The blackout curtains in the hotel room did their job, and when I pulled back the shade around 10pm, a solid brick of bright sunlight pierced the pane of thick glass. After a long day of traveling, my body, refreshed by a quick nap after check-in, wanted to move. Luckily, I was in Iceland in the summertime, where sunlight blesses the scrubby landscape well into the night, anticipating a crack of dawn that happens during the witching hour. With jet lag fuel to burn and all that light, it was the perfect opportunity for a late-night hike.
A shuttle picked me up in front of my hotel on the outskirts of Reykjavik and some time later deposited me on what appeared to be the surface of the moon. Red-hued igneous rocks bubbled from the ground, and low plants, each like the oversized bristles on a magnified hairbrush wafted a pleasant scent my way. In the July night light the volcano stood before my group and me: a rock, bigger than the ones at our feet, ready to be climbed and explored.
With a guide giving their spiel about the local ecosystem and answering the other hikers’ questions about the low-growing flora, the group trudged up the gentle slope of the dormant volcano. The idea that it had not erupted in a while, but could, was titillating. But when I reached the crater and found it to be just as solid as the mountainsides, with the same beautiful vegetation burgeoning in clumps among the rocks, it quickly became clear that it would not erupt any time soon.
I do not remember the name of the volcano I hiked, mostly due to my ignorance of the phonetic patterns of Icelandic and all nonphotographic evidence of my journey being long gone. However, these days, Iceland is hotter than ever in terms of tourism, and the volcanoes haven’t gone anywhere.
Some of the island country’s over 100 volcanoes have been active in recent years, but many are dormant or extinct, and are waiting for you to hike into their craters. Volcanoes cover a good portion of Iceland, with the most being concentrated in the southern half of the island.
The highest peak in Iceland is Hvannadalshnúkur (6,921 ft / 2,110 m), at the northwestern rim of Öræfajökull’s crater. Öræfajökull is an active volcano on the southern coast of Iceland. Although considered active, it hasn’t erupted since the eighteenth century; however, since 2017, there has been increased activity inside the crater, the rumblings of Öræfajökull’s inner deliberations. Öræfajökull is a great hike for experienced ice climbers who aren’t afraid of a crevasse – and can find a knowledgeable guide to help them with the ascent.
For those who want to get close to something a little more active, there is Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier that gained fame in 2010 for its public eruption. Eyjafjallajökull’s crater is covered by an ice cap. As a result, the volcano’s latest eruptions caused massive flooding, along with the fresh carpeting of ash it installed in its environs. Guided tours are available for around $325 USD that take hikers up the glacier, where they can see the effects of the 2010 eruptions. There is also some great hiking in Fimmvörðuháls, the area between the Eyjafjallajökull glacier and its neighbor, Mýrdalsjökull, through the relatively fresh lava fields and some truly impressive scenery.
Whether hiking by day or on a brisk summer night, Iceland’s volcanoes are beautiful geologic artifacts you can explore to varying degrees. No trip to Iceland would be complete without a hike into the crater of one of these incredible natural formations.