Fljótsdalshérað is the broad, flat valley that extends from Egilsstaðir northeast to the ocean, providing an outlet for two major rivers, Jökulsá á Brú (aka Jökulsá á Dal) and Lagarfljót. The Jökulsá á Brú has been drastically affected by the new Kárahnjúkar Dam, far upstream. The diversion of water and blockage of sediments is disrupting the local ecosystem and could devastate the hundreds of harbor seals who breed in the river delta. Nonetheless, the valley -- walled in by mountains, with plenty of pretty farms and bird ponds -- is a beautiful place to do some horseback riding.
Want to feel totally removed from the world in an adorable rustic farmhouse, cooking your own meals and riding horseback along peaceful ocean beaches, grasslands, and riverbanks in search of birds and seals? If so, Húsey, (tel. 471-3010 or 854-8554; fax 471-3009; www.husey.de; 5 units, none w/bathroom. 4,625kr/$74/£37 double; 3,875kr/$62/£31 double sleeping-bag accommodation; 3,250kr/$52/£26 made-up bunk; 2,438kr/$39/£20 sleeping-bag bunk. May-Sept AE, DC, MC, V; Oct-Apr no credit cards), a picturesque farm at the headwaters of the Jökulsá á Brú, is the place for you. Horse trips are tailored for beginners and experts and range from 2-hour seal-watching jaunts to 7-day excursions to a historic farmstead. Non-riders may be perfectly content walking the trails and reading on the porch all day. Breakfast is available for 1,100kr ($18/£9), but all other food must be brought in and can be prepared in the guest kitchen.
The drive from Egilsstaðir to Húsey is about an hour. Take the Ring Road north for 26km (16 miles), then turn right on Route 925, just before the Jökulsá á Brú bridge (ignore the earlier junction with Rte. 925). At the farm Litlibakki, as Route 925 turns off to the right, go straight on Route 926 and continue to the end. If you need a ride, inquire at the hostel. For up to six people, the round-trip price is 11,375kr ($182/£91) from Egilsstaðir or 56,875kr ($91/£46) from the bridge. A taxi costs far more.
Egilsstaðir to Mývatn
The lonely 167km (104 miles) stretch of the Ring Road between Egilsstaðir and Mývatn can be a blur of barren gravelly plains -- but it also affords beautiful vistas, especially on a clear day when Mt. Herðubreið is visible to the south. Make sure your gas tank is full before setting out.
Almost halfway from Egilsstaðir to Mývatn and 13km (8 miles) south of the Ring Road, Sænautasel (tel. 855-5399) -- a reconstructed turf farm on a 60km-long (37-mile) heathland called Jökuldalsheiði -- is a great detour to break up the trip. Sænautasel was abandoned in 1875 after the Askja eruption fouled the area with ash. In 1992, a descendant of Sænautasel's first settler reconstructed the original farm, which now welcomes visitors daily from June through August 10 (9am-10pm). To reach Sænautasel, exit the Ring Road at its western junction with Route 901, roughly 70km (43 miles) west of Egilsstaðir. A few kilometers later, turn left on Route 907 and continue for another 10 minutes. After desolate expanses of nothingness, the road arrives at a vision from another age: two turf-roofed houses next to a pleasant lake surrounded by vegetation. Pancakes and coffee are served inside the welcome building. Admission to the farmhouse, close to the welcome building, costs 300kr ($4.80/£2.40) for adults, and is free for children ages 11 and under. No information is posted about each room and its function, so if no warden is there, ask to be shown around.
Buses connecting Egilsstaðir and Mývatn stop at Möðrudalur, an isolated sheep farming settlement along Route 901, 8km (5 miles) south of Route 901's western junction with the Ring Road. Möðrudalur dates back to the Saga age, and at 469m (1,539 ft.) above sea level is Iceland's highest working farm. The Fjalladýrð Cafe and Guesthouse (tel. 471-1858 or 894-1758; www.fjalladyrd.is) offers pastries, lamb and vegetable soups, sandwiches, and hot dogs. The owners also arrange Jeep trips to Vatnajökull.