Strap on some crampons, grab an ice pick, and set off on a very cool Icelandic adventure. If you are thinking about doing an Iceland glacier hike, we have lots of great information to share with you.
Hiking on a glacier was one of our most anticipated experiences in Iceland. Exploring crevasses, walking on the crunchy ice with crampons, and taking photos of the blue ice…it was absolutely amazing!
There are many different tour options for a glacier hike in Iceland. Choose between a short or long tour, add on ice climbing or a visit to an ice cave, or add on side trips to nearby attractions. With several glaciers and top-rated tour companies in Iceland, there are a lot of options.
In this post, get an idea of what to expect on an Iceland glacier walk. At the end of this article, I provide information about the various tour options to help you pick the best tour.
Iceland Glacier Hike: An Overview
There are two main glaciers in Iceland where you can go hiking: Sólheimajökull glacier and Vatnajökull glacier.
Sólheimajökull glacier is located in south Iceland, just a short drive from Skógafoss waterfall. It’s only a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik.
Its convenient location makes it the most popular choice for many visitors to Iceland. It is possible to hike Sólheimajökull glacier on a day trip from Reykjavík or easily add it into your south coast sightseeing itinerary.
Vatnajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Europe. It is also part of Vatnajökull National Park, the largest protected area in Europe.
Vatnajökull glacier has roughly 30 outlet glaciers, which are long tongues of ice that reach out from the main glacier. It is these tongues of ice that you will explore. Some of these outlet glaciers were also used in the filming of Game of Thrones.
The ice that floats in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and washes up on Diamond Beach originate from the Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier.
Most glacier hikes on Vatnajökull glacier start in Skaftafell. This is a 4-hour drive from Reykjavik. If you are looking to do an Iceland glacier hike on a day trip from Reykjavík, Sólheimajökull glacier is a better option. But if you want to walk on Europe’s largest glacier and add on kayaking or cruising Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Vatnajökull glacier is an unbelievable experience.
Ice Caves in Iceland
During the winter months (November through March) you can also go ice caving. Explore naturally occurring ice caves…giant rooms with crystal clear blue ice ceilings. It looks like a magical experience. Since our visit to Iceland was during the summer months, the ice caves were not open.
The ice caves are located at Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers Falljökull and Breiðamerkurjökull, the Kötlujökull outlet glacier from the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap (the Katla Ice Cave on South Iceland), and at Langjökull glacier (a man-made ice cave) in west Iceland.
Vatnajökull Glacier vs. Sólheimajökull Glacier
We chose Vatnajökull glacier over Sólheimajökull glacier for several reasons. Since Vatnajökull is located farther away from Reykjavik, crowds tend to be lower at this glacier. Plus, there are several different outlet glaciers to hike, so that also keeps crowds low. We were on a Ring Road road trip, so adding this onto our itinerary was a piece of cake. And it is awesome to say that we walked on the largest glacier in Europe!
Iceland Glacier Hike: What to Expect
We booked our tour with Arctic Adventures. They get rave reviews on Trip Advisor and offer a lot of different tour options. We chose the Glacier Explorer Tour, since it offers the most time on the glacier.
Getting Geared Up
Tours of Vatnajökull glacier typically start in Skaftafell. There are several tour companies that offer tours of this glacier and they all have very small offices here. There is a large parking lot and campground in Skaftafell. This is also where you would park to hike to Svartifoss waterfall.
At the Arctic Adventures office, we assembled with the other members of our group. There were a total of 12 members in our group. At the office, we were fitted with crampons, a helmet, a harness, and an ice pick. We had to rent their hiking boots (at a small additional fee), since our hiking shoes were not acceptable. We wear hiking shoes, not boots, and they required footwear that had ankle support.
From the Skaftafell office, we boarded a bus and drove 15 minutes east to the Falljökull outlet glacier.
From this parking lot, with our gear in our hands, we walked 30 minutes to the glacier. It was a flat, easy walk.
On the Glacier
Once next to the ice, we put on our crampons and our guide gave us a safety lesson on how to walk on the ice and use an ice pick. And then we were on our way!
Walking with crampons is fairly easy. You do have to pay attention to how you step, since your feet stick into the ice (the whole reason behind wearing crampons, of course!). Since you are walking up and down inclines, you move at a very slow pace. So, on a short tour, you don’t go very far onto the ice, since you are moving so slowly.
When we did this, at the end of July, temperatures were unusually warm. It was 27°C. Since we would be walking on a giant slab of ice, we wore some of our warmest clothes. That was a mistake. We ended up sweating through most of this experience, at least until we really got up onto the ice, where temperatures were much cooler.
This warm weather naturally had a big effect on the glacier. It was disturbing how quickly the glacier was melting. Rivers of water were pouring off the ice. Scientists predict that this outlet glacier will be completely melted by 2030.
For over 3 hours we explored the glacier. We walked through narrow crevasses, got to see very small, blue ice caves, and climbed quite high onto the glacier. Three hours may sound like a lot of time but it flew by. One of the best parts of this tour was climbing through the narrow crevasses and up and over huge chunks of ice.
Here is our glacier hike in photos.
There were other shorter tours that came and went. On a short tour, you only get about an hour on the ice. Some of the coolest terrain we saw was higher up on the glacier, and a short tour, you would miss this. If you have the time and the energy, I highly recommend taking a longer tour.
Our tour ended back at the Skaftafell office. The Glacier Explorer Tour is a 5.5-hour tour. We spent 3 hours of that time on the ice. The other 2.5 hours were used to get our gear, drive to and from the outlet glacier, and hike on land to the start of the glacier.
Pro Travel Tip: Most tours, whether you are at Sólheimajökull glacier or Vatnajökull glacier, will include about a 30-minute walk to get to the glacier. As these glaciers recede, they move farther and farther from the parking lot, adding on walking time to each tour.
When to Go on an Iceland Glacier Hike
You can hike on a glacier year round. Tour companies offer glacier hikes all year with additional tours during the busier summer months.
If you choose to hike on Vatnajökull Glacier, it is also possible to do a combination tour with a boat ride on Jökulsárlón Lagoon.
If you want to explore an ice cave, you can do this between November and March, when the ice caves are open and safe to explore.
Recommended Ages for an Iceland Glacier Hike
For shorter, less strenuous tours, the minimum age is typically 8 years old. For our tour, the Glacier Explorer, the minimum age is 14 years, due to its longer time on the ice and short but somewhat challenging walks through the crevasses.
When booking your tours, tour companies will state the minimum age requirements and difficulty level.
What to Wear on an Iceland Glacier Hike
Tour companies provide your gear: the crampons, helmets, and ice axes. If you do any ice climbing or a longer tour where you hike farther onto the ice, you will also wear a harness. This is included with your tour price. If you need to rent boots or waterproof gear, you can do this for an additional fee.
The temperatures will be cooler once you are standing on the glacier. It is a good idea to bring layers, even during the summer months. Dress for the weather forecast but add in one to two layers for the colder temperatures once you are on the glacier.
- Hiking Boots. Not hiking shoes. We were required to wear sturdy footwear with ankle support. Arctic Adventures rented hiking boots for a small additional fee.
- Several layers of clothes
- Waterproof pants, if you have them. Avoid jeans, since these can get uncomfortable when wet. We wore lightweight hiking pants (only one layer) and these worked great for us, but the weather was uncharacteristically warm.
- Rain jacket. If rain is in the forecast, you will still hike on the glacier.
- Gloves (ideally waterproof)
- Hat (if the weather is very cold)
- Bring a backpack. You can throw your extra layers in here if you get warm. Or, pack extra layers in here should you get cold.
If you are on a longer tour, it is also a good idea to bring water and some snacks. On a sunny day, sunblock is essential.
During the winter months, really pile on those layers!!
Which Tour is Right for You?
There are numerous Iceland glacier hike tours to choose from. For Sólheimajökull and Vatnajökull glaciers, I narrowed down the list to these 6 options.
Glacier Explorer with Arctic Adventures. This is the tour that we took and loved it. Starting in Skaftafell, spend 3 hours on the largest glacier in Europe (this tour is 5 hours in total). It is offered all year with a minimum age of 14 years.
Glacier Wonders with Arctic Adventures. This is the best-selling tour on Vatnajökull glacier. It is a shorter version of the Glacier Explorer tour. It is offered all year with a minimum age of 8 years.
Glacier Grand Slam with Arctic Adventures. On this full day adventure, explore Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on a zodiac boat and then hike on Vatnajökull glacier. It is offered from May to October.
Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike with Arctic Adventures. Spend one hour on Sólheimajökull glacier. You can do this as a day trip from Reykjavík or meet on location at the glacier. It is offered all year and the minimum age is 8 years.
Sólheimajökull Ice Climbing and Glacier Hike. On this 4-hour tour of Sólheimajökull glacier, learn how to go ice climbing. This tour is offered all year with a minimum age of 12 years.
Crystal Cave Tour. Visit this crystal-clear blue ice cave on a 2.5 hour tour from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This tour is available October through March with a minimum age of 6 years.
Ideas for What to Do after Your Glacier Hike
For an even more epic experience, here are some things to add on to your glacier hike.
At Sólheimajökull Glacier
If you are doing this on a day trip from Reykjavík, don’t miss Skógafoss waterfall, Kvernufoss waterfall, and Seljalansfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls. These are all quick visits and they can be easily added into your drive back to Reykjavík. Skip the Solheimasandur plane wreck…it is an overrated tourist trap.
If you have lots of time and energy, you can add in part or all of the Skógafoss Waterfall Trail. It’s one of Iceland’s most underrated hikes.
Svartifoss waterfall. From the parking lot in Skaftafell, it’s an unexciting 3 km round trip hike to get here but what a unique waterfall!
On the same day as your glacier hike, you can kayak or take a zodiac boat ride of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Afterwards, pop out to Diamond Beach to see the ice chunks that wash up onto the jet black sand.
Next to Jökulsárlón is Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This smaller and less crowded lagoon is also fed by ice from Vatnajökull glacier.
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon
If you have any questions about an Iceland glacier hike, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below!
More Information for Your Trip to Iceland:
- Itinerary: 10 Days in Iceland: The Ultimate Adventure Itinerary
- Waterfalls: 20 Best Waterfalls in Iceland and Their Exact Locations
- Hiking: Fimmvörðuháls Hike: A Step-By-Step Guide to Iceland’s Best Day Hike
- Landmannalaugar: One Day in Landmannalaugar (with Háifoss and Sigöldugljúfur)
- Inspiration: Iceland Bucket List: 40 Epic Things to do in Iceland
- Reykjavík: 10 Best Day Trips from Reykjavík
Read all of our articles about Iceland in our Iceland Destination Guide.
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