Luxury hiking Iceland. Venture off the beaten path to discover more of Iceland’s beauty with expert private guides. By Bekah McNeel
Turn left at the waterfall.
That’s how you know you’re going somewhere good, when the adventure doesn’t end at the waterfall, but begins there.
As Seljalandsfoss, the tall and slender falls, appeared, we bypassed the crowds gathered in her spray and turned left, off of the Ring Road that circles Iceland, and onto the track that leads to Þórsmörk (pronounced, “Thorsmork”).
Without our super jeep, we would not have gotten far. The oversized tires carried us over the volcanic tuff and across rivers of glacial melt, so different from the boiling hot springs behind us toward Reykjavik.
Traveling between two glaciers, across a field of igneous rock, the world looks primal. Its shapes and layers are younger than the sedimentary canyons and cliffs I know from home. It is black, white, and icy blue. Rugged and unapologetic.
My guide, Alfred, steers us to a trail head, winding toward a slot canyon. After a day of driving together, he knows my hiking profile. I’ve told him of my favorite trips, the wonders that have left me speechless, and the places I want to go. He’s watched me hop in and out of the giant car, and walk around uneven terrain enough to know what I can and cannot manage.
The path winds along a stream before narrowing to a point at the mouth of the canyon. From here we will hop from rock to rock back and forth across the stream, searching for patches of rocky bank.
Alfred is like a mountain goat, quick and capable. He’s no pixie, lighting from rock to rock, but rather a sturdy and seasoned Icelander, at home in this wild. I, behind him, am overthinking most of my moves, teetering on the rocks trying not to turn an ankle or land myself in a glacial stream.
We’re not walking a well-trodden path here.
With some patient coaching, I’m soon scrambling along after my guide, pausing only to drink in the pristine water rushing around me as I stand on a boulder, or to run my fingers through the mossy walls of towering over us.
Heat gets all the credit for being sensual and intoxicating, but to me, this invigorating chill was far more heady. My heart pumped hard to keep my fingers warm, but I did not want to wear gloves for fear of missing even a single texture. The rough, the wet, the spongy.
As we trekked toward its source, the babbling brook became a rushing stream. Soon we reached a tiny waterfall, bearing evidence that others had gone before. A common hiking chain led us along the vertical edge of a pool, and to a rope, dangling over the five foot drop. Nothing dangerous, just cold and wet if you missed a step.
Had Alfred wanted to, he could have told me that this was our goal, this little waterfall and deep pool where sturdier types would probably hazard a swim. But he led on, deeper into the canyon, where the walls nearly met above our head, creating a dark, and nearly sacred space.
In the final stretch of the short hike, we were quiet and contemplative. Later in the summer, the whole of Iceland would be flagrantly green and lush, but for now, this little cathedral of green was tucked into the stark colors of winter, fed by the mist growing thicker around us. The source of this cold mist was ahead, a fifty foot waterfall, tumbling into the canyon it created.
Our hike had been more about the journey than this lovely terminus, but the waterfall, cascading alone for most of its day, was everything magical about this island.
Iceland is flush with wonders. The side of the road has as many panoramas as the national parks. Water and rocks are exceptionally photogenic. But to meditate in the spray of an isolated waterfall, you have to venture off the beaten path. And for those who want to walk in the streams, not look from the bridges, you will need a guide who knows the land.