Wild Camping and Hitchhiking in Iceland

asdIn early August, I went wild camping in Iceland. I had a fantastic time and some pretty crazy stuff happened along the way. I thought I’d share it, so here we go.

My traveling budget was limited, so my plan was to rent a tent and hitchhike my way to Iceland’s most popular spots, namely Pingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.

I bought a few groceries beforehand. As I had very limited space in my backpack, I couldn’t bring much food and equipment ( in the future I will be equipped with a bag from shootingauthority.com, I saw one in my travels and I am converted! ) . I opted for a kilogram of brown rice, a few cans of beans and a can of tomato sauce. I didn’t bring anything to cook with so I cooked the rice in advance and stored it in plastic containers. Here’s what my gear consisted of:

  • A tent
  • A digital camera
  • Two pairs of socks and a pair of boxers
  • A pair of jogging and a pair of jeans
  • A 500ml water bottle (didn’t have space for more water, I figured I would find lakes and river to fill it up along the way)
  • A raincoat
  • A sweatshirt
  • A shirt
  • A pair of boots, a pair of gloves and a tuque
  • A Swiss knife
  • A foam to sleep on

That’s all. I didn’t bring the best camping toilet I recently purchased, since I didn’t have space for it. I thought I’d have plenty of clothes to stay warm at night. I was so wrong. I should of followed my dad’s advice and read Jack’s guide on multi tools and camping. Iceland can gets cold, especially at night.

Day 1 – Leaving Reykjavik

I left Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital) at about noon. I intended to hitchhike from there to Pingvellir, an historical site featuring great landscape and viewpoints, ancient buildings and geothermal power plants.

I started hitchhiking on a highway exit but someone quickly yelled at me : “No one’s gonna pick you up man!  You can’t hitchhike here, it’s illegal!”. Great start!

I walked to a nearby bus station and met a guy from England who was already hitchhiking there. I joined him. After 15 minutes, we got picked up by a family (luckily they had two empty seats). They weren’t going exactly at Pingvellir but they dropped me off about halfway at a road crossing.

I couldn’t really hitchhike there since cars didn’t have room to pull over. I walked along the road, searching for a better spot. It was winding violently, around 60-70km/h. I could hardly stand. After a 30 minutes walk, I found a better spot where cars could pull over safely. Someone picked me up after about 5 minutes.

They were a nice 50-years-old Icelandic couple. Icelanders know their history extremely well and they’re proud of it. I therefore got a free lecture on Viking history and Icelandic culture along the ride! Iceland is a wonderful country.

They dropped me off at Pingvellir. I thanked them and they wished me good luck with my “wild camping”. After a few hours of walking around and exploring this beautiful place, it was getting late. I had to find a place to pitch my tent. I tried to hitchhiking to go further along the way but no one pulled over. I had to find another plan.

I began to wonder where I was going to sleep. I could’ve gone at a designated camping spot a few kilometers away but didn’t feel like it. I wanted to camp in the wild, not in a tourist spot. It wasn’t really an option to camp close to the road since it was very windy. Also, in national parks, wild camping outside designated areas is illegal and I would likely have been seen. Anyway, I wanted to go high up the mountains to get a nice view.

A few kilometers away from the road, there were intriguing mountains. I walked there and searched a nice spot that was shielded from the wind. Here’s why I pitched it:Wild Camping in IcelandIt was only 7pm, but I was already feeling cold although I had all my clothes on.  I went inside the tent, had brown rice and eventually, fell asleep. I felt vulnerable without sleeping bag.

I woke up a few hours after. I was a bit cold but it was tolerable. I was still hungry so I ate a little, meditated for a while and fell back asleep. I then woke up at midnight. I was getting uncomfortably cold. I warmed myself up by punching the air and moving as much as I could. I strapped my backpack to my back to lose as little heat as possible. As it had been my pillow until now, I had to sleep in a fetal position, face-facing down. Fortunately, although the position wasn’t super comfortable, I fell asleep quite quickly.

I then woke up at 4am and the cold was unbearable. I was shivering and could obviously not fall asleep. I had to warm myself up considerably. I went outside and ran in the mountains to heat myself up. I did some jumping jacks, push-ups and other physical exercises and after 30 minutes, I was feeling much better.

I slowly saw the sun rising behind the mountains. I love sun rises. At this point, I was fully awake so I sat on the grass facing the sun and meditated. How good did the warmth of the sun on my face feel :

Wild Camping Iceland I spent almost 2 hours appreciating the wonderfulness of the present moment and went back to sleep. I also had many lucid dreams, which are always a lot of fun! I took the opportunity to play music in my dreams since it was one of the things I missed the most from home.

Day 2 – Going to Geysir

After a few hours of additional – and warm – sleep, I packed my stuff up, had a can of beans for breakfast and headed back to Pingvellir.

My next destination was Geysir, one of Iceland’s most popular spot. I hitchhiked at Pingvellir’s exit, but didn’t get picked up. I therefore decided to hike along a trail leading to an information center, about 5km away. figured this place would be more popular, and therefore a better hitchhiking spot. The hiking trail offered superb viewpoints. I found a nice isolated spot in which I sat down and had lunch. I ate rice and then meditated for about an hour. I resumed walking and came across a river, so I filled my water bottle up.

I arrived at the information center at about 15:00. There were free public bathrooms there so I used them (more convenient than digging a hole) and went hitchhiking.

It only took 10 minutes before I got picked up by a brother and sister, the guy lived in New York and the girl lived in Iceland. They both struck me as very easygoing and goodhearted people. We got along well.

Although they didn’t initially plan to go to Geysir, they ended up opting to go there for dinner since they had lots of free time. That suited me well.  When we arrived at Geyser, we exchanged our Facebook and we then split up. I had finally made it go Geysir! 🙂

I couldn’t wait to see the geyser explode so I went straight there. I was impressed by the height of some explosions!

Geysir Explosion IcelandIt was getting late so I then had to set up my camp. Again, I wanted to find a spot myself, not go to a designated one. I climbed a nearby mountain and searched for a cool spot. I found a mind-blowing location that gave me a clear view of the geyser.

I relaxed, enjoyed the view and meditated for a while. Watching the geyser explode from my tent was absolutely awesome!Wild Camping in Iceland Geysir

I fell asleep at about midnight and woke up a few times. It was still cold. I warmed myself up doing push-ups and abs in the tent. I couldn’t really sleep from 3 until 4:30 but slept fine afterwards since it got warmer.

Day 3 – Going to Gulfoss

At 7am, I woke up and it was very cloudy. I packed my stuff up immediately. I didn’t want to get caught by the rain. I went back to the geyser and watched it explode for a few hours, ate beans for breakfast and meditated.

I then wanted to go to Gulfoss, Iceland’s colossal chutes. However, I felt more like walking then hitchhiking. It was a 10km walk. There was a horse trail in nature so I hiked there instead of walking along the road.

Halfway, I found a nice spot and had lunch (brown rice with tomato sauce, again!). I arrived at Gulfoss at about 15:00. The falls were amazing!

Camping Iceland Gulfoss I stayed there for about an hour. It sky got darker and it was going to start raining any minute. I went back to hitchhiking, heading south to a city called “Selfoss”, about 75km away from Gulfoss. I got picked up by a British family (2 parents and 2 young boys). They were friendly and sociable. In fact, everyone that picked me up was. They told me their itinerary was and offered me to stay with them for the rest of the day. I gladly accepted! We started by visiting an old church that has had a historical impact on Iceland. I love Icelandic history. It’s filled with tales of Vikings and epic battles. Here’s a nice chapel: Wild Camping Iceland ChapelIt reminded me of Hobbit houses from Lord of the Ring!

We then headed for Selfoss, but the road was blocked because of a car accident. We had to take an alternative road. The detour took about 2 hours. Finally, they decided to go to another city called Hveragerdi, which was fine with me. They went for dinner but I opted to go straight in the wild to find a spot to pitch my tent before rain began.

I saw mountains nearby, but the access was restricted. It looked like a research center of some sort. Since I didn’t have other options, I climbed over the fence and jumped in.

I took a while before I found a good spot though. There were small routes everywhere and I wanted to be isolated. I didn’t want to risk getting caught since I might have been trespassing. It was winding very hard so I had to find a well-hidden and shielded spot. I continued climbing and then surprise! I found a perfect hidden place in abandoned building foundations! Take a look at that! Wild Camping in IcelandHard to get a better wind-shield, especially since there are no trees in Iceland. I was fortunate to found such a spot. I eventually heard that the wind had reached over 100km/h that night. I don’t think my tent would’ve have survived that!

As soon as I pitched my tent, it started raining. Lucky! I felt like the night was going to be cold though. I went inside, had dinner and meditated for a few hours.

I briefly fell asleep from midnight to 1:30am. I was cold upon waking up so I tried to warm myself up. Some parts of my tent were already getting wet and water was slowly coming in. It was not that bad though. I eventually fell back asleep but woke up every 30 minutes. At 4h30, there was a considerable amount of water in the tent. It briefly stopped raining so I packed my stuff up before sunrise. Anyway, leaving early was smart, since I didn’t want to get caught camping there. At 6am, I was already down the mountain, outside the private area! 🙂

Day 4 – Back to Reykjavik

There wasn’t that much to see in Hveragerdi though so I had breakfast (my last can of beans) and went back to hitchhiking on a major road. I was headed back to Reykjavik. I got picked up by the first car!

They were 3 Icelandic men. We talked for a while, it seemed like they were headed to work. I told them I was going to Reykjavik and they told me they could bring me there.

The weird thing is, we passed by Reykjavik’s exit and they just kept going. I got anxious for a moment. The guy sitting next to me told me they had to get to his car and that he was the one going to Reykjavik. Fair enough.

We indeed went to another car, so I now was alone with the other guy and we headed towards Reykjavik. I asked him : “So, are you guys all headed to work this morning?”, which is when he actually told me that they were all prisoners!

Since they’re at the end of their jail time, they’re allowed to get out of jail in daytime to work. It’s surprising that they decided to pick me up! I wondered what their crimes were, but didn’t dare ask him. Moments later though, he started telling me about how he used to be in the amphetamine business. Basically, he used to be a drug dealer.

Here’s what he then told me : “You’re probably the only hitchhiker that got picked up by 2 drug dealers and a murderer!”. WTF! A MURDERER? I tried not to look so surprised but … damn! Nevertheless, we kept talking. He still seemed like a great guy. He dropped me in Downtown Reykjavik and headed to work.

So, that’s where my wild camping in Iceland ended! I’m quite happy everything went well in the end. I would have benefited from a better preparation but hey, nothing interesting happens if you don’t get out of your comfort zone. Hope you enjoyed reading!

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11 thoughts on “Wild Camping and Hitchhiking in Iceland

  1. Martin

    Hey, great post, the first wild camping in Iceland post I’ve come across! Very brave of you to go without a sleeping bag and impressed that you found time to meditate. Hope there are more wild camping stories to follow?

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Rocheleau Post author

      Hey Martin,

      There will likely be other wild camping stories to follow. I’m in Norway at the moment and might go camping eventually. From January until March, I plan on being in South-east Asia and Nepal and might also camp there. I’ll come up with interesting stories for sure! 🙂

      Thanks for commenting

      Reply
  2. Olie

    Rad post dude, Ive hitchhiked before but not for a few years…. and Ive just booked a month long trip to iceland to explore hitchhiking and wild camping. You post describes the freedom of that kind of traveling i miss so much. Thankyou for sharing you adventure and giving me an either bigger anticipation boner. Only a couple more months till I am free of this office and can go explore again!

    Reply
  3. Sarah A.

    Wow, I’m so inspired by your trip! What an adventure, especially the ending haha. I would have been terrified but you handled it!

    Reply
  4. David Simmons

    Stumbled upon your post here Gabriel and I have to say it’s the best one I’ve seen yet regarding wild camping in Iceland. In September, I’m looking to do exactly the same thing. I really appreciated your descriptions of finding camping spots and also the feeling of just being one in the nature: You, your tent (and rice&beans) and Iceland. Loved it. Great stuff man. Thank you for this post.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Rocheleau Post author

      Hey David,

      Thanks for you comment, I really appreciate it, especially coming from a world traveler like you! Wish you success on your inspirational journey. Let me know if you happen to pass by Eastern Canada, I live in Quebec City at the moment.

      Have a good one

      Reply

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