The Snæfellsjökull glacier became world famous after author Jules Verne described it in A Journey to the Center of the Earth as the starting point of the titular journey. There is plenty to explore inside Snæfellsjökull National Park. Take some time, wear comfortable yet sturdy footwear, and bring your camera. Plan at least two days in the region.
Sights in Snæfellsjökull National Park
The Snæfellsjökull glacier lies on top of a volcano, situated in the center of the national park. The glacier’s peak reaches 1,446 meters, and it can be seen from Reykjavík on a clear day. The volcano is considered active, though the last eruption occurred 1,900 years ago.
It’s about 190 kilometers from Reykjavík to the Snæfellsjökull glacier; the drive takes about 2.5 hours. From Reykjavík, take Route 1 north through the town of Borgarnes and then turn left onto Route 54. Head west on Route 54 across the peninsula for about 98 kilometers, connecting to Route 574. Continue west on Route 574 for about 35 kilometers. You’ll find the road leading up to the volcano on the right-hand side, and signs are posted all the way up to a parking lot. Be sure to check the forecast before heading out and be advised that roads leading to the volcano are unpaved.
Djúpalónssandur beach, on the southwestern edge of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, is one of the region’s highlights. The vast beach is covered by small black stones that were shaped by the force of the tides and whipping of the wind. Visitors love to wander among the frozen lava landscapes and the interesting rock formations. A short paved road through lava fields leads directly from Route 574 to Djúpalónssandur beach. The GPS coordinates are N 64.7493, W 23.9122.
Vatnshellir Lava Cave
The Vatnshellir lava cave, a site made available to the public in 2011, is another highlight. Scientists believe the 200-meter-long cave was created in an eruption between 6,000-8,000 years ago. The cave has two main sections. The upper section showcases unique lava formations that are curved on the sides of the lava tube. The lower part, which can be reached by a long and narrow but well-maintained staircase, takes tourists deep (about 35 meters) underground to a place hidden from the outside world for thousands of years. The cave is accessible only through a guided tour from Summit Guides (tel. 354/787-0001, 45-minute tours 3,250ISK adults, 2,600ISK students/seniors, free for children 3-11). Tourists are required to have hiking boots, gloves, and warm clothing. The tour guide provides helmets and flashlights. The Vatnshellir cave is located in the southern end of the park, near Route 574.
Many Icelanders say the beauty of Snæfellsnes is unrivaled, calling the region their favorite place in the country. Why? Snæfellsnes has it all. There are mountains to climb, lava fields to explore, and glaciers to scale, all accessible by countless hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Specific information on trails can be found at the park’s visitors center.
Feel free to roam and take in the sights. Whether you head out alone, with a small group, or with a tour, always go out for a hike prepared: Check the weather forecast, bring proper gear and drinking water, and let people know your whereabouts.
Rauðhóll is a leisurely hike within the park where travelers can walk around a vast lava field with jagged earth and a treeless plain giving unobstructed views of the glacier looming in the distance. The 2.3-kilometer loop hike is easy, on relatively flat ground, and takes about 45 minutes. The landscape is filled with moss and lichen-covered lava stones and lava tubes, where lava once flowed out of the volcano. Coming from Hellissandur, you’ll find the hiking path down an unnumbered road off of Route 570 (which is unpaved but no longer an F road); look for a sign that says “Eysteinsdalur Snæfellsjökull” and turn left. On the south side of the road is a signpost for the Rauðhóll trail, and red stakes along the path mark the way.
Snæfellsjökull Glacier Hike
Snæfellsjökull, rising 1,446 meters from the western tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, offers gorgeous views during a challenging trek, on which you can embark with a guided tour (this hike isn’t recommended as an independent trek). The adventure starts and ends at the small fishing village of Arnarstapi, off Route 54 down Útnesvegur. Arctic Adventures (tel. 354/562-7000, Apr. 7.-Aug. 31, 34,990ISK) takes you to the Jökulháls pass, where you’ll start your hike toward the summit of the glacier. The first part of the hike is over volcanic rock, but as you climb, snow and ice become dominant, and crampons will be necessary near the top of the glacier. The hike is about 7-8 kilometers, with a total elevation gain of 760 meters, and it takes about 3-5 hours, depending on the conditions and weather.
Remember to bring warm outdoor clothing, a waterproof jacket and pants, a hat, and gloves. Good hiking shoes are essential on this tour. Waterproof outerwear and sturdy hiking shoes can be rented from the tour company with advance notice.
If you’re after other structured, guided tours, some tour companies offer excursions. Check out Reykjavik Excursions (tel. 354/580-5400) for a list. It offers a 12-hour “Wonders of Snæfellsnes” tour year-round from Reykjavík that includes visits to the glacier, sandy beaches, craters, and fishing villages (21,000ISK adults, 10,500ISK children 12-15, free for children under 11).