Warning: this is a very image-heavy post!
Exploring Iceland has been a literal dream of mine for years. I'd seen so many photos of the other-worldly landscapes, moody mountains and black sand beaches. It was finally time to live my dream in the Fall of 2016. Jesse and I spent 17 days driving around the entire island camping in our rooftop tent and navigating the Icelandic coastline. It was incredible to say the least.
Planning a camping road trip to Iceland in the fall (especially late fall) is a whole different beast than the summer because the tourist season is winding down and many places close. So while these recommendations are fit for mostly any time of year, the campgrounds are especially to help those planning trips in the late fall - something I struggled to find information on before my own trip.
(Note: this particular post does not include the Golden Circle - I will share a separate post on that.)
When to go
We chose to visit Iceland in the fall (Sept 13 - Sept 30, 2016) because of several factors. 1.) it happened to be when we both had time off from work, 2.) the weather was still okay for camping, 3.) we wanted to be able to see the northern lights - which we did! Here were some of my own personal thoughts to consider before planning our trip that may help you as well:
- Summer: 24hrs of daylight, great weather, perfect camping conditions, peak tourist season (read: lots of people standing in your way to get the perfect shot!), interior roads are open.
- Fall: Normal daylight-to-night ratio, weather is getting a bit chilly, lots of rain, some camping facilities are still open through Sept 30 or early Oct, roads to the interior are still open until around Oct 1st.
- Winter: Short days, long nights (great for northern light viewing), very cold, lots of snow, many roads may be closed or inaccessible including interior roads, campgrounds will be closed.
- Spring: I actually don't know much about the spring, but IHeartReykjavik says there can still be snow storms and road closures as well as shortened daylight hours. I believe the interior roads stay closed until the summer.
What to Do / See
One quick note I have is that bathrooms are pretty difficult to come by. A large majority of these places don't have any facilities, so make sure you stop at a gas station or find a spot in nature before-hand. Nature spots are hard to find since there are basically no trees, so just hope you don't get caught with your pants down and carry plenty tissues. Oh, and be sure to take your tissue trash with you - don't litter.
Being from the US, I was totally thrown off by my first experience at an Icelandic campground because I had no clue how they work. After 17 days of camping, I felt like a veteran and taught newcomers how to go about camping.
Basically, for most campgrounds you can pull in and find a spot wherever you want on the grass or gravel. If there are specific sections for tents, camp vans, or RVs, you'll want to make sure you park in the correct area. For smaller campgrounds they kind of have a "park anywhere" philosophy. For bigger campgrounds there is a big more order. Some campgrounds have common rooms or indoor kitchens that you can use. Every campground is equipped with indoor bathrooms (usually they are quite nice) and some even have free showers.
After finding a spot to park, you'll either want to visit the office (if there is one) or wait for the camp host to come around and collect your payment. If you pull in after hours then they will collect your payment the next morning. And that's it! It's super chill and does not require reservations! Here are a few I stayed at, or some I considered staying at:
- Arnes (open until Sept 18)
- Skogar Campsite (open year round)
- Kirkjubæjarklaustur Campsite (open until Sept 30)
- Svinafellsjokull Campsite (open until Sept 30)
- Skaftafell National Park Campsite (open year round)
- Hofn Campsite (open until Sept 30)
- Vesturhorn / Stokksnes Campsite (not sure how long it's open until, maybe Sept 30)
Here's some more random things I wish I knew before my trip, things I discovered along the way, or things I learned before my trip!
- Bottled water is a waste of money. Bring your own bottles that pack down, or buy one water bottle to use the entire trip. Water is free everywhere and it tastes great.
- You don't need any cash. As long as you have a credit card that waves International fees, you are set to go. Some places (like un-manned certain gas stations) only take credit card, so be prepared. Literally every place takes credit card, even campgrounds, and even those tiny little village shops way up in the West Fjords. The only time we paid in cash was when we tipped our tour guide in Reykjavik.
- Everyone speaks English. The only time we had issues with the language barrier was when we went shopping at the supermarkets.
- Try Skyr, their famous yogurt. Also Smor, their butter.
- Try as many foods as you can, especially the lamb, seafood, and hot dogs.
- Plot your trip out on a map. We bought this map from NatGeo and spent a weekend plotting our entire trip out on the map. We literally never got lost or made a wrong turn.
- Top your gas up as regularly as you can. Sometimes you can go quite the distance without running into a gas station.
- Their business hours are quite short, especially for supermarkets. They often open late and close early, especially by American standards. It's not an issue as long as you plan in advance.
- There are free bathrooms in Reykjavik! You'll see signs for "W.C." in and around the city.
- If you are renting a car, know the etiquette of the road before you begin driving. You can read more specific info here.
- If you are camping, make a stop of Reykjavik Campground at the start of your journey - a lot of campers leave their leftovers in bins at various campgrounds after their trips. You can usually score free stove fuel, food, and other goodies.
Have any questions? Feel free to ask me in the comments below!
my to-do list
There is so much to see and do in Iceland, it would probably take a lifetime and more to do so. But here are some other things on my radar that I'd like to eventually cross off my bucket list (and hopefully recommend to you!) after further exploration of the country.
- Seljavallalaug Zwembad
- Glacier hiking
- Þórsmörk to Skogar hike
- Kristínartindar - a hike at Skaftafell National Park
- Diamond beach at Jökulsárlón
- Take a boat tour at Jökulsárlón
- More exploration at Vesturhorn / Stokksnes
My fiancee and I create detailed packing lists dedicated to each trip we go on. We call our adventures "jandmworldtour" (check out our hashtag on Instagram!) for our names - Jesse and Marlena.
Iceland was quite the undertaking because of the weather, camping, and the road trip aspect of it. We had a lot to be prepared for. We flew with WOW Airlines and ended up each bringing a small carry-on and then paid extra for a large checked bag each. If you're interested in checking out our packing list, you can view it here.
(Note: Nearly all of the places I visited were in the "recommendations" list, but if there's anything you want to know about specifically, feel free to ask questions in the comments!)