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Ultimate Guide to Camping and Campgrounds in Iceland

|July 8, 2020
Harsh Pual is an avid hiker, backpacker, camper. When not exploring the great outdoors, he takes up time for some home improvement projects. Currently, he’s self-isolating for a better safety and health approach.

Iceland is one of the most popular tourist destinations with millions of people visiting the nation every year — and for good reason.

The island nation has some of the most wondrous, pristine beauty in the world. If you want to see pure Iceland nature up close, skip the plush hotel room in the city. Instead, try camping or van camping in Iceland. Read on to learn more about the best places to camp in Iceland.

Things To Know When Camping In Iceland

Iceland is a great place to camp, but like every successful camping trip, some preparation and attention is essential. Here are our main tips before you set up camp in Iceland:

Knowing The Campground And Pitching The Tent

Campgrounds in Iceland are often open, wide fields. There aren’t many trees around, so don’t depend on them for shelter or protection from wind. It can get quite windy, so pick a tent that can withstand wind and rain. Also carry extra guylines and stakes to secure the tent well.

tents near a small waterfall in iceland

As it turns out, many campgrounds in Iceland are near cities. Some are right outside the city, while a few can actually be inside city limits. If you’re camping in these campgrounds or famous locations, check rules regarding where it's okay to pitch your tent. There are designated camping areas in Iceland and setting up your tent beyond them is illegal.

Backcountry camping has a bit more leeway and in some pockets of Iceland, you can set your tent off the trail. However, there still are areas where camping is not allowed. So, check to see if you’re legally allowed to set camp at specific locations.

A Tent Or A Camper Van?

caravan camping car in iceland

You can camp in a tent or an RV, MotorHome, or Camper Van. The vehicles allow a bit more comfort and make it somewhat convenient to move around to different camping spots. There’s also the comfort of taking your own time to soak in every location as you go trekking. These vehicles are available for rental, so if an RV is on your mind (and budget), go for it!

Be Prepared For The Cold

Stay prepared for cold weather even if you’re camping in summer. It gets quite cold and the weather can be temperamental. You might get a freak bout of hail and then head straight to a clear sunny day all in 15 minutes flat. Night temperature can go quite low and gusts of wind make it feel colder.

camping at night in iceland

Knowing the classic tricks to stay warm in a tent is helpful. A good quality sleeping bag that’s rated for temperature is an absolute necessity. Don’t forget warm clothes and a waterproof, windproof tent.

Go Your Own Way Or Get A Guide?

As a popular tourist destination, Iceland has several tourism agencies and guides. They’re usually quite helpful and can play a part in making a vacation more enjoyable. Of course, there’s always the choice of going it your own way.

relaxing in a tent and cooking food on a camping stove

Those unfamiliar with the country might see an advantage in having guides or tour operators leading them to different places. Often, they manage food, lodging, and trekking activities too, so all you have to do is enjoy the great outdoors!

Seasoned campers and hikers may see a benefit in going their own way. However, beginners and those not well-acquainted with the country should consider getting a guide. Check out some top-rated options for guided tours here.

Don’t Expect Campfires

Many of us see campfires as a quintessential part of camping. The old stereotype of sitting by the fire, roasting s’mores and sharing stories is pretty prevalent. Skip that for Iceland, because most sites won’t allow campfires. The stove is good for cooking, but unlikely to be a replacement for a fire.

One big reason for this is the overall lack of trees and thus timber and tinder in the country. Another reason is that the ecology of many locations is quite fragile and deserves extra protection.

The Days Of Summer Are Long

Remember how far north Iceland is? When you visit, be prepared for very long days. On average, the sun sets for barely three hours each day in the summer. The long daylight is great for visiting various spots late at night, but it’s terrible for sleeping in a tent!

pitched up tents at sunset in iceland

Unless you’ve got a proper blackout tent, it will be bright and shiny most of the time. Pack an eye mask, you’ll need it.

Quick Gear List When Camping In Iceland

Here are a few things you should carry along on your camping and trekking trip in Iceland. The list is not exhaustive and there can be a few things that change based on individual needs.

  • Waterproof and windproof tent
  • Extra guylines and stakes
  • Utensils
  • A camping stove
  • Eye mask
  • Sleeping bag rated for low temperature
  • Sleeping pad
  • Pillows and similar sleep accessories
  • An LED lamp or light
  • Water jug

Best Campsites in Iceland and Trails

1. Úlfsljótsvatn

Ulfsljotsvatn Camping site in iceland

Úlfsljótsvatn is a popular camping spot barely an hour from Reykjavik. The site is located on the southern side of Iceland's biggest natural lake, Þingvallavatn. Camping at the lake head on a site surrounded by lush meadows is a view to behold. The campground is managed by the Scouts Association of Reykjavík and the Icelandic Boy and Girl Scout Association.

2. Laugavegur Trek

man trekking mountain range in landmannalaugar

Perhaps the most famous trail in Iceland, Laugavegur Trek is great for hiking and camping. The path from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork usually takes four days and leads hikers through a diverse variety of the country’s landscapes. It’s a long trek at 55 kilometers (34 miles), but it’s not particularly tough for seasoned hikers.

3. Hólmavík

town of holmavik in iceland

Hólmavík village and its campground have a prime location to view the West Fjörds. There are great views and this campground has plenty of amenities as well. You’ll find a swimming pool, community center, grocery stores, restaurants, and the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in this village.

4. Skógar Campsite

camping site near skogafoss waterfall in skogar

At first glance, Skógar looks like a pretty nondescript campsite compared to others in Iceland. However, that view dramatically changes with its impressive view of the Skógafoss waterfall. The single drop waterfall has a height of 19 -fee, and very much deserves the title of “majestic” that is often thrown around meaninglessly these days.

5. Grand Laugavegur Trek

walking down a mountain towards landmannalaugar base camp in iceland

If you’ve got time on your side, take the Grand Laugavegur Trek. This impressive 98 kilometer (61 miles) trek takes you through Landmannalaugar, Laugavegur, and Fimmvorduhals. The trek takes almost a week, maybe more, and takes campers through some of the most impressive Icelandic landscapes including hot springs, wonderful mountains, and lava fields. 

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