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  • Writer's pictureEinar Páll Svavarsson

Lakagígar Craters and Mt. Laki 4x4 self-drive and Skaftáreldar eruption information

Updated: Jun 17


A view to the west part of Lakagígar craters
A view to the west part of Lakagígar craters

Lakagígar Craters is a row of volcanic craters that stretches for 25 kilometers and is located close to the western side of the Vatnajökull glacier in the Icelandic Highland. These craters were formed in 1783 during one of the largest eruptions in historical times, Skaftáreldar. The eruption had catastrophic consequences for the people of Iceland. Tens of thousands of livestock were killed, and over ten thousand individuals, around 25% of the population at that time, lost their lives. This time was extremely difficult for Iceland, and it also affected people in many other countries. The Skaftáreldar eruption is believed to have killed more people worldwide than any other eruption in historical times. Some historians have even suggested that Skaftáreldar triggered the French Revolution, leading to crop failure in France, which worsened the already dire situation. It is considered the most extensive volcanic activity on the planet in the last 1000 years, and the lava that flowed from the craters covered nearly 600 square kilometers of land. Today, one can even drive through the lava on road nr. 1, which is 40 kilometers south of the main craters, when heading east to the small village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur coming from Reykjavík. Even the well-known Eyjafjallajökull eruption and the recent small eruptions at the Reykjanes Peninsula are insignificant compared to the consequences of Skaftáreldar. Therefore, Lakagígar is more than just a natural wonder. It is also a historical site and a large-scale monument showcasing the power and consequences of Mother Nature. A drive to Lakagígar is an adventure.

 


Map of Icelandic Highland
Map of Icelandic Highland

The drive to Lakagígar is a 4X4 mountain dirt road


Lakagígar map for the 4x4 track drive
Map of the track to Lakagígar and Laki 4x4 drive

The site where the craters and Mt Laki are located north of the south region in Iceland can only be accessed from late June until the beginning of October since it is situated in the Highland. To reach the destination, you will need to drive approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Ring Road Nr. 1 on a rough dirt road that includes two fords in unbridged rivers to cross and a few smaller ones crossing small creeks. Please note that you will need a good 4X4 vehicle and proper preparation to make the trip. It is essential to remember that all roads that require driving across rivers can be hazardous. The volume of water can change quickly if there are changes in the weather, so exercise caution. I have driven this road hundreds of times in all seasons and I am also a highly experienced highland and 4X4 driver, so I am asking you to keep mind that this is a mountain road with creeks and rivers. I have often seen conditions change dramatically in a few hours.


Crossing the river Varmá at Úlfarsdalur
Crossing the river Varmá at Úlfarsdalur

The drive to Lakagígar and Laki from road nr. 1 is a scenic one, as the elevation gradually increases and reaches up to 900 meters (2900 feet).  About halfway on the road to Lakagígar it is a good idea to stop by the beautiful waterfall Fagrifoss.  It is beautiful waterfall and fits well to stretch your legs and take a pause from the driving. When you continue, the drive becomes even more rewarding after crossing the ford on the river Hellisá. It's no wonder that this drive to Laki and Lakagígar is becoming one of the main attractions in the Icelandic Highland.


A view from the top of Mt. Laki to the east
A view from the top of Mt. Laki to the east

Despite the rough road, the scenery and the craters are captivating. The drive also requires patience as the average driving speed on the mountain road is around 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles per hour) for 40 kilometers (25 miles). To begin your drive to Lakagígar turn north on Ring Road Nr. 1 on the south shore a short distance west of the small village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Turn to Holtsvegur (Road 206) after driving just two kilometers past the farm Hunkubakkar. After that, turn north again on Lakavegur Highland and Mountain Road F206. Follow the road for 40 kilometers (25 miles), and you will reach Mt. Laki and Lakagígar craters.


The hike up to Mt. Laki for a grand view of the Lakagígar craters


The service center at Lakagígar
The service center at Lakagígar

When you reach Lakagígar Craters, park your car in the parking lot located by the small Vatnajökull National Park service center. From there, take a short hike up to the top of Mt. Laki - a small mountain standing at approximately 820 meters high above sea level. The elevation of the hike is only 200 meters. Before June 8, 1783, Laki was just an ordinary, lonely, and peaceful mountain. However, everything changed when two large volcanic fissures opened on the west and east sides of the mountain, causing an unprecedented amount of highly toxic magma to the surface.  Although the mountain was relatively unchanged, the eruption ripped Laki's northeastern side apart, leaving some interesting cracks in that part. It is a fascinating spot to visit when hiking the mountain. From the top you can see the craters, both to the east in direction and into Vatnajökull glacier and the craters to the west, towards Skaftá river. It is an astonishing view. 


Hike up to the top of Mt. Laki
Hike up to the top of Mt. Laki

Despite widespread writings and sometimes misinformation, Laki had nothing to do with the Skaftáreldar eruption. However, when people visited the source of the catastrophic events after things cooled down in 1784, they named the craters on both sides after Laki, calling them the Laki craters. The trail is relatively easy and highly rewarding, as the view is stunning and the view from the top of Laki is excellent in every direction.


Drive the F207 and explore the Highland and the lava


West part of Lakagígar craters from Mt. Laki
Exploring the Highland in Iceland at Lakagígar craters

If you're looking to explore the Highland, renting a good and solid 4X4 car can be an advantage. You can then drive the F207 road and experience a magnificent circle in the lava and witness some truly magical landscapes. On that dirt road there is yet another ford to cross.  This road begins from the Laki service center and goes by the Tjarnargígur crater that has a small lake, Úlfarsdalur small valley, and the river Skaftá. The drive is a wonderful experience as you travel through the Lakagígar lava, the silence that is created by the moss, the many craters, the beautiful oasis in Úlfarsdalur, and the many pseudo craters at the junction to Hrossatungur. Moreover, the F207 mountain road not only complements the Lakagígar drive but also elevates the experience to new heights. The drive takes about an hour and a half and ends by joining the F206 close to the Hellisá ford. Alternatively, you can stop at the Blágil camping site, which is also close to the Hellisá ford and have dinner or enjoy the Highland night and camp overnight. Blágil is an excellent camping site, and the hut is quite lovely for accommodation in the Highland. I have camped there many times and can give it a high recommendation. From Hellisá river, you can drive the same way back to Road Nr. 1.


Tjarnargígur crater
One of the more interesting craters at Lakagígar - Tjarnargígur

Although an enormous area of land glowed with lava flow and threatened life with toxic chemicals in the air only about 230 years ago, the Skaftáreldar eruption also formed a breathtaking landscape. The activity was such that enormous carpets of lava flowed on both sides of the mountains, all the way to shore. On the west side, the lava filled the (then) largest canyon in Iceland, which was 25-kilometer long and has now disappeared under the lava. The whole event changed a large area of the landscape forever.


Lakagígar craters
Lakagígar craters

The drive to Lakagígar, the stop at Fagrifoss, the hike up to the top of Laki, the visit to Tjarnargígur and stopping at the beautiful oasis at Úlfarsdalur is one of the most interesting things you can do in Iceland and a place that has few visitors.


If you're planning to tour Iceland in a rental car, make sure to read this article about the type of car that would be best for your trip.



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