Hallormsstaðaskógur national forest in East-Iceland is Iceland's leading woodland. It is Iceland's first national forest and has been preserved since 1905. It is a natural birch forest, but a nursing station was established in 1903 and experiments were made with the planting of foreign tree species.
The oldest larch grove in Hallormsstaðaskógur forest, Guttormslundur grove, dates back to 1938 and is named after Guttormur Pálsson, ranger. This is my travel-blog in a series I wrote about my travels in East Iceland.
Hiking in Hallormsstaðaskógur forest
Hallormsstaðaskógur forest has a unique arboretum with some 67 foreign tree species. And here the Icelandic joke: "What should you do when you get lost in an Icelandic forest?". The answer being: "Stand up!" doesn't apply - as some of the trees are quite tall.
Iceland is among the least forested countries in Europe, with forest land covering only 2% of the country. The Vikings cut down much of the forest when they settled Iceland, both for building houses and for fire making, but also for creating grazing areas for their cattle. We, locals, are now regaining the forests by forestation.
Autumn colours in Hallormsstaðaskógur forest
I worked for a couple of summers planting trees when I was a teenager and so did the majority of my generation.
In Hallormsstaðaskógur forest you can find great hiking trails, one of which leads you to the beautiful waterfall Ljósárfoss - also called Selfoss in Ljósá river. I got a map of the main hiking trails at the information centre.
By Ljósárfoss waterfall
I was on my way to hike up to Hengifoss waterfall on the other side of Lagarfljót lake but decided on visiting Ljósárfoss first as it was a short and easy hike.
The hike to Ljósárfoss waterfall is about an hour back and forth (850 meters from the road). It is an easy hike through parts of the beautiful Hallormsstaðaskógur forest.
Ljósárfoss waterfall is 18 m high and cascades from a cliff called Ljósárhryggur. When I visited this lovely waterfall there had been a draught in Iceland, making the waterfalls less powerful than usual.
There is a 3-meter high small waterfall a little bit below Ljósárfoss. On your way to the waterfall, you walk through the forest and you can see trees planted in 1965-67 from Siberia and Alaska.
Atlavík cove is a beautiful cove in Hallormsstaðaskógur woods. It is right by the lake Lagarfljót and there is a popular camping area here.
This area is so serene and the lake Lagarfljót sometimes looks like a mirror. It is a milky white greyish lake, which frequently changes its colour - ever so serene - until Lagarfljótsormurinn monster shows its head!
Atlavík used to be a popular meeting place for the locals and visitors when the big Atlavíkurhátið festivals were held here. In 1985 the Beatle Ringo Starr performed here with the popular Icelandic band Stuðmenn. These festivals, which were really big and popular, were held for the last time in the last decade of the last century.
The name Atlavík derives from the name of the settler Graut-Atli Þiðrandason, who is mentioned in the old Landnáma - the Book of Settlement in Iceland. Graut-Atli settled the eastern shore of the Lagarfljót river between Giljár and Vallarnes west of Uxalækur.
Klifá stone arch
In Hallormsstaðaskógur runs a river named Klifá. In one place beneath the road, it runs through a beautiful natural rock arch.
Folklore is linked to that rock arch:
"It so happened in Hallormsstað a long time ago that a bull was killed here. The men ran inside to make the so-called "skyndilifur", which is blood from the bull, which is solidified, cut into pieces, boiled quickly, and pickled!!
But as the butchers returned to the farmyard they saw that the bull had stood up and was walking away. The men followed the bull to the river Klifá. There the bull ran under the rock arch in the river. The men then returned back home. But the bull is said to live under the rock arch - even today!".
(Roughly translated into English from the Collection of Folklore of Jón Árnason).
Klifá stone arch
I have walked down to the rock arch several times and have fortunately never seen this bull, but I love legends that are connected to the places I visit and have written several travel-blogs where I include the legends.
Another legend is connected to the Lagarfljót lake as there is a monster living in the lake - the Lagarfljótsormurinn Serpent or Lagarfljótsormurinn Worm! I have written another travel-blog about the Lagarfljótsormurinn Serpent.
So be on the lookout for a monster when you visit this area!
I would advise you to drive around the lake and hike up to Hengifoss waterfall, Iceland's second-largest waterfall, but the return hike takes around 2 hours. And drop in at Skriðuklaustur as well:
The round-trip from Egilsstaðir around the lake is some 70 km long on ring road 1 and road 931 with a lot of interesting sights on the way.
GPS: N65° 5' 41.302" W14° 43' 59.575".
To reach Hallormsstaðaskógur in East-Iceland you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive from Reykjavík on ring-road 1 for a couple of days, either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Have a lovely time in East-Iceland :)