Mývatn and Laxá

Photo by Els Slots.

Mývatn and Laxá is part of the Tentative list of Iceland in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Lake Mývatn and River Laxá comprise a unique freshwater ecosystem known for its pseudo-craters, waterfowl and midges. It is situated along the volcanic zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The perfectly shaped pseudo craters were formed by steam explosions as hot lava flowed into the lake some 2300 years ago. More species of ducks nest in the area than anywhere else in the world, including the rare Barrow's golden eye.

Map of Mývatn and Laxá

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Malta - 02-Mar-23 -

Mývatn and Laxá (T) by Clyde

I visited this tWHS in 2022 as one of the main stops along the ring road loop. Unsurprisingly in Iceland, its OUV lies in geological features which through the passage of time have shaped rich habitats particularly for avifauna.

The geological features are indeed spectacular which seems to be quite a constant almost everywhere in Iceland. Myvatn and Laxa are situated along the volcanic zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The perfectly shaped pseudo craters which were formed by steam explosions as hot lava flowed into the lake some 2,300 years ago are more impressive from a distance or from the air than by climbing the few trails or wooden boardwalks present. There are a couple of panoramic viewpoints around the lake with information boards in English on the different geological phenomena and on the biodiversity present here. Luckily it seemed to be too windy for the infamous midges which give Myvatn its name to roam around so I could easily enjoy different hikes around the area. At the pseudo craters location I opted for the signposted birdwatching trail which goes pretty close to the nesting and resting sites of several species of birds, mostly waders, small passerines and above all geese and ducks. Several species of the latter, some quite rare, nest here in the largest numbers recorded almost anywhere else in the world. Apart from their differing distinct plumage, keep your eyes peeled for the colour of the ducks' eyes, the rare ones have red eyes (Great Northern Diver, Red Throated Diver, Harlequin Duck and Horned Grebe (photo)) or bright yellow (Barrow’s Goldeneye - the bird trail is excellent for spotting this species in spring/summer, although it tends to stay quite away from any human activity). Although with some luck, patience and good zoom lenses you can still spot some of the rarer birds, the best time to visit to appreciate the high number of bird species seems to be April-May. That said, the fact that when midges are practically absent, there are far fewer birds to see, is a fair tradeoff as at least I could do some decent hiking and explore the area almost undisturbed. For some more general information on the bird life at Myvatn for birdwatchers and non-birdwatchers alike, there's also a small dedicated museum called Sigurgeir's Bird Museum worth visiting.

Next I parked my car at the small Hofdi utsyni parking area and enjoyed my time walking around (and sometimes almost getting a bit lost in the maze-like trails) this well looked after small forested peninsula. Hofdi gives you a nice break from the bare surrounding landscapes. Apparently, it is the result of a couple spending their summer vacations at Hofdi and for decades they planted trees and plants. When the husband died, the wife donated this place. In one of the coves, you can get very close to the unique lava pillars of Kálfastrandavogar standing in the turquoise waters of the lake. On a couple of occasions I startled some snipes that were resting in this usually quiet place, and in turn they gave me quite a fright as they flew at full speed towards the sky!

I also visited the nearby Dimmuborgir lava fields located on the opposite side of Lake Myvatn. The lava formations there are thought to be the remains of a lava tube which formed above a lake about 2,300 years ago, trapping the water. As it began to cool, the reservoir which is estimated to have been 10 meters deep, was released, leaving only those shapes created by steam. These rock formations are quite unique and the only known similar feature is currently under water off the coast of Mexico. I did a combination of the small and big circle trails (each only taking around 15 and 30 minutes respectively), covering the Borgarskora channel and some of the main features there, as well as Hallarflöt, a small grassy area surrounded by lava pinnacles and rock formations. The most famous of these formations is nicknamed as "The Church" and is a cave open at both ends with a dome-like ceiling. If you're pressed for time, this popular formation can easily be skipped and instead focus on the splendid Lake Myvatn views in the background.

Last but not least, I also visited the small lava cave of Grjótagjá (photo). It has a fuming cobalt blue thermal spring inside which can be seen by almost crawling (especially if you're a bit tall) from two small cracks in the lava rocks and swimming is not allowed. Instead, the nearby lava cave of Stóragjá is being used as an alternative bathing site. Worth the extra effort, but if you're a bit claustrophobic be prepared to share the limited space available with a lot of Game of Thrones fans!


Els Slots

The Netherlands - 24-Aug-20 -

Mývatn and Laxá (T) by Els Slots

The Mývatn-Laxá Nature Conservation Area in northern Iceland consists of Lake Mývatn - a shallow lake - and its outflowing river Laxá. Together they are important for bird conservation, especially of ducks. Of course (this is Iceland after all) they are located in an active volcanic area as well, which has shaped the landscape. There are several short walks that you can do from the road around the lake, which combined make for a fun, active day. Fortunately the weather was dry and sunny when I visited; in the rain the charm of this area will soon elude you.

I started at Höfdi, a small peninsula / rocky promontory which reaches into Lake Mývatn. I had arrived early, but the trail turned out to be closed between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. to give the birds a rest. So I stopped by again later in the morning. The 1 hour-hiking trail here leads through a forest, which is a rarity in Iceland. It provides access to several excellent viewpoints over the lake and its rocks and islets created by lava.

I continued my loop around the lake by visiting Skutustadir. This is where the pseudo craters can be seen, the other potential OUV of this site next to the duck life. Pseudo craters are small hills that look like extinct volcanoes, but were actually formed when hot lava reached the lake. Water that came under it eventually pushed itself out of the “crater” like steam. This rare feature can only be found here, in Hawaii and on Mars.

In this area 2 walks are signposted: a short one to the top of the largest pseudo crater and a longer one along the waterfront and several craters. I choose the latter which took an hour – it was pleasant enough but nothing exciting. In the hotel opposite Skutustadir I ate lunch: very appropriate for the rich bird world of Myvatn I choose a ‘pulled goose’ burger.

I spent the rest of the day visiting some more spectacular geothermic and volcanic sites, but these probably will not be included in a future WH nomination. After dinner I went out again once more: to the point where the Laxá River enters the lake. This fast-flowing river is full of fish (Laxá means salmon, but there is also trout). The river mouth is particularly popular with the ducks of the lake. No fewer than 13 species live and breed here, including the rare harlequin duck. Unfortunately the prettier species had already moved to the sea for this year, so I had to make do with rather boring brown and black ducks (wigeons and tufted ducks I think). Spring offers the best possibilities to see them all.

While I was watching the ducks from the bridge over the Laxá (right at the crossing of roads 1 and 848), I noticed for the first time the large swarms of midges that give the lake its name. They do not bite people but are a delicacy for the birds. A substantial group joined me in the car, but died or otherwise vanished quickly.

In conclusion I’d say that Lake Myvatn is an excellent stop on the Ring Road for a day or so. I am a bit inconclusive whether it is outstanding enough for WH material, but its volcanic setting and the resulting hydrological conditions provide scientists with enough material to think and write about.

Read more from Els Slots here.

Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 09-Aug-19 -

Mývatn and Laxá (T) by Zoë Sheng

Mývatn lake is right on the 1 loop road around Iceland and thus impossible to miss. Lots and lots of people come to the area for the hot spring baths (mainly via Akureyri from the looks of it) and I have to say: don't do the Blue Lagoon - come here instead! Just open TripAdvisor for the Blue Lagoon and sort by negative reviews first to read how disgusting and overpriced it is plus the scenery down there is nothing spectacular for Iceland standard, thus it's basically for those with little time or lack of venturing further than Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. But this isn't a review for the hot springs anyway.

The lake is large but I don't find anything special about it. There were some ducks but overall, boring. The interested sections were the natural baths were they filmed Game of Thrones (look it up yourself as I won't post any story info no matter how old/minor). Unfortunately just a handful of people crowd out the small entrance and tourists often hang around here longer than one would think is worth checking it out for. There are quite a few of these and you can do mini hikes. The ever changing weather in Iceland made it a no-go for anything but 10min outside the car.

Unfortunately I didn't find it too amazing (the hot spring spa was nice) and it just seems like a regular place in Iceland. Still nice, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't rate it WH material.

Ralf Regele

Germany - 09-Sep-18 -

Mývatn and Laxá (T) by Ralf Regele

The Myvatn lake in northern iceland is aptly named "midge lake", as it is home to clouds of annoying flies, at least in summer. The flies can be a real damper on your travel experience here, to the point where putting a flynet around your head turns from a ridiculous tourist folly into a totally reasonable and diserable act. The area is a major tourist destination, with multiple sightseeing stations around the lake. A typical trip around the lake could include:

  • Skutustadagigar: An area of the lake shore with a lot of the typical pseudocraters. Nice views and a pleasent walk, if you don't mind the swarms of flies chasing you (Views 3/5, Flies 5/5).
  • Dimmuborgir: A lava field next to the lake, with enormous lava rock towers to walk amongst. Crowded with tourists, but most do not advance far from the shortest walking circle (Views 5/5 Flies 4/5 at parking, 1/5 at church rock (most distant point)).
  • Hverfjall: A hill-sized ash crater, which can be climbed for views and bragging rights. Too strenuous for me.
  • Grjotagja: A nice little natural hot water grotto, about 10min. from the lake. Bathing is no longer allowed, and it can get overcrowded, still worth it in my opinion (Views 4/5, Flies 2/5).
  • Nature baths: Hot water springs, about 10min. from the lake. Fully developed with spa building and entrance fees, so not too much nature. Not visited.
  • Namaskard: A geothermic area with fumerols and mud pools, devoid of all plant life. Not too spectacular, but athmospheric and really nice for pictures (Views 4/5, Flies 1/5).

In the WHS application, only the pseudocraters are mentioned, the rest of the geological side attractions are not considered. Instead, the description concentrates on the biological richness of the lake, which is hard to evaluate as a normal traveller. Visiting in early autumn after the breeding season, I could not detect major differences between Myvatn lake and other lakes in iceland. It's also hard to appreciate the duck variety when you are covered with flies.
All in all, the visit to Myvatn lake was surely worthwhile and a nice experience, although maybe not among the top experiences in iceland. As with many natural WHS, I lack the knowledge to be able to judge the core worth of the site.
Visited in September 2018.
Importance 3/5 Beauty 3/5 Uniqueness 4/5 Environment 4/5 Experience 3/5

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