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Iceland: Adventure Under the Midnight Sun

Europe

Photos In Collaboration With Quin Schrock


Perfect 5 Day Iceland Itinerary.

Forged by fire and honed by ice, Iceland is home to some of the greatest wilderness areas in Europe. Small in population to begin with, the vast majority of people live in Reykjavik, leaving huge expanses undeveloped, practically free from human impact. The result is a visually stunning landscape with points of natural interest around every bend in the road. But it’s not just the lack of people that makes Iceland a nature lovers paradise. As one of the youngest landmasses on Earth, Iceland is alive with volcanic activity—from hot springs to steaming lava fields—producing a raw elemental appeal that sticks with you long after you’ve returned home. For those reasons and more, Iceland has become an increasingly popular destination for outdoors enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and landscape photographers. As a Worldwide Wanderer for Alaska Airlines I couldn’t help but be excited for this bucket list destination!


Iceland

Quin and I boarded our flight to Iceland with a rough itinerary for our 5 day stopover. But neither of us has ever been very good at sticking to the plan. And as it turns out, neither is Iceland! Expecting the unexpected, we reserved a 4WDR car equipped with a rooftop tent for the duration of our trip. It turned out to be the best decision we made. Plagued by unseasonably harsh weather, our little home on wheels allowed us to change plans at a moments notice, and chase conditions across Iceland’s ever changing horizon. 


Dirt roads through the lupins in Iceland.

Dirt roads through the lupins in Iceland.

After an easy 8 hour flight from California, Quin and I arrived in Iceland just in time for a full day of exploring. Our first destination was the Highlands – home to Iceland’s infamous “F-Roads,” and the whimsical landscapes of Landmannalaugar and Kerlingarfjöll. While the F-Roads weren’t nearly as bad as expected, the Highlands were everything they promised to be – remote, out of this world, and unlike anything we’d ever seen before.

What we didn’t expect was snow in June! Pulling into Landmannalaugar in the middle of the night we forced ourselves to set up the roof top tent and rest for a few hours before heading out to explore the area. Small snowflakes had begun to fall from low lying clouds, and as I fell asleep, I hoped that the weather would clear for the hikes we had planned the next day. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans. When we woke up the mountains were completely obscured, the colorful striations that Landmannalaugar is so famous for were hidden under a fresh dusting of snow, and the possibility of a sunrise looked slim to none. Backpacks on we headed out anyway, but with increasing snow fall the trail quickly disappeared, and we were forced to turn back. 


Early morning fog in Iceland.

Early morning fog in Iceland.

Our luck didn’t improve much over the next couple days. Each attempt to penetrate into the Highlands was met with increasingly harsh weather, low visibility, and road blocks. But even under the worst conditions the Highlands left me wanting more. The land was rugged, new, and full of mystery. We rarely ran into other people, and when we did, it was with a silent acknowledgment that we were all just visitors to this remote and uninhabited land. After two days of exploration, Quin and I decided it was time to return to earth, and we set our sites on the south coast. 

Heading south, it didn’t take us long to understand why Iceland’s southern coast is so popular. From crashing waterfalls, to towering mountains, and glowing ice-burgs, it’s a visual feast. We took full advantage of the midnight sun, shooting well into each night before heading to one of the local camp grounds, and waking up to do it all over again a few hours later! Despite forgoing sleep on multiple occasions, time flew by. Before we knew it we were due back in Reykjavik. But not without one last adventure! 

On our way to the airport we stopped at the iconic Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. From a mile away, we could see the blue tinged steam rising from the black rocks stretching out in every direction around us. The perfect goodbye to a country that can only be described as out of this world. 


Touching the moon as the midnight sun sets in Iceland.

Touching the moon as the midnight sun sets in Iceland.

The Perfect Five Day Iceland Itinerary

In the spirit of full disclosure, Quin and I were in Iceland during the last week of June, and took full advantage of the fact that it never got dark. We drove a lot and rarely slept. But we wouldn’t have had it any other way! If you are short on time, or visiting during the winter, I would suggest skipping the Highlands and spending some time in Reykjavik instead, or heading up to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

It’s also important to note that although the below itinerary covers the major destinations that we stopped at, some of our favorite moments, and photographs, were taken during the in-between – somewhere between here and there, along one of the many long stretches of lonely road. As with any travel, make sure to leave yourself enough time to get off the beaten track. To head down the road less traveled. And to make your own adventure. You never know what you’re going to find!  


Lupins in Iceland.

Iceland Itinerary: DAY 1

Kerlingarfjöll


Kerlingarfjöll Iceland

I’d be lying if I said that our experience at Kerlingarfjöll was anything short of miserable!  I’ve been in all sorts of inclement weather, but the storm we got caught in at Kerlingarfjöll was next level. Think pellets of ice blowing so fearfully that it feels like shards of glass hitting your face. Visibility so low, you’re not sure where you are. And temperatures so low, that your hands forget how to hold a camera. 

All that being said, I would go again in a heart beat. Sulfur and boiling water vent to the surface throughout this unique landscape – creating a particularly eerie atmosphere on cool days when huge clouds of steam rise out of the many small fissures in the ground. Combined with the colorful earth, the entire sight is hypnotizing.

Iceland Itinerary: DAY 2

Bláhylur


Hnausapollur Crater, Iceland


Hnausapollur Crater, Iceland

Bláhylur, also known as the Hnausapollur Crater, was one of many happy accidents we stumbled upon during our stopover. On our way  to Landmannalaugar, we decided to explore a faint dirt road veering off from our intended destination. Imagine our surprise when we found this stunning crater lake at the top! 

The crater is absolutely beautiful to behold. And nothing about the approach can prepare you for the view at the end of the road. Bright blue water, vivid green plant life, and dark volcanic soils all fight for your attention. The contrast of colors is truly stunning.

Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar, is a vast area of stunning and unique beauty in the heart of Iceland’s southern Highlands. Throughout the summer, it is one of the most popular places for day hiking, multi-day backpacking trips, and natural hot spring bathing.

The area is comprised of windswept mountains showing off a full spectrum of vivid color. Shades of red, pink, green, blue and golden yellow make for an ethereal location. 

Unfortunately, another fluke snow storm struck while we were there, and the beautiful colors were covered in white. We were forced to leave without much to show for the journey. But that’s just another reason to return! 

Iceland Itinerary: DAY 3

Skógafoss


Skógafoss Waterfall, Iceland.

Skógafoss Waterfall, Iceland.

Skógafoss is one of Icelands largest waterfalls, and also one of it’s most accesable. Clearly visible from Rout 1, it’s an easy stop on any tour of Iceland’s South Coast. If you’re not worried about getting wet, you can walk right up to the formidable wall of water to give your photos some perspective. Alternatively, Skógafoss can be viewed from the top by ascending a steep staircase that leads to an observational platform above the cascade.

Seljalandsfoss


Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland.

Due to Seljalandsfoss’s close proximity to the Ring Road and impressive natural features, it is one the country’s most visited and photographed falls. But as the saying goes, it’s popular for a reason!  Seljalandsfoss is unique in that it can be fully encircled. And standing behind a waterfall of that magnitude is something you don’t want to miss! 

Gljúfrabúi


Gljúfrabúi waterfall in Iceland.

Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi waterfall was one of my favorites. 

Gljúfrabúi literally means “the one that lives within the canyon,” and it definitely lives up to its name! Given the name and the surrounding landscape, you half expect to find a dragon lying in wait as you forge the river surrounded by narrow canyon walls. And while there weren’t any dragons, at least when I was there, the view inside the canyon walls was no less magical. Prepare to get wet if you want the full view at this one!  

Jökulsárlón & Diamond Beach


Jökulsárlón or Diamond Beach in Iceland.


Jökulsárlón or Diamond Beach in Iceland.

Heading east along Rout 1 you’ll eventually reach Jökulsárlón. The drive is breathtakingly beautiful and it’s worth taking your time to get there. Created by huge blocks of ice breaking from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, Jökulsárlón is one of Icelands natural crown jewels.

Eventually the icebergs melt and float out to sea, where the Atlantic tides artfully arrange the remaining ice, depositing its seemingly curated collection on the nearby black sand beach – hence the nickname “Diamond Beach.”

Iceland Itinerary: DAY 4

Stokksnes


Stokksnes Beach, Iceleand.

Stokksnes Beach, Iceleand.


Stokksnes Beach, Iceleand.

Stokksnes Beach, Iceleand.

Just over an hour’s drive east from the incredible glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón, lies Vestrahorn. A natural wonder amongst natural wonders, this breathtaking mountain on the Stokksness peninsula is a place you have to experience to truly appreciate. Surrounded by black sand beaches, and reflective water, steep cliffs rise abruptly from the the isolated coast line. The resulting effect is a stunning visual display that is both awe inspiring and surreal to witness. 

Note: The beach at Stokksnes is private, and there is a small entrance fee to access the beach.

Svartifoss & Skaftafell National Park


A short hike in Skaftafell National Park will take you to Svartifoss Waterfall with its famous basalt columns.

A short hike in Skaftafell National Park will take you to Svartifoss Waterfall with its famous basalt columns.

A short, roughly 3 mile hike into Skaftafell National Park brought us to Svartifoss, where magnificent hexagonal black basalt columns, were formed by slowly cooling crystalized lava. How cool is that! 

It’s a good thing the lava is crystalized, because Skaftafell National Park offers a number of fantastic hiking opportunities. It’s also a great place to join a glacier tour, if you are so inclind.

Iceland Itinerary: DAY 5

Blue Lagoon 


Relaxing at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa before heading to the airport.

Relaxing at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa before heading to the airport.

The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is touristy, expensive, and unlike many of the other hot springs in Iceland, it is actually not a natural phenomenon. For all of these reasons, I’ve read some reviews that suggest that the Blue Lagoon is overrated, and not worth the time or money. I however, am of the firm opinion that it is! 

I honestly can’t really imagine a trip to Iceland without visiting the Blue Lagoon. Natural or not, it’s an iconic experience, and the spa itself is beautiful. It’s also just a really nice way to end any trip to Iceland – especially if you spent the entire time camping like we did! The Blue Lagoon is only 15 minuets from KEF airport, so Quin and I made our reservation for a time slot a few hours before we were due to check in for our departing flight. After our time at the lagoon, we arrived at the airport relaxed, clean, and ready for the next leg of our trip! 

A huge thank you to Alaska Airlines & Iceland Air for partnering with us to make this experience possible. 

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  1. Been wanting to head back to explore the highlands. We did the ring road in October but never got to venture off the road too much. Iceland is like no other place on earth. Also, we enjoyed the myvatn nature baths as much as the blue lagoon! Highly recommend checking it out next time you’re out there 🙂

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hey Eric! Thanks so much for the comment. We had pretty terrible conditions while we were in the Highlands, so I definitely hope I have the opportunity to go back some day and spend more time there. I’ll also have to add Myvatn to the list. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. courtney says:

    Can’t get over these pictures… ! Thanks for sharing the itinerary. This has been my top destination bucketlist for years.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much Courtney! It was such a wild trip, with crazy weather, and lots of up and downs. But you’d never know it from the photos! I really hope you make it to Iceland soon. It’s truly unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. 🙂

  3. Raghav says:

    Hey Jess, you truly are an inspiration for me foe travel. I always follow wherever you go. Trust me, this place is 1 fantasy which I haven’t been dreaming for years.
    Thanks alot for sharing all this great information, it would really make my planning far comfortable whenever I gp visit this Mother Nature.

    Continue being an inspiration for all of us.
    Travel to India sometime…

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much Raghav! I’m so glad that I can provide a source of inspiration for you. I hope that you are able to visit Iceland soon. It’s truly a very beautiful country.

  4. Andrea says:

    Hi Jess!!! I just absolutely love your blog and your instagram account ^_^

    Do you ever thought or have the fear that other people take your pictures (especially the ones you are in) and use it on the internet or start a blog or instagram with them?? I sometimes think to start one but I have this fear, I don’t know… I hope this question don’t bother you. I just wanted to know what you think about it.

    P.D.- Sorry for my English! Kisses from a Spanish girl xoxo

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Andrea! I’m so glad that you like the blog and my Instagram account. I have thought about people stealing photos before, and to be honest it happens all the time. But I would rather take that chance and be able to share my photos and inspire others to hopefully get outside and make great memories, than to keep them all to myself. Plus, I think if someone started their own blog or Instagram using only my photos and impersonating me, I could probably have them shut down. Hope that answers your question!

      • Andrea says:

        Hi Jess!! Thank you so much for your answer 😀

        I don’t know so much about the blogs world but for your answer I understand that it’s possible to report a blog like on instagram right?
        I read your publication about how you do afford to travel all the time and it was a revelation. I never read nothing like this before in other travel blogs. I think your writing and this kind of things makes you different than the other blogs in the net. I really like the part that you say: So don’t fall into the trap of comparing your actual day to day life, to the curated life someone creates on social media. It won’t end well. Trust me, I know.
        It’s soooooo true, it happened to me and it’s so sad…
        May I ask you how much time did you work ok your blog and your instagram account until they started to be known? I hope this question don’t bother you. Sorry for asking things all the time it’s just that I always feel that the other people with travel blogs are so far but you seem so close. I just discovered you 2 weeks ago more or less but I really like your stuff and the way you being answering your followers without pretending nothing, just being you.
        I hope we can talk more, really thanks for your answer ^_^
        Sorry for my English again ‘^^

        • Jess Dales says:

          Hey Andrea. It’s a little hard for me to say how long it took for me to start building an audience because it was such a gradual process. But if it helps answer your questions, I started my Instagram account about three years ago, and I started my blog about a year ago. But I only recently started posting more frequently on the blog.

  5. Priscilla Little says:

    Dear Jess,

    You are my absolute blog inspiration. Your photography is like no other. I was just wondering what camera you use and other equipment? Also any tips or recommendations for beginner blogger photographer? Love what you do!

    xoxo Priscilla Little

  6. Jason Wander says:

    What a trip!
    I think I see the life I expect for all these years. Traveling all around the world, it’s really enjoyable.
    You know, I named myself Jason Wander for I always want to be a traveler. And the name, hahaha, It felt like I find my sister when I found you
    By the way, if you plan a trip to China, I will really appreciate that you ask me for guide

  7. Beth Leszczynski says:

    Hi! Love the blog, gets me through the day sitting at a desk when I’d rather be outside. Question, any chance you’d ever do a blog regarding the nitty-gritty details of these hiking adventures? Things like sleeping conditions, packing for unpredictable weather and even bathroom logistics. Unpopular topic, I know, but extremely useful nonetheless. Also, any plans for a standard "what’s in my bag" blog. Would love to know how to be better prepared. I’m always packing too much or not enough and I’m not sure which is worse. Thanks!!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hey Beth! So glad you like the blog. That’s actually a great Idea! I’m always looking for new topics to write about. And I think quite a few people might be interested in an article about backpacking or camping logistics. I’m currently working on a post with tips for minimalist packing, but I don’t have a standard "what’s in my bag" blog. It depends so much on where I’m going, and what I’m doing. But maybe I’ll write something up about the items I always bring! I do have "what’s in my camera bag," and "what’s in my backpacking bag" blogs though!

  8. Úlflogi Álfson says:

    Halló , I am from Iceland and I just have to say this 5 days trip to Iceland ? hole 5 days ..
    well you ain´t seen nothing yet 🙂 there are place´s you just missed . I hope you come again and spend 5 month´s , there is a paradise waiting for you …take care

    • Jess Dales says:

      Ha! I know! Five days is not nearly enough time. But it’s a comment length for people who only have a short time to spend on an Iceland stopover. I would absolutely love to come back some day and explore more. Such a beautiful country!

  9. Nadine says:

    Can you recommend a packing list?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Nadine. If you take a look at the clothing section of my "Ultimate Backpacking Gear Guide," it will actually give you a good idea of how I would recommend backing for Iceland! Because Iceland is such an outdoor location I packed how I would for a backpacking trip except I brought more because weight was not as much of an issue. Keep in mind that the weather can change very quickly there! So bring lots of layers, a rain jacket and pants, a winter jacket, beanie, and light gloves. I would also bring waterproof boots. Quick drying fabrics are also very helpful because it can be difficult to stay dry even if you have a water resistant/proof outer layer. Hope that helps!

  10. Nadine Kelley says:

    Are regular Lulu Wunder leggings okay for Iceland or what kind did you pack if thicker is needed?

    • Jess Dales says:

      I wore Lulus and other similar leggings most of the time. However the main issue that I had was that once those got wet, it was very difficult to get them to dry because it was so damp and cold outside. So definitely pack a few pairs! And bring some waterproof pants to wear over them when it is raining, or for when you are going to get up close and personal with waterfalls.

  11. Tamsin says:

    You sure crammed a lot into 5 days! What an incredible place your photos don’t even look real. If you told me you took them on the set of a new sci-fi movie I’d believe you!

  12. korine sanchez says:

    `i love it !!!i just wanna know what time you visited vestrahorn? `the photo is incredible!!!

  13. Jeremy says:

    Love that reflection photo on the lake !! Really nice !!

  14. Renee says:

    Hi Jess,

    Where was your second photo on this blog taken? Would you say 3 day trip would be sufficient to take in most of the major sightseeing? What time of day would you recommend going to those sights to get amazing isolated pictures like the ones you have on your blog?

  15. Lien says:

    I’m planning a short trip to Iceland roughly 4days! What destinations would you suggest to go more effectively?

    • I was only there for 5 days, so you could do most of these if you really pushed. But I would suggest cutting out the highlands. It takes the most time to get up there, and it’s not really on the way to anything else.

Learn More >

Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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