Thirty kilometres east of Hekla via the four-wheel-drive F225, Landmannalaugar is an astonishing place, a hot springs area set in a flat gravel plain between a glacial river and the front of a fifteenth-century lava flow. The rugged landscape oozes grandeur, with sharp-peaked rhyolite mountains, brightly streaked in orange, grey and green, rising to a snowy plateau. Despite its proximity to Hekla, the area has provided summer pasture for sheep since medieval times, and was once a stage on back-country routes to the coast when flooding from Katla had closed the preferred coastal trails. Today, hikers have made Landmannalaugar a popular destination in its own right, not least for its position at the start of the exceptional four-day Laugavegur trail down to Þórsmörk, though many campers simply come to enjoy a hot soak amid the wild scenery.
Note that accommodation should be booked as far in advance as possible, and that the area is closed from September to mid-June.
Your first stop at Landmannalaugar has to be the celebrated hot springs, which are in a patch of green at the end of a boardwalk up against the lava front. A scalding stream emerges from underneath the lava and merges with a cold flow; you simply wade up the latter to where they mix, find a spot where the temperature is just right, and sit down up to your neck. You have to keep shifting every time a fellow bather moves, which alters the water currents and temperature, but you couldn’t ask for a better place to unwind. Be aware that some unidentified parasite in the hot pools has caused paralysis in ducks; the effects on humans are unknown but locals certainly don’t care.
Fjallabak is an area covering two old traffic routes which ran, quite literally, fjallabak – “behind the mountains” north of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Today, one of these has been resurrected as the F208, which runs from Landmannalaugar to Kirkjubæjarklaustur via Eldgjá, a deep, 40km-long volcanic canyon with a spectacular accompanying waterfall, Ófærufoss. From late June until September, daily Reykjavík to Skaftafell buses cover this entire route in just five hours, though you’ll definitely need to stop off along the way at Eldgjá to get the most from the journey.
Top image: Beautiful colorful volcanic mountains Landmannalaugar in Iceland © Oleg Senkov/Shutterstock