WHAT TO EXPECT ICELAND GLACIER HIKE & ICE CLIMBING IN ICELAND
Iceland is a phenomenal destination for outdoor and adventure lovers. A trip to the land of fire and ice is not completed without going on a glacier hike in Iceland or Ice Climbing in Iceland. This was the highlight of my trip, and I hight recommend you to add it to your Iceland Bucket list too. Read more about my experience going on Glacier Hike in Iceland and get inspired!
While planning a trip to Iceland, one of the first items on the “must-do list” is to go Glacier Hike in Iceland & Ice Climbing in Iceland. They are among many outdoor activities that Iceland is famous for and a must-do activity for any adventure traveler.
The Glacier Hike and Ice Climbing was the highlight of my 10-day road trip in Iceland. During the tour, you will have the chance to explore crevasses while walking on the crunchy ice with your crampons, have the exhilarating opportunity to go ice climbing and if you are lucky, explore one of the blue ice caves along the way.
In this detailed guide, you can about my experience going glacier hike in Iceland, find answers to your questions, where to do a glacier hike in Iceland, when is the best time to go, what to expect, what to wear, and much more!
If you are also considering going on a glacier hike in Iceland I have prepared a detailed guide of the 15 Top Rated Glacier Tours in Iceland.
Enjoy this guide for how to go Glacier Hike in Iceland and safe travels!
- WHAT TO EXPECT ICELAND GLACIER HIKE & ICE CLIMBING IN ICELAND
- WHERE TO GO GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND & ICE CLIMBING
- SHOULD YOU GO ON A TOUR?
- GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND OVERVIEW
- GETTING STARTED YOUR GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
- FINAL THOUGHTS ON GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
- WHAT TO WEAR TO GO GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
- FAQ BEFORE YOU GO GLACIER HIKE & ICE CLIMBING IN ICELAND
- WHAT IS NEXT?
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- Plan your Trip
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WHERE TO GO GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND & ICE CLIMBING
Most ice climbing tours are conducted on Sólheimajökull and Vatnajökull Glaciers. It will depend on weather conditions, and occasionally the glaciers may be temporarily closed.
Sólheimajökull Glacier is the most popular choice because it is only 2-hours driving from Reykjavik – which makes it a very convenient location. You don’t need a 4×4 to get there, a cheap car rental is enough. If you don’t want to rent your own car, you can ask for transport for a reasonable price when you book your tour.
Some tour makes two mandatory stops along the way at the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, which can be easy spotted from the main road.
You can hike Sólheimajökull Glacier as a day trip from Reykjavik or if you are visiting the South Coast of Iceland: Skogafoss Waterfall and Vik Beach. You can book this tour on Sólheimajökull Glacier any time of the year.
Vatnajökull Glacier ( Snæfellsjökull )
Vatnajökull Glacier (Snæfellsjökull) is the largest glacier in Europe, and also part of the Vatnajökull National Park, with roughly 30 outlet glaciers.
Snæfellsjökull Glacier is a glacier tongue of the huge Vatnajokull glacier where you can go hike. Most of the glacier hikes on Vatnajökull start in Skatafell.
Snæfellsjökull Glacier is located a 4-hours drive from Reykjavik. The best way to explore Iceland, including a visit to Vatnajökull National Park, is with your own rental car or campervan or you can go on a tour from Reykjavik.
To get to the park by public transport, most people take one of the twice-daily summer bus services that connect Reykjavík and Skaftafell via the Ring Road, stopping at the park.
While here, you can also add on kayaking or cruising Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon – Check availability on this tour here.
Sólheimajökull vs. Vatnajökull Glacier
Both are incredible places to go glacier hiking in Iceland – but it will depend mainly on your preferences and location.
I choose to go hiking on Vatnajökull because I was on the Ring Road road trip, so adding this activity to my itinerary was very convenient.
Also, it is farther from Reykjavik and it tends to have lower crowds at this glacier. Plus, in Vatnajökull there are several outlets glaciers to hike, making the crowds lower and you can hike the largest glacier in Europe!
SHOULD YOU GO ON A TOUR?
My travel style is to organize my own trips and activities independently. The reason is that I like to take my time to explore each place I visit and also, I avoid crowds or any activity that involves groups with different levels and preferences.
But I need to understand that there are exceptions to my rules of travel style and go on a glacier hike and ice climbing in Iceland is a perfect case where we need a professional guide.
First of all, it is not safe to go on these activities on your own, as the glaciers are constantly moving and transforming. At any moment, new cracks and holes appear and after some snow, they can become deadly traps for anyone without experience in this environment.
Secondly, you will need the proper gear to ice climb and glacier hikes in Iceland. The tour operators will provide you with all you need: crampons, ax, helmet, proper boots, ropes, and everything else for you to safely hike on a glacier in Iceland.
I am very happy with the decision I made to use a local tour operator to go Ice Climb and Glacier Hike in Iceland, as the guides were very experienced, made us feel safe the whole time, I was provided all the gear and training to make my experience amazing, and the great thing is also that my group was very small with only 7 people.
GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND OVERVIEW
The whole exhilarating ice hiking in Iceland and Ice climbing lasted 4 hours, and the hours passed by so fast.
It was such an amazing experience and I highly recommend doing glacier hiking in Iceland and, if you are adventurous, including ice climbing when you travel to Iceland.
I chose to go Ice Climbing in Iceland with this group tour, based on their experienced guides and the great reviews.
After my first-hand experience of ice climbing – from the excitement to seeing that I could do it, combined with how safe I felt during the whole activity, with qualified and fun guides, it makes me want to go back to Iceland and try something bigger and more challenging next time.
Ice climb tours take you to some of Iceland’s most beautiful glaciers, providing you with the experience of scaling up and down naturally formed ice walls. Just make sure you choose a qualified company and experienced guides.
GETTING STARTED YOUR GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
During my 10-day road trip itinerary in Iceland. I decided to do the combo between Glacier hike + Ice Climbing at the Vatnajökull Glacier, because the location was convenient and on my route.
I booked it a few weeks in advance and reserved a half-day for the activity, starting at 12 PM and it lasts approximately 4- 5 hours with this group tour.
I met my guide at the operator’s office in Skaftafell National Park, across from the visitor’s center.
Upon arrival at the Skaftafell, you will need to pay around $50 to park your car (for the day). Control of the parking lot is done by the camera, so your license plate will be recorded on entry and exit. You can pay at a kiosk in the parking lot.
GETTING GEAR UP FOR YOUR GLACIER HIKE
Glacier hike in Iceland is a group activity, but normally the groups are smaller (less than 10 people) and you will have more than one guide per group.
You will receive your gear which is included in the price of the tour: crampons, helmets, ice picks and if you need them, you can even rent warm clothes (jackets and pants) and boots.
After we received our gear, we left the parking lot and started to walk towards the Skaftafellsjokull glacier.
I was in awe of the view of that place during our 20-minute walk to the glacier.
The landscape transforms in front of your eyes like something from another world. Skaftafell is inside Vatnajokull National Park, between an array of spectacular mountains and the ice of the glaciers confront you with their size and unusual formations.
At the end of our 20-minute walk, we got face to face with the immense glacier. Before we continued our journey onto the glacier, it was time to gear up.
Our guides showed us how to put on our crampons and how to walk on the ice – it was my first experience, and I really appreciated the opportunity to learn something new.
STARTING YOUR ICELAND GLACIER HIKE
After we geared up, we started to walk up the glacier.
Our guides led us across the top of the glacier while constantly monitoring the group’s safety. Blue ice and black volcanic rock appeared like a painting of colors upon the glacier.
The terrain transforms from a layer of volcanic sediment into a gleaming surface, and as you walk more onto the glacier, it starts to transform into blue ice. It was raining, but it did nothing to dampen my excitement at that moment.
It is amazing to learn that the glaciers are constantly moving, and it grows and shrinks every day, changing the ice formations. For example, if you visit the glaciers during wintertime, and go back in the spring it may be completely different.
As you continue to hike on the glacier, all you can hear is the metal spikes crunching on the ice with our crampons – we passed glacier walls, waterfalls and could observe lines and cracks from thousand-year-old ice showing impressive formations.
It is very important to have qualified glacial guides for this type of activity, as it can be dangerous because of the crevasses.
Just to demonstrate how important is to have professional help, at one time I slid on the ice, and before I hit the ground, my guide came from nowhere and caught me. The guy was a ninja!
EXPLORE AN ICE TUNNEL
We hiked for another 30 minutes and it was time to ice climb a wall. Our guides prepared all the gear and it was time again to take turns. Again, all the activity is very safe and lead by very experienced guides.
I kicked my crampons into the ice wall and slammed my ice picks in until they felt strong enough to hold, and then I began my ascent to the top. It was surprisingly easy to maneuver the ice wall and I made it to the top without falling.
During your ice hiking, you can also go explore some Ice Tunnels and Caves in Iceland during the winter months from November to March.
After hiking up the ice for about 30 minutes, we made a stop at an ice tunnel.
The light was shining through the ice making it appear bright blue. It was beautiful! My first thought was “this is so awesome, let’s do it!”
We did some more training, mainly on how to use the axes and I felt prepared and I had to go down the tunnel and rely only on the ropes, and my guide.
To climb up the tunnel, I had to use a lot of strength in my arms with an ice pick in each hand and also with my legs to give me the support with the crampons sticking in the ice. I felt safe during the whole time, as the guide talked to me and gave me words of encouragement.
It was amazing! I just climbed down and up a V-shaped ice tunnel.
ICE CLIMBING IN ICELAND | 10 METERS WALL
Ice climbing in Iceland was the highlight of my tour. After we already feel comfortable with our ice climbing gears during the ice hiking, and after we have learned some new skills after ice climb the tunnel, I felt that I was very well prepared for the grand-finally of my Glacier Tour in Iceland: Ice Climbing!
Our guide found a great and stunning vertical wall, that was a perfect spot for us, the beginners, But at the same time, it was challenging enough to test my new skills!
One of the guides fixes a line at the top of the wall, while the other guide stayed on the ground providing us all the support. I felt very secure and comfortable with my two expert guides during the whole time.
The next step was to go up the wall, and we started it, one by one climbing to the top! I was the last one to climb on my group, as I was taking pictures.
I used my two axes on a wall of ice, while I kicked the wall with my climbing shoes until I fell secure, and by one kick at a time, I was able to climb the 10 meters wall and I felt like the adrenaline flowing, as I was feeling like a professional using all the technique I have just learned and by wearing all the ice climbing gear.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
If you are planning a visit to Iceland, I highly recommend going on a glacier hike or even a combo including ice climbing. It was my first time, and I couldn’t believe how safe I felt during the whole time. I am a person who is afraid of heights, but my guides made me feel safe and encouraged me to do it, and I am glad they did.
Ice climbing and Glacier hike in Iceland were the height of my trip, and now, I am already planning to do it again. I recommend doing your homework and research to choose the perfect tour for you, with experienced guides and to choose a small group is the best choice, as the guides will give you full attention making you feel safe. Plus, you don’t have to wait for a long line of people to hike or climb in front of you.
If you have any further questions, you can leave me a comment below and I will be happy to answer.
As always, be healthy and safe travels!
WHAT TO WEAR TO GO GLACIER HIKE IN ICELAND
Another good news – The Tour companies provide all the gears you need and they are included with your tour price: Crampons, helmets, and ice axes. They also rent boots and waterproof gear like jackets and pants.
I rented hiking boots and waterproof pants and a jacket for the tour. I didn’t pack anything for the ice climbing for my trip to Iceland because I really only needed them for this tour. Save the luggage space and rent what you need, unless you’ll need them for your whole trip.
Once you start hiking the glacier the temperature drops, and it is a great idea to wear layers, even during the summer months – You need to wear warm clothes and sturdy hiking shoes.
- Portable water bottle: Remember to bring and drink a lot of water and if you need to refill, have a LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle is the best option.
- Day-Backpack: It is great to carry all your belongs and if you need to keep some layers – Check here for the best backpack options.
- Wear sturdy shoes for hiking: The most important thing is to protect your feet and avoid twisting your ankle and get injured. I recommend investing in a good hiking boots brand such as Teva, Salomon, or even Keens. The tour operator will give you crampos to add to your hiking boots.
- Warm-Layers: It can very cold during your hiking so it is important to bring layers, a lightweight puffy jacket is a must! Also, check here for the best hiking jackets
- Where warm hiking pants: I wore a merino pants as a base layer and on top a wind and waterproof pants
- Gloves, hat, and scarf: To help keep you warm.
PACK SMART ALERT!
If you are planning to carry a backpack for your trip to Iceland, I have compiled a very detailed review of the Best Backpacks for Travel in the market today – Also, I recommend bringing a good quality jacket for your trip, check my complete review guide on the Top Jackets for Travel and pack smart!
TRAVEL INSURANCE: SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
I never leave my home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. Things can go wrong, and you don’t want to get stuck paying tons of money if you get sick or have an accident without travel insurance.
World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover their trip essentials. Especially if you are like me, travel insurance is ideal for adventurous travelers.
Travel smarter and safer – You can do your quick quote below and find out how little you can pay for the essential benefit of Travel Insurance for your next trip!
FAQ BEFORE YOU GO GLACIER HIKE & ICE CLIMBING IN ICELAND
1. Is it ethical to ice climb the glaciers in Iceland?
If, like me, you question the ethics of climbing on a glacier, fear not. Before I decided to go on this tour, my first question was how much damage to the glaciers these tours would make. The guides explained that walking and climbing on the glacier does not destroy the ice or have any measurable impact on the environment. The biggest enemy of glaciers is global warming, which is melting the glaciers at a rapid rate.
2. Do you need to be fit to add ice climbing on your trip to Iceland?
You need some level of fitness, so good news, you can use Your next vacation as a fitness goal motivation. But they will adapt the activity based on the fitness level of the group.
3. Do I need any equipment?
Yes, in order to ice climb you will need a helmet, crampons, a harness, and ice axes, which will be provided by your guide who will also take care of the ropes.
4. Do I need any experience before I go ice climbing and glacier hike in Iceland?
Not at all! It was my first time and I felt super safe. The guides will train you at a safe place before they take you to climb, and no previous experience is required.
5. Can we do ice climbing at any time of the year?
When I woke up in the morning and saw a rainy day, I got all upset and thought that we would need to cancel the activity. But they said that rain doesn’t stop the activity, and some operators run ice climbing activities all year round.
6. Is there any minimum age to do ice climbing?
I thought it was awesome that in my little group, this mom and 2 teenagers were doing ice climbing together. Some operators allow the minimum age of ten years old, while others set the minimum age limit at twelve years old.
7. Do I need to have a professional guide?
YES! Absolutely yes! Do not venture onto the glacier without the right equipment (crampons and ice picks) and an experienced guide. The ice is incredibly slippery and you will not make it far. You don’t want to cut your trip short slipping on the ice or falling into a crevasse.
8. How long does this activity take?
It may take 4 to 5 hours, it depends on the weather conditions. But it is so much fun and so much to do and see that 5 hours just fly.
You can also do shorter tours (2-3 hours) that may exclude ice climbing, but include a glacier tour.
9. And if I decided not to go ice climb during the activity?
It is not a problem at all. The ice climbing part is totally optional, so if you are scared or physically unable to climb, you can skip that part. Doing a glacier hike is just as exciting and memorable. You will take this experience with you for the rest of your life!
WHAT IS NEXT?
If you are going to travel to Iceland, pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe. Here is some further information I think you might enjoy:
- Start planning your trip to Iceland with these 10 Easy Steps to Plan your Trip
- Make sure you are prepared before you travel to Icelandwith this Iceland Trip Planner
- I have a very detailed Iceland Itinerary Self-drive that you will love!
- If you are planning to go ice climbing in Iceland check my Top 15 Glacier Tours in Iceland ulitmate guide
- Iceland can be very expensive, but not if you read my Iceland Trip Cost + How to travel on a budget guide
- Check the top 25 Landmarks in Iceland and make sure you don’t miss the Hidden Gems in Iceland
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