Glacier Walking and Ice Caving in Iceland
With over 11% of its landmass covered by glaciers, Iceland is the perfect destination for Glacier Walking and Ice Caving!
People come to visit Iceland’s glaciers from all over the world. Whether you’re a seasoned caving expert or complete beginner, there is something for everyone to enjoy on the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland’s glaciers.
With so many amazing glaciers to explore, it can be hard to know where to start! Not to worry, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about exploring the Icelandic Glaciers and Ice Caves.
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Glacier Walking in Iceland
A glacier hiking tour is a unique way to discover the beauty of Iceland. Leaving the tourist hot spots far behind you, you can set off for an adventure into the Icelandic wilderness with an expert guide.
Iceland has over 400 different glaciers and glacier outlets, which were formed over thousands of years. Every year, another layer of snow falls on the existing sheet of ice. This adds to the existing weight of the glacier and further solidifying the ice sheet.
Under the great weight of a thousand years of snowfall, the glaciers slowly move through the landscape. This movement carves out new valleys and moraines and causes great cracks and fissures to develop in the ice sheet.
Although the conditions are harsher, the glaciers are particularly beautiful in the Wintertime. Between November and March, you can expect some truly breathtaking ice sculptures, and there is a much higher chance that you will see the Northern Lights. There is also a higher chance that the tours will be canceled due to bad weather during the winter months, and limited daylight hours will reduce visibility on the ice.
It is also possible to explore the glaciers in the Summer months, but the landscapes will be less spectacular. On the bright side, the conditions will be less extreme, and you will have better visibility of the beautiful Icelandic scenery.
No matter what time of year you visit, glaciers can be extremely dangerous if you attempt to explore them without an expert guide.
Where to go Glacier Hiking in Iceland
Iceland has got more glaciers than you could possibly explore in a lifetime! Each of them is unique, and they are constantly moving and changing. Here are 5 wonderful locations that we recommend for glacier hiking in Iceland:
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Langjokull is translated as ‘the long glacier.’ It is the closest glacier to the capital city of Reykjavik and can be reached via a detour of the world-famous Golden Circle.
Langjokull covers an area of active volcanoes, so you can enjoy visiting the lava fields on route to your walking tour. With only 32 known eruptions in the last 10, 000 years, you don’t have to worry about explosive volcanoes during your visit!
A Glacier Walk in Langjokull can be combined with a guided Ice Caving experience, a visit to the man-made ice tunnel, or even a snowmobiling session.
You can access the glacier from either Gulfoss or Husafell. Remember to leave at least 2.5 hours for the drive from the capital, due to unpredictable weather conditions and terrain.
During the summertime, it is possible to drive to Langjokull on the highland roads if you have a 4×4 vehicle. In the winter, the roads are often closed, so it will not always be possible for you to drive yourself there. If you are unable to drive to the glacier yourself, you can organize a tour which includes transport in an off-road super jeep.
In terms of volume, Vatnajokull is the largest Ice Cap in Europe. It has over 30 separate glacier tongues just waiting to be explored. This glacier is right by the Icelandic Ring Road, making it easy to visit no matter what the season.
This amazing glacier covers 8% of the Icelandic landmass and, in places, reaches a thickness of almost 1000 meters!
Every year, Vatnajokull is home to some of the most mesmerizing Ice Caves that Iceland has to offer. It also boasts several glittering glacier lagoons. Put simply; it is a wonderful glacier to set out on your hiking adventure.
Svínafellsjökull Glacier Outlet
Svínafellsjökull is one of the most popular glacier tongues to explore at Vatnajokull glacier. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, you will hike right into the heart of Iceland’s most rugged natural beauty.
You may well recognize Svínafellsjökull from the big screen. This beautiful glacier tongue was featured in the Game of Throne series, as well as Lara Croft, Batman, and James Bond.
The breathtaking views and unbelievable ice formations make Svínafellsjökull the most popular location for glacier walking in the whole of Iceland.
Falljökull Glacier Outlet
Falljökull is another outlet of the Vatnajokull glacier. This glacial tongue offers exciting excursions for more confident and athletic visitors. The sharp ridges and technical ground means that ropes and axes are often necessary, and the tours are more like a combination of Ice Climbing and Glacier Walking.
Your hard work will be rewarded by some of the most spectacular views that you could possibly imagine.
Mýrdalsjökull is the 4th largest Icecap in Iceland.
Located in the south, it lays on top of the most dangerous and active volcano in Iceland: Katla. Katla erupts every 50-100 years and is closely monitored by local scientists to predict when the next eruption may take place. According to the experts, an eruption is due very soon!
Hiking and Ice Caving is available on the glacier throughout the year and is only closed off when the weather or seismic activity is considered a threat to visitors.
If you aren’t feeling energetic, you can enjoy amazing views at this glacier without setting off onto the ice. However, joining a guided glacier tour at Mýrdalsjökull makes for an unforgettable experience.
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Ice Caving In Iceland
There are 2 major types of Ice Cave that you can visit in Iceland – Glacial Ice Caves and Lava Ice Caves.
Glacial Ice Caves
Glacial Ice Caves formed when glacial meltwater flows beneath the surface of the ice. The flowing water creates new tunnels and caves, which are then frozen solid in the wintertime.
Glacial caves are an extraordinary electric blue. They melt away and reform every year, and they are constantly changing throughout the winter too. You can never visit the same Glacier Cave twice!
Because of the melting of the ice, they are too dangerous and unstable to visit in the summertime. In winter, they offer a safe and exhilarating adventure for visitors to Iceland. Glacial caves can generally be visited between November and March. For those visiting in summer, it is possible to experience a walk beneath Lanjokull glacier via the man-made glacier tunnel.
The man-made tunnel is 500 meters long, 7 meters long and 10 meters wide. It can be visited all year round.
Because of the impermanent nature of the Glacial Caves, you should find a caving company with lots of experience rather than trying to pick a specific cave that you want to visit. Every year, the tour companies select a handful of spectacular caves to show to visitors. You won’t be disappointed!
Lava Ice Caves
The second type of Ice Cave can be found in Iceland’s Lava tunnels.
Just like with the Glacial Caves, the Lava Caves are formed when liquid flows beneath the surface. In this case, the liquid was molten rock that was released via a volcanic eruption. The lava on the surface cooled down more quickly than the lava below, so a river of molten rock carved out caves and tunnels.
In winter, many of Iceland’s lava caves get covered in a thick layer of ice. Ice sculptures emerge on the floor, and icicles hang from the ceilings. They are not the same incredible blue color of the Glacial caves, but they are extremely beautiful in their own way.
Some of the Lava Caves have icicles in them all year round. For example, Lofthellir Lava Cave. This amazing cave is filled with huge stalactites of ice that were created over thousands of years. Water dripping into the freezing cave has slowly created some magnificent ice sculptures that can be enjoyed with the help of a tour guide.
No matter what the time of year, you should wrap up warm and wear good quality hiking boots with plenty of grip in this amazing underground cave. You should also wear waterproof layers, as you will find pools of cold water on the cave floor.
For a list of specific caves that you can explore on your visit to Iceland, check out this article.
It is perfectly possible to combine a Glacier Walking and Ice Caving tour. After all, you have to get to the Ice Caves somehow! You could also consider combining your experience on the ice with another activity that you love. It is possible to combine Ice Caving and Kayaking, Ice Caving and Horse Riding, and even Ice Caving and Snowmobiling. You can find out more about the range of ski and snow tours available in Iceland here.
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What time of year should I go Glacier Walking or Ice Caving?
The best time for Ice Caving is in Winter when the glacial caves are safe to enter. It is possible to explore the Ice Caves of Katla or Lofthellir in the summer months, as well as the man-made ice cave at the Perlan Museum, or the enormous man-made ice tunnel underneath Langjökull glacier.
Glacier Hiking is available in Iceland all year round. In the summer, you can expect better views that can be enjoyed in the long daylight hours. The tours are less likely to be canceled because of bad weather, and there are many more different options for glacier walking tours.
Glacier Hiking in the winter is much more extreme. You can only expect a few hours of light every day, and the tours are frequently canceled due to bad weather. In cases when the tours are canceled due to bad weather, it may not be possible to have a refund. However, the tour company will help you to arrange another day on the ice at no extra cost. This may not be very helpful if you are visiting Iceland for a very short period of time, so it is worth checking the bad weather policy on booking your specific tour.
The Icelandic Glaciers are far more beautiful in wintertime when the whole landscape is transformed under a thick layer of ice. Rather than the streaky grey color of glaciers in Summertime, you can expect an unearthly glittering blue. The Ice sculptures are even more magnificent, and the harsher conditions will be compensated for by this outstanding natural beauty.
Can I go Glacier Walking or Ice Caving if I am pregnant?
This will depend on both yourself and the tour operator. You should ask the tour operator on booking whether they have any restrictions on participation when pregnant. You should know that there is a risk that you could slip and fall on the ice. If your guide is happy with you coming along and you feel that you have enough energy to join the tour, there is no reason that you cannot participate.
How fit do I need to be to go Glacier Walking or Ice Caving?
The fitness required will completely depend on the tour that you book. An hour’s glacier walk will be completely different from a multi-day hike. For most Glacier Walking and Ice Caving tours, you need a reasonable (but not excessive) level of fitness. You should be comfortable to walk on uneven ground and stay on your feet for the duration of the tour.
Do I need any special equipment to go Glacier Walking or Ice Caving?
The equipment that you need will depend on your specific adventure. Normally, you will need crampons, an ice pick, and a helmet. Sometimes you will also need safety ropes. Both Glacier Walking and Ice Caving must be done with a guide, so they will be able to provide you with any specialist equipment that you need. For your comfort and safety, make sure that you wear plenty of warm and waterproof layers, including a hat, gloves, and good quality woolen socks.
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Is Glacier Walking safe?
If you go with an experienced guide and follow all the instructions you are given, it is extremely unlikely that you will get into any trouble on the glacier. However, you
must never attempt to get on the glacier without a guide. The extreme temperatures and deep cracks in the ice can be extremely dangerous if you are not familiar with the glacier.
Is Ice Caving safe?
Just like with glacier walking, it’s important that you go Ice Caving with a guide. It would be dangerous to attempt to explore the glacier caves on your own. The guides carefully assess which caves are safe to enter, and have all the equipment and experience that is needed. In Summer, Ice Caves are often unstable and could collapse. For this reason, Ice Caving is almost exclusively offered in Winter when the colder temperatures make the structure of the cave more solid.
Is there an age limit for Glacier walking and Ice Caving?
There is often a minimum age limit for Glacier Walking and Ice Caving. This is for the safety of the whole group. You should check about age limits with your specific touring company on booking a tour.
What is the future of the Icelandic Glaciers?
Icelandic people are very caring and outdoorsy people.
The country is well known for it’s a brilliant approach to sustainability and protection of the environment. Thanks to geothermal energy, Reykjavik is one of the cleanest cities in the world!
Despite this, Iceland’s Glaciers are rapidly melting due to the effects of global warming.
Currently, there are over 400 glaciers in Iceland, which are still up to 1000 meters thick in places. However, it is possible that they will have completely disappeared in 200 years.
In 2019, the first Icelandic Glacier was officially lost due to climate change. In order to qualify as a glacier, an ice sheet must be heavy enough to move under its own weight. Due to rapid melting, the remaining ice of the Ok-jökull glacier no longer moves and it has lost its status as a glacier.
Following the loss of status, 100 people walked up to the spot where the Glacier once stood and erected a bronze plaque, which they entitled ‘a letter to the future’.
The plaque reads:
‘In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.’
In a few generations, Glacier Walking and Ice Caving in Iceland may not be possible. For this reason, it is even more important that people explore and learn about the ice sheets whilst they still can.
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See You Soon!
We hoped you enjoyed this article about Glacier Walking and Ice Caving in Iceland. These breathtaking activities should not be missed on a visit to the land of Fire and Ice.
For your safety, don’t forget to wrap up warm and to book on to a tour with a well-reputed guiding company. We hope to welcome you onto the ice soon!