Everything you need to know about glacier hike in Iceland
When is the best time to do a glacier hike? What do I wear? Which tour to take? There are many questions people are asking when deciding on booking a glacier tour. I have answered few of the questions in this blog here. I hope you can find yours 🙂
GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
Iceland’s glaciers are considered the most enchanting in the world. Shining in pearl blue and silver, they cover 11% of Iceland. You can’t find glaciers just anywhere on earth, making Iceland one of the rarest places to see one. Moving along the glacier walls and crevices gives you access to the immense beauty of this gift of nature.
There are many ways to get close enough to experience these giant ice wonders, but the best way is to go for a hike on the Iceland glacier. How can you get the best out of a glacier hike? Well, we have all the answers to your questions, and this ultimate guide will get you ready for your next adventure.
Glaciers to check out
Imagine having unhindered access to explore pure nature; this is what it means to take a glacier hike in Iceland. While the ice makes beautiful sounds under your feet, you are in awe of the glacier formations all around you from the waterways to the ice sculptures. This glacier hike is going to be nothing like you have ever experienced, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on this experience of a lifetime. While several tours can take you on this trip, Reykjavik Outventure has several easily accessible ones close to Reykjavik. The nearest glacier takes approximately three hours to reach, and a guide will be there to help you navigate the path.
The first thing when going glacier hiking is to know the perfect location. Iceland is home to several glaciers, but here are the ones worthy of note. These glaciers are the best for hiking in Iceland.
Located between two volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull and Katla, this spectacular Sólheimajökull glacier also forms part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Easily accessible to everyone from any part of the world, this is a great place to check out the wonders of the country. Just a few hours’ drive from Reykjavik, you can get to this glacier by moving along the south coast while admiring the waterfalls on the way. This is a magnificent glacier for inexperienced hikers, as its formation is very easy to climb and very pleasant to take many photos of the surrounding landscape.
This glacier is not only the largest in Iceland, but it is also an outlet from Vatnajökull Glacier. Some of the key features of the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier are the black sands that you can sink your feet in and being surrounded by shiny chunks of ice. Amazing mountains also surround this glacier.
The Falljökull glacier is known for its striking blue colors and rough surfaces. You can find this glacier at Skaftafell, close to the black sand shores that are common on the south coast.
Known as the largest glacier in Europe, as it covers 8% of the island’s surface, the Vatnajökull glacier is connected to other glaciers that you can walk on, including Svinafellsjökull. You can choose to take private tours to this location if you are not a fan of crowds. Hikes on this glacier are definitely fun.
Located in the Skaftafell Nature Reserve, this glacier is full of great mountain trails and waterfalls and is also close to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where you can see large chunks of ice flowing into the sea. Svinafellsjökull is famous for its impressive ridges and its incredible views from the top. Take a look at this summer day hiking tour. The best time to go hiking on this glacier is during the summer. On this visit, you will enjoy incredible views from the top. These extend into the Reykjanes peninsula and western fjords.
Safety tips when glacier hiking
Firstly, you can walk on the glaciers safely. Most people don’t believe that glaciers are easily accessible due to safety concerns. However, this part of the Icelandic landscape is very safe to walk on and attracts thousands of tourists every year. They are easily accessible, but it should be noted that venturing into glaciers on your own can be dangerous. However, safety is assured by when you are accompanied by a trained professional who knows the route thoroughly.
To ensure all-round safety, you have to be fully kitted in the right gear for the occasion. You always think of cold, powdery snow and slippery ice when people think of glaciers, but Iceland’s infamous changing climate means it can be even more challenging to know what to wear. Iceland’s weather is known for how fast it changes during the day, but glaciers are always much warmer in summer than people expect.
Sometimes you can even venture out on the ice without a jacket, but there can be sudden changes in weather conditions. Therefore, it is always best to pack the essentials to avoid issues. So, here are items you need to definitely have with you on a glacier hiking trip to Iceland:
- Thermal base layers: The first rule about visiting Iceland is to dress in layers. With thermal layers, you can keep frost away while hiking on the glacier during the winter. It is also easy to remove if you warm up on your summer glacier hike.
- Waterproof ankle boots: Glaciers are made of water, which means you should always pack comfortable and waterproof ankle boots, so climate changes don’t surprise you.
- Thermal socks: Thin ankle socks won’t keep toes warm and tan. Therefore, it is a great idea to bring thick thermal socks.
- Waterproof jacket: Summer in Iceland comes with high levels of rainfall. Therefore, it is best to put on a waterproof jacket. However, go for a waterproof jacket with light padding so that the weight doesn’t slow you down. There will be days when you don’t need it, but it’s never a good idea to leave it behind.
- Hiking pants: If there’s one item you should never wear on a glacier walk, it’s jeans. Instead, pack flexible, breathable pants to keep you company as you move.
- All of these clothes you can get in Iceland from local brands like 66North, Cintamani and Ice Wear.
Since this is an all you need to know guide, it’s a great idea to let you know the standard equipment for a glacier hike. Although Reykjavik Outventure will provide most of this during the tour. Here is a list of items that will keep you safe and make you experience even better: a harness, ice ax, crampons, and a helmet for more challenging runs.
Glacier hiking on the Sólheimajökull glacier
Remember, we talked about this glacier earlier, and it is usually the highlight of our glacier hiking tours. An experienced guide is available throughout the year to help you navigate these paths and get the best out of your trip.
With our tour, the guide picks you up at your location in Reykjavik, and after checking out some other beautiful sites in Iceland, we head over to the Sólheimajökull glacier. As an outlet glacier from Mýrdalsjökull, there are several grand volcanoes all around it. In summer, the charm of this area is further enhanced by a glacier lagoon that forms right in front of the glacier.
Think you know the true meaning of the name Iceland? Well, you are about to find out with glacier hiking.
Glacier Hiking on the South Coast
When we talk about the South Coast, it encompasses both the Sólheimajökull glacier and some fantastic waterfalls. The South Coast is filled with wonderful surprises for you. Glacier Hiking on the South Coast starts at Reykjavik, where we drive south towards the glacier.
You can stop along the way to take in the amazing sites and also enjoy some refreshment. On the South Coast is the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which has a cave behind it. It is undoubtedly mesmerizing to watch the water tumble into a field of snow. Another waterfall on the South Coast is the Skógafoss waterfall. It is not taller than the previous water but still exudes great power. This waterfall is impressive at any time of the year.
After these waterfalls come the Sólheimajökull glacier tongue, where you begin your glacier hiking experience.
When is the best time for a glacier hike?
It is no secret that summer has more options for walking on the glaciers, where you can enjoy full and half-day tours. Some glacier hikes still operate in winter but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a terrible choice. In fact, in winter, there is a hike on the glacier with ice caves, lots of blue ice, and ice tunnels. There are certain times of the day that are optimal for walking on glaciers, but it differs depending on the season. The walk on the glacier at noon is usually better, as the weather conditions will be brighter. In summer, you can enjoy glacier walks throughout the day. During winter, your tour can start at sunrise and end at twilight, adding a bit of charm to any journey.
Going ice caving in Iceland
When you talk about some of the most fascinating and extraordinary wonders of nature in Iceland, then it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Iceland’s ice caves. They can certainly be counted among the most breathtaking views the world has to offer. Standing in an Icelandic ice cave is literally the same as standing inside a glacier. This is because you are surrounded by it, awaiting an absolutely magical and unique experience. Sometimes you will even hear the ice crunch, reminding you that the glacier is, in fact, a vibrant and moving phenomenon of nature. While glacier formations are mostly on land, ice caves are formations that contain all ice internally.
The truth is that none of the ice beauties usually last long. Therefore, when you visit and Icelandic ice cave, the air is thick with a feeling of preciousness and rarity. Summer heat will bring rapid erosion, and winter frosts will stabilize the newly formed tunnels and caverns. When a fabulous new ice cave is formed, you have to take advantage of the moment as it may not be around in a few years after that. However, it will remain just as spectacular.
Iceland’s ice caves vary in color, from crystalline ice that light can easily pass through, to more unexpected colors and opaque compositions. Colors can sometimes look as if a surrealist artist has been working with his brush. You can see different hues from whites, blues, and turquoise to purple and black, depending on the time of the year.
When should you go ice caving?
The traditional ice cave season in Iceland starts in November and lasts till March, which is very cold. Ice caves become stable enough to visit and explore properly around this period. However, two ice caves can be explored throughout the year: the artificial ice cave on the Langjökull glacier and the Ice Cave below the Katla Volcano. The artificial ice cave is a spectacular alternative to natural glaciers as you would get your sought winter experience in Iceland. Reaching the cave is an adventure in itself. On this tour, you will go to the top of the Langjökull Glacier, which offers fabulous views over the vast white mountains in the surroundings.
Technically speaking, ice caves in Iceland should be called glacial caves. However, “ice cave” is the name that has become popular and is now recognized by tourists and locals alike. We will talk about some ice caves, and most of them are actually glacier caves. This is because they are made of ice within the glaciers. To put it simply, an ice cave is just a typical cave that has a large amount of ice inside.
The formation of an ice cave is quite fascinating. Meltwater runs either through or under the glacier. In the process, the ice melts and leaves behind tunnels within the glacier. When the weather is significantly warmer in summer, the higher temperatures melt the ice on the glacier’s surface. This meltwater drains downward through cracks in the ice or into sinks and moulins. These shafts are often nearly vertical, allowing water to descend to the bottom of the glacier.
The channels or conduits are much larger than most people who have never seen a glacier would imagine. Usually, about 10 meters in width, they descend to the base of the glacier, which helps it move.
How are the ice caves formed? Usually, they are made up of a combination of subglacial flowers and surface meltwater drainage, caused by geothermal heat. Another factor that causes the formation of ice caves is the flow of warm water or what is more commonly known as hydrothermal rivers. For example, there is a particular ice cave in Kverkfjöll that is entirely made up of geothermal activity, but it is tough to access.
In summer, the older caves break down and become structurally unsafe for exploring. However, new ice caves form around this time, and you can easily explore all its hidden beauties. Each cave has a different shape, despite being completely designed by the hand of nature. With some caves, there are more than one entrances, which makes it took more tunnel-like in structure. Others are very tall and hollow, shaped like natural caves. However, they all have incredible corners, cracks, colors, and ice characteristics that make them totally unique. You could say they are as unique as our fingerprints because no two are the same.
Famous ice caves in Iceland
Crystal ice cave
Iceland’s Crystal Cave is a very renowned natural structure located in Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. For close to a decade, this cave has formed more or less in the same place, with the flow of the large glacial river shaping it every summer. The light flowing through the very thick and heavy blue ice is exceptional to behold, and particularly photogenic. The grandeur of the Crystal Cave is impressive, with a great cavern-like interior that is spacious enough to accommodate as much as 80 people at a time. Taking a tour of the Crystal Ice Cave is one of the most impressive experiences to do in all of Iceland.
Blue ice caves
When a glacier has compressed below its weight for hundreds or even thousands of years, this causes air to bubble and enlarge the ice crystals, creating areas of blue ice. Sometimes there will be vast expanses of clear, crystalline, shimmering ice that looks like a deep blue quartz crystal, with a light penetrating through. On some days, it looks more solid and opaque. Regardless of the opacity of the ice, intense blue tones can be displayed. Algae can be encapsulated within glacial ice, further strengthening vibrant blue hues, and very rarely, making these blues look so deep that you could call them violet hues.
Langjökull Natural Ice Cave
This ice cave stands out as being particularly unusual and surprising, with incredibly beautiful and dramatic colors. The ice roof produced a truly vibrant “river” of turquoise blue ice running through it. Around this deep blue ice stream, the ash from volcanic eruptions has left layers of gray zebra-like patterns on the surrounding white ice. Getting there requires a long and exciting trip from Reykjavik as it is in a remote location.
Black ice caves
The ice in a natural Icelandic ice cave can be black, gray, white, or blue and can be incredibly crystal clear or opaque, depending on how it forms. In a large percentage of the ice caves, you see only one color. However, some ice caves can show only one color occasionally. Dark Rubin is a black ice cave in Iceland, located close to the Vatnajökull Crystal Ice Cave. Being a black ice cave, it is not surprising that it is quite dark. However, it is large enough to accommodate more than 20 people. Due to the lack of light, this is not a place a lot of people would opt to visit. On the Mýrdalsjökull glacier is another black ice cave close to the famous Katla volcano.
Langjokull Ice Cave
This is an artificial cave in Iceland. It has a full church with an integrated chapel room in its icy depths. When you walk through the ice tunnel, this will lead you directly to the vastness of Langjökull, the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Although this ice cave is human-made, nature adds its beauty. Inside this Ice Cave are lovely formations of stalactites and stalagmites. However, this is not all as there is always something beautiful at every corner. It is possible to visit this ice cave at any time of the year, which means that it can be visited as part of a summer vacation or winter vacation. You will also be able to experience the thrill of being positioned very high on the ice sheet, giving you a real appreciation of the vast white nature of Langjökull.
Glacier hiking tours you have to try out
The beauty of going glacier hiking is when you know that you are 100% safe, and you wouldn’t miss out on the best sites. It’s not enough to search online for tips on glacier hiking; you need the help of an experienced guide who could even let you in on some little secrets to make your experience better. There are also special places you can get into with a local guide, giving you that extra spice that comes with having someone knowledgeable around. So, here are our best glacier hiking tours you wouldn’t want to miss.
This tour cuts across the Sólheimajökull glacier, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Reynisfjara/Black Sand Beach, and the Viking house. This is definitely a glacier hike worth remembering as it takes about twelve hours on Iceland’s south coast. The tour starts in Reykjavik, where an expert guide will pick you up to take you through the land of volcanoes and ice. The drive from Reykjavik takes you to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which has walking trails. This waterfall is a home of wonders, and if you are extra lucky, you may just be able to see a beautiful rainbow on a sunny day. Rainbows are every inch as magnificent as the hype surrounding them. After the Seljalandsfoss waterfall is the Skógafoss waterfall. The only thing we can say about this waterfall is that it is perfect. You will have a lot to say about it as well if it doesn’t render you speechless with awe. Up next is the Sólheimajökull Glacier hike, which is the highlight of the tour. How would you feel when you walk on a glacier with the most powerful volcano in Iceland just under your feet? Well, there is only one way to find out. The surreal experience from this glacier hike has had every tourist yearning to go back again. Even better, you get to dig into Icelandic pastry and hot chocolate during this hike. However, the tour doesn’t stop here. We will be heading over to Black Sand Beach, which has its history. This spot is so iconic that the scene where the troll tows three mast ships from the ocean to the shore was filmed here. Looking around, you will be dazzled with the basaltic rocks on the mountain. All good things must come to an end, and this tour ends with a stop at the Ingólfsskáli Viking house for dinner. This Viking house is every inch a Viking house. Walking into this lodge takes you back more than a thousand years when Vikings were still in existence. The owner also gives you a feel of the real experience dressed as a Viking and serving you Icelandic free-roaming lamb.
Here is a rundown of the places this tour covers: Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skógafoss waterfall, Solheimajokull glacier hike, Reynisfjara black beach, and the Skyr factory. Of course, this tour starts at your location in Reykjavik, where we will start early because it will be a long day of fun. The journey begins with a visit to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which runs from Eyjafjallajökull. Eyjafjallajökull is a volcano that famously erupted in 2010. About twenty minutes away from Seljalandsfoss waterfall is the Skógafoss waterfall. Granted, there are several spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, but this one takes the cake. You can view it from two different angles, either by walking right up to it or watching the water run down from above while you stand at the top. Next is the glacier hiking you have been waiting for. The Solheimajokull glacier is right next to the waterfall, an outlet glacier from Myrdalsjokull. Feel the excitement of having the most powerful volcano right under your feet while you walk on the glacier. The volcano Katla hasn’t erupted in more than a hundred years, and it would be a sight to behold when it erupts again. Glacier hiking is super cool, and with our guide, you have cleverly infused excitement in the mix. Let’s not forget that you get to enjoy Icelandic pastry and hot chocolate during this hike. After the glacier hike, we head over to the Black sand beach, which has been featured in several movies. All around this beach is a gift to unwrap. You have small caves on one end, the basaltic cliffs on another, and the glaciers twinkling around you. This tour ends at the Skyr factory. Chances are you have never heard of this factory before, and you will be given a detailed overview of its history. This was where the Vikings survived during frigid winters. Here, you will be given dinner and lots of tasty drinks.
You don’t have to worry about having the right gear for this tour as we will provide you with every necessary equipment. This private south coast tour covers the Reynisfjara/Black Sand Beach, Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skogafoss waterfall, and the highlight is the Glacier hike. If you are taking this tour in the summertime, then we can start at any time because this season features twenty-four hours of daylight. However, winter comes with shorter days, and we will have to start the tour early. As expected, the journey begins with a pickup at the capital region of Reykjavik. From here, we are heading over to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where you would be excited to take hundreds of pictures. This spot is so beautiful that you would want to document the memories in detail with your camera, and really, we can’t blame you for this. You will get a little wet while you walk behind the waterfall, so don’t forget your waterproof jacket. The source of the water in this waterfall is the glacier at the top of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
After exploring this waterfall, we will take a short drive to the Skogafoss waterfall, which we consider one of the best in Iceland. We consider it our number one waterfall in Iceland and for a good reason too. If you were to mention the perfect waterfall, chances are this is the first one that would come to your mind. Next is the highlight of the trip: the glacier hike. This is where you get to feel all the energy of the glaciers and soak in the rich history of Iceland. A glacier hike takes your vacation to the next level. We could tell you all about it, but we don’t want to spoil the surprise. This is something you have to experience for yourself to know just how awesome it is. After the hike, our final stop is the Black Sand Beach, also known as the Reynisfjara beach. All around this beach, there are volcanic cliffs, glaciers, and volcanoes. There is so much to uncover, and Game of Thrones fans will be excited to know that some scenes were filmed here.
Need we say more? Glacier hiking has become so popular in Iceland that there are lots of opportunities for exploring the ice. With the right equipment and adequately dressed in appropriate clothing, you are ready to leave your mark on our glaciers. Reykjavik Outventure is a family-owned tour company that always has something special planned for all our tourists. We look forward to seeing you on our next tour, where our guides will take you to unique places and give you a trip to remember.