Destination Iceland: Adventure Travel For Active Families
Iceland is a destination that both my wife and I have held high on our individual and collective lists of must-see places for quite some time. We had both initially envisioned it as an adventurous trip filled with extended backcountry travel that did not include children. However, this summer we found ourselves heading to Iceland with our 4-year old son, 21-month old daughter, and a vague idea of what we wanted to do while we were there.
Planning any trip that will revolve around outdoor activities always invokes questions about where to go, how far to go, how much time to plan, what gear to bring, etc. Add children into the mix and these questions not only get much more difficult to answer but they also spawn more unanswerable questions: How far can we expect to be able to drive? How will jetlag and the long hours of daylight affect their sleep patterns? How do we deal with camping and hiking in inclement weather (a real concern in Iceland)? We made some compromises (from what might have been our dream trip without kids) in our planning, taking into account what was realistic to expect of our children under these circumstances. We had a wonderful family adventure and neither my wife nor I had any regrets about what we accomplished with the time we had.
Five reasons kids love Iceland
- Geothermal swimming pools. After a long day out on the trails or when the kids (and parents!) need a relaxing change of pace, stop by one of Iceland's many public pools for a soak in the warm water. Multiple pools of varying temperature, as well as water slides and wading pools for kids, provide entertainment for everyone.
- Breathtaking scenery everywhere. The awe-inspiring scenery does not require extended backcountry trips to visit. There are magnificent waterfalls everywhere, many of which could be viewed while driving on the main Ring Road. My kids made a game of yelling “waterfall” from the backseat whenever they saw a new one. In addition, there were many more sights than we could possibly visit with the time we had within a few kilometers of roads accessible with a 2WD rental car. We did take a high-clearance 4WD amphibious mountain bus into the interior to visit Thorsmork National Park (highly recommended). The buses are specially equipped to handle the many river crossings necessary to access the interior and our kids loved riding in them.
- Easy camping. There are campgrounds everywhere in Iceland and reservations are not required, even in the high season, which is perfect when you are traveling with children and are unsure of where you will end up each day. The camping is European style - pitch your tent in a big field with a bunch of other people- so don’t expect a secluded, wooded site with lots of privacy. What the campgrounds lack in privacy they make up for in communal facilities. Most campgrounds had some type of indoor or sheltered cooking area, which is a welcome relief at the end of the day when it is windy and rainy and your kids are hungry. Showers and laundry facilities are also often available. If campgrounds aren’t your thing, wild camping is permitted in most places and can be perfect for those days when you find yourself off of the beaten path with kids that are done traveling for the day.
- The days are long in the summer. Really long. We were there close to the summer solstice and it never got completely dark, although the sun would dip below the horizon for about 2 hours every day. This proved to be a challenge for getting the kids to sleep, but we simply adapted to a new schedule, and it was wonderful. We could sleep in and take our time visiting as many places as we wanted to in a day, or hike as long as we wanted to, without the fear of running out of daylight or the worry of trying to make it to a campsite before dark. Dinner at 8pm, bedtime at 10pm, wake up at 8am, take a nap in the car, stay up late again. No problem. One night when we were wild camping and my son wasn’t tired, he and I went for a late night hike at 10pm to a hidden valley with several waterfalls. Iceland's evening light was beautiful and we had the whole place to ourselves.
- I didn’t feel like I was missing out. Sometimes when we do outdoor/hiking/backpacking trips, our less ambitious itineraries make me feel like I am missing out. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time outdoors with my family and watching my kids interact with the natural world, however sometimes I just wish I could go faster, further and/or longer than I can go with them, so that I can see what is around the next corner. I didn’t feel that way on this trip. The landscape of Iceland is so unique and varied that I felt like a kid, myself, living in the moment and in awe of everything new before me. Not being constrained to limited daylight hours (see #4) meant I also had more opportunities than I normally do on family trips to sneak away for landscape photography. This gave me additional time to immerse myself in the landscape while still getting to spend lots of time with my family.
Several Deuter products helped to move our gear from plane to car to campground to trail during our trip, including:
Wheeled Duffels. A great choice for packing and moving our gear, from plane to car and even to campsite. They were unexpectedly useful for shuttling our camping gear (and sometimes our daughter) from the car to our camping site in places where we were not able to park right at our site.
Kid Comfort 3. A family adventure wouldn’t be complete without this pack to transport our toddler when she is done walking on her own. Also perfect for afternoon naps when we are out on the trail. The integrated sun/rain hood offers extra protection for short rain squalls and the optional rain cover was essential when the winds picked up and the rain turned sideways.
Pace 36. This is my go-everywhere do-everything pack. It is light but comfortable and gives me enough space for my camera gear, extra layers, and food to keep everyone fueled and happy.
Speedlite 15. Another do-everything pack. We used it primarily as a diaper bag when at the campsite, in the car, or on short excursions away from the car. It also came in handy for carrying towels and swimsuits to the pool.
Schmusebär kids pack. My son carried his everywhere. It was perfect for carrying snacks, water, hat and gloves, rain gear, and his rubber octopus.