Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice because of its abundance of both volcanoes and glaciers. Iceland itself was formed by volcanic activity over millions of years, giving us the beautiful country we have today. But volcanoes don’t just create new land; their eruptions cause disruptions to humanity. No eruption is more famous in Iceland than the Lakí eruptions of 1783-84, the largest eruption this country has seen since its settlement. This eruption had far-reaching consequences that spread beyond this small island.
Lakagigar in Iceland
Between June 8th, 1783, and February 1784, the Grímsvötn volcanic system in the south of Iceland erupted almost continuously. This eruption left behind a 25 km-long volcanic fissure that came to be known as Lakagígar, or Lakí craters. But the volcanic activity caused more than just a series of craters in Iceland; it impacted much of the northern hemisphere. These historical times are very significant for Icelanders. At least 20% of the population died as a result and at least 75% of the livestock was also killed. These deaths were either directly from the lava flow, or from the crop failure that occurred by coverage from toxic ash, causing people to starve. This came to be known as the Haze Famine.
The Lakí eruption affected weather patterns for years after in North America, Europe and North Africa. The haze spread as far as Russia and China. It had a massive impact on grain production in France, which added to their already widespread poverty, and is believed to have been a major factor in the onset of the French Revolution. The resulting lava field left behind after the eruption covers 565 km².
Lakagígar Iceland Volcano
After hearing all of that historical context, I imagine you want to see this place for yourself. Well, you can. But it involves driving on one of Iceland’s F roads; F206. The F-roads are gravel roads that lead to the highlands of Iceland. They are challenging and you will have to rent a 4x4 vehicle to be legally allowed to drive on them. Renting a Dacia Duster in Reykjavik can be a good option if you're looking for a reliable 4WD that doesn't cost too much.
There is also the necessity to cross rivers on some roads, so be sure to check with your car rental company in Iceland that the car you’re hiring is suitable for that. Additionally, check what your insurance covers you for. Rocks on uneven, unpaved roads can jump up and damage the underside of your car, so it is essential to drive slowly, or get gravel protection insurance. Ensure that you pay close attention, as there will likely be potholes to avoid.
Also, be sure to fill your tank up before joining the F206; the last petrol station is in the nearby town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
Iceland Highlands Road F206
Road F206 is just over 40km long and takes you to Lakagígar, in Vatnajökull National Park. This national park is also home to Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. When you leave Reykjavík, follow Route 1 (the ring road) until you reach the F206, then follow that to the end. The F road alone should take you about an hour and a half, depending on weather conditions. It is here you will see some of Iceland’s most fascinating natural wonders; a long stretch of volcanic craters that ripped through Iceland for eight months and caused chaos for years after. While you are in the area, it’s well worth checking out Fagrifoss (the Beautiful Waterfall), which is found along F206.
Lakagígar contains a visitor trail that actually passes through one of the craters. It is only about 500m in length, so it’s recommended to follow that. Stick to the paths; avoid walking on moss, as this can kill it and it does not regrow in the same place.
F-Roads in Iceland Safety Tips
It’s worth noting that the F roads are not open all year round. They are only open from June to September, and specific opening times depend on how Iceland's weather conditions evolve during the year. If there has been a particularly strong winter, some roads may not open at all one year.
It’s a good idea to check before planning a visit to Lakagígar that the F206 is open. Additionally, you should not drive on it after heavy rainfall, as the rivers will be inflated and may be impossible to cross even if you got the best Jeep rental in Iceland. So, be smart about it and only embark on the F road quest when the weather is clear.
Should you become stuck on an F road, you have to be rescued by Björgunarsveit (the emergency rescue service) and it could take hours for them to reach you. Avoid driving off-road; this is illegal in Iceland and the fines if caught are heavy. Icelanders do their best to minimize their impact on nature and ask visitors to the country to do the same. Bring a good pair of walking boots and waterproof clothing, snacks and drinks, and you’re set for your adventure to Lakagígar.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars