Iceland 5

A Year-round Outdoor Enthusiast’s Paradise

Was one of your new year’s resolutions to travel more? If getting yourself more fit also was on your list, you might want to check out Iceland. This small country is a year-round outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with an abundance of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, rivers, lakes and caves, all waiting to be explored and photographed. (Tip: It’s also a warm and welcoming place for those less athletically inclined.)

Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 348,580 and an area of 103,00 kilometers, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital, Reykjavik, is its largest city. The interior consists of sand and lava fields and mountains, and many glacier rivers flow to the sea through the low lands. Volcanically and geologically active, Iceland offers numerous opportunities for exploring and hiking, as well as relaxing in one of its thermal pools.

Two area residents, Zac and Meagan Rose, found plenty to do and see during their recent trek to Iceland; they were especially enamored of its many waterfalls (of which there are an astonishing number: approximately 10,000!).

After their Iceland visit, the couple told their travel agent, Bonnie Hedges of Bentley Hedges Travel in Oklahoma City, that one of their favorite places to visit was Vatnajökull National Park, where a milelong hike led them to a beautiful waterfall.

(Iceland also has two other official national parks: Þingvellirand Snæfellsjökull. The reasoning behind the three national parks and their official recognition lies in the respective areas’ geology, history and cultural significance, providing an incredible backdrop from where visitors can acquire a deeper insight and understanding into what makes Iceland so unique.)

To see as much as possible of this beautiful country, Meagan and Zac rented a car, pulling off the road when they came across a waterfall or other sight they wanted to explore on foot.

Meagan says that Skógafoss was Zac’s favorite waterfall. “Not far off of the highway, you park in a gravel parking lot and can literally walk as close to the waterfall as you want,” he said. “The scenery here was beautiful. There are steps and you can walk up to the top and along the river—but be prepared for a climb! The stairs are no joke!”

One of Iceland’s most visited sites, and part of Iceland’s “Golden Circle Tour,” is a two-tier waterfall and nearby geyser that is said to be even more powerful than Niagara Falls.

Meagan’s favorite part of the whole trip was to Silfra, located in the Þingvallavatn Lake in the Þingvellir National Park. “This is the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian plates,: she says. “The colors were absolutely amazing, and you could see down as far as your eyesight lets you. The water is below freezing, so they put us in in dry suits. You were cold while snorkeling, but your body is completely dry when you take off your suit. Such an awesome experience!”

Their travels also took them to a black beach at Sólheimasandur where, in 1973, a U.S. Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed. “Thankfully, everyone survived the crash!” Meagan notes. “This has become a popular sight, but the walk to get out to it is pretty far. I want to say it was about 2 miles each way. So, you need to allow yourself a little bit of time if this is something you want to do.”

As Meagan and Zac continued exploring Iceland, they came upon an iceberg-studded lagoon (Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon), located in the southeast part of the country. “The seals will come close to the shoreline for you to get a good look at them,” Meagan notes, also pointing out that boat tours are offered that will get you up close and personal with the icebergs. “If you go a little further down,” she adds, “there’s a place they call ‘Diamond Beach, which is full of large chunks of ice that have washed up onshore.”

The couple also enjoyed their visit to Reykjavík, where Iceland’s largest church stands proudly watch over the city. Visitors are allowed inside and may even go up to the observation tower at the top during regularly scheduled tours.

And though they came away with a tremendous appreciation for the beauty of this little country’s natural beauty, they shared that “Iceland’s most unrivaled treasure is the people.”

Bonnie Hedges of Travel Leaders/Bentley Hedges Travel Oklahoma contributed to this story. To learn more about their travel packages to Iceland, or many other destinations around the world, visit one of their experienced travel agents in their new office located at 10021 S. Pennsylvania Ave., in Oklahoma City, visit bhtravel.com or call 237.3333.