Going on a glacier hike in Iceland is the perfect way to discover and explore the unique terrains and incredible ice-formed landscapes of this North Atlantic island.
With 10.2 percent of its total landmass blanketed by 11,4000 square kilometers of glaciers, Iceland is among the best places to head out and explore these perennial ice formations.
In fact, Iceland is consistently ranked as one of the top glacier hiking destinations in Europe and glaciers have long played a crucial role in the Icelandic economy, with thousands of tourists flocking to the island each year to head out and explore them.
While Iceland is covered in dozens of glaciers, the 13 largest ones account for 98 percent of all the island’s glaciers. These range in size from the 11-square kilometer Snæfellsjökull, in the western-most tip of the country, to the massive 8,300-square kilometer Vatnajökull, on the island’s southeast.
While all of Iceland’s glaciers share some similar characteristics, each one is unique in its own right. There are simply too many incredibly scenic and awe-inspiring options for just a single trip to the little country, which is why we’ve included four of the top glacier hiking options below.
Sitting in southeastern Iceland, in the heart of Vatnajökull National Park and atop a glacier of the same name, Hvannadalshnúkur (2,110 meters) is the highest peak in the country and among the best glacier hikes in Iceland.
For those who are in good physical condition, the hike from the base of the glacier to the top of the country and back takes about 15 hours.
As you ascend up to the top of the glacier, you will be hiking over the northwestern rim of the summit crater of the Öræfajökull volcano. The massive Vatnajökull glacier covers this volcanic peak and the mighty Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga volcanoes as well.
While the climbing is quite steep and strenuous, the views from the top are immaculate. From the summit, the whole country stretches out beneath your feet. You will be able to see out over the rest of Iceland’s largest glacier and the Atlantic Ocean.
Situated on Iceland’s southern coast, the Sólheimajökull glacier is the country’s most popular spot for a glacier hike tour from Reykjavik.
The trailhead for heading out onto the glacier can be reached with just a two-hour drive along the scenic southern coastline. Once you’ve reached this trailhead, there are numerous hiking options.
Most hikers will opt to head out for a half-day or full-day tour, exploring the glacier and enjoying incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Many guides also offer hybrid trips with both glacier hiking and some introductory ice climbing thrown in as well.
Among the various must-see spots on the glacier is the Skógafoss waterfall. Depending on the angle of the sun, a rainbow appears in front of the waterfall, creating yet another incredible spectacle on this already exceptionally scenic glacier.
From November through to March, the glacier is also an especially popular spot for seeking out the Northern Lights. Heading out from Reykjavik in the evening, hikers will climb onto the glacier and keep their eyes peeled skyward for the incredible natural phenomenon.
Saying that the Vatnajökull glacier is big is a bit of an understatement. Iceland and Europe’s largest glacier covers 8,300 square kilometers of land and is composed of 3,100 cubic kilometers of ice. That’s huge!
Crossing this behemoth on foot takes nine days of walking between seven and nine hours each day and is simply the best way to see some of Iceland’s most iconic scenery as well as summit the county’s highest peak.
Along the way, hikers will pass over the Grímsvötn volcano, which sits buried beneath the ice; climb up Hvannadalshnúkur, the tallest mountain and highest point in the country; cross the spectacular Esjufjöll mountains on the eastern end of the glacier, and finish the trek by descending down the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier.
Over the course of the trek, participants stay in a combination of tents, huts, and lodges, providing an eclectic taste of the Icelandic backcountry as well as an unforgettable experience.
Situated in the southeastern corner of the country, the Skaftafell glacier hike is a great way to experience Iceland’s dynamic scenery while crossing the foot of its largest glacier.
The nomenclature of this trek can be a bit tricky. While it is called the Skaftafell glacier hike, you will actually be walking across the Falljökull or Svinafellsjokull glaciers, both of which are part of the Vatnajökull glacier.
Regardless of the names, the trip is simply stunning. There are many half-day and single-day hikes, but the most popular option is heading on a five-day trek from Nupsstadarskogar to Skaftafell.
Beginning from the Nupsstadarskogar valley, hikers start by ascending out of the valley and passing the Tvílitihylur waterfalls and 200-meter deep canyons before reaching the Sléttur lava plains.
Hikers will proceed to cross the Grænalón glacier lagoon before climbing up onto the tongue of the Skeiðarárjökull glaciers and traversing its various valleys and ridgelines before descending into the Kjós valley and heading on to Skaftafell.
While heading out on a hike through some of Iceland’s incredible glacial scenery is one of the biggest draws for tourists heading to the northerly Atlantic island, there are plenty of other incredible outdoor adventures as well!
Take some time on your next holiday to experience as much of this country’s awe-inspiring natural beauty and try out some of the best adventure tours near Reykjavik as you can!
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