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Jutting into the Atlantic from Iceland’s west coast, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula has often been referred to as “Iceland in a Nutshell” or “Mini Iceland”. And with good reason. Just about everything Iceland’s magical landscape has to offer can be found somewhere in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, whether it be volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, gorges, lava fields, tantalizing rock formations or stacks of basalt columns. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has all of these and that’s just part of what makes it the ultimate west coast road trip. Heck, if you visit in summer and take advantage of the nearly endless daylight, you could even turn it into the ultimate west coast DAY trip!
Yet another reason to drive up Iceland’s West Coast and visit the Snaefellsness Peninsula in Summer is to take advantage of the puffin sightseeing boats that LakiTours runs from Grundarfjordur. These only run from June through August. But fear not… if you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Winter, they run amazing whale watching tours from there instead! And at any time of year, be sure to stop at Hraunfosser and Barnafoss waterfalls on your way up to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We also highly recommend stopping for the “Into the Glacier” experience under Langjokull Glacier as well.
We’ll have much more on Hraunfosser, Barnafoss, and the “Into the Glacier” experience in an upcoming post. But for now, onward to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula!
GERDUBERG BASALT COLUMNS
Driving up Iceland’s West Coast on Route 1 from Reykjavik you’ll come to the town of Borgarnes. From there, drive Route 54 west for about 30 minutes and you’ll see a turnoff on the right side (just after Route 55 but before Route 567) for Gerduberg. Here you can park and hike up to massive basalt stacks, reminiscent of the same type of columns found at Reynisfjara Beach, Svartifoss, and in the architecture of the famous Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik. There is also a path there leading to the top of these stacks.
Continuing down Route 54 West for 40 minutes, you’ll come to a left-hand turn off for Route 574/Utnesvegur. Follow 574 for about 5 miles more and you’ll see the stunning Raudfelsgja Gorge (pictured above) out your right side. Park and take the walking path up to the giant crack in the rock. But wait, there’s more! Traverse the “secret path” inside the fissure! The gorge extends inside the Rauðfeldsgjá fissure for awhile and continually narrows as you approach the mouth of the canyon stream inside (the same stream which over time actually carved the canyon). As you walk and climb, the canyon walls are covered with vibrant green moss and the imposing walls looming on either side lend a sense of Iceland’s majesty and mystique (click here to see truly breathtaking and up-close aerial/video footage by Edgar Granados of Iceland’s majesty and mystique). The approximately 30-minute hike from the road to Raudfeldsgja is well worth it to experience something other-worldly that people usually only see in sci-fi flicks.
NOTE: The first section of the canyon path is easy. However, the further into the canyon you venture, the more physical fitness and balance is required. At times, you’ll be required to step from rock to rock while leaning on the cliff walls, so waterproof boots are a good idea!
Next up, just 2 miles further down Route 574 beyond the gorge, is the picturesque fishing village of Arnarstapi. From here, you can see Mt. Stapafell, a volcanic mountain on the south side of Snaefellsjokull Glacier. Snaefellsjokull itself is a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped Stratovolcano that is located near the western end of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and visible from nearly anywhere on the peninsula, and sometimes even from Reykjavik.
Arnarstapi itself is home to some extremely impressive sea stacks, rock formations and arches by the water, such as the Gatklettur Arch.
As you approach Arnarstapi, turn left off 574 onto Arnarstapavegur. Drive to the end, park and look for the head of the spectacular cliff-top hiking path through a lava field that leads all the way from Arnarstapi to Hellnar. Take care as you walk along the water and enjoy the views. The route (which is not particularly well-marked) takes about an hour each way and worth the trek.
Incidentally, Arnarstapi is also a charming place to grab a seaside meal.
When leaving Arnarstapi, drive back up Arnarstapavegur and make a left turn back onto Route 574/Utnesvegur. About 10 minutes up the road there’s a car park on the left side for the Londrangar cliffs/pillars and a dirt path leads you out to some more truly science fiction-like rock formations. Careful to approach the cliffs slowly!
Last, but definitely not least, is Mt. Kirkjufell. If you’ve seen advertisements for Iceland tourism in the past few years, then you’ve almost certainly come across photos of the iconic Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls (which were also featured in Season 7, Episode 6 of Game of Thrones).
Bearing some resemblance to Switzerland’s Matterhorn, Mt. Kirkjufell is a 463m high symmetric, free-standing mountain whose name means “Church Mountain”. And it is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. From Londrangar it is reachable simply by continuing further along Route 574/Utnesvegur in the same direction, through scenic Snaefellsjokull National Park. Wind all around the western tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and back eastwards until you come to the town of Grundarfjordur (from which town you can also board LakiTours‘ puffin and whale-watching boats).
There is a car park from which the mountain and the waterfalls are both visible an d a trail that leads you around the bottom of the mountain. You can hike up the mountain as well, but it’s best to to do this only with a trained guide. Kirkjufell also makes a great setting from which to view the Northern Lights!
All of these amazing sights are why Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the Ultimate West Coast Road Trip.
For 9 reasons why you should visit Iceland this Winter, click here now!