Iceland is one of the few countries in the world where you can easily access a glacier. I hiked Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, near Skaftafell as part of a tour and it was unlike other hikes I’ve done.
Iceland glacier hikes require different preparation from regular hikes and here, I share practical tips on going on an Iceland glacier hiking tour. This post covers:
- 💡 Glacier hike overview
- 💰 Glacier hike costs
- 🎒 What to wear
- ⛑️ How to prepare
Planning a trip to Iceland? This Iceland guide covers things to know before getting there, including the best places to visit, how to get around, what to pack and more.
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Is an Iceland Glacier Hike Worth It?
To help you decide whether hiking a glacier in Iceland is worth it, here are some of the highlights and lowlights of hiking one.
Highlights of an Iceland Glacier Hike
- The glaciers’ accessibility in Iceland is unique. It’s not easy to access a glacier in all parts of the world. Iceland is one of the few countries where a glacier is relatively accessible. In New Zealand, for example, you have to take a helicopter to get on a glacier. In Iceland, you just need to take a short bus ride.
- Iceland’s glaciers may not be accessible in the future. Most glaciers are receding due to climate change, so access will become harder in the future. According to glacier experts, Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier located in Iceland, may not be as accessible in four to six years.
- Hiking a glacier is a unique experience. If you want to do something different than your typical hike, this is your chance. You’ll wear crampons, learn how to walk on snow and stare at an endless landscape of blue and white ice.
This one-week Iceland itinerary shows how you can fit an Iceland glacier hike into your trip.
Lowlights of an Iceland Glacier Hike
- Iceland glacier hiking is expensive. At $200+ USD for five hours, an Iceland glacier hike is one of the most expensive tours you can take in an already expensive country.
- Glaciers are not the only natural beauty around Iceland. Iceland is known as a country with breathtaking nature, so there are many other amazing things you can do besides hiking a glacier. You can also just look at the glacier from afar and still be amazed.
- Glacier weather is very volatile. Like all of Iceland, the weather when you’re on a glacier can change rapidly. If it storms badly enough, you might even have to turn around. You’ll also be miserable if you don’t dress correctly (see what to pack below).
Iceland Glacier Hike Overview
Below is some general information on hiking a glacier in Iceland. For
Where can you hike a glacier in Iceland?
📍 In Iceland, there are two primary glaciers that you can hike: Sòlheimajökull and Vatnajökull (“jökull” means glacier in Icelandic).
- Sòlheimajökull is a two-hour drive from Reykjavík and it’s usually a shorter hike (~one hour on the glacier). Most tour operators offer pickup from Reykjavík and some even pick up at certain stops between Reykjavík and Sòlheimajökull.
- Vatnajökull, Europe’s larger glacier, is a four-hour drive from Reykjavík and it’s usually a longer hike (~two hours on the glacier). Being on the glacier for longer means you get to go higher into the glacier and see more of it. This is the glacier hike I chose to do and recommend.
Visitors tend to stay at the nearby Skaftafell town when hiking Vatnajökull.
How difficult is a glacier hike in Iceland?
🥾 It’s not difficult to hike a glacier in Iceland if you’re in decent physical shape. There is some incline, but the distance is short and the pace of walking is relatively slow to regular hiking. The pace is slow because:
- You need to make sure you’re using your crampons appropriately with every step (i.e., stomping into the ice and making sure you don’t slip)
- The guide needs to assess the path forward at all times
- The group will take several breaks to admire the view or learn more about the glacier
If you prefer a more relaxing activity in Iceland, check out some of the popular hot springs in Iceland’s South Coast.
Can you hike a glacier in Iceland without a guide?
⛑️ In Iceland, it’s not illegal to hike a glacier without a guide, but it’s not recommended because:
- You need to have the right equipment (e.g., crampons, helmets)
- More importantly, you need to know how to safely hike a glacier (e.g., how to avoid stepping on and falling through a hollow spot, what to do if you fall into a hole), especially if the weather turns stormy. Like the rest of Iceland, the weather is volatile on a glacier.
What are some recommended Iceland glacier hike tour operators?
For my Iceland glacier hike tour, I booked with Arctic Adventures because of how well-rated they were across several platforms I use. Here are some details about my experience:
- Tour duration: Artic Adventure’s morning Skaftafell hike started at 9:20am and ended at 3pm, so it was 5.5 hours total, including transportation. See how the tour breaks down below.
Different glacier hike tour operators offer different times, but there’s generally a morning and afternoon hike.
- Tour group size: Iceland glacier hike tour groups are usually 8 to 12 people, not including the guide. Melrakki says they specialize in small group tours (i.e., max of 8 people) whereas other tour operators may go above that number. My tour group had 12 people, including the guide.
- Tour cost: Artic Adventure’s glacier hike costs $230 USD during the high, summer season (which is when I visited), making it one of the most expensive tours I’ve ever taken. This Iceland trip cost breakdown outlines all my tour and travel expenses.
The cost of a glacier hike tour varies between the low and high seasons. During the low, winter season, glacier hike tours tend to cost between $100 and $150 USD. During the high, summer season, the glacier hike tours shoot up to $200+ USD. Here are more tips on traveling Iceland during peak season.
What To Expect on an Iceland Glacier Hike
Artic Adventure’s Vatnajökull hiking tour is 5.5 hours long, but you’re only on the glacier for two hours. Here’s how the tour breaks down:
Part I: Preparation
- Gear up (40 minutes). At the meeting point near Skaftafell, you’ll provide emergency contacts and gear up. Gearing up consists of ensuring you have:
- The right helmet size
- The right crampon size
- A harness
- An ice pick
- Acceptable hiking boots
Acceptable hiking boots need to have ankle protection, hard soles and the right shape for the crampons. My Salomon boots didn’t meet the requirements, so I rented boots for 1000 ISK (~$7.25 USD).
- Educational introduction (15 minutes). Your tour guide will give you an introduction to the glacier mountain you’re about to hike.
- Bus ride (20 minutes). You’ll get on a bus that takes you closer to the glacier. Approximately 5 minutes of the bus ride will be on mountain roads, where it gets more bumpy, but not enough to lead to motion sickness (which I usually get).
Part II: Glacier Hike
- Hike to the glacier (45 minutes). The group of ~25 people will split into two groups and each group will get its own tour guide, so that the tour group size is kept to 12 people maximum. You’ll do an easy, flat hike to the glacier. Right before getting on the glacier, the guide will teach you how to put on and walk in crampons.
- Glacier hike (~2 hours). The glacier is ever-changing, so the route you take on the glacier varies (my guide said he tries to cover some of the same highlights, but rarely takes the same route). During the hike, I walked through a crevasse, saw a waterfall, peeked into deep holes and drank glacier water (I didn’t know water could taste this fresh and delicious).
Wearing the right clothes (more on that below) gets very important on the glacier. My hike started with sunny weather and about an hour in, it started hailing and raining on us. I didn’t wear waterproof pants (only water-resistant ones) and my legs were freezing. One person didn’t bring gloves and he was miserable.
The tour operator encouraged us to pack snacks and lunch. Since it rained and hailed during lunchtime and we could not find cover, my group skipped lunch.
- Hike back to the bus (45 minutes). You hike the same way back.
- Bus ride back (20 minutes). The bus takes you back to the tour’s meeting point in Skaftafell.
What To Wear on an Iceland Glacier Hike
The weather on an Iceland glacier is as volatile as the weather in Iceland: it can be warm and sunny for a few minutes and then turn cold and windy. My hike started sunny and turned into a hail storm.
Wearing the right clothes on an Iceland glacier hike will ensure you don’t have a miserable experience if the weather doesn’t hold up. Here’s what to wear and pack to an Iceland glacier hike:
- Acceptable hiking boots. If you don’t want to rent boots, you need to bring boots that meet the glacier hike requirements. I was fine renting boots since I wanted to wear my comfortable and less intense hiking shoes for the other parts of my Iceland trip.
You don’t need to buy crampons or any other glacier hiking-specific gear as the Iceland tour operators will provide them.
- Waterproof outer top. You want an outer waterproof layer that you can remove if it gets too warm. I brought my regular rain jacket and had several layers underneath.
- Waterproof pants. My biggest regret was bringing water-resistant pants instead of waterproof ones. My legs were freezing during the hail storm and having waterproof pants would have significantly lessened how cold I was.
- Layers for your upper body. If the weather stays sunny, you won’t want to wear your puff or outer gear the entire hike. In fact, before the hail storm, I was warm in my sun hoodie and some people even wore short sleeves.
- Waterproof gloves. You’ll likely not want to hold your metal ice pick with your bare hands when it gets cold, so it’s good to pack some waterproof gloves.
- Hat or headband. It can get very gold and you’ll want head protection.
- Day pack with rain cover. You’ll need a bag to hold your snacks and extra layers. My backpack had straps in the front that could carry my ice pick, which was great because I didn’t end up using them at all.
- Sunglasses (optional). You might want these if your eyes are sensitive; glaciers can get very reflective. I didn’t feel like I needed them, but some hikers had them.
- Reusable water bottle. Glacier water is safe to drink in Iceland, so you’ll want to bring something that can scoop water up. I brought my reusable water bottle and it was great.
Some tour guides will proactively stop to taste Iceland’s glacier water. I had to ask my guide if I could grab some and it was the freshest water I’ve ever tasted.
- Snacks/Lunch. The tour operator encouraged us to pack snacks and lunch. Since it rained and hailed during lunchtime and there was no cover, my group skipped lunch and ate later while waiting for the bus.
The Iceland trip planner below has the above glacier hike packing list in a downloadable Notion.
Iceland Trip Planner
To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.
The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.
If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.
Iceland Travel Guides
- 🇮🇸 Planning a Trip to Iceland: 11 Practical Things To Know
- 🚙 Iceland South Coast: Efficient 7-Day Road Trip Itinerary
- 🚐 My Iceland Campervan Trip: How To Plan One + Tips
- 💰 Trip to Iceland Cost: 2024 Budget Breakdown
- ♨️ Hrunalaug Hot Spring Guide: What To Know + Tips
- ☀️ Visiting Iceland in August: Tips & What To Know
- 🧊 Iceland Glacier Hike Practical Guide: What To Know and Wear
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