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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Iceland Part IV: Camping in Iceland

Here's how it works: pull into the campground and idle the vehicle slowly around the grassy field. Scan the grounds for anything that could stand in as a windbreak (bushes, fence, berm, larger vehicle). Note the location of the bathrooms–you'll want to park closer if it looks like rain– then find a space big enough to accommodate your vehicle as well as your travel buddy's, since you lost them a bit ago to a grocery store, museum, or unscheduled sightseeing mission but you know they'll be turning up sooner or later. Make a choice, back in, then put the car in neutral, letting it roll until it finds the flattest, most level position possible. Get out of the car and stretch. Now you're camping in Iceland!

A berm and some foliage goes a long way to protect us from the wind that seemed to be ever-present in Iceland.
Drangsnes Campground

If you're going camping to get away from it all, slip away and have some alone time to spend in the wilderness, Iceland is not your place. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of spots where you'll find yourself alone with nature, spectacular viewpoints and amazing vistas, they're just not located in the campgrounds. You might get lucky and be the first one to arrive at a site and have a bit of peace and quiet for a bit. Sooner or later though, you will have company.

Wild camping is prohibited in Iceland. I think they want to discourage people from driving off road (also strictly prohibited) and destroying the thick layers of moss that cover all that lava rock. It takes years to recover from just human foot traffic, I can only imagine how long is would take the land to recover from off-road vehicle tracks. They also have a big problem with public defecation. I know, it's disgusting to think about. Imagine how disgusting it would be to look out your farmhouse window and see some tourist squatting in your field? For all these reasons (plus I'm sure they appreciate the fees collected) staying in campgrounds is required.

Not much more than a place to park, camping in Myvatn was crowded,
but close to many attractions in the geothermally active area.
It had a great view of the lake though.
The sun sets over Lake Myvatn. Ok, this place isn't half bad.

The campgrounds in Iceland are generally big open fields. You can chose your spot with care, leaving a bit of room between you and the closest neighbor, but eventually you'll have another vehicle slide in beside you. The coziness extends to other areas as well. Most of the campgrounds we stayed in had shared facilities; you might find yourself brushing your teeth next to a big burly guy standing next to a cute twenty-something woman. The feet in the next stall might be petite pink tennis shoes or giant hiking boots. Showers were often the same setup. Nothing says togetherness like stepping out of the shower next to a hairy dude that's been backpacking his way around Iceland for the last three months.

This campground was located on a farm. Being in a remote spot, we expected to have to pay cash. Our host came out with a hand held card reader and took care of our payment with little fuss, although she had to walk up a hill and hold the reader in the air to catch the wifi from the farmhouse.
The barn, and another great sunset

One of the most notable facilities was in the Northern Iceland town of Drangsnes. There was a large building that I think was used as a hostel (it appeared to be closed for the season). In the room to the side of this building there were two bathroom stalls, a washer/dryer with a laundry sink and counter, two shower stalls with two shower heads each, and a picnic table in the middle. One rainy evening there were at least ten people in there: a couple doing their laundry, someone in the toilet stall doing what one does in a toilet stall, and a group of campers making dinner at the picnic table. All this in a healthy cloud of steam rolling out from one of the shower stalls, the ambience being enhanced by the freshly showered young lady dressing in the corner. It took some getting used to, coming from the strictly segregated facilities of our apparently prudish U.S. National Parks.

In truth, after a few nights we did get used to the arrangement and came to appreciate the fact that the campgrounds were so numerous. There is so much to see in Iceland, and such a large amount of ground to cover, it was nice to know the nearest campground was never too far away.

This was the least crowded, most remotely located campground we visited.
The bridge led across a warm river to a hot spring, fed by a hot waterfall.
I'll let you find it if you decide to go. It was spectacular.
Sometimes you stop when it's convenient.
This campground in Hofn was huge and sort of industrial. It had tiered parking areas built on a slight rise in town.
Here's Mark surveying our 15 foot slice of heaven.

The Skaftafell National Park campground had great views, and was very crowded. It was also the only one that had some  laid out sites you could choose from. It was an interesting social experiment; we noticed mostly Americans chose the separated sites, the Europeans opting to park side by side in the parking lot style area. Go with what you know I guess.
High in the mountains nestled between two active volcanoes, Landmannalaugar was our coldest, dampest night spent in Iceland. We got rain then snow, and the campground was just a gravel parking lot, but in the morning we woke up to an amazing view.
The view from our rear window in the morning.
Our campground host one night.
This one was closed for the season, but we stayed there anyway and were treated to a Northern Lights show that night.
Watching the whales swim by from the berm above our campsite.
Drangsnes Campground
(Photo credit: LeeWhay Pasek, OverlandWithUs)