Last Updated on April 7, 2024

Ódáðahraun (“mischeavious lava field“, lit. “bad deeds lava” ) is a volcanic desert and extensive lava field located in northeast Iceland.

It is the largest desert in Iceland and covers an area of approximately 4,400 square kilometers, and is believed to have formed around 8,000 years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions and subsequent erosion.

Its boundaries are the Vatnajökull glacier to the south, the Skjálfandafljót and Jökulsá á Fjöllum rivers to the west and east, respectively, and Lake Mývatn to the north.

Ódáðahraun seen from the Askja. Photo courtesy of Pietro Valocchi.


Given the impossibility of precisely determining its boundaries, its size is estimated to vary between 4000 and 5000 km².

The soil composition of lava and volcanic sand makes Ódáðahraun a cold desert, with the waters being drained by rivers at its edge and the lake at its northern boundary.

The area is dry and there is little as no vegetation. Sand storms there can also be very strong, and so is volcanic activity, the most famous volcano being Askja in the Dyngjufjoll mountain range.

The region is known for its black lava fields, which are covered with a layer of fine, abrasive volcanic ash called “sandar.”

The desert of the outlaws

The Ódáðahraun Desert is also known as the “desert of the outlaws”. It is the most desolate destination in Iceland.

According to local legends, outlaws and deviant bandits used to move to the highlands to escape the law, living off the land. This would explain the reason behind the name of the desert which roughly translates to “mischeavious lava field“.

Today, the Ódáðahraun is a remote and little-known region of Iceland, and it is not a popular destination for tourism.

However, it is visited by some adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts who are interested in exploring the unique desert landscape and observing the local flora and fauna.


One of the best-known songs about Ódáðahraun in Icelandic folklore is “Á Sprengisandi” by Grímur Thomsen.

According to this tale, a rider ventures into the desert where he encounters the outlaws, as well as other mythical creatures, spirits, and an Elfin Queen.

“Outlawers in Ódáðahraun

are maybe rounding up some sheep secretly.”

Verse from Á Sprengisandi by Grímur Thomsen

Herðubreið, Queen of Icelandic Mountains

One of the main attractions of the Ódáðahraun desert is Herðubreið, also known as the “Queen of Icelandic Mountains”.

Herðubreið is technically a tuya, a rare flat-topped volcano formed when lava erupts from a glacier, and it is now part of Vatnajökull National Park.

The mountain is made up of basalt rock and is surrounded by a vast expanse of barren, rocky landscape. It is a well-known destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, as it offers panoramic views of the surrounding desert and mountains.

The oasis of Herðubreiðarlindir is located in the proximity of Herðubreið and offers both a camping spot and hiking trails.

Despite its remote location and challenging terrain, Herðubreið is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, and it is an important part of Iceland’s cultural and natural heritage.

Read also: Desert Hiking Guide and Gear

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