Askja is an isolated wilderness in the centre of Iceland with a stunning series of volcanic calderas and craters. As one of the more challenging destinations to get to, here’s how to see Askja by self-drive, tour or bus.
Askja is a mysterious wilderness in the central mountainous region of Iceland.
Made up of a series of interlinking calderas and craters that burst into life 10,000 years ago thanks to several violent volcanic eruptions, Askja is a colourful reminder that Iceland is still a work in progress.
The colourful rocky walls of the huge calderas are filled with a vibrant lake, nestled beside a younger crater with steep orange and yellow sides and a milky geothermal pool. Set under the white-topped reaches of the Vatnajökull Glacier, Askja is a magical place.
Despite its unusual beauty, half the fun of Askja is getting there. Located deep in the heart of the Iceland highlands, the journey involves a long bumpy trip crossing lava fields, traversing long sandy stretches and tackling several significant river crossings.
The thrill of the journey, the desolation of the volcanic system and the natural beauty make Askja an adventure well worth achieving.
Having made the journey several times, we’ve put together all the information you need including how to get there, tours you can take when to go and what to do in the remote magnificence of Askja.
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FACTS ABOUT ASKJA VOLCANO
Askja is a large volcano situated in the Dyngjufjöll mountain range which is part of the Vatnajökull Glacier National Park in the Iceland Highlands. Its main caldera was formed over 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age when, during an eruption, the roof of the large magma chamber collapsed in on itself causing a depression.
The result was an enormous 45 square kilometre caldera, 8 kilometres in length.
In 1875 another eruption, Iceland’s largest in recent times, created a smaller 4.5-kilometre-wide caldera inside the original. The explosion spewed poisonous ash into the air which spread across eastern Iceland reaching as far as Poland.
This smaller caldera is filled by Öskjuvatn Lake, Iceland’s deepest lake at 217 metres, suspended 50 metres beneath the caldera rim. In summer it shimmers a gorgeous sapphire blue, but in winter it’s frozen over.
Towards the end of the 1875 eruption, an explosion of rock formed Viti Crater. Lying on the northeast shore of Öskjuvatn Lake, this crater is scarred a red, orange, and yellow colour. The crater is filled with a milky blue geothermal pool which is about 25 °C in temperature. The pungent smell of sulphur still pervades the air.
Craters are formed by the outward explosion of rocks and other materials from a volcano. Calderas are formed by the inward collapse of a volcano.
It’s this combination of picturesque interlinking cauldrons (2 calderas and 1 crater) that makes Askja so unique.
Askja Volcano is still active, but last erupted (on a much smaller scale) in 1961. There have been rumblings ever since and scientists continue to monitor the situation.
IS ASKJA WORTH VISITING?
There are many great places to visit in Iceland’s Highlands and Askja is one of the best. There are three great reasons to visit.
Firstly, the interlinked calderas and craters of Askja are unique. Rich in multiple colours, they are a magnificent sight and excellent for photography.
Secondly, the journey to Askja Volcano is exciting. It takes 3 to 4 hours each way and it’s one of the most challenging F-roads in the country. The journey involves crossing 2 rivers, driving over a lava field and through long sandy sections.
Thirdly, heading to Askia is like nowhere else in Iceland. It’s desolate, wild and thoroughly remote. The scenery shifts between moonscapes and deserts with rocky mountains and glacial rivers breaking the barren landscape.
HOW TO GET TO ASKJA
Askja is deep in the Iceland Highlands, so to get to Askja Volcano you will need to take a mountain road, also known as an F-road. These are unpaved tracks which are only open during the summer months and can only be used in a 4×4 vehicle.
There are three ways to get to Askja: Self-Drive of the F-Roads, a 4×4 Bus, or Private Tour.
DRIVING TO ASKJA
Driving to Askja is an adventurous experience, but not one you should take too lightly. There are significant river crossings to negotiate and it’s a long and very bumpy journey. You will need at least a medium-sized 4×4 (nothing smaller) and some experience crossing rivers. We have written in-depth about driving the F-roads in Iceland, so make sure you have a read of that before your drive to Askja.
The shortest route to drive to Askja is from the North. There are two options – F905/F910 or the F88.
DRIVING TO ASKJA VIA THE F905 & F910
The F905 & F910 is the most attractive route to Askja.
The F905 heads south from a collection of huts at Möðrudalur. It is an easy F-road with only small streams to cross and wonderful views over pointy mountains rising over a mix of black gravel & green meadows. After about 30 minutes it meets the F910 Austurleið road, where you should turn right and follow the signs to Askja.
After 10 minutes you will reach the first river crossing. In normal, conditions this is a medium-sized river crossing and you will need at least a medium-sized 4×4 to attempt it. See our tips for crossing rivers in Iceland.
We have crossed this twice in a medium-sized 4×4, but the second time it was at the edge of what the 4×4 could handle. Be careful and if need be, wait for another car.
The second river crossing is shortly after the first.
It’s a good idea to practice crossing rivers before you attempt the drive to Askja, a good place to start fording rivers in a 4×4 is the F225 to Landmannalaugar.
After the 2 crossings, it’s a long, slow drive with extremely bumpy patches and long sections of sand. Take your time over the rocks, especially if you have low clearance.
Roughly 2.5-3 hours after the F905/910 junction you will reach Dreki – a campsite with toilets, a few huts, and usually a ranger. From here, turn right on the F894 for a bumpy 15-minute ride over the lava field to Vikraborgir Car Park and the start of the hiking trail that leads to Viti Crater and Öskjuvatn Lake.
Askia via F905/F190 Details // 95 kilometres | Duration – expect it to take around 30 minutes from Route 1 to the F905/F910 junction; around 2 hours, 30 minutes from the F905/F910 junction to Dreki plus 15 minutes from Dreki to Vikraborgir | Vehicle – minimum mid-sized 4×4.
DRIVING TO ASKJA VIA THE F88
The alternative route to Askja from the north is the F88.
This route has 4 river crossings to deal with. Two are usually relatively small and easy to cross in most 4×4 SUVs. The third, by Grafarlandsfoss, is usually passable in a medium-sized 4×4.
The final river, Lindaá can at times present more of a challenge. The river is wide and the depth can be unpredictable. When not too deep it’s no more difficult than the crossings on the F910. But, when it is deep, the extra width means you have more time in the water to potentially damage the engine if you don’t have sufficient clearance. At times you may need a large 4×4 with high clearance and other times its completely impassable.
After just over 2 hours and wonderful views up to Herðubreið mountain, the F88 meets the F910 (after the two river crossings). Turn right and follow signs to Dreki and then the F894 to Vikraborgir Car Park and the start of the hiking trail that leads to Viti Crater and Öskjuvatn Lake.
Askja via F88 Details // 100 kilometres | Duration – 3 hours | Vehicle – minimum mid-sized 4×4 but possibly larger depending on the conditions.
WHICH ROUTE SHOULD YOU TAKE?
If this is your first time driving to Askja we recommend taking the F905 / F910 route out there, then asking a ranger what the conditions are like on the F88. They will be able to assess your vehicle and let you know if you will be able to make the Lindaá crossing whatever the conditions are on the day.
If the conditions are favourable, you’ll have a great round trip via the F88, if not, you can return the way you came on the F905/F910.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED AT ASKJA?
Whichever route you decide to take, driving to Askja is a long day.
Allow at least 6 hours for the driving alone. In addition, you’ll need around 45 minutes to walk to the crater site and some additional time to look around and take photos. Including breaks on the way there and back, expect the whole day to take around 8-10 hours.
MAP / DRIVING TO ASKJA
You can find the routes to Askja on the map below including the tricky river crossings. The F905 / F910 is in purple, the F88 in orange, the F894 in red. The route marked in brown is the F910 to the Holuhraun Lava Field which we will cover later in the post. Trails to the caldera and crater begin at Vikraborgir car park.
HIGHLAND BUS TO ASKJA
Myvatn Tours runs tours on a specifically designed 4×4 bus to Askja. The tour includes the 3-to-4-hour drive to Askja, 2.5 hours of free time at the caldera (which is plenty to see the main sights) and the return journey.
It departs from Myvatn, takes 11 to 12 hours, and makes a few breaks on route in each direction to stretch your legs. It costs roughly US$185 per person.
SUPER JEEP TOUR TO ASKJA
Another great way to get there is on a private or small group super jeep tours. These modified vehicles have massive wheels and high clearance meaning little gets in their way as they make quick progress. Most start near Myvatn, take the F88 and allow plenty of time to the caldera, craters as well as Drekagil Canyon.
THINGS TO DO AT ASKJA
1 – HIKE TO VITI CRATER
Don’t miss the hike to Viti. From its rim you can stare at the milky blue geothermal pool surrounded by a wonderful array of reds, oranges and yellow. Behind it is the smaller caldera filled with the sapphire blue Öskjuvatn Lake.
And all around you is the third larger caldera a mix of imposing black, brown and red rocks.
The 2.4-kilometre hike to the crater leaves from Vikraborgir Car Park and is well marked with poles. When the snow has gone it takes just over thirty minutes, but the snow can linger here well into summer, so allow up to 45 minutes. Wear waterproof shoes or hiking boots.
There are toilets at the Vikraborgir Car Park car park, but no other facilities on route.
2 – BATHE IN VITI CRATER
It’s possible to bathe in Viti Crater, but it’s very rare that the conditions allow it. It’s 30 metres from the top of the crater rim down to the water and the path is very steep and very muddy. Most often the rangers have the path closed for safety reasons.
If you have a clear dry day with no wind, and everything is just right, you may be able to do it.
If you can, the temperature is between 25-30 °C (77-85°F) and it looks like a thoroughly unique experience, that we’ve never had the chance to do.
3 – EXPLORE DREKAGIL CANYON
Drekagil Canyon is a collection of strange-shaped rocks just behind the huts at Drekil, where the F910 and F894 meet. Known as Dragon Gully, it’s an interesting place to explore with twisted lava forming steep-sided walls with a small waterfall at the end.
There’s a bit of scrambling over rocks alongside a stream, but it’s a short hike that only takes about ten minutes.
4 – DRIVE TO HOLUHRAUN LAVA FIELD
In 2014 a volcanic eruption at Holuhraun – just south of Askja – created a carpet of black lava more than 33 square miles (85 square kilometres). At the time it was the largest eruption in Iceland for over 230 years. Today this layer of black spiky rock sits behind a vast wasteland of black sand and gravel. There is not a load to see here but the drive is exciting.
The F910 continues south and east from Drekil (marked in brown on the map above), and after a bumpy start it quickly gives way to a very long stretch of deep black sand under the gaze of the Vatnajökull glacier.
After about 45 minutes there is a small circular parking lot from where you can walk on the lava field – marked on the map above.
This part of the F910 is not marked on google but it is on Maps.me. We have shown a rough indication of the route and parking lot on the map above. Just remember you are adding on 90 minutes to an already long day.
WHEN TO VISIT TO ASKJA?
The best time to go to Askja is from late-June to mid-September when the snow has mostly melted and the roads are usually open.
If you plan to self-drive to Askja, you can only do this over the summer months as the F-Roads are closed for the rest of the year. The F910 and F88 generally open in the last week of June (but can be as late as early July) and close around mid to early-September.
The Myvatn Tours 4×4 Bus usually starts in mid-June and runs daily until mid to early-September.
Super jeeps can make the journey all year round and allow you to see this amazing landscape covered in snow. Askja in winter must be quite a sight, and you will almost definitely have it all to yourself, but many of the colorful mountains will be blanketed in white.
WHERE TO STAY TO VISIT ASKJA VOLCANO?
Dreki Hut // Right in the heart of Askja, Dreki Hut provides dormitory accommodation for up to 55 people. There’s a toilet and shower block and kerosene-operated stoves in the kitchen. The huts open 20 June to 15 Sep depending on weather conditions. A campsite is right outside the hut.
Möðrudalur a Fjollum // The most convenient place to stay for a day trip to Askja is on the northern edge of the F905 at Möðrudalur. These large wooden huts have rooms with a shared lounge. There’s a choice of singles, doubles, or family rooms with private or shared bathrooms. It’s a wonderfully remote community and full of adventurers heading into the highlands.
Fosshótel Myvatn // For a bit more luxury in a wonderfully designed building head to Fosshótel Myvatn. On the northern edge of Myvatn Lake its modern structure melds into the landscape and provides a comfortable bolt hole from the wildness of Iceland. And there are lots of things to do in the Myvatn area.
Stuðlagil Canyon Accommodation // If you are coming from (or heading to) the east fjords after Askja make sure you visit Stuðlagil Canyon – the best basalt pillars in Iceland. This small, cosy house is just 200 metres from the viewing platform, and perfect for visiting early in the morning or late in the evening when no one else is there.
FACILITIES AT ASKJA AND ON THE WAY
There are no gas stations on these roads. The nearest stations are at Reykjahlíð near Myvatn , at Möðrudalur just north of the F905, and on Route 1 just north of magnificent Stuðlagil Canyon. Be sure to fill up at either of these before you head into the highlands.
There are also no shops or supplies on either road. Take everything you need with you including food, water, and warm clothes. Be sure to read our F-roads in Iceland post before setting off
There are toilets at Drekil and at the Vikraborgir Car Park.
You can fill up with water at the Drekil Campsite however, there are no shops to pick up any other supplies.
TIPS BEFORE YOU GO TO ASKJA CALDERA
Askja Caldera is in a remote part of Iceland with few facilities so it’s important to be prepared for your journey. Here are some tips before you head off:
01 – Read our tips on 4×4 driving in the highlands before you go.
02 – Allow 8 to 10 hours for the whole day trip including the drive to Askja Caldera, hiking to Viti Crater and driving back again. Leave as early as possible.
03 – Always leave with a full tank of fuel. There are no gas stations on this route and running out is not something you want to worry about. We used about half a tank to get there and back.
04 – Take enough food and water with you for the whole day. There is no food available on route but several Iceland supermarkets before on the Ring Road before you turn onto the mountain roads.
05 – Check weather conditions and pack warm clothes, waterproofs and hiking boots. The highlands are colder than the coast and the weather can change quickly. It was 4 degrees when we were there in the middle of summer.
06 – Download google maps and/or maps.me for the area onto your phone. Your GPS will work even if you do not have data. It can be invaluable for tracking your drive to Askja and when you are hiking if the cloud comes down.
07 – Tell someone where you are heading, ask them about local road difficulties, and make sure you know your rental company breakdown and Iceland road safety phone numbers. More details are in our travel tips for Iceland guide.
08 – Drekil has a campsite and huts, and the people who manage the campsite are often there if you need help. Rangers are regularly on patrol, either at the car parks or along the roads. They are a great source of current information, so ask them about the conditions.
09 – Life is delicate in Iceland. Plants grow very slow and can be destroyed quickly. This is particularly true in the Vatnajökull National Park where life is often just beginning. Stay on the road at all times. Not only is off-road driving illegal it can set nature back hundreds of years.
PLANNING YOUR ICELAND TRIP
Iceland is an excellent destination for semi-adventurous travellers who like to get off-the-beaten-track and immerse themselves in stunning scenery. Here’s some more reading from us to help plan your journey to the land of fire and ice.
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