Looking for the best glacier hike in Iceland? Read on for details!
Iceland is full of epic, bucket list experiences – there are volcanoes, hot springs, glacier lagoons, whale watching, northern lights, the midnight sun… the list just seems to be neverending!
While there is some stiff competition, I truly think that going on a glacier hike in Iceland is one of the BEST adventures and experiences you can have in the country.
I truly was blown away by how much we enjoyed doing this Iceland glacier hike near Skaftafell, and I want you to have the same incredible experience!
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Can I Hike a Glacier in Iceland by Myself?
To go glacier hiking in Iceland, you really must go with a tour guide! This is because hiking on a glacier is an inherently dangerous thing, as there can be crevasses or holes in the ice where you can fall through and become trapped.
Guides know how to hike safely, will give you all the appropriate gear, and will keep you away from all the dangerous spots, and also know where to find the coolest spots to take you!
Where to Go Glacier Hiking in Iceland
There are two glaciers that you can hike on in Iceland.
The first one is the Solheimajokull Glacier. This glacier is about 2 hours from Reykjavik, and is an easy and convenient way to experience a glacier hike if you’re staying in the Reykjavik or southwest Iceland area.
The second one is the Vatnajokull Glacier. This glacier is at the heart of Vatnajokull National Park and is the largest glacier in Europe! It has approximately 30 outlet glaciers, and the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach both come off one of those glacier arms.
Fun Fact #1: 11% of Iceland is covered by glacier, and 8 of that 11% comes from Vatnajokull!
The most popular outlet glacier to hike from Vatnajokull, and the one that Vatnajokull National Park is centered on, is the Skaftafell Glacier, and this is where most glacier hikes on Vatnajokull take place.
But there are other arms nearby that are also used, such as Svinafellsjokull and Falljokull – which is where we did our hike. Getting to hike on the craggly ice of the largest glacier in Europe was such an incredible experience!
Fun Fact #2: Parts of the movie Interstellar (the scenes on Matt Damon’s planet) were filled on Svinafellsjokull.
The Tour Company We Unequivocably Recommend
There are a variety of tour companies that do glacier hikes on the Vatnajokull Glacier, but without question, I would recommend booking a 5 hour tour with Melrakki Adventures.
There are a few BIG reasons why Melrakki is just the best tour company for doing an Iceland glacier hike:
Number One: No matter which company you go with, you’ll check in and get all your gear at a base office before driving 15 minutes to the glacier.
Almost every other company parks in a spot that requires a 30 minute walk up to the glacier. This means that you are spending valuable time walking on flat, dirty ground – cutting into your time to get up and into the glacier and explore!
Melrakki doesn’t do that. They have heavy duty vehicles that drive you RIGHT up to the base of the glacier, and within 5 minutes, you’re on ice. You save so much time and get to go farther into the glacier than almost any other group when you go with Melrakki.
Number Two: The groups are always incredibly small – maximum 8 people. This makes for a much more personable experience compared to larger tours from other companies.
Number Three: They are a small business, owned and operated by one couple, Katerina and Oddur. They truly care about the glacier and their customers, and it really shows.
Are you already convinced? Check availability for Melrakki Expeditions tours here!
What Type of Tour to Book
Now, above I said that you should book the 5 hour glacier adventure tour. And I still hold to that!
However, Melrakki does offer a couple of other options, which you should be aware of. All of these options include very small groups (8 people or less), and you are driven right to the base of the glacier.
3 Hour Tour: This shorter tour gives you a great introduction to the glacier, and you get to see a lot of really cool ice formations. Bonus! In summer they offer evening tours, where no other tour groups are on the glacier. You’ll have 2-2.5 hours on the ice and go about 5 km/3 miles.
5 Hour Tour: This tour leads you up higher and farther into the ice, and you get the time to see the coolest ice formations. This is FOR SURE the tour I would recommend! You’ll go about 7-10 km/4-6 miles.
Ice Caves + Glacier Hike: If you’re visiting in winter, you can also visit the ice caves! This tour takes you on the glacier and then into the blue ice caves of Virkisjökull.
Important Tip! If you want to do any of these Falljokull Glacier hikes, book early! Because of the small group size, tours quickly sell out.
What It’s Like to Do the Best Iceland Glacier Hike Tour
Here’s what to expect and what you’ll experience when doing this glacier tour.
The Meet up Point
You’ll meet at the Skaftafell Terminal Tour Center, which is just outside Skaftafell National Park. Here, you’ll get outfitted with a harness, helmet, crampons, and an ice pick. If you don’t have hiking boots to wear, you can also rent those for a small fee at the Terminal Tour Center.
Then you’ll load up into the heavy duty 4×4 jeeps that Melrakki owns, and make the 15 minute drive to the glacier. You’ll park as close to the glacier as you can get, and then head up onto the ice.
Make sure you use the bathroom before you leave!
Starting the Hike
The low part of the glacier is quite rocky and dirty/muddy. Apparently a lot of the dark streaks is dirt, but some of it is volcanic ash. The farther you get up into the ice, the more pure it becomes!
Fun Fact #3: The Vatnajokull glacier sits on top of SEVEN volcanoes! Fire and ice are literally side by side in this part of Iceland.
Once you’re actually on the glacier, you’ll stop and put your crampons on. Crampons are essentially a metal frame that gets strapped around your shoe and has metal spikes in the bottom. This helps your shoes grip the ice and not slip, and they work incredibly well – you can climb up almost anything in the crampons!
As you start the hike, the ice is relatively smooth in most places, but there are areas that are “pitted.” As I mentioned earlier, there are also quite a bit of dirt streaks through the ice on the lower sections of the glacier.
You’ll start hiking up the glacier at a very moderate pace – not going crazy fast, but not moving at a glacial speed either (see what I did there? 😉)
Since we were there during the summer, the ice was softer, making it easier for the crampons to find grip. During the winter, the ice is a lot harder and thus slicker. You’ll still be fine, you’ll just need to pound your feet a little bit more as you walk!
In no time at all, you’ll have climbed high enough to get some great views over the glacier and the (extremely flat) valley below!
Throughout the climb, your guide will show you the places where the ice has receded over the past several years. Unfortunately, global warming has led to significant loss of the ice pack in Iceland. Very sadly, about 7% of the ice pack in Iceland has melted since the year 2000, and you can see the massive recession in ice as you climb.
There will be a lot of different crevasses, cracks, and holes in the ice as you are climbing. Some of these are totally safe to approach, and others you’ll need to give a wide berth. Your guide will tell you which ones are safe and which ones to avoid!
High Up on the Glacier
As you continue hiking farther up and into the glacier on this tour, the ice becomes more and more clear and pure and the views of the valley become even more beautiful. However, the best part is that you start getting into the coolest structures of the glacier itself!
You’ll start approaching the massive, towering, cliff face of ice, which looms above you. There are also more ridges and canyons in this upper region, plus ice tunnels and streams.
There will also be more crags in the ice, a feature which I found extremely riveting. Finally, the ice starts to become blue! There are areas in the glacier where the ice has blue veining running through it. The blue in our pictures isn’t fake or edited in – if anything, it’s even more blue in real life.
The whole thing is absolutely incredible – it felt like a totally otherworldly landscape.
Another fun part of hiking up the glacier was seeing the little glacier springs. In fact, after a couple hours of hiking, you’re high up enough that you can actually drink the glacial water straight from the ground, no filter or anything needed!
However you must earn your drink of glacier water! To earn your drink, you need to get in “pushup position” and lower yourself down to take a sip of the water. That was the most delicious, crisp, clear water I’ve ever tasted!
We actually took our extra water bottle and filled it up with the glacier water to enjoy for the next day!
As Far As You Go
The hike ends very close to the glacier wall. Here, we stopped to eat some lunch, relax, and just take in the surroundings.
In front of you, the ice rises up to a cliff, covered in crags and intricate shapes. The setting was immense and majestic, but also precarious, as anything could shift or change at any moment. We would occasionally hear cracks as the things shifted in the ice pack.
In fact, while we were enjoying lunch, we all discussed a section of the ice fall that seemed to be barely hanging on, and later, as we were descending the glacier, we happened to be turned around at the exact right moment to see it finally fall off the cliff face and plummet to the ice below!
(We were never in any danger, even if we had been still at the top of the hike, as the piece was still well above us and behind several ridges.)
Descending the glacier takes a lot less time, since you will stop to talk and take pictures much less frequently on the way down. Before you know it, you’ll be back at the jeep and saying goodbye to the Falljokul Glacier and one of the coolest experiences of your life!
>>Intrigued? Get more information about this Iceland glacier hike here!
Other Fun Aspects About the Hike
Beyond hiking on and experiencing the Falljokull Glacier, the hike had a lot of other interesting aspects and big plusses.
For example, in many ways, this felt like a really incredible cultural experience. Since the groups are so small, you get a more informal and close experience with your Icelandic guide.
We loved chatting with him, and he was very open about sharing what it was like to grow up in Iceland, what it’s like to live in Iceland, and a lot of fun facts about the country, the glaciers, the climate, traditions, food, etc. He also shared some great recommendations of places to eat and hidden gems to visit in the area.
Plus, he was super nice about offering to take pictures of the two of us together several times through the hike – something we really appreciated!
Frequently Asked Questions
I’m not in great shape. Can I still do a glacier tour?
While you know best what your body can and cannot do, I would be inclined to say yes, you can still do it! The crampons make walking on ice pretty easy, and the hike isn’t overly strenuous by any means.
It helps that you make plenty of stops to take pictures, examine a crevasse or
ice structure, and admire the view.
What to Wear and Bring on Your Glacier Hike in Iceland
- Good shoes or boots for hiking
- Water + an extra water bottle (for the glacier spring)
- Rain gear if rain is in the forecast
- Sunglasses if it will be a sunny day (the reflection of the ice can be intense!)
- Backpack for shedding layers if necessary, and holding your water and snacks
- Enough warm clothing for the temperature that day (Check out my Ultimate Iceland Packing List for examples of what to bring!)
- Snacks/Lunch: On the 5 hour tour, you’ll take a break at the top for some food (which you’ll definitely be ready for!
Are Hiking Shoes Necessary?
When we did this hike, we were told to wear good sneakers or hiking boots, but that it really came down to what we wanted to wear and felt most comfortable in. We both opted for hiking boots to give more ankle support. You can also rent hiking boots from the company when you check in.
When to Go on a Glacier Tour
You can do glacier tours year-round! The ice cave tours are only done during winter, however, as its not safe to do in the “warmer” summer weather.
Can Kids Do a Glacier Tour?
Yes, children can do glacier tours. The minimum age for children is 8 years old, plus their shoes must fit into the crampons. The smallest size that crampons will fit is generally EUR 34/US 3. Children’s prices are also slightly lower than adult prices.
What Are the Reviews Like?
I should mention that I’m just one of many people who rave about this Iceland glacier tour. At the time of writing, this tour had a 4.99 of 5 star rating on Viator. Here’s what others have to say:
How Long is the Glacier Hike?
It depends on which hike you do! The 3 hour one is good if you don’t have as much time, but you won’t get to see many of the coolest parts of the glacier. The 5 hour tour is longer but gives you the best experience overall!
Is Hiking a Glacier in Iceland Safe?
If you go with a guide, then yes, it is very safe. Guides are trained and certified, and they know what they are doing. I would NOT RECOMMEND going hiking by yourself on the glaciers.
The Wrap Up – Is Glacier Hiking in Iceland Worth it?
1000% yes! I truly can’t gush about it enough. Hiking on a glacier is absolutely epic and I am convinced the tour we went on gives you the best experience and value for your money – smaller group sizes, super nice guides, more time on the time, and farther up on the glacier all combine for unforgettable hiking expedition in Iceland.
Don’t forget: If you want to do this tour, book early!