GLACIER HIKE AND ICE CAVE GUIDE

A glacier hike or ice cave tour is on your bucket list. And so it should be! You’ve no doubt seen the pictures of the incredibly blue ice, the crunchy white surface, the bottomless crevasses, and the captivating textures of these moving giants. But the big question from us is, are you ready for it? And, is it the right choice for you and your fellow travellers? This Glacier Hike & Ice Cave Guide covers all your burning questions to help you make the right choice when it comes to which tour to choose.

General Questions Answered
Scroll down to see exact specifications for each style of glacier and ice cave tour

What fitness level do I need to take part?

Our glacier and ice cave tours range from easy to challenging. On our easier tours (with the exception of our helicopter tours) you must be able to walk at least 3 kilometres (2 miles) without undue fatigue. The more challenging hikes require a moderate fitness level with the expectation that you can ascend and descend stair like slopes without support, and walk between 6 and 9km (5 miles) on our longest hikes. Don’t worry, every tour is designed for first timers and your guide is on hand to help at every step of the way.

What level of mobility do I need to take part?

Regardless of the difficulty level, full mobility of your knees and ankles is required. Most glacier hikes involve some sloped walking, so being able to lift your knees up to your waist and having a full rotational motion of both ankles is key. Don’t worry, we will provide you with all glacier equipment needed for the trip to keep you safe.

Will an injury or illness stop me from taking part?

In a word, no. We always assess on a case by case basis. However, it is your responsibility to notify Hidden Iceland staff before the tour of any medical conditions, illnesses or injuries that might affect your ability to take part or make entering a wilderness setting unadvisable. Not notifying us of relevant conditions can put you and those around you at risk.

How fast do I need to walk?

Further details are explained below for each tour but since each tour is designed for first timers, we make sure to take ample water and picture stops and walk at a slow to medium pace. On the longer tours we even stop for lunch on the ice. It’s rare that you will be walking for more than 20 minutes at a time without a break. You will be given crampons and other safety gear to allow you to walk on the ice without any worry of slipping.

Will I have a guide for the entire time?

Always. All of our guides are experienced and well trained glacier guides. Each guide has hiked on the glacier you will be walking on hundreds of times. They have all completed strenuous glacier qualifications. Each glacier hike guide is a certified Wilderness First Responder. They are also trained in advanced rescue techniques including crevasse rescue. For self drive tours and some private tours, we may utilise the skills of trusted local partners who match our level of expertise.

Is it cold on the glacier?

On average, the glacier can feel around 1-2 °C colder than the surrounding areas (approx. 2-3 °F) but with constant walking, you’ll rarely notice the difference. With that said, you should always bring gloves and a hat and waterproof clothing at all times of year. In winter, extra thick socks and added warm layers are likely needed. Check out our year round packing list here. You can borrow waterproof outer-layers and boots from us upon request.

What should I bring?

We will provide all glacier equipment for you (helmet, crampons, harness, ice axe etc) but as standard you should bring hat, gloves and multiple layers (yes, even in summer). Waterproof outer layers (top and bottom) and hiking boots that support the ankle are highly recommended on all tours. These can be rented from Hidden Iceland or our partners if you don’t have your own. A small day pack to shed and add layers as well as carrying water and snacks is a good idea too.

Is there a minimum age?

10 years old. Upon request we can reduce that minimum age for private tours only, thought it will simply come down to the physical size of the child and if they can fit into the glacier equipment without being too small.

When is the best time to come for a glacier hike or ice cave tour?

Ice cave tours are only accessible between late October and early April. Glacier hikes are available all year round. The ice is bluer between November and March but takes on a crunchy white texture in summer which allow for easier exploring. In short, there’s no bad time to explore Iceland’s glaciers.

GLACIER HIKE AND ICE CAVE GUIDE | THE TOURS

There are well over 400 named glaciers in Iceland, all with their own unique characteristics. But for this glacier hike and ice cave guide we will focus only on the ones you will most likely visit when with Hidden Iceland. Thankfully, we have lots of options for most abilities. Keep reading to hear about them all.

Tour Summary:

  1. Sólheimajökull Glacier | Private Glacier Hike
    – moderate, can be done as a day trip from Reykjavík
    – can be enjoyed year round
    – maximum group size – 6 per guide

  2. Sólheimajökull Glacier | Private Ice Climbing Tour
    – challenging, can be done as a day trip from Reykjavík
    – can be enjoyed year round
    – maximum group size – 5 per guide

  3. Falljökull Glacier | Glacier Encounter Hike
    – easy to moderate
    – can be enjoyed year round though April to October is optimal
    – maximum group size – 12 per guide

  4. Falljökull Glacier | Glacier Discovery Hike
    – moderate to challenging (can be converted to ice climbing if private)
    – can be enjoyed year round
    – this is the only glacier hike we do on our Small Group Tours (between April and October)
    – maximum group size – 12 per guide

  5. Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier | Ice Cave & Superjeep Tour
    – easy to moderate
    – only accessible between November and the end of March
    – this is the only ice cave tour we do on our Small Group Tours (between November and March)
    – maximum group size – 12 per guide

  6. Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier | Private Ice Cave Discovery Tour
    – moderate to challenging
    – only accessible between early November and the end of March
    – maximum group size – 12 per guide

  7. Skeiðarárjökull Glacier | Private Helicopter Ice Cave Tour
    – easy to moderate
    – only accessible between November and the end of March
    – maximum group size – 4 per helicopter

  8. Svínafellsjökull, Fjallsjökull and other glaciers | Glacier Viewpoints
    – easy, no glacier hike included
    – can be enjoyed year round
    – no maximum group size

 

Sólheimajökull Glacier

This glacier is sandwiched between the Katla and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes, two of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. Sólheimajökull glacier is one of the outlet glacier that flow down from Mýrdalsjökull glacier ice cap and is easily accessible from the main ring road. Both tours below can be done as a day trip from Reykjavík or as part of your onward journey further east. It is ideally located close to the town of Vík on the south coast. This glacier is known for the stark contrast between the crevasse ridden, ash-covered, ice at the front of the glacier and the cleaner flatter ice as you venture further up the glacier.

Please note, this glacier is more prone to cancellation due to local conditions and weather effects. It will be up to the guide (and the Hidden Iceland operations team) on the day if the hike can commence as planned. If the glacier hike is cancelled, we will find alternative activities to enjoy instead. 

Private Glacier Hike

The glacier hike on Sólheimajökull, on our private tours, is around 1.5 hours exploring the ice (around 2.5 hours in total). You will hike around 3 – 4 kilometres (approx. 2 miles). The hike requires a moderate fitness level where you will hike up and over uneven terrain. Despite the relative short distance of this glacier hike, it is considered moderate due to the changing terrain at the front of the glacier. This tour can be extended in length for private tours upon request.

Private Ice Climbing Hike

A typical private ice climbing tour on the Sólheimajökull, depends on many factors but we aim to give you around 2.5 – 3 hours on the ice. Around 3.5 – 4 hours in total. Typically you will hike around 4 – 5 kilometres (approx. 3 miles) with multiple opportunities to climb. The ice climbing trip requires a strong fitness level where you will be expected to use ice axes and take part in vertical climbs. With that said, this trip is designed for first timers and your guide will take care of you every step of the way.

Glacier Viewpoint Valley Walk

The easy valley walk to the front of the glacier can be just as enjoyable if you don’t want to hike on the ice itself. In fact, the view point over the glacier and the glacier lagoon is something we add into our scheduled South Coast: Fire and Ice tour, multiple times per week. This is a 15 minute walk each way on a mostly even, gravel path.

Falljökull Glacier

This glacier is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vatnajökull National Park. The name, Falljökull, literally translates to ‘The Falling Glacier’ due to its impressive ‘ice fall’ views in the distance. We explore this glacier’s unique glacier features and textures, walk along the bottom of crevasses, and hike all the way up to the spectacular ice fall on our longer hikes. This glacier is one of our favourite glaciers in the country. This glacier allows for a range of tours, from short/ moderate to longer/ challenging tours depending on your desires.

Glacier Encounter Hike | Shorter Glacier Hike

Many of our self drive and private tours guests prefer to take the easier glacier hike which focuses on the bottom section of the glacier (the glacier tongue) where you can explore the ice but not travel too high. This is great for people with a general fitness level. We often partner with local glacier guides for these shorter hikes often referred to as a Glacier Encounter. You’ll spend around 1 hour on the ice (2.5 – 3 hours total) and encounter some slopes but with the main aim of experiencing the great views and enjoying the surroundings.

Glacier Discovery Hike | Longer Glacier Hike

On our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour (and private tours) we will take part in a longer glacier hike. You will spend around 2.5 hours on the ice (around 4 hours in total, including a valley walk). This glacier hike is considered moderate to hard level of difficulty since we will travel over uneven and ascending terrain. You’ll be covering about 6 – 9 kilometres (approx. 4 – 6 miles). Upon request, we can extend this into an even longer hike or ice climbing tour that allows us to venture all the way up into the ice fall area. We often partner with local glacier guides in the area to assist on these longer hikes.

Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier

Also situated in the same UNESCO World Heritage Site. This glacier is hidden behind the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and can only be accessed using off road vehicles. This glacier is a lot flatter than the two previous options but pivotally it is a great glacier to discover the winter ice caves. We usually partner with local ice cave experts in the area to assist with these more remote tours. The ice cave tours can range from moderate to challenging depending on your desires.

Ice Cave & Superjeep Tour

Our ice cave tour on the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Ice Cave 2 Day Tour, starts with a superjeep trip across bumpy tracks, followed by a 45 minute walk each way on mostly flat but rocky terrain, finishing with around 1 hour inside the ice cave itself. There are a few areas that require some extra care, including inside the cave, though your guide will be on hand to assist. This is considered an easy to moderate hike with no physical walking on the glacier needed. From start to finish, this tour lasts around 4.5 hours.

Ice Cave Discovery Tour

Upon request on private tours, this can be extended into an Ice Cave Discovery tour which adds in glacier hiking and multiple smaller caves. The tour starts with the same superjeep trip and walk to the front of the glacier but pivotally, once you get to the ice cave you strap on some crampons and take a glacier hike on the icy surface. As you explore, you will discover smaller caves, crevasses and features before returning to the main cave system to end the tour. This is a moderate to challenging hike with changing terrain. The added hike lasts for an additional 1.5 hours. From start to finish, this tour lasts for around 6 hours.

Skeiðarárjökull Glacier

This glacier is a little more remote but still in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, to get access to this glacier, and its hidden ice caves, you need to go by helicopter. We only take private trips onto this glacier.

Private Helicopter Ice Cave Tour

We visit this glacier on our Blue Dragon Helicopter partner tour. Often this is coupled with a few days of private adventures too. The ice cave tour on Skeiðarárjökull is categorised as easy. In fact, it’s barely a 5 minute walk to the ice cave entrance from your helicopter landing spot (depending on the accessibility on the day). Once on the glacier you will have ample time to explore the multiple ice caves in relative tranquility. The helicopter ride takes around 15 minutes, each way with around 1 hour to explore the remote ice caves.

Svínafellsjökull, Fjallsjökull and other glaciers

Not everyone is ready to strap on a pair of crampons and go on an adventure. Thankfully, there are plenty of glaciers that can be combined with more tranquil nature walks to get close to spectacular views and amazing photo opportunities. We visit the Sólheimajökull view point on our South Coast: Fire and Ice tour but there are plenty more to witness if you are self driving or exploring other parts of the country.

The nature walks to front of Svínafellsjökull, Skaftafellsjökull, Fjallsjökull, Kviarjökull and even Gigjökull on a highland tour are well worth the time. The great thing is that they are all accessible on foot, without the need for a glacier hike. You won’t be close enough to touch them but you will be treated to some breathtaking views and smaller glacier lagoons. These walks are designed for people with low ability. The nature walks to the view points can range from around 5 minutes to 50 minutes each way depending on the route you take and the view you desire. The walks are mostly flat but on rocky/ gravel paths.

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One thought

  1. Hiking on the glacier is usually the highlight of the trip, both for the customers and for me as the guide. For people who have never set foot on a glacier before, they are usually blown away by the majestic otherworldly scenery. Even for us guides who visit glaciers regularly, each glacier is unique and ever-changing, so it’s different every time I visit! Don’t forget to bring your gloves, especially in winter!

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