Apart from the fact that both Yellowstone and Iceland feature awesome geothermal wonders, the differences between the two destinations could hardly be greater. The highlights of world-renowned Yellowstone nestle amidst the forested hills and snow-capped peaks of North America’s Rocky Mountains. Those of Iceland occupies a windswept and nearly treeless island just south of the Arctic Circle in the stormy North Atlantic. Given its less-than-perfect climatic conditions, one might wonder what makes Iceland a worthy alternative to Yellowstone.
While Yellowstone’s geothermic activities are derived from its underlying mega volcano, Iceland’s are created by the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Along this mostly undersea ridge, tectonic movement between the European and North American plates is literally ripping the island in two. The resulting rift, which slashes across the island, allows volcanic materials to nudge upward from the center of the earth and, in places, form volcanoes, geothermal fields, a kaleidoscope of colorful rock formations, and plenty of other surprises. Visitors will find countless ways to experience these throughout Iceland.
As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone ranks high on most travelers’ must-see lists, and with good reason. This magnificent wilderness, sitting atop one of the world’s few mega-volcanoes, features numerous lakes and waterfalls, vast forests, a menagerie of North American wildlife, and an impressive collection of colorful hot springs, bubbling mud pots, steaming rivers, and dramatic geysers.
A visit to Yellowstone will be hampered by sheer tourist numbers. Most campgrounds and other accommodations are fully booked through the temperate summer months, so advance reservations are essential, thwarting hopes of spontaneous travel. Without resorting to a guided tour, visitors will need to rent a car or private vehicle to explore the park.
The best time of year to beat the biggest crowds is September, when the fall colors emerge, but late-season visitors risk snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Determined summer visitors will find detailed information on.
Getting There and Around
Flights from Europe and North America arrive at Keflavik, which is about an hour’s bus ride from Reykjavík. Iceland can also be a stopover destination on a trans-Atlantic flight. Geyser and other geothermal spots are accessible using local buses or on a range of locally organized guided tours.
Where to Eat
Inexpensive Icelandic meals are largely forgettable, but the fresh – and very pricey – local seafood can be superb. Iceland’s finest and most imaginative gourmet seafood dishes are found at Sjávarkjallarinn in Reykjavík.
When to Go
The best time to visit is Jun–Aug, when daylight is almost perpetual. There are few tourist services at other times, although winter does allow the possibility of watching the aurora borealis, a natural light phenomenon that occurs in the northern Polar Regions.
An easy day trip east of Reykjavík lies Geysir, a geothermal area after which all other spouting hot springs, or geysers, are named. Here, you’ll find the Great Geysir which can send a blast of steaming water up to 130 ft (40 m) into the air. However, it is not very reliable, so to pass the time, enjoy the nearby dependable Strokkur Geysir, which erupts every few minutes with 65-ft (20-m) blasts. Combine these geysers and their empty landscapes with pristine Pingvellier National Park and the serene and beautiful Gullfoss waterfall and you have Iceland’s Golden Circle of attractions – more than a match for bustling Yellowstone.