You’re more than likely to have seen what looks like a giant hole in the ground with bright blue water inside. This is the Askja Caldera in Iceland.
But except for pretty pictures on the internet, do you really know what the Askja Caldera is, and what makes it such an exceptional site? If not, then this article is for you.
What is the Askja Caldera in Iceland?
The Askja Caldera is not just a pretty sight, but a geological wonder. If you were one of those who saw Askja as a big hole, you were half right. A caldera is a volcanic crater. To find a caldera in Iceland is not surprising, as you will find many volcanoes in Iceland.
One of these active volcanoes is Askja Caldera, despite the last eruption being an extremely long time ago (in 1961). Today, the Askja Caldera is known for blue-green water that now fills the crater and is probably one of the most famous lakes in Iceland.
How was Askja Caldera Formed?
It all started with a volcano eruption in 1875. It was shortly after this eruption that the land started to collapse, creating the crater/caldera. The lake that we see today is in actuality not a lake at all, but merely the groundwater that has seeped through the surface after the collapse. The surface level of the ground lowered below that of the underground water table.
Where to Find the Askja Caldera in Iceland?
The Askja Caldera can be found in one of Europe’s largest national parks; Vatnajökul National Park. To understand the magnitude of this national park, you need to wrap your head around the fact that it covers 14% of Iceland’s total landmass.
Vatnajökull’s claim to fame is the Vatnajökull Glacier, and Askja can be found just north of it. If you don’t know where this is, grab a map and move your finger to one of the most remote regions on the island; the Highlands of Iceland.
How to Get to Askja Caldera in Iceland
Essentially, you have two options when it comes to visiting Askja Caldera:
Going on an Askja Caldera Guided Tour in Iceland
The island has no shortage of guided tours. These range from one-day outings to multi-day tours, and many of these include Askja Caldera as a stop.
Although, we believe the best way to explore the island is by road-tripping it yourself. Also, guided tours can be pretty expensive (especially when you want to do multiples), there are a few tours that come highly recommended:
- Helicopter Tour from Akureyri: Askja Highland and Surroundings
- Askja by Super Jeep from Myvatn
- Askja and Kverkfjöll 2-day Tour
- Askja and Holuhraun by Super Jeep from Myvatn
- Askja Classic from Myvatn
Taking a Self-drive Tour to Askja Caldera in Iceland
Taking a self-drive tour allows you to be in full control of your itinerary and time. You’re not reliant on a tour guide telling you what to do and when.
When taking a self-drive tour, you will need a GPS. Always remember to download offline maps or keep a few hard copy maps around for those times that technology fails you.
If you enter Askja Caldera into your GPS, it will give you a few options. That’s because the GPS doesn’t have the local inside scoop. Avoid taking the Ring Road 1 and F88 route.
Take the Ring Road 1 route that goes past Akureyri and Myvatn and then turn off on Road 901. After that, you turn right onto the F905. Carry on with this road for approximately 21 kilometers before taking the F910.
The F910 will take you straight to the campsite. Please ask the ranger on duty about the conditions at Viti and on the Askja trail before continuing on. If you’re given the all-clear, you take the F894 for roughly 20 minutes till you see the parking lot where you will park.
*As you can see from our directions, there are a number of what we refer to as F-roads on this route. F-roads in Iceland cannot be accessed with a standard 2-wheel drive and will require a 4x4 vehicle. Even though this has a lot to do with the conditions of the roads, it is also the law.
If you attempt to drive this route with a 2-wheel drive, not only are you more than likely to get stuck somewhere. But even if you magically manage to complete the drive, and you get caught, you’ll still be in a world of trouble with hefty fines coming your way.
When is the Best Time to Visit Askja Caldera in Iceland?
Technically, Askja remains open to tours all year round. However, during the winter time, F-Roads can become impassable. Therefore, a self-drive tour may be impossible. To us, the best time to visit Askja will be based on your preferences and expectations, and external circumstances. If you don’t enjoy hiking in the cold, then Askja during the colder months is probably not for you.
And after this challenging hike experience, are you expecting the bright blue-green water on the brochure? Well, then you’ll be majorly let down when you reach the dull, matt finish of the sheet of ice the lake turns into during the colder months. Getting to the area itself can also be tricky during the colder months.
Road conditions are heavily impacted by the weather, and getting stuck in snow or skidding on an icy patch on the road is a very real concern. And, as we already mentioned, Askja Caldera is located in the Highlands. Most of the road/route closures that occur annually during the colder months are in the Highlands. This alone can make the decision of when to visit Aksja on your behalf.
Things to do at and Near Askja Caldera in Iceland
There is much more to do at and near Askja than just marvel at its beauty and take a few snaps. Here are some of the things that you can look forward to:
Taking a Hike to Viti Crater
This is a short hiking trail (+/- 2.4 kilometers) that is not considered very challenging. The hike starts in the Vikraborgir Car Park and will take roughly 30–45 minutes in total to complete.
Swimming in Viti Crater
This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, so if you get the chance – grab it! When conditions are perfect with no inherent safety concerns, the rangers will open the crater to any member of the public who wants to take a quick dip.
With water ranging between 25-30 degrees Celsius, this is a real treat, but just be careful on your way down to the water. The path is pretty steep and can be really muddy.
Exploring Drekagil Canyon (Otherwise Known as Dragon Gully)
When exploring the canyon, you may be forgiven for thinking that you’ve just landed on Mars. The canyon, created by a river of hot, flowing lava centuries ago, has steep cliff walls with many strange rock formations and a waterfall.
To get to the canyon, you will need to go behind the huts at Drekil and clamber over a few rocks.
Taking a Drive Through Holuhraun Lava Field
It’s easy to imagine some sort of post-apocalyptic world when driving through the 85 square kilometer lava field consisting of black sand. This field is the result of a major volcanic eruption more than 230 years ago, and what is left reminds us of how powerful nature can be.
Accommodation Near Askja Caldera in Iceland
There are plenty of accommodation options in and around Askja to suit your preferences and budget if you are eager to explore the area. But the following accommodation comes highly recommended:
Helpful Tips When Visiting Askja Caldera in Iceland
If this is your first time to the island or your first time to Askja Caldera, the following tips will help make your trip a safe and memorable one:
- As we already mentioned, the Highlands is one of the most remote regions in the country and there are no gas stations in Vatnajökull National Park. Unless you want to end up stranded next to the road, you need to ensure that you fuel up at one of the surrounding cities/towns.
- The same goes for shops. So, if you need to stock up on some drinks and snacks, you’ll need to do that in the surrounding cities/towns too.
- Always ensure that you stock up a little more than you need. This is not, so you can pig out along the way, but to have an emergency stash in case something goes wrong. At least, in this case, dehydration and starving to death won’t be one of your immediate concerns.
- An Askja trip will take much longer than you think. Many completely miscalculate this day outing. Due to the rough conditions of the roads and the fact that you can even find snow well into the summer months in the area, a trip will take you at least 8–10 hours. This alone will make an Askja day outing almost impossible during the colder months in Iceland.
- Because of the weather and road conditions mentioned above, it’s important to always be one step ahead and be prepared. The best way to do that is by always keeping a close eye on the Iceland weather forecast and the Iceland road conditions.
- Technology fails and signals drop – especially in more remote areas. That’s why you should always have a few downloaded offline maps and hard copies with you.
- Generally, it is recommended that those taking on the F-roads or going to explore the more remote parts of the country, do so in a convoy. This way, there will always be one vehicle to get everyone to safety or at least give assistance.
If you plan to visit Askja in one vehicle, it's recommended to share your plans with a close friend and your accommodation. That way, people will know when to start sounding the alarm and where to start looking. If you have to wait for someone to accidentally stumble upon you in regions that have little to no traffic, you’re going to be waiting for a looooong time.
- This is not the time to create your own “road less traveled”. Stick to the designated roads and trails. To DIY your own off-road experience is not only extremely dangerous (ask Ed Sheeran what happens when you wander off the trail in Iceland), but it can also severely damage the island’s fragile ecosystem. The damage can be so extreme that it can take decades for the damage to be restored, if at all!
Askja Caldera. A Summer Trip to Remember
As we already touched on, visiting Askja Caldera during the colder months might not be the best idea. Not just because of general safety concerns on the trail and on the road. You might be left extremely disappointed if you travel all the way to find a caldera that doesn’t resemble the picture you saw on a brochure.
Or find out that you can’t even attempt the trip due to road closures. But wait till the summertime, rent a car in Reykjavík, and make Askja one of the stops on your Iceland road trip adventure. It will definitely be worth it!