Þjórsárdalur and the nicest picnic spot in the universe
Like in the previous posts, we at Iceland Mini Campers will continue describing our favorite destinations in Iceland so that you can start planning your visit. And as usual we will place an emphasis on areas that are both accessible and well suited for a mini camper visit. We are also interested in sharing some of Iceland’s well-kept secrets with you since it is a fact that Iceland has literally hundreds of destinations that are at least as worthy of a visit as Gullfoss, Geysir and the Blue Lagoon.
Today we will talk about the beautiful Þjórsárdalur area, which has a reconstructed Viking farm, some of Iceland’s most attractive waterfalls and, in our humble opinion, the nicest picnic spot there is. Also, to make things even more exciting, Þjórsárdalur is quite close to one very picturesque volcano, Hekla, which might erupt at literally any minute now. The whole Þjórsárdalur area contains a wide array of hiking trails, scenic views and interesting spots but this time we will limit ourselves to three of them. For other suggestions please refer to the Þjórsá visitor center at Árnes (see here).
The Þjórsárdalur area is quite close to Reykjavík at a distance of around 130 kilometers, which amounts to a solid 90-minute drive. Most places in the area are fairly easily accessible by mini camper but once you reach the area itself there are some gravel roads so we would advise you to consider getting some extended insurance coverage if you are renting one of our motorhomes and perhaps a GPS navigator as well. The area can be reached from the ring road (highway 1) as well as via Þingvellir-Laugarvatn-Flúðir if you want to combine a visit to Þjórsárdalur with a Golden Circle Tour. Since some of the Þjórsárdalur area is quite far inland it is also advisable to plan ahead and look into the condition of roads before setting off, for instance by talking to a tourist info center or checking with The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration at http://www.road.is/.
Once you find yourself on route 32, the Þjórsárdalsvegur, you will come across a sign that points to Hjálparfoss. Hjálparfoss is in fact two waterfalls that combine into one, and for added effect it is framed by some very peculiar rock formations called trap-rock. The name Hjálparfoss means waterfall of help (help is hjálp and waterfall is foss in Icelandic). Apparently the waterfall was given this name since it was a welcome stop for those traveling across the country on horseback since Hjálparfoss has clear spring water, as opposed to the foul smelling brown glacial rivers that are predominant in the area, and a nice clearing with plenty of grass for horses.
Close by Hjálparfoss on route 32, you can find route 327, Stangarvegur, which leads to the Viking farm Stöng. Stöng is a turf farm built on the excavated foundations of an older farm that was buried in lava in the year 1104, in one of Hekla’s heftiest eruptions. The Stöng farm offers guided tours and an exhibition of arts, crafts and the history of Gaukur Trandilsson, the former inhabitant of Stöng, about whom an Icelandic saga was written (but sadly is now lost). More information can be found here: http://www.thjodveldisbaer.is/en.
From Stöng you can drive a short distance to Gjáin, which is quite a remarkable place. The gravel road between Stöng and Gjáin can be a little rough but in that case it is well possible to walk to Gjáin, which should take around 20 minutes. Gjáin is a small valley with green grass, a blue stream, a beautiful waterfall and strange tousled rock formations. Gjáin meets the visitor like an oasis that stands in stark contrast to the barren rocky landscapes that surround it. The calming sounds of trickling water, the scenery and the peaceful air of Gjáin makes it, again in our humble opinion, the best picnic spot in the universe for the travel weary mini camper driver. It should also come in handy that our campers come furnished with a gas heater and all the equipment you need to make hot chocolate, which is the perfect drink for your picnic at Gjáin.
For an overnight stay in the area we recommend the camping grounds at Sandártunga, Árnes or Brautarholt. There are also farms in the area that offer horseback riding and assorted services and activities. The general area also has several bars, café’s, restaurants and, of course, a few swimming pools. So our advice is the same as usual. Drive slowly and safely, make many stops, and enjoy.
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