Vesturhorn at Stokksnes – East Iceland

Categorized as Landscapes and seascapes
vestrahorn mountain

Vesturhorn Mountain

The mountain at Vestrahorn is one of Iceland’s few Gabbro rock mountains.  Dating back 8-11M years, the site was used by the first settlers (Irish) before they were enslaved by Viking invaders (c.860).  Vesturhorn mountain has historical significance and Stokksnes has Natural Beauty & Huge Radar Dome.

Vestrahorn Mountain is best viewed from Stokksnes, drive out towards the radar station (N.A.T.O. base) on a rough, washboard road and you will be surrounded by grassy sand drifts.  These sandy tussocks are formed by the very strong winds that are often felt at Stokksnes. 

Every sand dune is made of black, volcanic sand. Walk to the East through the sand dunes and you will come to the Stokksnes shore.  The beach is mostly sandy.  The coastline is shallow, so waves can come a long way inland and surprise you.  On the beach where the sand is wet from the regular waves, there is always a good reflection of Vestrahorn Mountain – even in windy weather.  Further south, the sand meets stone and there are loose rocks and small cliffs on the boundaries of the NATO base.


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Stokksnes Point

At Stokksnes, there is a huge variety of foreground to help you photograph the Vestrahorn mountain.

There is a charge to use the road up to Stokksnes even though the government pays for this. The charge can be taken from your credit card in the ‘Viking Cafe’, which is actually a nice place to have a coffee and escape the cold.  The toll charge is to protect Icelandic Nature.  Unfortunately the grassy dunes are often trampled badly by heavy tourism only to be corrected by strong wind storms.  The owner of Vestrahorn Mountain does pay the God of wind a commission, so your money is not going to waste.

Down towards the sea, it is possible to get perfect reflections in the wet sand. This can be a very windy spot so remember to bring some protection for your eyes before battling against the sand blasting. Be aware that there are large swells of sea coming onto this beach (see my video). Sand blasting is possible and extremely unpleasant.  Be prepared with eye protection.

vesturhorn mountain Stokksnes east Iceland

Buy this photo on Museum Grade Archive Paper HERE.

Getting to Vestrahorn

Finding Vestrahorn Mountain is easy – if you know what you are looking for.  If you are driving East from Jokulsarlon or Hali, the Icelandic ring road breaks.  The road continues to the town of Hofn.  To continue on the ring road, there is a left turn a couple of miles before Hofn and about a mile after the Hofn Airport. 

The LEFT TURN is easy to spot because there is a roadside stop with several information boards.  The road is also signposted with distances to Djupavik and Egistadir.  The road passes a few horse farms and a picnic area.  From here you will see that the road disappears into a tunnel in the mountain.  About 100m before the tunnel mouth, there is an unassuming RIGHT TURN onto a semi gravel, winding road.  This road leads to the Viking Cafe and then to Stokksnes and the N.A.T.O. station.

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Photo Tips

Just being at Vestrahorn mountain will normally give you a bunch of competition winning photos.  With basic skils of composition, sharpness and exposure in mind, it’s difficult to go wrong.  My main approach is to keep my eye on the right side of the mountain.  The peaks are much more interesting than at the other end. 

This Eastern end of Vestrahorn is easier to compose with the sea and it has the distant landscape.  In the photo below, Brunahorn mountain appears to be joined to the bottom of Vestrahorn mountain.  In Fact Brunahorn mountain with its “Bat Shaped’ peaks is about half a mile beyond.  Moving further East or 100 feet up in the air might have separated the two mountains visually.

Vestrahorn peaks
Vestrahorn mountain using a 50mm from Stokksnes.

Which Lenses?

Focal length is an important consideration. There are photos to be captured with a telephoto lens, but my choice has always been wide angle.  That final triangle on the Eastern end of Vestrahorn mountain fits tightly into 50mm and doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else. 

Most of my Photos on this post were taken with 24mm on a Full Frame DSLR.  24mm doesn’t quite capture the whole mountain from Stokksnes.   If you want to capture the whole mountain, like those famous reflections shots, then I recommend using wider than 21mm.  As I already mentioned, Stokksnes can be very windy (like all of Iceland). 

Strong Tripod

Consider a heavy tripod and maybe some protection for your camera.  My rear screen actually has sand damage!  Vestrahorn Mountain works better on a Winter afternoon.  At 3pm your shadows will be upon the sand dunes, so consider starting at the beach and working back through the sand dunes as the Icelandic light gets softer.

Vestrahorn mountain from Stokksnes beach
Vestrahorn mountain from Stokksnes beach

Right to roam

Know your rights before you visit. The Allemannsrett is the right to roam on uncultivated land. It is an act rather than a law and it is honoured in the Scandinavian Countries including Iceland and Britain. In fact you are allowed to walk without charge on the land around Vestrahorn and Stokksnes. As long as you respect private property and the N.A.T.O. station you are protected by this ancient act.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean the local police will be on your side, so exercise with caution.  From my own experiences, the police are not going to come down hard on a local landowner for the sake of a tourist’s rights.  Aggressive behaviour should always be reported though, even if nothing comes of it.  The road along the mountain and up to Stokksnes are maintained by the landowner, but paid for by the Icelandic government.  That means that the tourist tax you pay in Iceland, pays for this road.

Viking Film Set

On the land below the mountain stands a Viking village which was constructed and left behind by an Icelandic film company. Further round past the end of Vesturhorn is a small ship wreck.

Magic Cloth Video
I shot a few Magic Cloth Tutorials featuring Vestrahorn Mountain from Stokksness beach. Watch me perform the Magic Cloth Technique when a huge wave rolls up the beach.

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Vestrahorn mountain stokksnes
Vesturhorn from Stokksnes beach.
Stokksnes lighthouse
Stokksnes Lighthouse.
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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.