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Iceland is one of the best places to visit for anyone who craves adventure and loves the outdoors. From snorkeling between tectonic plates to remote hikes at 3 a.m. under the Midnight Sun, you’ll never run out of things to do in Iceland.
One of the coolest things I’ve ever done was explore the Katla Ice Cave in Iceland. It’s one of the most accessible adventures in the Land of Fire and Ice. You can visit this ice cave in Iceland even if you’re not outdoorsy or much of a hiker (like myself).
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland and looking for some ideas, I encourage you to tour this awe-inspiring ice cave in Iceland. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Iceland, and it’s such a unique activity. After all, it’s not every day you get to hike through an ice cave on top of a glacier on top of a volcano!
I had the opportunity to tour the Katla Ice Cave, and I’ll do my best to give you a complete rundown of what you can expect on an ice cave tour. My tour was led by Arctic Adventures, and I’d recommend booking your spot well in advance of your Iceland trip so you don’t miss out.
- What Is The Katla Ice Cave?
- How To Get To The Katla Ice Cave
- Touring Katla Ice Cave From Vik
- Hiking Through The Katla Ice Cave
- Best Time Of Year To Visit The Katla Ice Cave
- What To Wear To The Katla Ice Cave
- Can Anyone Visit The Katla Ice Cave?
- Is There a Tour of Katla Ice Cave?
- What Should I Wear or Bring to The Katla Ice Cave?
What Is The Katla Ice Cave?
The Katla Ice Cave is a natural ice cave located in south Iceland, near the town of Vík. Specifically, it’s on the eastern side of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, which partially covers Katla, one of Iceland’s largest active volcanoes, where the cave earned its name.
There are other ice caves in Iceland, like the glacier ice caves that run through Vatnajökull National Park, but the Katla Ice Cave is the most popular one to visit. You can easily take this ice cave tour as a day trip from Reykjavik.
While Katla is an active volcano, it hasn’t erupted since 1918. Experts predict it’s due for an eruption at some point, but no one quite knows when. The good news is that it’s not expected to erupt any time soon, which is comforting!
The coolest thing about the Katla Ice Cave is that it’s naturally formed and changes every year. The glacier melting forms the natural ice cave. Since it’s a completely natural process, the cave will look different every year.
The glacier ice melts in the summer (around August/September), and new ice caves form in the glacier ice as winter approaches. Every year, professional guides head out to the ice caves and reroute where necessary, planting new “bridges,” drilling new holes for safety ropes, etc., to make sure the ice cave tours are as safe as can be.
This is why it’s so important to have a professional guide with you. Iceland’s ice caves can be dangerous. Visiting ice caves on your own is very much frowned upon by locals.
See Related: Silfra Rift and Fissure in Iceland
How To Get To The Katla Ice Cave
You’ve got a few options here. Tours depart from both Reykjavik and Vík, so you don’t need to rent a car to get to the cave. If you do rent a car in Iceland, then you can meet up with your tour guide in Vík and take off in a Super Jeep from there.
This Louisiana resident has minimal winter driving experience, so whenever I’m traveling in the Arctic, I enjoy being driven around. It turned out to be the best decision. I got to sit back and enjoy the scenic drive along the south coast without worrying about driving in winter conditions.
There are pros and cons to staying in one spot, but there are so many day trips from Reykjavik that you’d be surprised at how much you can see while staying in Reykjavik. Plus, you don’t have to live out of a suitcase and constantly change hotels, which is a huge perk.
If you do take the Katla Ice Cave tour from Reykjavik, prepare for a long day. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive each way, but the drive is offensively beautiful, and it goes by in a flash.
The advantage of taking the tour from Reykjavik is that you’ll stop off at two famous waterfalls on the way there. Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss are stunning, and the detour was a nice little bonus.
These majestic waterfalls are some of the tallest in the country and are worthy of a day trip on their own, so having them bundled up on this ice cave tour is a fabulous perk, even though it does make your day a bit longer.
Overall, including these natural wonders, you’re looking at about an 11-hour day if you depart from Reykjavik. If you meet up with the tour from Vík, it’s about a three-hour day tour.
Touring Katla Ice Cave From Vik
Vík is one of the most popular towns in Iceland to visit, and it’s worth your while to spend a few days here exploring the surrounding area, including Diamond Beach, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, just to name a few. Or you could do another ice cave tour and explore all the ice caves in the Land of Fire and Ice!
Each tour company has its own meeting point in Vík. The meeting point for my ice cave tour was a grocery store parking lot with a lovely view of the famous black sand beach.
From the meeting point, you’ll hop into a Super Jeep and take the most off-road adventure you’ve ever experienced. These things have 50-inch tires and are able to drive on some of the wildest terrain, which is important since the Super Jeep drives onto the glacier, and it’s not exactly like they plow the area for snow.
This is also why you need a tour guide to visit the ice cave. Your rental car would not make it to the cave.
The Super Jeep ride takes maybe 20 minutes, and it’s incredible to watch these experienced glacier guides handle driving on this terrain. Once we reached the site, our tour operator gave us helmets and crampons, and we set off on the hike to the ice cave!
Hiking Through The Katla Ice Cave
The glacier hike was very easy and took about 10 minutes. There are a few stream crossings where you’ll walk over some wooden planks, but other than that, it’s a relatively flat area and a pretty easy walk with gorgeous views everywhere you look.
As you approach the Katla Ice Cave, you’ll learn more about the history of the cave and other natural ice caves in Iceland before heading in. One thing you’ll notice in the cave is the layers of black ash embedded in the glacial ice.
These striations are volcanic ash from previous years of the Katla volcano erupting. When you remember that the volcano hasn’t erupted since 1918 and see how many layers there are, you’ll gain a new appreciation for the history you’re hiking through.
The hike through the cave was much easier than I thought it would be, so if you’re on the fence about it, take the plunge. The crampons give you traction on the ice, and there isn’t any climbing necessary.
It’s a pretty easy walk through the ice cave with a few makeshift bridges to cross over the streams. My hiking shoes were more than prepared to tackle this landscape, and the crampons gave me an added sense of security.
For my claustrophobic friends, don’t worry. This ice cave is HUGE, much bigger than I expected it to be. I’ve never been to any other ice caves, but the Katla Ice Cave exceeded all of my expectations. The beautiful blue ice, the black volcanic ash, the towering mountains in the distance, everything was straight out of a movie.
Even my tour guide was wonderful! I went with Arctic Adventures and would recommend them to anyone. It was a small group, maybe 15 tops, and by the end, we all felt like best friends.
Once we got through the cave, we spent some time in this little area, taking in the views and snapping selfies with the beautiful blue ice before heading back through the cave and back to the Super Jeep.
Overall, it took about three hours from the time I got into the Super Jeep until we returned to the meeting point, where the bus was waiting to take us back to Reykjavik.
This is when I could really see the advantage of spending a night in Vík, somewhere cool like Hótel Kría. Being less than 30 minutes from my bed instead of 2.5 hours would have been a much better experience. After all, it was a long day of hiking, not just the ice cave tour but also both of the waterfalls, too.
But I settled into my seat on the bus and watched out the window for any sign of the Northern Lights. Sadly, they didn’t appear on the ride back, so hopefully, you have more luck than I did in that department!
See Related: Visiting Seljalandsfoss Waterfall in Iceland
Best Time Of Year To Visit The Katla Ice Cave
The Katla Ice Cave is open year-round, but I’m a fan of making this a winter tour. There’s just something so special about seeing the glacier and surrounding scenery blanketed in snow, and I’m really glad I got to see one of Iceland’s most popular ice caves during winter.
That being said, spring and summer are also popular times to visit the glacier ice cave, but obviously, you’ll be dealing with less snow and more ice melt.
The further into summer you go, the more the ice formations melt. While it’s still an incredible experience, you may feel slightly disappointed. It’s beautiful, but you won’t have those dreamy Instagram-worthy shots that you’ve probably been searching out on social media.
This is completely out of your control, but if you catch the weather gods on a clear, sunny day, you’ll have some incredible views of the blue ice. It was overcast on the day I went to the Katla Ice Cave, and don’t get me wrong, the ice tunnels were still a beautiful shade of blue, but I can only imagine how dramatic it would be on a sunny day!
If you do visit the Katla Ice Cave in the winter and are taking the bus ride back to Reykjavik, you stand a good chance at spotting the Northern Lights, which would be the perfect ending to an already magical day, don’t you think?
See Related: Best Hotels in Iceland for Northern Lights
What To Wear To The Katla Ice Cave
Tour operators will provide you with everything you need to enter the ice cave, which includes crampons and a helmet. Anything else you want to bring is up to you!
I wore my hiking boots and all my winter gear (it was February, so very cold), and that included a hat, scarf, and gloves. Iceland’s weather can change on a dime, so you’ll want to wear warm clothes and make sure you’re outerwear is both windproof and waterproof.
Just make sure you’ve got some sturdy hiking shoes that are also comfortable since you’ll definitely be getting your steps in on this tour.
I left my backpack on the bus and just brought my camera and phone along for the journey, and it was fine. You’re only on the glacier and hiking through the ice cave for about an hour, so I didn’t bring any water/snacks with me; I just left those on the bus as a reward for the ride back!
Can Anyone Visit The Katla Ice Cave?
Visiting the Katla Ice Cave is a physically demanding experience. While it’s not rated as difficult, you will need to be able to walk up to five miles over an un-level terrain, including water crossings. It’s not recommended for children under six years old. The Perlan Museum in Reykjavik has a year-round exhibit with man-made ice tunnels replicating what it’s like to walk through these ice caves, which may be a better option for kids and/or people with mobility issues.
Is There a Tour of Katla Ice Cave?
There are a few different Katla Ice Cave tour operators. Tours are offered as a pick-up from Reykjavik and Vík, just remember that it’s a 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavik to Vík, so those departing from the capital are in for an 11 or 12-hour day round trip.
What Should I Wear or Bring to The Katla Ice Cave?
Your tour guide will provide you with all the safety gear, like crampons and a helmet. I’d recommend a good pair of sturdy hiking shoes, for sure. Waterproof outerwear will also be very helpful.
- About the Author
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Jacks is a New Orleans native passionate about exploring the Arctic region. She’s a frequent writer and contributor to Only in Your State. A mediocre ukulele player, photographer, and artist, she thrives on spontaneous solo adventures and encourages everyone to follow the deal, not the destination. When she’s not traveling, she’s feeding the neighborhood crows, squirrels, and bluejays that have befriended her, much to the dismay of her cat, Tugger.