If you are reading this then you probably already know that a glacier hike is one of the must-do activities in Iceland. Summer or winter, a walk on the ice is an unforgettable experience. This practical guide should answer all your questions about glacier hiking in Iceland: when and were to go, what to expect, what to wear, and where to book the best glacier tour any time of the year. Find out!
Glacier hike in Iceland – our experience
First, let me start by sharing a short review of our experience of the glacier walk we did on the Solheimajokull glacier in winter. Solheimajokull Glacier is only 2 hours drive from Reykjavik and can easily be visited as a day trip from Reykjavik (check availability here). Alternatively, you can book a tour that starts at the glacier itself. Which is what we did – the glacier hike was a part of our 7-day winter road trip in Iceland.
We started the tour by meeting our guides at Sólheimajökull Café. Two certified guides accompanied us on the hike. They helped us to fit the crampons and the helmets and explained what to expect on the glacier and how to stay safe. Glacier hiking is not something to be attempted on your own. Not only do you need proper equipment to walk on the ice, you should also only go on the glacier with people who are familiar with the area and have the necessary training to deal with any unexpected situations that may occur.
Glacier hiking is a group activity. So unless you are lucky enough to book a tour on a very quiet day you will not be hiking on your own. Not that it matters much, there is plenty of ice for everyone ;).
After everyone in the group received the right equipment we started our hike towards the glacier. A few years ago the glacier used to be close to the café, now it’s a 30-40 minute walk before you even reach the ice. Once you get to the glacier you have to put on the crampons and then the actual glacier hiking starts. But not before you take an obligatory picture with an ice axe of course ;).
The first part of the hike is a bit steep as you have to climb onto the glacier. You definitely need those crampons and ice axes here! In general, the glacier hike is really not strenuous and once you understand how to use the equipment it’s really fun.
The first thing that strikes you is that the glacier is covered in black ash – this is a result of various volcano eruptions.
The guides told us more about the glaciers and showed us some deep crevasses where you could also do some ice climbing (if you are interested in ice climbing, you should consider a different tour). They also took us to some beautiful glacier formations – I had never seen so many shades of blue!
We spent about an hour – an hour and a half on the ice. After the glacier hike we took off the crampons and walked back to the car parking. The whole experience from the start to the end took us about 3 hours.
Glacier hiking in Iceland – practical information
Who can do a glacier hike?
A regular glacier hike that doesn’t involve any ice climbing is a relatively easy family-friendly activity. Everyone in a reasonable physical condition can do a glacier hike. We had a couple of 70-year olds in our group and they managed just fine. Children have to be at least 8 years old to participate. I think it has more to do with the minimum shoe size for the crampons than with their actual age. Just a few years ago, this age limit was 10 years, so maybe they all acquired some smaller crampons in the meantime…
When can you do a glacier walk in Iceland
Glacier hiking is a year-round activity. You can find a variety of glacier walking tours in summer and in winter.
Best places to go glacier hiking in Iceland
There are several places where you can go glacier hiking in Iceland. Below are the most popular locations for glacier hiking in Iceland. I also included a map to help you plan your trip. You can either book a tour from Reykjavik or directly at one of these locations (see further down for more information).
- Solheimajokull Glacier is an outlet glacier from Mýrdalsjökull glacier. This is one of the most popular choices for glacier hiking due to its proximity to Reykjavik. It’s also conveniently located en-route to the most popular landmarks of the South Coast of Iceland (Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, Vik beach, etc.). You can book a tour on Solheimajokull glacier any time of the year.
- Svinafellsjokull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park is another popular choice that is accessible the whole year. Svinafellsjokull is a glacier tongue of the huge Vatnajokull Glacier (with over 8,100 km² it’s more than three times the size of the country of Luxembourg).
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Many ice cave tours start here even though the actual ice cave location is usually in the Skaftafell National Park. Ice caves inside the glacier can be visited in winter only (+- late October to March).
What to wear for a glacier hike in Iceland
You don’t need to bring any special equipment for a glacier hike. The helmets, crampons, ice axes and all the other necessary equipment is provided by the tour organisers. No matter when you go walking on the glacier – in summer or in winter – you need to wear warm clothing and sturdy hiking shoes.
- Make sure to wear sturdy waterproof hiking shoes. These are a must as it’s very difficult to fit the crampons on sneakers or any other light footwear. You may want to check our recommendations for the best winter shoes for your trip to Iceland.
- Don’t forget the gloves.
- Layers of sweaters and a waterproof jacket.
- Water-resistant comfortable walking pants. In winter you need thermal underpants as well.
Depending on the season you will need more or fewer layers of clothes for the glacier hike, but the items I listed above are a must in any season. We did the glacier walk in November and it was freezing cold. In the beginning it was so cold that some people even wore a thin hat under the helmet. I didn’t have one that would fit under the helmet, so I used my polar buff at first. However, you quickly warm up by walking and by the end of the hike it was even too warm.
Here you can find more information on what to wear in Iceland in winter and what to wear and what to pack for Iceland in summer.
Best glacier hikes in Iceland and where to book them
There are many companies offering glacier tours in Iceland. Glacier hiking is very popular and the tours often sell out. So no matter which season you go, you best book them in advance. Below you can find a selection of some of the best glacier hike tours in Iceland. The prices are the same everywhere, therefore I recommend booking the tours through GetYourGuide because of their 24hr free cancellation policy.
- Glacier hike starting at Solheimajokull glacier.
- Glacier hike starting at Skaftafell National Park (Svinafellsjokull glacier).
- Glacier hike tour starting from Reykjavik.
- Glacier hiking AND ice climbing starting from Reykjavik.
- Small group tour that includes glacier hike and the waterfalls of the South Coast. Starting from Reykjavik.
- Ice cave tour departing from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
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