Visit the hottest tourist attraction Iceland has to offer: A brand new volcanic eruption in Meradalir!
Watching fiery magma spout out of the ground, and hot lava ooze its way across the moss covered valleys of the Icelandic landscape is truly awe inspiring. It’s such an incredible sight to take in, that it’s hard to capture it in an image to show others. In fact, us humans are so used to seeing such spectacles in photos, videos or in nature documentaries that it feels quite unreal to witness it first hand, in “full definition” and all encompassing. Listening to the rock crumble, watching the water-like movement of the lava rivers and using the heat of the glowing lava to warm up your hands like it’s a massive bonfire is all a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some visitors are reduced to tears from the sheer beauty of it, others can’t wipe the grin off their face. Most people find it nearly impossible to take their eyes off of it. And the best thing about it? It’s easy to access from the capital city Reykjavik.
Iceland is known to be the land of ice and fire, and in the past few years it’s really shown the world what that really means. The country is situated on top of two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasian plate, and also right above a hotspot – a geological term for a volcanic area that has an unusually hot mantle underneath it. With over 32 active volcanic systems in the country, you’d expect there to be a volcanic eruption going on all the time. That hasn’t quite been the case, but with the new volcanic activity in the Reykjanes peninsula, this might change for the future. This new volcanic eruption started in Iceland in Meradalir on August 3rd 2022, less than a year after the last eruption in the area ended. And if you thought that this would make people want to run away, think again! Locals and travelers alike are ecstatic about this new, incredibly photogenic, easily accessible and tourist-friendly effusive volcano.
How to get to Meradalir volcano
The volcanic eruption is located right next to Fagradalsfjall and only an hour’s drive away from the capital city Reykjavik, and about a 30 minute’s drive from the international airport in Keflavik. The nearest town is called Grindavik, which is in less than a 10 minute driving distance. This means that you can quite easily drive to the volcano, hike to it and enjoy the spectacular scenery, trek back and drive back to Reykjavik in a day tour.
Let Ice Pic Journeys guide you there!
We offer both a Volcano Tour for small groups and a Volcano Private Adventure. Both of them include a professionally edited photo package in the price, so all you have to worry about is the hike itself, and which way to pose. Your guide is knowledgeable about the area but also a professional photographer, which comes in handy so you can update your latest profile picture on social media with an incredible shot that’s sure to be a conversation starter.
The Hike to the Volcano
Last year’s eruption site was incredibly popular with local and international travelers. This year visitors benefit from the great pathways that were laid last year, and the parking area that now exists next to the start of the hike. However, this eruption is further away from the parking area, and only half of the route is along a nice and easy path. The other half currently goes over uneven hard terrain which would be classified as moderately strenuous. The hike itself from the parking lot takes about 2 hours, just one way. Then you want to factor in at least one hour (preferably two) admiring the view before hiking back the same way. The round trip is about 12-14 km, or 7.5-9 miles – but it’s totally worth it, even for those who are unused to hiking.
Driving directions to the volcano eruption
If you’re driving yourself, then from Reykjavik you’ll start by driving towards the Keflavik International Airport on road no. 41. You’ll then make a turn onto road no. 43, as if you were going to the Blue Lagoon. Continue through the town of Grindavik and turn to road no. 427, driving along the dramatic coastline of the Reykjanes peninsula. You should see the smoke rising from the volcano the whole way, so you know which way you’re heading! From Grindavik it’s only about a 5-10 minute drive before you’ll come to the start of the hike, and you’ll notice it immediately from the large parking areas that have been set up. Note that the parking is still on uneven ground, don’t expect any asphalt or paved pathways here! There are also no restrooms or garbage bins on site, but there will likely be some basic food trucks popping up soon. Make sure you use the bathroom before you leave town, and don’t litter during your journey. You’re sure to see a whole lot of other hikers in the area, but you’ll also be greeted by rescue team volunteers that are there to help and keep people safe. If you find yourself in trouble, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. A few signs have been put up to help you find your way, and to start with there’s a very clear and wide path that you’ll walk along.
Also note that it does cost roughly 1,000 ISK to park in the volcano carpark and it is surveilled. Not paying could result in an even bigger fine.
Hiking directions to the volcano eruption
Path A is your direct route to the active eruption site and takes 2-3 hours each way to hike with a total distance of 12-14 kilometers or 7.5- 9 miles round trip. You will start from the carpark on a flat trail and after about 45 minutes of walking on the path on level ground, you’ll come to a moderately steep hill that has a zig-zag gravel path up along it. This is when you start seeing the dried up old lava from last year’s eruption. The Fagradalsfjall eruption left us with a fairly large, brand new lava field which is a sight to be seen on its own. Ash black fields of rock, with the occasional steam still rising from it in scattered areas. Here you hike towards the top of the hill directly in front of you which is where the new Path A is now being created and will have markers on the ridge of the hilltops for you to follow. You will trek across these hilltops for quite awhile. Take note that these hills are highly exposed to weather and require some rock hopping. It’s advised that you watch each of your steps since it can be easy to trip and twist an ankle.
On this uneven terrain, you’ll get unparalleled views of the Fagradalsfjall volcanic craters. After about an hour you’re suddenly greeted with a view of bright red lava hurling from the ground, and a sea of lava slowly spreading out from it. The eruption started off as a 3-400 meters long crack, but had halved in size a couple of days later. Now the crack has unified and has formed walls around it, so it looks like a perfectly round crater. It may increase or decrease in the next days, weeks or months, and of course it will change shape as the lava hardens and expands, eventually filling up the Meradalir valley.
Is the volcano dangerous?
Please visit www.safetravel.is for constant updates on safety procedures at the volcano.
The most dangerous element about seeing the volcano is actually not being prepared well enough for the hike. You might get lost in the dark at night if you don’t bring headlights, you might get too cold and experience hypothermia if you’re just wearing denim or cotton or you might not be watching your step and fall down leaving you with scrapes or bruises, or even a broken bone. Make sure to prepare and bring good hiking boots, warm layers of clothing made from wool or fleece, rainproof clothing, plenty of water to drink and some food or snacks. If you plan on hiking late in the evening, then bring a head torch or flashlight as well.
The hike itself is tiring, especially for those who are not used to hiking. There isn’t much elevation, but you will hike up 2 hills, and will be hiking over old lava and muddy landscape (especially if it has been raining). There are also dangerous and poisonous gasses that are emitted from the volcano that visitors need to be aware of. It is best to pick a day that has a bit of wind (should be easy enough to find a windy day in Iceland!) – and it’s best if the wind direction is east or northbound as the gasses are then being blown away from you. Don’t spend much time in low valleys where the gasses might stick around and not be blown away.
Visitors are now officially not allowed to bring any children under the age of 12 to the eruption site, as they (and you!) might get exhausted from the hike and the elements, and children (and dogs!) are closer to the ground and the poisonous fumes. The fumes don’t necessarily have a strong smell, so if you don’t smell them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. Note that when you have left Reykjavik and gone into the countryside, hiking up a mountain, the weather might turn drastically and swiftly. For the hike itself, it’s best to bring several warm layers. Before you start the hike it’s good if you are just a little cold, as you will work up some heat as soon as you start walking. Otherwise you will have to stop immediately to shed some layers. On the other hand, when you reach the top, you will have worked up some sweat and can cool down very quickly, so this is when you want to put on a warm sweater or a jacket, as well as a hat and gloves – even on a sunny day. You might even want to bring a blanket so you can sit down in the soft and thick moss and fully appreciate the view.
How close can I get? What will my photos look like?
The longer the volcano erupts and emits lava, the larger lava field will surround it, so you won’t be able to get as close as you could in the first few days after the eruption started. There is no way to tell how long the eruption will last, it could be just a few days, or weeks, months or even years. With a natural phenomenon like that, it’s impossible to tell what your photos will look like, but in this article you can see a wide variety of photos that have been taken on tours with Ice Pic Journeys to give you an idea. Your guide is a professional photographer with years of experience and all the best equipment, and he will scout the best location to take photos from, as well as bring a drone to get some aerial shots.
How frequent are volcanic eruptions in Iceland?
This eruption didn’t come as much of a surprise to the locals, as there had been strong earthquakes taking place over a few days leading up to it that could be felt all over the capital region. The same thing had happened just last year, before the Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted. That eruption started on March 19th and emitted steadily flowing lava for 6 months. There were frequent earthquakes for up to 3 weeks before the eruption started, and much speculation whether there was going to be an eruption – but there hadn’t been an eruption in Fagradalsfjall for more than 6000 years. The last eruption in the Reykjanes peninsula took place in the 13th century, but it went on and off for about 30 years (1210-1240). In 2022, locals only had to endure earthquakes for 1 week before the earth started spewing fire again, but they already knew the pattern from the previous year, and we may have entered a new phase where there will be more frequent eruptions in the area to come.
Earthquakes are a common sidekick to volcanic eruptions, but it’s rare that they are felt in Reykjavik. Before Fagradalsfjall the last volcanic eruption in Iceland took place in Holuhraun in 2014, an area in the Icelandic highlands with roads leading to it that are impassable for regular cars. Grimsvotn volcano had a short eruption in 2011, but that one is located in the middle of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull, and equally far away and hard to reach. Most famously, the eruption in 2010 took place at Eyjafjallajokull which was considered fairly easy to reach, only requiring a 2,5 hour drive from Reykjavik and then around a 7 hour hike-one way. Hundreds of locals hiked, biked, drove or flew over the Eyjafjallajokull eruption before the eruption itself changed and became much more explosive and volatile. It was then too dangerous to visit and started halting flights due to the thick smoke coming from it, garnering international attention.
Volcano terminology and volcano misconceptions
Those who are unfamiliar with volcanoes and volcanic eruptions may get a little confused about what volcanic eruptions are like. Understandably so, because every eruption is different from the next, and there are several types of lava. So here’s a simple overview of how volcanoes work.
‘Active Volcano’ doesn’t always mean ‘Erupting Volcano’
Iceland has around 130 volcanoes in total, some of them active and others inactive. An active volcano means that it may still erupt, but doesn’t necessarily mean that it is currently erupting, or will erupt any time soon. As an example, the volcano Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, having erupted over 20 times in the past 1050 years. Its last eruption was very short, only 10 days, and took place in 2000. Similarly, the volcanic system at Reykjanes peninsula (where the current Meradalir eruption takes place) was classified as active, even though there hadn’t been an eruption in the area since the year 1240, up until that changed in 2021.
Types of volcanic eruptions
When we talk about a volcanic eruption, it means that there is lava or steam and gasses coming out of the volcano. There are three main types of eruptions. These are Magmatic eruptions, Phreatic eruptions and Phreatomagmatic eruptions. There are also several subtypes that we won’t go into here. Magmatic eruptions range in intensity, from small lava fountains (such as this eruption) to catastrophic lava columns. Phreatic eruptions don’t release any magma, but instead superheat steam. Phreatomagmatic eruptions have an interaction of magma and water. Below is a photo from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (say that 10 times fast) that erupted back in 2010. Unlike Fagradalsfjall, this was a Phreatomagmatic eruption where the magma collided with the ice of the covering glacier.
Types of lava
The type of lava coming out of magmatic eruptions depends on its mineral content. Some lava is very thin and fast flowing, like a great big river that can cover a large area of land quickly. Other lava is very thick, only flowing for a short distance before it cools down and hardens. When the lava hardens, it typically hardens in two main different types: Pahoehoe and Aa. Both names, like many volcanological terms, come from Hawaii. Pahoehoe has a fairly smooth, ropey texture and is formed from slow moving lava. A well developed “skin” is formed on the slow lava, and when a crack is formed it has time to heal. This is the type of lava that you will encounter at Meradalir and Fagradalsfjall volcano.
Aa on the other hand is much rougher (it’s called aa – pronounced ah-ah (or ow ow) – because it hurts to walk on it). This is formed by fast flowing lava that has rapid heat loss and a resulting increase in viscosity. The surface becomes solid but torn by a different flow, and the crust can get covered by still liquid lava, forming chunks of rough rocks. Those who are concerned about needing to run away from the lava are thinking of fast flowing lava, and those who are concerned about the grounding of flights are thinking of explosive eruptions that contain a high amount of ash. The Meradalir eruption is a relatively small magmatic eruption, with a slow moving liquid lava that will end up with pahoehoe hardened lava, making it a considerably safe volcanic eruption to go and experience up close. If you’re going to hurt yourself, it’s most likely because of a stumble on some uneven rocky surface on the hike, not because you’re being chased by molten lava.
With that said, there’s nothing stopping you from going to see a volcanic eruption in Iceland, for sure something that’s on top of many people’s bucket lists!
Check the weather forecast, prepare the right clothes and join us on a tour to remember, complete with fantastic pictures as your memorabilia.