Volcanoes: The Pillars of the Earth
Volcanoes remind us of the beauty, power, and majesty of nature — and Iceland has more than its fair share! These living mountains spit liquid fire and alter the world around them, creating lava caves and darkened skies.
Arctic Adventures volcano tours bring you straight into the belly of the beast. Walk above volcanoes to behold them from above, or conquer your volcano of choice by wheel or foot.
Here’s a quick guide to Iceland’s mighty volcanoes and how to enjoy the country’s fieriest attractions.
Going Underground: How Volcanoes Create Caves and Tunnels
Have you ever seen a blowtorch? Industrial forging is a good indication of how lava works. The basic principle of fire forging also leads to lava tunnels: scorching liquid coursing through softer walls of resistance beneath a harder surface. During volcano tours, you walk on or under this surviving surface! Many caves and lava tunnels are sturdy and big enough for people to pass through.
There are many ways to get to the heart of a volcano in Iceland. A popular choice is the Thrihnukagigur Volcano – literally the only place on Earth where you can explore the inside of a magma chamber.
After crossing a lava field on foot, you take the lift 400 meters (1200 feet) down into the heart of the volcano. The burned insides are a sight to behold – shades of red, orange and other colors that cannot be seen anywhere else. You’ll see firsthand how the mountain’s insides are reshaped as lava rips through them. No wonder CNN lists Thrihnukagigur Volcano as one of the must-see places in the world!
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, why not try caving? Iceland’s volcanoes have carved out a vast, intricate and fascinating series of underground tunnels. Our Underworld Tour brings you into tunnels that were created thousands of years ago by searing rivers of lava. Behold the otherworldly shapes and colors created by Iceland’s volcanoes and – if you visit at the right time of year – marvel at the beautiful icicles.
Scorched Earth: How Landscapes Are Shaped by Lava
Iceland’s glorious vistas are the result of the country’s turbulent environment. Over the centuries, locals created captivating mythology to explain how Iceland’s landmarks were formed. For instance, the volcanic rock formations of Dimmuborgir (roughly translated as “Dark Castles” in Icelandic) were said to be the home of the half-troll, half-ogre Grýla and her 13 children. The real stories are no less exciting!
Iceland’s Most Famous Volcanoes: Hekla, Katla, and Eyjafjallajökull
Hekla, Queen of the Volcanoes
Mount Hekla is undoubtedly the queen of Iceland’s 100 volcanoes. Hekla last erupted on February 26, 2000. According to scientists, the volcano’s pressure measurements are now rising at a higher rate than they were at the last eruption! We don’t know when Hekla will blow her top next, but it could be very soon.
Hekla is often called the “Queen of Iceland”. You can find the legendary volcano in the Fjallabak Mountains. Hikers from across the globe dream of climbing to the summit of Hekla — a 1491-meter trek.
Katla Volcano often makes headlines because of the belief that a future eruption is drawing closer and closer. Local Icelanders don’t understand all the hype — nothing unusual has happened at Katla, so there’s no cause for immediate concern. Then again, that could just be the typical mindset when you live in such a volcanic country!
Katla lies beneath the surface of Kötlujökull Glacier, an outlet of Mýrdalsjökull’s Glacier in the Southern Highlands. Katla is a stratovolcano, just like the notorious Eyjafjallajökull Volcano that erupted in 2010. It’s also one of the biggest and most active volcanoes in Iceland. The volcano has erupted 16-20 times in the last thousand years. The last eruption occurred in 1918.
Throughout history, the time between eruptions was 20 to 80 years. However, it has now been over 100 years since Katla last erupted. This either means that Katla has “shut down,” or that its next volcanic event is long overdue. In more recent years, Katla has had smaller eruptions that didn’t disturb its glacier ice layer. The last small eruption occurred in 2011.
Eyjafjallajökull is a rare stratovolcano in Iceland. You may have heard the name of this volcano before — in 2010, the ash cloud that erupted from Eyjafjallajökull brought air travel across Europe to a stop for five days! The 2010 eruption was the largest volcanic event in Iceland since the Katla Volcano eruption in 1918, nearly 100 years earlier.
Adventure seekers love to trek across the unique paths that have been formed by volcanic activity. The most famous of these paths is Thorsmork Volcano Hike, a hike from Thorsmork Valley to Fimmvorduhals Pass. Along the way, hikers pass by the newly-created craters of Magni and Modi. These craters point to the scene of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.
The views along the Thorsmork Volcano Hike are among the most beautiful in Iceland. At the 800-meter summit of the craters, hikers look over stunning hillside, volcanic paths, and magnificent glaciers. This unique landscape was largely formed by rivers of lava.
You can also try out the Eyjafjallajökull Tour, which brings you to this epic volcano on a Super Jeep.
Geothermal activity has formed Iceland’s most beautiful landscapes, from deep green valleys to towering mountain peaks. Volcanoes are also to thank for the creation of the phenomenal Askja Caldera. The vast Askja Caldera is the result of a collapsed lava chamber that was ruptured during a volcanic eruption. The caldera is filled with electric blue water, forming a lake within the crater.
The area around Askja Caldera is lifeless and scorched like a distant planet. In fact, NASA astronauts prepared for the 1969 moon landing with a visit to Askja!
The Land of Fire and Ice
Volcanoes are not just part of Iceland’s landscape. They’re also part of the national culture and mindset. Local Icelanders have a special respect and admiration for the ways that frightening aspects of nature create beauty and power. The country’s volcanic history has inspired local mythology and continues to influence lore to this day. These beasts’ towering reputation echoes throughout the world.
Iceland’s love for its volcanoes burns like molten lava and is solid as a mountain.