One of the things Iceland is famous for are the beautiful volcanic landscapes forged by fire. Whether that's the colorful mountains of Landmannalaugar or the black sand volcanic beaches Vik, volcanoes in Iceland have had a lasting impact. From tragic explosions of the past to more recent ones that have disrupted air travel, volcanic eruptions are part of our reality.
Now I don't want to scare you. Just because we have active volcanoes in Iceland doesn't mean that a cataclysmic event will happen during your trip. Scientists here monitor volcanic activity and are pretty on top of things. You actually get the benefit as a tourist because you can do cool things like visit a moss-covered lava field or hike extinct volcanic craters. So rent a campervan in Iceland and don’t worry about.
Volcanoes in Iceland: Friend or Foe?
As with many things in life, the relationship between Iceland and volcanoes is complicated. On one hand, there are lots of volcano-related activities that will be some of the most memorable ones on your trip. On the other hand, certain Iceland volcanoes have been known to wreak havoc, both in the distant past and more recently. Volcano tourism to sites like Eldborg or Askja give you the chance to get up close and personal with an Iceland volcano. Or at least what remains after a massive explosion.
How many volcanoes does Iceland have?
Before we get into detail, let's answer some of the more common questions. How many volcanoes does Iceland have and where are they located? Iceland has more than 200 volcanoes which include 30 active volcanic systems. The majority of them are located in South Iceland. This is because the island sits smack dab in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
For the uninitiated, this is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. You can actually see the split in places like Thingvellir National Park.
Anyone with a fundamental knowledge of geography is aware that plate boundaries tend to be a hotbed of volcanic activity. Much like with the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean, this hot zone produces much of Iceland’s volcanic activity. In fact, geologists believe that the island itself was formed from volcanic eruptions.
The seam in the Earth's crust has a pocket of magma resting just below Iceland. hot lava Rose to the ocean’s surface, it eventually cooled and created the island approximately 70 million years ago. This process continues today with the formation of new islands just off the coast like Surtsey Island. This new addition to the Westman islands cropped up in 1963 with the eruption of Eldfell.
If you look at an Iceland volcano map, It's quite easy to see the volcano south Iceland connection.
Now that you know how many volcanoes in Iceland there are and where you can find them, let's move on to the good stuff.
Active volcanoes in Iceland: How to visit safely
Before we start, I just want to clear up a few things. There are a few terms that volcanologists use and I want to make sure that we're all on the same page. An extinct volcano is one that has not erupted in at least 10,000 years and will likely not do so again.
An active volcano is one that has had an eruption in the last 10,000 years. Active volcanoes fall into one of two categories: erupting and dormant. Dormant volcanoes are active, and although they are not currently erupting they probably will in the future. And obviously an erupting volcano is one that you get you want to get as far away from as possible.
So volcanic craters like Eldborg or calderas like Askja have suffered huge explosions but are perfectly safe to visit. Others like Eyjafjallajökull, which had a huge eruption in 2010, are a bit more problematic. This Icelandic eruption displaced millions of air travelers around Europe for nearly a week and captured the world's imagination. The fiery lava rising from the magma chamber mixing with the frozen ice cap above made for a particularly devastating mix of ash and smoke.
Volcano hike in Iceland
If you want to be in the middle of the action, then a volcano hiking in Iceland is something you should definitely consider. Let's look at some Reykjavik Iceland volcanoes that you can definitely do as a day trip. If you are in this part of Iceland, you may as well take advantage and go for a visit.
Hekla Volcano South Iceland
This is one of Iceland's largest and most active volcanoes. Since the island was settled in 874 AD, the fiery mountain has had a whopping 20 eruptions in that time. It was once a green and lush area but today it looks quite barren thanks to the destructive power of Hekla. You can easily walk the trail and go all the way to the volcano’s summit on a four-hour hike. This is an active volcano, so know that there are risks involved and listen to the Hekla Center staff warnings.
Eyjafjallajökull Volcano and Glacier
This is probably Iceland's most famous volcano. Not only does it have a tongue-twisting name, but it was also the source of major headaches back when it erupted in 2010. Although it was a huge inconvenience for millions of travelers at the time, ironically many tourists now come to Iceland to visit this active volcano. The powerful eruption put Iceland on the map and subsequently became part of the tourism boom it happened in the country. Like many Iceland volcanoes, it has an ice cap on top, so it's considered a glacier volcano
If you want to visit Eyjafjallajökull, it's best to do one of the Super Jeep tours; they leave locally and from Reykjavik. You can also summit the volcano and it takes around three hours. Check out the Visitor Center (Þorvaldseyri) at the base which has information as well as an exhibition with footage of the 2010 eruption.
Among all of your options of volcanoes, Katla is probably Iceland's most powerful. It erupts approximately every 50 to 90 years, and the last one was in 1918. This means that we are overdue for an eruption and have been for quite some time. This is another subglacial volcano, much like Grímsvötn. You'll find it underneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (ice cap) in South Iceland close to the Ring Road. An eruption here could unleash glacial floods and cause massive amounts of destruction to nearby villages.
You can hike to the top of the summit (1,512 meters or 4,961 feet) but helicopter tours are also an option.
Iceland volcano tourism: Explore the country’s fiery side
Some other volcanoes in Iceland you can visit are Grímsvötn Volcano and Snaefell Volcano. Statistically speaking, there will eventually be another eruption of an Iceland volcano, and it’s probably Katla. But natural events like these are quite hard to predict.
As long as no eruption occurs during your trip, you should be just fine. Although I'm not promising anything. but isn't a slight hint of danger all part of the fun?