not difficult at all, and it took us around 1.5 hours to finish it at a normal pace. It leads through nice valleys full of moss and along river streams. To hike to Strutslaug is a nice way to experience Icelandic highlands, even for families. The hike is pretty easy, just a bit long, but it doesn’t have any steep or exposed passages. It’s basically a walk through the moss valleys. Up until the last meters we were not sure where the end of the trail actually is. The Strutslaug itself is not well visible from the distance.

strutslaug hiking trail iceland

Beautiful Strútslaug hiking trail full of vivid green colors

When we arrived, we were very surprised not to be completely alone there. One hiker had been already there, setting up his tent in the area. After a short talk, he told us he was from the Netherlands, doing a walk all the way from Akureyri towards Hella, only via highlands and camping along the way. Brave guy 🙂 If it wasn’t for this adventurer, we would be definitely alone at Strutslaug.

There’s no changing cabin at Strutslaug. Anyway, we looked very much forward to bathing in Strutslaug, because the weather was very moody, with completely clouded skies and light drizzle throughout our entire hike. We put a bag on the wet ground, changed our clothes, covered them with waterproof clothes, and ran for the hot spring.

strutslaug hot spring hike

Surroundings of the Strútslaug hiking trail

Strutslaug is a pretty big natural hot spring that could easily welcome tens of visitors. I guess it’s never really full, given its total remoteness. It’s also pleasantly hot, with a water temperature of around 40°C according to my (non) professional estimate. It’s a very surreal and pleasant bathing experience in the middle of the total nowhere. One of my favorite Icelandic hot springs.

hidden strutslaug hot pot

A really surreal place. This is a hidden hot spring Strútslaug

After soaking up in Strutslaug for about an hour, we hiked back to our car, drove back via Strutur track to Maelifell and then drove back via western F210 to F261. We crossed Blafjalaskvisl again and were deciding whether to go for one more adventure or not. Of course, we went 🙂 I persuaded my wife to drive the entire Hungurfit track.

Crazy Hungurfit track

We had already driven around one-third of the Hungurfit track on Day 2 of our highlands trip. It was very difficult, yet also amazingly stunning. As we already wrote about here, the first part of the Hungurfit track consists of narrow and steep passages and uneven gravel ground. You definitely need at least a big 4×4 to drive it, but we rather do recommend a superjeep, to be sure to drive it safely. Our friend Haraldur told us, our raised 33” Land Cruiser with snorkel was just about a minimum requirement for the Hungurfit track 🙂

Beware, the Hungurfit tracks we drove are just dirt tracks. Not even F-roads. This means they are even harder to drive than F-roads. Always check with your rental company if it allows for such roads, choose your car wisely and study the roads in advance. Mostly only super jeeps are allowed to drive the dirt tracks.

hungurfit track iceland narrow pass

This is the legendary spot on the Hungurfit track. Many call it “impassable” 🙂

Left or right?

After the first part, you arrive at the main crossroad of the Hungurfit track. The left part leads through the amazing area full of river streams, many small river crossings, and a legendary place where you drive between two very close huge stone boulders. The right part leads through more steep and mountainous terrain with bigger holes and uneven ground and slopes, but no river crossings. For me it was an easy choice – I definitely wanted to drive again through the river crossing area. This river crossing area at the Hungurfit track was one of the most beautiful remote places I’ve seen in Iceland.

After finishing driving through the river streams area, we arrived at the crossroads which connect the two main detours (left and right) at their other endpoint. Afterwards the road continues into the steep hill and as far as I remember there were two paths available – one steeper but with better ground and one less steep but with big holes and worse terrain. I don’t remember which route we chose, but none of them was easy. We had to drive very slowly, though steadily with all our 4×4 assistants turned on and yet still the drive was scary and at times we really felt our 33” Land Cruiser drives on the edge of its capabilities. But we made it.

hungurfit track river crossings

Many small to medium river crossings are an amazing part of the Hungurfit track

Although it started to get darker already (and thus much scarier) the views along the road were amazingly beautiful and one of their kind. The surrounding landscapes were breathtaking. This drive’s gonna stay long in my memories 🙂 There are different kinds of steep and narrow terrains, ascents, descents and even a drive in very narrow and deep tracks which you have to exactly follow meter by meter to not get yourself bumped away out of this world. We had thought this was the worst. No, it wasn’t 🙂

River crossing

We arrived at the pretty fast flowing river, which didn’t look shallow at all. And the crossing was wide. This was the point where I was seriously considering turning back even with our 33” Land Cruiser with snorkel. I simply didn’t feel like wading this river nor by walking through it first, it just looked dangerous. And I didn’t know anything about it. No cars in the radius of a hundred of miles maybe. I contemplated a little and then I decided for the most rational option – to put on my wading socks, take my hiking poles and attempt to wade the river firstly by foot very very carefully.

After getting into the river I realized the current wasn’t as strong as I had thought and also the river wasn’t as deep as I had thought, so I was able to get almost to the middle of the crossing. At that point I pretty much knew our Land Cruiser should be able to make it. I came back to our car, turned on all the 4×4 support systems (low gear, differential lock) and went slowly for the crossing exactly in the way I waded by foot. And the crossing went well! To not look too brave – we (and I) were still scared as hell when doing the crossing 🙂 but we had made all the rational precautions to ensure that we should be able to make it.

Ascents and descents

So, the worst part behind us. Or no? Not really. Soon we arrived at the top of the steep descent with the Hungurfit hut already visible in the far distance in front of us. This had signaled we should be nearing the final part of the road. The descent didn’t look that bad only because of the steep slope. The main problem was the quality of the track – big sharp stones stuck out every few meters from the ground followed usually by even bigger holes – and all of this in a steep descent.

hungurfit f-road iceland

Surroundings of the Hungurfit track are also amazingly beautiful

There was actually a crossroad at this point with the left and the right track both ending at the same point. None of the tracks looked attractive, though. We eventually chose the right track. It was already almost dark and the descent again tested the abilities of our Land Cruiser hugely. We successfully avoided the biggest holes and sharpest stones and got successfully to the end of this passage.

The rest of the road was thankfully much easier. I remember one more river crossing which was shallow, thus without any problems. After driving next to the Hungurfit hut we finally arrived at the junction with F210, turned left and headed towards west end of F210. Still an hour of driving via F210, now completely in the dark. Interesting experience. However, we had already driven via this part of F210 on Day 2 of our trip, so we knew it should be OK and it was.

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Day 2 – Fjallabak highlands in the South

Day 2 – Fjallabak highlands in the South

The weather slowly started to get cloudier and rainier in the south so we had to pick our next destinations really carefully. Our accommodation was near Hella, so there were still plenty of options to go at. One of the areas where the weather was supposed to be nice (i.e. not rainy and hopefully not foggy) was the Fjallabak nature highlands reserve. Fjallabak, i.e. the area around roads F210 and F261 was on the top of our list anyway, so it was an easy choice for Day 2 of our Highlands trip.

If you ask a typical tourist if they have visited Fjallabak reserve already, they would probably give you a weird look asking something like “what is Fjallabak reserve?”. And that’s exactly one of the reasons why we definitely wanted to visit Fjallabak roads 🙂 Not many people tend to go there. The reason is, it’s not that easy to find information about beautiful places over the Fjallabak and last but not least it’s not so easy to get there. You definitely need a good car for that. And still, almost every tourist surely has visited Fjallabak once, because that’s where also famous Landmannalaugar is located.

F261 near markarfljotsgljufur

F261 near Markarfljotsgljufur canyon

Highlands of Southern Iceland

Our plan for the day was to drive the road F210 starting from the west (Hella side), stop at Alftavatn campsite/lake, and admire the surroundings of the magnificent F210. Next, if the weather and road conditions allowed, we planned to drive to legendary Maelifell and if we had enough time and courage, also to Rauðibotn. Raudibotn is a remote place away from all of the tourists, hard to access, yet stunningly beautiful. At least that’s what I managed to find out from scarce sources beforehand. To get there, however, you need to cross Holmsá river, which can get really dangerous at times, so we left it as an optional activity if the crossing looked safe only.

Then we planned to come back via F210 around Maelifell to go see Markarfljotsgljufur canyon, which was said to be one of the most beautiful, yet still pretty hidden. Then, if we still had some time a friend of mine suggested an adventurous 4×4 track leading north in between F261 and F210 to Hungurfit hut. He said our (slightly) modified Land Cruiser should be just enough to drive the route. Our friend also mentioned to us a really remote hot spring – Strutslaug – but we saved that one for another day. Yes, a very packed day, but still pretty flexible, because we could basically cancel any activity if it seemed undoable. And that’s what everyone should plan for I think – anything should be cancellable, just in case.

How to get to Fjallabak – F210 and F261

No, there’s no bus here, such as one in Thorsmork. The only way to get to F210 is taking a guided tour (expensive option) or driving there by yourself (a time-consuming option demanding planning, experience, and driving skills). We naturally opted for the second option.

F210 west Keldur Alftavatn

F210 (Fjallabaksleid sydri) between Keldur and Alftavatn

Most of the F210 is without bigger river crossings, so in case of the good weather, even if you don’t feel like doing bigger river crossings, you may try to drive it in proper 4×4 (ideally Land Cruiser or bigger, see our guide on how to choose a proper car for Iceland) – up to Alftavatn mountain hut. Up to Alftavatn hut, the road is just bumpy, with potholes and some steep sections, but really picturesque and one of my most favorite Icelandic roads. You will get amazing views in each direction – seeing Landmannalaugar from the distance and a big part of Fjallabak park. 

1. F210 west to Alftavatn

F210 west near Keldur

F210 west near Keldur

Even until Alftavatn, you will still have to cross several smaller streams, and even drive in the riverbed for around 100 meters! This is really one of the “once in a lifetime” experiences, for anyone not used to it (yes, maybe not for Icelanders ;). As I mentioned, the road leads through multiple mountainous areas, so if you are unsure about driving in such an environment, please don’t go. Once you pass Alftavatn, the first real obstacle gets into your path – crossing the Kaldaklofskvisl river.

Kaldaklofskvisl crossing on F210 can get tricky at times because there are some large boulders in the river which you are unable to see beforehand. Secondly, the water level in the river may get too high to allow for safe crossing in vehicles not big enough. It’s always necessary to strictly adhere to all the river crossing rules, watch someone cross before you, wade the river yourself if feeling unsure, and if still feeling unsure better turn back.

kaldaklofskvisl river crossing

Kaldaklofskvísl river crossing

2. Alftavatn

We had a nice partially cloudy/partially sunny weather, luckily with no fog and no rain. We already knew from our friends and from the day before, that the water level in rivers is favorably low and rivers are shallower than usually. These are practically one of the best conditions possible. Hence, we drove F210 all the way to Alftavatn lake. The road was admiringly beautiful. The part I liked the most was the highest spot just before Alftavatn, where you could see all the surrounding land, including Landmannalaugar in the distance, almost from the “bird’s eye” point of view.

alftavatn lake iceland

Álftavatn lake

We took a short break at Alftavatn lake, which is a very nice, calm, and quiet spot to stop at and have a picnic or short stay during nice weather. We were lucky enough that exactly after our arrival at Alftavatn the sun started to fight its way between the clouds and we could even walk in the T-shirt outside.

3. F210 east towards Maelifell

F210 after Alftavatn then continues to two directions – south towards F261 and east towards Maelifell and Holmsa river. Since our journey went smooth up to this point, we definitely wanted to take a detour towards Maelifell and so we did. We turned left on the eastern part of F210. Here’s where the truly lunar landscapes have begun to emerge.

F210 Fjallabaksleid Sydri east to Maelifell

F210 Fjallabaksleid Sydri east to Maelifell

F210 towards Maelifell is definitely one of the most unique Icelandic roads. Firstly, the weather almost always changes when driving on this road. F210 towards Maelifellsandur literally feels like a gateway towards another world, thanks to this. Secondly, the road itself is very specific – it starts with huge boulders and continues as a black sand road. And it’s almost always covered with some kind of mist – either light or heavy. Huge boulders are the most difficult part of F210 towards Maelifell. The road doesn’t have a clearly visible track, and if you don’t take enough care, you may damage the underside of your car.

Read our guide on how to choose the best car rental insurance for Iceland.

After basically driving on huge stone-plates rather than an ordinary road, the route turns into tracks in the black sand. Oftentimes expect it to be wet and muddy because this is the area where it may rain occasionally. This part of the road doesn’t have any huge obstacles, nor rivers, so it looks like a giant moon highway. There are no more river crossings going from Kaldaklofskvisl to Maelifell. If you are the only car on the road (which is frequently the case, as with us) then your only guides are the tracks in the sand and yellow sticks marking the side of the road. 

4. Maelifell

After a drive in the middle of a black-sand-nowhere, you will be able to spot majestic Maelifellsandur in the distance. If you are lucky enough, and Mr. Maelifell is not covered in fog – which he likes to do – your view will be truly amazing. As I already mentioned, the weather usually changes to worse after turning towards Maelifell. This was exactly our case (multiple times). This time it, however, only changed to cloudy with occasional little rain – which is still considered good weather.

maelifell iceland

Maelifell in Fjallabak nature reserve

Finally, after an adventurous drive – there it stood – Maelifell volcano. It’s a view as if you were on a deserted planet. A huge green volcano in front of you, surrounded by the black sand fields, with occasional little lakes created by past rain and absolute silence in the air. It’s even possible to climb the Maelifell, but we don’t recommend doing that unless you are really experienced in performing steep, unmarked hikes unless there’s ideal weather and ideally only with a guide. We didn’t go for the hike as it may be really dangerous (and the view from above wouldn’t be great in partially foggy weather).

5. F210 east towards Raudibotn

We still had enough time at that point of the day, because everything went pretty smoothly. Thus, we decided to take a look at the Holmsa river crossing with an aim of seeing Raudibotn – the beautiful hidden (from a typical tourist) area with a crater, river, and amazing landscapes all around. After reaching Maelifell, we continued east and we soon arrived at Holmsá river crossing. According to a friend of mine, the crossing was supposed to be doable, without problems, at this time of the year (especially due to low water levels). Beware, this is the river crossing which may get pretty nasty. Always check both beforehand and on-site.

holmsa river crossing f210

Holmsá river crossing at F210

The crossing looked exactly like my friend Haraldur described it – this time harmless. I examined the river anyway and it looked calm and shallow. Because of this, we decided to go for a ford even without wading the river on foot. And the crossing went smoothly. There’s a small hill with the road, usually easy to spot on your left after the Holmsa crossing. The road ends soon at the improvised clay car park for a few cars. There was only one car other than us already parking at the spot. We just saw a crew of this car in the distance when arriving at the place and they were apparently heading back, so we decided to wait on them and ask about the route.

6. Rauðibotn highlands

In spite of having read already about the place, it wasn’t very clear from that article where to proceed. It was also unclear if it’s possible to make a round trip (via different trails) or just to use the same way there and back. Thirdly, it wasn’t clear how much time should we devote to the entire trip. Once the group, which turned out to be the French family, came back, I asked them if it is worth making the hike, to which they immediately replied “Yes, it’s stunning”.

The second thing I asked was how long it takes to do the hike. They replied “3 hours”, although I’m not completely sure they understood me because in reality, the little hike took us much less – around 1,5 hours. My last question was if they had done the roundtrip via 2 different routes. The answer I got was “no, I don’t think so unless you want to climb up to the volcano”. OK, thanks, some useful info 🙂

raudibotn parking

Rauðibotn parking

Raudibotn trail

The trail towards Rauðibotn starts as a steep quad-bike track (I wonder who had driven up this steep hill, I wouldn’t…). It then turns right down the hill towards the picturesque green valley surrounded by a river, a volcano hill, and a lot of moss. Speaking of moss – please really do your best to NOT step on it – it takes ages for it to grow again and sometimes it will even not grow anymore. As we found it a bit difficult to orientate in the area, we put together a simple map of Raudibotn for you:

raudibotn map f210 holmsa

Map of Rauðibotn

The trail is not marked. The only way how to follow the trail is to look for the tracks, which are, however, most of the time easy to find. An entire area has an amazing lunar charm, where you once again really feel like on another planet. This time one which is greener and filled with a lot of water. After roughly 30 minutes of following the trail, we arrived at the beautiful crater where the mist literally traveled up and down in the air. In the background, there was an amazingly red crater and the entire place was really pretty and definitely worth visiting. Even in cloudy and partially foggy weather which we experienced.

Rauðibotn waterfalls

Raudibotn waterfalls

At that point, we tried to discover whether it’s possible to come back via a different route or not. The article I had read mentioned that in order to do that you need to ford the river – but the river didn’t look fordable at all – the current looked too strong. Even when looking at the map, there didn’t seem to be an option to ford the river. Thus, we concluded – no ford – only the same way back.

The road, however, continues further next to the river all the way towards Strutslaug hot spring area. So, if you are into remote hiking and if you have enough time (and can somehow plan it all) feel free to proceed even further.

raudibotn volcano crater

Rauðibotn volcano crater

After shortly examining the road further in the direction of Strutslaug (i.e. the one leading next to big lake), we turned back and arrived at our car park via the same trail. And yet, the day still had not ended for us. One of the last stops I planned for the day was located on the way back, near the southern part of F210. Hence, next, we drove back through Holmsa crossing, next to Maelifellsandur, and back to the F210 crossroads. On the crossroads, we turned left and headed towards our next stop – Markarfljotsgljufur canyon.

7. F210 south to Markarfljotsgljufur canyon

There are two major river crossings on the F210-F261 roundtrip. The first one is the Kaldaklofskvisl river, after Alftavatn and the second one is the Blafjallakvisl river further down F210 to the south (after not turning towards Maelifell at the crossroads). Our friend Haraldur told us that if we succeed in crossing Kaldaklofskvisl, then Blafjallakvisl will be easy, because it’s a smaller crossing.

blafjallakvisl river crossing f261

Bláfjallakvísl river crossing at f261

You can watch how we crossed the Blafjallakvisl river at F261 here. And we crossed it the wrong way. You may see in the video how our car struggled in the middle of the crossing, splashing a huge amount of water. This is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Luckily, our Land Cruiser has survived without any damage thanks to snorkel and high ground clearance. What happened here was that we, firstly, went too fast (overconfidence maybe?) and, secondly, probably took the wrong path. The river bed was very uneven and we fell into the deeper part with our car. All of this could have been avoided, had we waded the river by foot beforehand.

After crossing Blafjallakvisl, we headed towards the Emstrur hut to see the Markarfljotsgljufur canyon from the eastern side.

How to get to Markarfljotsgljufur canyon

There are two ways to get to the Markarfljotsgljufur – from the west and from the east. A little warning in the beginning – neither of the roads leading there is easy. On Day 2 of our trip, we decided to take the eastern route, from the Emstrur side. On Day 5, on the other hand, we decided to see Markarfljotsgljufur canyon from the west. This is the map of Markarfljotsgljufur canyon access roads and the way we took:

markarfljotsgljufur canyon map

Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon map and roads

Beware, the Emstrur tracks we drove are just dirt tracks. Not even F-roads. This means they are even harder to drive than F-roads. Always check with your rental company if it allows for such roads, choose your car wisely and study the roads in advance. Mostly only super jeeps are allowed to drive the dirt tracks.

When taking the eastern route, you have to make a detour from F210 towards Emstrur hut. There are actually two different paths – the northern one and the southern one. We took the northern one on our way there and the southern one on our way back. Both were pretty scary even in our (slightly) modified Land Cruiser. The northern route leads primarily to the Emstrur hut. It’s a steep gravel road where you have to drive very slowly, in a low gear, with 4×4 turned on, and beware of any mistakes like hitting the big stones.

emstrur track to markarfljotsgljufur

Emstrur track (northern part) to Markarfljotsgljufur

When looking at the map, the Markarfljotsgljufur canyon was supposed to be located right to us, but we weren’t able to see any detour leading there. So we ended up parking our car at the Emstrur campsite. We were the only car with tires smaller than 40” there, and the locals gave us some curious looks (apparently not many travelers come here by car, and most of the time locals only). We asked at the hut where to proceed to see the canyon. They advised us we should come back a little by car, leave the car there and then follow the hiking trail by foot. We did exactly as we were advised.

There’s a little wooden sign saying “canyon”, not very well visible, which we apparently missed. Next to the sign, there’s a place to park a few cars, so we left ours there (as the only car). We continued by walking. It takes around 10 minutes to reach the edge of the canyon. And hell, the walk is completely worth it 🙂

Markarfljotsgljufur canyon from the east

I’m not sure if this is the biggest canyon in Iceland but it definitely looked like it. Seeing Markarfljotsgljufur was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which cannot even compare to seeing over-touristy Fjadrargljufur canyon or other similar places. At least for us.

markarfljotsgljufur east viewpoint

East viewpoint of Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon

Surprisingly we were not alone here, with maybe 2 or 3 other couples admiring the place. The reason is simple – Emstrur hut serves as a shelter along the famous Laugavegur trail. At the time we reached the canyon, it was already time when most of the hikers had already arrived at the hut and were spending their late afternoons doing this little hike towards Markarfljotsgljufur.

The views from the edge of the canyon are more than just stunning. It’s also possible to hike along the edge of the canyon. Take great care though, this place doesn’t have any ropes or barriers to keep you safe from falling off the giant cliffs. The biggest plus of Markarfljotsgljufur is definitely its remoteness, which means you definitely won’t meet many fellow tourists here.

How to get from Markarfljotsgljufur

As I already mentioned above, to get to or from Markarfljotsgljufur from the eastern side, you may use two roads – both detours from F210. One northern and one southern. We used northern detour to get there and southern detour to get back. However, if you don’t have a huge car and you don’t like damaged roads, I don’t recommend you to take the southern one.

Southern detour is an old broken track leading towards Hattgilsskáli hut. I don’t remember any major river crossing, but I definitely do remember a track in some bad condition. This southern detour from Emstrur-Botnár is a short, yet pretty intense, steep, and difficult to drive track. Broken stones and boulders are all around the track and huge holes meet you at every corner. At one point my wife was so scared she simply got off the car and continued by walking (and shooting my drive ^^).

Once you reach the highest point of the track, the steep descent follows, once again with some huge holes which cannot be avoided, because the track is narrow and there’s a hill on your left side and steep fall on the right side. Yes, this track from Emstrur is definitely doable in a proper car and with proper skills, but it’s not a very pleasant experience, I wouldn’t take it again. At one point our 33” Land Cruiser had two wheels in the air and I felt like this is the edge of what this car can make and I shouldn’t push further.

Anyway, with some slow driving and checking the track frequently we eventually made it back to F210 and still had some spare hours, even though the dark was getting close. I persuaded my wife to try at least for a while the track our friend Haraldur recommended to us, the track towards Hungurfit hut.

9. Highlands around Hungurfit track

Some tour guides say they will take you to impassable places and this is exactly one of these places 🙂 Please don’t even try without enough experience in 4×4 driving, steep hills, narrow roads, and river crossings. And preferably a super jeep, or at least a Land Cruiser-like vehicle. Our friend was right, though, and the track towards Hungurfit hut is definitely one of the most exciting (and difficult) tracks I’ve driven in Iceland. For the shortage of time, we decided to drive only less than half of it – the circular round trip. However, in the following days, I decided to come back and do the whole track.

Beware, the Skaelingar and Blautulon tracks we drove are just dirt tracks. Not even F-roads. This means they are even harder to drive than F-roads. Always check with your rental company if it allows for such roads, choose your car wisely and study the roads in advance. Mostly only super jeeps are allowed to drive the dirt tracks.

hungurfit track

Hungurfit track between F210 and F261

There’s no proper road service on this road, so expect it to be difficult to drive. Big gravel and narrow steep hills are a certainty. Other than that, there’s one (not just one, to be precise) specialty at the track towards Hungurfit hut why all these guides and even locals go have some fun in here. Once you reach the first fork/crossroads you may choose – the track towards the left leads through a gorgeous area full of little river crossings and one surprise. On the other hand, the track towards the right leads through a mountainous area with beautiful views. We’ve done the whole roundtrip.

Left and right turns from the track towards Hungurfit hut

We started with a track towards the left and descended towards an area full of small river crossings, which, for me, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, we were completely alone there. On the one hand, this was amazingly beautiful, on the other hand, it was a bit scary as well. I definitely wouldn’t want to get a flat tire in here or to get stuck in the river. Forget about any cell phone signal or internet connection. Just you and the rough Icelandic highlands.

Taking the left detour at the beginning of the track towards Hungurfit hut you will soon arrive at the famous spot, which is the reason behind so many locals going in here. There are two giant stones on both sides of the road, making the road so narrow that you may pass only with a few centimeters of free space on both sides of your car. At the same time, the track obviously isn’t flat underneath your car. There’s another huge stone on the ground, followed by the big hole and another sharp stone. So you would need to maximize your patience (and driving skills) to pass through without any damage to your car.

hungurfit track iceland

Hungurfit track

I took enough time to study the passage and to check whether everything is fine for me to pass and we passed well. The river crossing area then continues for a while and then you’re gonna connect to the right detour. From there, you may either come back (as we did this time) or continue around 50 kilometers all the way towards the northern part of F210 (as we did next time). We came back via right track, which was similarly exciting, just in a different way – some more steep and narrow passages with potholes. You can watch the entire video of our Hungurfit round-trip here.

10. F261

f261 Emstruleið iceland

F261 Emstruleið

It was already evening, so we had to head back. We completed our round trip via F261 back towards Hella. F261 doesn’t contain any major river crossings, only Blafjallakvisl at the beginning (next to F210). And, as I mentioned above, Blafjallakvisl was easy this time and generally should be easier than Kaldaklofskvisl (if crossed correctly). F261 near F210 is composed of big gravel and some steep sections so you have to drive slowly and the drive is not that comfortable. It’s definitely possible to drive F261 also in SUV like Dacia Duster, although I cannot imagine how uncomfortable it has to be.

f261 near Fljótshlíð

F261 near Fljótshlíð

You can watch the entire video of our F261 drive here. The western part of F261 basically leads on the other bank of the Krossá river and you are able to see the Thorsmork area and F249 well from it. Even this part contains a lot of big gravel and the drive has to be slow and not very comfortable. The scenery is beautiful as always, although for me F210 was even more picturesque. This may, however, be due to the effect that we had seen F210 first 🙂

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Posted by epiciceland in Highlands, 6 comments