Keith Fentress and his family were on a mission to see the Northern Lights, and enlisted kimkim to plan their winter trip to Iceland. They were lucky enough to catch the auroras on their week-long adventure, and had lots of wintry fun along the way. From lava caves to glacier snowmobiling and a memorable surprise on their last day, Keith shares more about their experience.

Hi Keith! Tell us a bit about you and your family. Where are some favorite places you've been together, and how would you describe your travel style?

The Fentress family snowmobiling in Iceland (Photo courtesy of Keith Fentress)

We live in Sykesville, Maryland.  We are a family of four: parents Keith and Annette, and kids Zach (21) and Sierra (18).  Two Rhodesian Ridgebacks and two black cats complete the family. We have always enjoyed nature and adventure travel. From the time our kids were small, we have taken them on trips to go backpacking, snorkeling, and canoeing.  

Some of our favorite destinations include backpacking in Glacier National Park, hut hiking in Norway, and staying at an eco-resort in the Virgin Islands. What we enjoy is to get out in nature (and away from screens) and to do things that are a little exciting—nothing too extreme, we just want to appreciate the awe and beauty of nature. We believe that going on such vacations together builds lasting memories and strong bonds for our family.

How did you first become interested in Iceland as a winter destination?

The trip to Iceland came about because our daughter is graduating high school. We asked her what she wanted to do for spring break and she said, “see the Northern Lights.” After a bit of research, Iceland became our destination because of the shorter travel distance from Maryland, and it is an awesome country with lots of natural beauty.

One of your goals was to get off the beaten path. What were some favorite hidden gems you found along the way?

Zach and Sierra in front of an ice cave during the Super Jeep tour (Photo courtesy of Keith Fentress)

We actually vacationed in Iceland 10 years ago as a family and did the typical touristy things along the Ring Road. For this trip, our goal was to have a different experience.  After coordinating with Midgard Adventure, the local specialist we connected with through kimkim, we decided to spend our time in southern Iceland because it seemed like there were more activities to do in the winter.  I think we all agree that the most spectacular part of our vacation was seeing the Northern Lights – it happened at the end of our trip and was a real bucket list event.

As for activities, we tried to schedule one main activity on each day of our vacation. Our favorite was the Super Jeep private tour to Thorsmork.  Our guide, Stepnik, was amazing (knowledgeable and thoughtful) and the weather was perfect. It was a great day for exploring this beautiful area which included hikes, caves, and seeing a frozen waterfall.

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What other parts of your trip stand out as especially memorable? 

We also really enjoyed our trip to the glacial ice caves near Vik, riding snowmobiles, hiking to a glacier, and visiting the Highlands.

Did anything about Iceland end up surprising you? 

Sierra was surprised with a visit to their guide's Icelandic ponies (Photo courtesy of Keith Fentress)

The best surprise for us was how much Midgard Adventures treated us like family. We went on several activities with Midgard and the guides were always friendly and knowledgeable, but we also had an opportunity to meet other staff and relatives.  For us, it was a rare glimpse into the wonderful people of Iceland away from all the tours and treks.

On our first tour, our guide found out that my daughter was a horseback rider and was interested in the Icelandic horses.  On our last day with Midgard, we made a surprise stop at the guide’s home, where my daughter was able to spend time with his horses. It was really touching. He also asked us to eat fermented shark meat and to wash it down with schnapps. That was certainly a memorable experience (but not our favorite)!

Even in 7 days, it's hard to see everything a destination has to offer. What do you want to do and see next time you visit Iceland?

Sierra and the Eyjafjallajökull glacier (Photo courtesy of Keith Fentress)

Now that the Northern Lights are checked on our bucket list, we would come back to Iceland at a warmer time of the year. We would certainly spend a few days with the folks at Midgard and would sign up for the “Midgard Surprise” - which is where the guides make up the adventure on the spot, taking into account what people are interested in and the weather conditions.  In addition, we would love to go on a multi-day backpacking trip in the Highlands.

Would you recommend this trip to other travelers? Where there any challenges?

Raufarhólshellir lava cave (Photo courtesy of Keith Fentress)

I would definitely recommend this trip to others. It was a great vacation for our family. We had a really great time and built so many memories together.

Iceland is a country of extremes, and we really experienced it with the weather. The first part of our trip was mild and sunny and then it became windy with a mix of rain and snow. Traveling on the roads can be challenging at times because of slick conditions and high winds. Wintertime travel to Iceland is an adventure just due to the weather.  When traveling in the winter, allow plenty of time to get between destinations. Some of our most stressful experiences were trying to make it to places in time to meet up with guides and tours.

And last but not least: where are you planning to go on your next adventure?

The next item on the bucket list is a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

This trip was planned by the Midgard Adventure Team, kimkim's local specialists in Hvolsvollur, Iceland.