Iceland is a wondrous country filled with sprawling ice capped mountains, majestic ice caves, and active volcanoes. The glaciers of Iceland attract intrepid travelers from all over the world to go on exciting glacier hikes while enjoying the great outdoors. In fact more than 11% of the rugged land area is covered by glaciers, so be prepared for awe-inspiring views.
Iceland contains many kinds of glaciers from long outlet glaciers, beautiful glacier lagoons to glacier tongues. You’ll see all of these forms throughout any glacier tour. This guide will provide information about important definitions, where to find the most famous glaciers, and glacier hikes.
What are glaciers? Glaciers are formed during cold temperatures that allow snow to gather consistently in a particular location like mountaintops. The mass of snow grows overtime and becomes thick layers of ice. Common glacier types include glacier lagoons, valley glaciers, ice caps and more. Glacier lagoons are a beautiful natural phenomenon that occurs when glaciers melt and the water pools into a space. The lagoon stays full from miniature icebergs falling off the source glacier and the steady flow of glacial melt water. Jökulsárlón is the most dazzling glacier lagoon in Iceland.
Ice caps are dome-shaped layers of thick ice that cover a relatively small area such as a mountaintop. The average size of ice caps is less than 50,000 square kilometers (19,000 square miles). Ice caps then become ice sheets if they grow larger than that range. They both truly add to the photogenic and ethereal landscape of Iceland.
Some glacier types that develop are influenced by the topography of the land. For example, outlet glaciers are also called valley glaciers. They develop from ice sheets and ice caps. When ice caps start to melt, the water drains between the valley of mountains and freezes. This phenomenon creates an outlet glacier. Then long glacier tongues stretch out from outlet glaciers to reach a body of water.
To focus your grand voyage into the great outdoors, you may be wondering where are glaciers in Iceland? Every tourist needs to see Vatnajökull, also known as the largest glacier in Iceland and covers 8% of the country. It even holds the title in all of Europe.
You can find the colossal Vatnajökull glacier in southeast of Iceland. It is about 1300 feet (400 meters) in depth and about 3100 miles (8100 square kilometers) long. This ancient glacier has about 30 valley glaciers, but be sure to visit Skeiðarárjökull, which is one of the largest. When you visit you can also appreciate the high number of glacial rivers coming through Vatnajökull. There is even a national park that houses the tall Öræfajökull volcanic glacier. The highest peak of this mountain is called Hvannadalshnjúkur, which is roughly 7000 feet (2100 meters) high.
After marveling in the glory of Vatnajökull, visit Langjökull known as the “Long Glacier.” Langjökull is 361 square miles (935 square kilometers) in length and 1900 feet (580 meters) in thickness. This impressive ice cap is second only to Vatnajökull and found in the Western Highlands or by the Golden Circle. The location allows you to take a convenient day trip from Reykjavík, the capital city.
The water from Langjökull is integral to the features of the three renowned Golden Circle attractions. The water for Gullfoss Waterfall or “Golden Waterfall” is supplied from Langjökull’s glacial river called Hvítá. The natural hot springs in the Geysir area or the “Great Geysir” gets maintained by underground glacier ice water. And the fresh springs found in Þingvellir national park come directly from glacial melt water. These wondrous sites are well worth the visit after trekking through the “Long Glacier.”
Jökulsárlón or aptly known as the “Crown Jewel of Iceland,” is located in South Iceland near the east. It is the most visited glacier lagoon in Iceland because of its unique beauty. Jökulsárlón is full of vivid blue, crystalline white, transparent, and black volcanic ash colored floating icebergs. These natural diamonds come from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier nestled in Vatnajökull national park. The nearby Diamond Beach also has sparkling icebergs sprinkled on the black sand shore.
The Crown Jewel of Iceland is the deepest lake in Iceland. It has a surface area of 7 square miles (18 square kilometers) and depth of 814 feet (248 meters). The ever changing icebergs make the lake have a different appearance everyday. Travelers are instantly drawn to this location to appreciate the beauty in person. You can enjoy this stunning lagoon in all seasons and you might even see friendly seals swimming in the water.
Jökulsárlón has a mix of freshwater and ocean water creating a vivid and deep blue color in the lagoon. The connection to the ocean allows wildlife like fish and seals to thrive in the lagoon. You can also spot seabirds. After basking in the lagoon, you can go on a guided ice cave tour to see a natural blue ice cave. It is located inside the imposing Vatnajökull glacier.
A glacier hike Iceland guided tour is a wonderful way to explore these grand structures safely. You will capture priceless photos and memories when you climb to the top of whichever glacier you explore. Now imagine walking across an endless expanse of glorious untouched ice and snow. In movies they depict harrowing adventures filled with tension. But you can have a perfectly safe and great experience if you have three things. You need the correct hiking equipment, a knowledgeable tour guide, and caution.
Five suggested locations to hike are Vatnajökull, Langjökull, Glacier Lagoons, Hekla, and Snæfellsjökull. The impressive Vatnajökull glacier should be first on your list because of its sheer size and over 30 outlet glaciers. The glacier hike to the top will really showcase the beautiful and pristine landscape. Langjökull is popular for snowmobiling tours, glacier hikes, glacier climbing, and visiting the beautiful man-made tunnel inside this glacier. Also, the glacial melt water at the base of most ice caps pools to form a lagoon. You can travel by boat to these lagoons and see the ethereal Jökulsárlón and others such as Fjallsárlón and Grænalón.
Hekla is the largest active volcano in Iceland and is often called the Gateway to Hell as a result of many eruptions. Hekla also previously produced the largest volume of lava from any single eruption in the whole world. The last Hekla eruption was in the year 2000. So put on your protective hiking gear and get ready to hike up the glacier ice cap of this respected volcano. After that you should see the “Snowfall Glacier” or Snæfellsjökull located at the apex of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This volcanic glacier is active but it has not spewed lava in about 1700 years.
Visiting Iceland is an adventure of a lifetime designed to make you appreciate the sheer wonder of nature. After your hike up an ancient glacier, the view will take your breath away and make you a storyteller. Your friends and family will love to share your memories with you. So at the top take some of the most iconic photos of Iceland.