Iceland is famously called the Land of Fire and Ice because of jarring contrasts such as active volcanoes and magnificent glaciers. The glaciers of Iceland are so abundant they cover 11% of the total land area in the country. These natural wonders are captivating and they remain a consistent attraction for the adventurous traveler. You can go on organized hikes and even see into the heart of these structures during an ice cave tour.
When you are visiting Iceland there are many amazing and various types of glaciers you must see. For example, white ice caps, flowing outlet glaciers, and sparkling glacier lagoons. Now you probably have many questions such as, what is the difference between these glacier forms? How are they formed? And where can I find the best glaciers to visit in Iceland? Don’t worry, this guide will tell you all you need to know about the magical glaciers in Iceland.
How Are Glaciers Formed?
Glaciers are beautiful structures formed by consistent snowfall and cool temperatures in one area all year. The weight from the buildup of snow then compresses into ice in areas like mountain peaks or the Highlands of Iceland. Over time the ice thickens and can grow as high as thousands of meters or feet. Since Iceland has the perfect temperatures for the snow to accumulate about 11% of this island nation is covered by glaciers.
Types of Glaciers
Glaciers are definitely not monolithic. There are many types of glaciers such as glacier lagoons, ice caps, outlet glaciers, and so on. A glacier lagoon is formed when a large glacier starts to melt then the resulting water gathers at the base. The lagoon grows from small chunks of ice breaking off from the glacier and becoming beautiful floating icebergs. Jökulsárlón is the most known glacier lagoon in Iceland.
Majestic white ice capped mountains creates an iconic mental image and they look exactly how it sounds. Ice caps are thick layers of dome-shaped ice and snow that has grown overtime and covers a small surface area. They span less than 50,000 square kilometers (about 19,000 square miles).
Outlet glaciers or valley glaciers form from ice caps and ice sheets. Ice sheets are similar to ice caps but are bigger and covers more ground. The topography of the land impacts the shape of this glacier. As an ice cap drains it flows through the gap between mountains and becomes an outlet glacier. Glacier tongues are long and narrow sheets of ice that form when outlet glaciers spread out to connect with water.
Where Are Glaciers In Iceland?
Where are glaciers in Iceland is an easy question to answer. When you start your journey you should head to Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacier in Iceland and in Europe. This giant ice cap is located in the southeast region and covers about 8% of Iceland. Vatnajökull is approximately 1300 feet (400 meters) thick and spans roughly 3100 square miles (8100 square kilometers). Vatnajökull has over 30 outlet or valley glaciers for you to enjoy and a notable one is called Skeiðarárjökull. Naturally, due to its immense size, there are many glacial rivers running out of Vatnajökull such as Tungnaá and Köldukvísl. Vatnajökull also has a national park containing the tallest mountain called Öræfajökull volcanic glacier. Hvannadalshnjúkur is the highest peak of this mountain standing at about 7000 feet (2100 meters) tall.
Your next stop should be to Langjökull, which is the second-largest ice cap glacier located in the Western Highlands of Iceland. The second access point is from the Golden Circle. Langjökull aptly means “Long Glacier” signifying its impressive length. It is 361 square miles (935 square kilometers) long and up to1900 feet (580 meters) thick. Langjökull is also the most conveniently located glacier from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, and is a wonderful excursion. This “Long Glacier” is a must-see location when visiting Iceland.
Langjökull also provides water for the three celebrated attractions on the Golden Circle. The awe-inspiring Gullfoss Waterfall is supplied from the Hvítá glacial river, which flows directly from Langjökull. The steaming natural hot springs from Geysir Area is fed by underground glacier ice water. And the glacial melt water also supplies the fresh springs in Þingvellir national park. These stunning attractions should definitely be added to your itinerary after visiting Langjökull.
Crown Jewel of Iceland
In South Iceland heading east there’re many stunning attractions but the most unique feature is Jökulsárlón or “Glacier’s River Lagoon.” It has also been affectionately called the “Crown Jewel of Iceland.” This picturesque glacier lagoon is filled with floating icebergs similar to sparkling diamonds. The nearby black beach is even called Diamond Beach because of the glittering iceberg chunks that twinkle on shore. The glacial ice can be vibrant blue, white, transparent, and even black from volcanic ash. These natural glacier art pieces come from Breiðamerkurjökull located in Vatnajökull national park.
This famed glacier lagoon is Iceland’s deepest lake with a depth of about 814 feet (248 meters). And has a surface area of 7 square miles (18 square kilometers). The Crown Jewel of Iceland looks different everyday because of the changing icebergs. The unique beauty of Jökulsárlón naturally attracts thousands of travelers to capture this once in a lifetime opportunity on camera. You can explore this luxurious lagoon all year and watch the floating jewels and even catch glimpses of seals.
The lake connects to the ocean making the lagoon water swirl with sea and fresh water. The combination gives the water a unique and vivid blue color. It also encourages fish and seals to swim in the lake, which attracts seabirds. Admiring the wildlife is a lovely addition to the already impressive lagoon. You can also depart from Jökulsárlón Lagoon on a guided super jeep tour to explore the vivid blue ice cave. This natural ice cave is inside the grand Vatnajökull glacier.
Glacier Hike Iceland
When planning your trip, you should book a glacier hike Iceland tour. You will have a scenic view for picture-perfect memories when you reach the top of any glacier. Four wonderful hiking locations are Vatnajökull, Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, and Hekla. To safely scale these ancient glaciers you must go with a guide and wear proper hiking attire.
The colossal Vatnajökull is naturally at the top of this list because it is the largest ice cap. Successfully hiking up this imposing glacier will definitely feel like a wonderful accomplishment. Langjökull is by far one of the best locations for snowmobiling tours and super jeep excursions. This glacier has it all and is closely located to the popular Golden Circle.
The next glacier, Snæfellsjökull has the nickname of “Snowfall Glacier” and is at the top of the famous Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The volcano underneath is still active but has not erupted in over 1700 years. Then Hekla is the breathtaking and largest active volcano in Iceland. It is known as the Gateway to Hell because of frequent eruptions and for previously producing the largest volume of lava globally.
Ultimately, visiting the glaciers of Iceland would be a memorable experience for the daring traveler looking to make lifelong memories. You will certainly have many gorgeous pictures to share with your friends and family.