Explore Iceland's Black Sands

Sólheimasandur Trailhead, Iceland

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round


Other worldly plane wreckage of a US Navy DC-3 plane. World class views from the cliffs at Dyrholey. Spectacular black sands at Reynisdrangar. A section of Iceland's finest driving roads. Unforgettable camping opportunities.

Since WWII, four US planes have perished above Iceland's black sands. Here is one of them, sunken into the beach in the middle of nowhere since 1973. After running out of fuel above the town of Vik, the crew mis-executed an emergency landing and felt their wheels snap upon contact with the too-soft sand. All crew members made it out safely.

Hiking from Route 1, allow around two hours to reach the crash site. Here, a 4x4 would be handy. It's worth noting that this is very much off-road driving, voiding your insurance should someone find out about it. But hey, it's only an adventure once something goes wrong. Two wheel drive vehicles shouldn't attempt it, but there's a small area of land sitting slightly below Route 1 where you can leave your car at the trailhead.

A cautionary note - check the weather before you go. If the beach is snowed under, only attempt with prior knowledge of the trail and its route. I've heard stories of 4x4s searching for two days straight and becoming grounded in sand, which is never fun. Find the trailhead as shown in the map, and you're set.

The trail leaves the road on the long approach to Vik, signalled by an iron grid beside a metal fence. It's unsigned and impossible to see from the road, so let GPS guide you. Follow it. It's a fairly straight dart towards the shoreline, before it tails around east. Eventually, after 4km (2.5 mi), the fuselage comes into view and you're on the set of a sci-fi movie. Climb aboard the roof for that 'hey, I got bored of piloting this so I thought I'd land it here' snap.

Nicely timed with the weather, and this makes the wild camping spot of dreams, using the aircraft for that extra bit of shelter. It's also possible to set up camp inside the wreckage if conditions change and Iceland feels like letting you know that it is still in charge.

November until March is the prime Aurora Borealis searching window. Catch the show here dancing above the DC-3 and you'll be rewarded with scenes which don't quite belong on this planet.

Heading onwards to towards Vik, stray right at Route 218 towards Dyrhólaey. This road is particularly stunning, passing across two lakes and bringing Reynisdrangar into view. Take a right and ascend before parking up near the lighthouse, where you can take in views in all directions. As you approach, follow the rope east. The headland gives way to another lunar landscape panorama across to Reynisdrangar, connected below by those black sands.

Back on the road, continuing east on Route 1 puts you within striking distance of those iconic Reynisdrangar stacks, fabled to be trolls who were turned into needles of rock. Take the 215 as the road inclines over the headland. This road slaloms amongst a cluster of desolate homesteads until winding up beachside. Sunrise here is often special, the sun casting its first light across the desolate black sand expanse.

Pack List

  • Backpacking essentials
  • Water
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Photo gear
  • Extra memory card
  • Tripod for when the Auroras show up
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We skipped the long walk to the crashed plane due to poor weather and limited time on our day trip along the south coast. After grabbing lunch in Vik we headed to Reynisfjara and Dyrholaey. Both were very cool to walk around and explore. Lots of great picture opportunities! Reynisfjara has a cave (some call it the tetris cave) with unique hexagon shaped rocks (these unique formations are only found a few places in the world, one being Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland). Plus the black sand beaches provides and excellent area to walk around and explore. The nature preserve at Dyrholaey was also cool, it started to rain on us so we didn't stay long but there are lots of rocks to go out and climb on, but there are wind warnings and it can be dangerous on the slippery rocks with high waves crashing onto them. Watch close if you take children with you.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Vik and Reyinsfjara are home to the best black sand beaches in Iceland! Well worth a southern coast drive.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Exploring the immersive Icelandic Southern coast is like nothing else. Exploring small farming villages and seeing quaint little homes built into rocks is quite an amazing experiences. Their are massive waterfalls along the way, and many are cluttered with tourists. But if you continue on long enough, you will find Iceland's hidden jems all to yourself.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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