Iceland is the land of fire and ice, and if you want to see some ice Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoons are the place to go! These lagoons are both created by outlets of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. They are right off the Ring Road and a can’t miss destination in Iceland! Huge chunks of ice break off the glacier outlets and float out into the lagoons. The effects of global warming have taken its toll on Vatnajökull and the glacier has been melting at an increasing rate making these lagoons grow. They are in constant movement as the ice melts and is pushed by new icebergs calving into the water. The constant change of these amazing places means it will never look the same twice and we experienced this when we visited twice in less than 24 hours and had two very different experiences!
Jökulsárlón is the larger and more popular glacial lagoon. We stopped here twice on our trip as it was close to our turn around point at Höfn on our South coast adventure of Iceland. On the first day we visited it was a sunny and clear afternoon. I was really hoping that we would be able to take one of the boat tours out into the lagoon but when we arrived we realized that there was still so much ice in the water that this would not be possible. I was disappointed, but I realized that we were lucky to see the lagoon in spring filled with thousands of giant icebergs! The pictures I saw of the lagoon in summer only had a few scattered icebergs that were so massive they didn’t melt in the summer sun. Iceland is such a great place to visit multiple times because it is so different in every season. I can’t wait to come back in summer and take a boat tour across the lagoon right up the the massive glacier outlet!
In the few open spots of water there were dozens of seals! Most were swimming around not far from the shores and others were sun bathing on the ice. They were a fun bunch to watch for awhile as we walked along the shores. Piles of ice littered the lagoons beaches and there several signs with strong warnings to not go out on the ice! I can see how it would be tempting to adventure out on those giant icebergs as you could easily step onto them right from the shore. However, it was also easy to see how much these icebergs were moving and how dangerous this could be. Just the day before we visited a group of tourists decided to ignore the warnings and venture out onto the ice. They became stranded when the ice shifted and cut off their path back to shore. They were stranded in the middle of the lagoon on an unstable iceberg that could flip or break at any moment for hours while rescue teams had to use a helicopter to hover over the lagoon and bring the tourists to safety! So the moral of the story is… don’t go on the ice!!
On that sunny afternoon the tide was coming in and the current through the narrow passage from the lagoon to the ocean was very strong. We sat for awhile and enjoyed watching the icebergs break off and try to float out to sea only to get caught in the heavy current and be smashed back into the wall of ice. We eventually ventured to the other side of the road where we found a beautiful black sand beach called Diamond Beach. There were a few small pieces of ice along the shore and we could watch some icebergs move around and melt in the current rushing into the lagoon.
The next day we passed Jökulsárlón again on our way back to Reykjavik. This morning was cloudy and overcast and we decided to explore Diamond Beach again. This time when we stopped it was low tide and the beach was filled with giant icebergs! These chunks of glacier must have weighed hundreds or thousands of pounds! Most were taller then me and had to be 10+ft wide! Some were a deep gorgeous blue and others were very clear and you could see rocks trapped inside. They were in all sorts of shapes and sizes and many had melted in interesting and beautiful ways. In the contrast of the dark black sand these icebergs really did look like giant amazing diamonds scattered all across the beach.
Fjallsárlón lagoon is located about 7 mi down the road from Jökulsárlón. A short dirt road takes you to the parking area and you can’t see the lagoon until you walk up the short hill. It seemed that there was usually a sign for this road, but there was some road repairs being done when we visited and the sign was missing. However, it is the only road near this area so it was easy to tell that it was the road we needed! Fjallsárlón is much less impressive than Jökulsárlón; but it is also much less crowded! If you have the extra time to check out this lagoon I would recommend it.
We only spent a short time here to take in the sounds of the ice moving and to search for the arctic fox we heard barking near by! Being so alone in such a spectacular place is what made Fjallsárlón so amazing. We didn’t have time to stop here the day before when the skies were clear and sunny, but the foggy weather only added to the tranquility of the lagoon. It was almost eerie with the starch contrast of the black sand to the white ice and snow muted by the fog. The screaming high pitched bark of the fox added to the mysterious energy of the lagoon and the sounds of the ice moving a cracking seemed to echo endlessly in the calm air. Everywhere else we visited in Iceland was so excitable with strong winds, roaring waterfalls, or trails to navigate that it felt so unique to have this calm experience at Fjallsárlón. I can’t wait to visit Iceland again and have another new experience at these glacial lagoons!
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