Hvannadalshnúkur: Unveiling the Highest Peak in Iceland


blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

    Imagine standing atop Hvannadalshnúkur, the tallest mountain in Iceland, where the views sweep across the icy expanse of Vatnajökull National Park, Europe's largest glacier. This marvel isn't just a mountain; it's an adventure waiting to be conquered, nestled within the dramatic landscapes of Iceland. 

    At Campervan Iceland, where we breathe the spirit of Icelandic adventure, we're committed to guiding you through this extraordinary experience. Our expertise, backed by the Tourism Board of Iceland, ensures you're in capable hands. 

    This blog post is your gateway to understanding Hvannadalshnúkur — from its towering presence in Iceland's geography to its significance as a beacon for adventurers.

    Hvannadalshnúkur: The Crown of Iceland

    Standing proudly as the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur reaches an imposing height of 2,110 meters (6,922 ft). This titanic formation isn't just about its elevation; it's the crown jewel of the Öræfajökull volcano, an integral part of the monumental Vatnajökull ice cap, which blankets much of southeast Iceland. 

    Dominating the skyline of Vatnajökull National Park, its presence is an awe-inspiring sight, visible from the scenic stretch of the Ring Road between Höfn and Vík. What makes Hvannadalshnúkur particularly remarkable is its status as the highest point of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that's visible above sea level in Iceland. Its dome-shaped peak, draped in a glistening ice-covered expanse, captures the sunlight in a spectacle of natural beauty. 


    The History of Hvannadalshnúkur

    Hvannadalshnúkur isn't just the highest point in Iceland; it's a geological marvel, part of the majestic Öræfajökull volcano. This peak stands as a testament to Iceland's volcanic nerve center, last erupting devastatingly in the 18th century. 

    Looking out from its summit, you're rewarded with panoramic views that capture the essence of Iceland's diverse landscape—from sprawling plains and vast glaciers to rugged coastlines. The first to set foot on its pinnacle were Frederick W. W. Howell, Pall Jonsson, and Thorlakur Thorlaksson on August 17, 1891, a date that marked a monumental chapter in the annals of Iceland's climbing history. 

    Climbing Hvannadalshnúkur

    Climbing Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's towering pinnacle, presents adventurers with two main pathways to its summit, each offering a unique set of challenges and breathtaking landscapes. Spanning approximately 2000 meters (6600 feet) of elevation gain, these routes are suited for different levels of climbing expertise.

    tallest mountain in iceland

    Hryggjaleið Route: The Expert Path

    The Hryggjaleið route, accessible only until mid-July due to the opening crevasses and the onset of icy conditions, starts off from the base of Virkisjökull glacier. This path is notorious for its high difficulty level and is thus recommended only for those with considerable mountaineering experience. Climbers choosing this route should be prepared for a challenging ascent, navigating through complex glacier paths and potentially treacherous terrain.

    Sandfellsleið Route: The Standard Approach

    On the other hand, the Sandfellsleið route, which begins just south of the Skaftafell National Park's parking area, is the standard and more popular choice among climbers. This route involves glacier walking and basic ice climbing, making it more accessible to those with less technical climbing experience. 

    The round trip typically takes about 12 hours—8 hours up and 4 hours down—and is open for most of the year, offering climbers a feasible option to summit Hvannadalshnúkur and witness the majestic beauty of Iceland from its highest point.

    highest peak in iceland

    Preparing for the Summit: What You Need to Know

    Tackling Hvannadalshnúkur is no walk in the park; it's an expedition-level climb that commands respect, preparation, and a hearty dose of adventurous spirit. Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know:

    • Length and Challenge: Climbing Hvannadalshnúkur involves a hearty ascent and descent of 2000 meters (6562 feet) from sea level, placing it among the globe's most extensive and demanding one-day climbs.
    • Air Thinning: Remarkably, unlike Alpine ascents, climbers won't face the challenges of air thinning post 6500 feet, allowing for a somewhat more breathable adventure.
    • Fitness and Endurance: It's crucial to possess top-notch physical fitness and endurance. This trek isn't just a physical test but a marathon requiring unwavering stamina.
    • Climb Duration: Expect the ascent to take about 6-7 hours, with another 4-5 hours planned for the descent, making for a full day's commitment to the mountain.
    • Physical and Psychological Intensity: This climb challenges both body and mind and is suitable only for those with the highest fitness levels, focus, and stamina.
    • Skills and Equipment for Independent Climbers: Going solo? You'll need a solid grasp of using climbing gear on Hvannadalshnúkur's steep, snowy slopes and glaciers.
    • Guided Tours: For most, a guided tour with mountain guides is the way to go, where climbers are securely roped to experts to traverse the hidden crevasses safely. These guided tours will also provide you with all the necessary gear, such as crampons, ice axes, and ropes necessary for a safe ascent.

    highest point in iceland

    The Journey to Hvannadalshnúkur Mountain

    The adventure to Hvannadalshnúkur starts with a scenic drive from Reykjavík, heading east along Ring Road for 320 km (198 mi) and making that pivotal left turn at the Skaftafell National Park sign. Now, while the thought of navigating Icelandic roads for almost 7 hours in a bus might seem daunting, consider the allure of renting a campervan in Iceland

    Why? Because it's not just transportation; it's your mobile base camp. Picture you're winding down country roads with every comfort of home tucked neatly on four wheels. Not only does a campervan offer the freedom to explore Iceland's rugged landscapes at your own pace, but it also serves as a cozy retreat right at the trailhead of Iceland's tallest peak. 

    Camping in the park surrounding Hvannadalshnúkur allows for an unparalleled connection with nature, ensuring you're well-rested for the climb ahead or providing a comfortable space to relax after your summit.

    Banner CVI

    When to Climb: Best Times to Visit Hvannadalshnúkur

    Choosing the right season for climbing Hvannadalshnúkur is crucial for both safety and enjoyment. May to September represents the prime window, with July and August offering the most favorable weather conditions—milder temperatures, clearer skies, and steadier paths. During these months, the glacier is more stable, reducing the risk of crevasses and ice falls, making it the safest period for ascent.

    Beyond the Climb: Other Attractions in Vatnajökull National Park

    Beyond the majestic heights of Hvannadalshnúkur, Vatnajökull National Park unfurls its stunning scenery, a testament to Iceland's wild beauty. This vast and diverse area, with Hvannadalshnúkur as its crown jewel, beckons explorers to immerse themselves in its natural splendor:

    • Skaftafell Nature Reserve: Nestled close to Hvannadalshnúkur, Skaftafell showcases a tapestry of glaciers, lagoons, streams, waterfalls, mountains, and lava fields. This once standalone National Park now thrives under the wing of Vatnajökull, offering myriad landscapes that beckon the adventurous at heart.

    • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: Marvel at Iceland's deepest lake, where larger-than-life icebergs calve from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and drift toward the ocean. Since becoming part of Vatnajökull National Park in 2017, Jökulsárlón's enchanting beauty is preserved for future generations to marvel at.

    • Diamond Beach: A short stroll from Jökulsárlón, this beach dazzles with icebergs that, stranded on its shores, glitter like diamonds under the sun. Though a mesmerizing sight, a note of caution is advised against climbing these icy behemoths due to potential dangers.

    Vatnajokull National Park

    The Unforgettable Journey Up Hvannadalshnúkur

    Climbing Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's tallest peak, is a dream turned reality for many adventurers. This guide has walked you through the essentials – from the less frequented Virkisfell route for the tech-savvy climber to the more popular Sandfellsleið for those new to glacier treks. 

    We've covered how to prepare, what to expect, and even why a campervan might just be your best travel buddy in Iceland. Beyond the climb, Vatnajökull National Park offers a treasure trove of natural wonders, including the breathtaking Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. 

    Intrigued? Ready to plan your Icelandic adventure? Embark on your own unforgettable journey to the summit of Hvannadalshnúkur.

    Let’s go on an adventure!

    Unbeatable prices. Premium customer service.

    Book now
    Book now