Ultimate Guide to Fagradalsfjall Volcano
When Fagradalsfjall burst into life in March 2021, it instantly captured people’s imaginations. This volcano had been dormant for 800 years but quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Even though the eruption is on pause for now, it’s still worth visiting the volcano. Here’s what you need to know with our ultimate guide to Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland.
Where is Fagradalsfjall volcano?
You’ll find Fagradalsfjall volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula (if you’re wondering how to pronounce Fagradalsfjall it’s “fu-gra-dalls-fy-utl” by the way). The closest settlement is Grindavik, on the south coast, but fortunately the volcano isn’t near any large centres of population. Even when the Fagradalsfjall eruption was at its peak, there was no danger to the residents of Reykjanes and neither was there a negative impact on the capital.
Keflavik Airport didn’t shut. In fact, sightseeing flights in light aircraft and helicopters were permitted to fly very close to the volcano even when lava was flowing out of its crater. Drone footage and snapshots from those who flew over it or hiked to get a closer look on the ground only added to its appeal.
What type of volcano is Fagradalsfjall?
Yet if you’re thinking volcanoes are supposed to be unpredictable and dangerous, then you’d often be right. Explosive eruptions can cause catastrophic damage and loss of life. Fortunately, there are different types of volcano and Fagradalsfjall is what’s known as a shield volcano. This means the slopes are relatively shallow.
Lava, when it flows out, often does so at a relatively slow speed, meaning that the local authorities have ample time to ensure people are out of its path. In the case of Fagradalsfjall, it was slow-moving basaltic lava. You can find out more about Iceland’s volcanoes and how they are formed at Perlan, where the informative Forces of Nature exhibit covers the science behind these fascinating landforms.
When did Fagradalsfjall erupt and how?
If you’re wondering is Fagradalsfjall still erupting then the answer is no. Is it still active? That’s a yes. Volcanoes are considered active if they could erupt at any moment, which often means that there is a significant amount of magma in the volcano’s magma chamber. Even though you might not see lava flowing out – as is the case now with Fagradalsfjall – you’ll often see steam or gases rising from the crater, secondary cones or even from fissures within the lava flows. The surface of the lava looks a blackish-grey colour once it has cooled down, but appearances can be deceptive.
Sometimes the hardened layer is only a few inches thick, and thin enough to break under a person’s weight. What’s underneath is molten rock, which means you really don’t want to be falling through the lava. We’re talking temperatures of up to 1,200°C which means it has the potential to cause life-changing injuries. Even if it seems like the eruption is over and the lava is solid, it’s not worth taking a chance.
Hiking on Fagradalsfjall volcano
You can still visit Fagradalsfjall volcano but if you do, you won’t see magma being ejected from the crater or rivers of lava flowing down its flanks. However, you will see a scarred landscape with plenty of volcanic landforms to look at from a relatively short distance away. If you’re planning to embark on a Fagradalsfjall volcano hike, however, there are certain preparations that you’ll need to make. It’s a fairly long hike and as Icelandic weather can be changeable, it’s important that you think carefully about when to go up there and what to carry with you.
However before you do so, first you need to figure out which route you’re going to take as you hike up onto the site. There are three paths, referred to as A, B and C, although actually C has two branches so you could say that there are four trails. As the eruption progressed through 2021 and again in 2022, new paths were needed so that hikers could get a look at what was happening from a safe vantage point.
The longest of these routes is Path A. This is the one to take to get to the top of the eruption site closest to the crater. It’s a lengthy hike and uneven, loose ground makes it challenging in places. B is even tougher and as it no longer offers the best view over the volcano most hikers have ditched this one. C remains popular however. This is shorter and, particularly for the Nátthagi trail, it gets you in front of cooled lava the quickest.
What to bring if you want to visit Fagradalsfjall
Preparing for your Fagradalsfjall volcano hike, since the lava has stopped flowing, is just like any other long distance hike in Iceland. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t underestimate it. Make sure you have really good hiking boots with sturdy ankle support. If your foot twists up there on the uneven surface, those boots are what’s between you and a sprained ankle, which is no laughing matter when you face hobbling back down again.
The weather can be very different higher up, so follow the forecast carefully and seek local advice to confirm what conditions are like. It’s wise to dress in layers and carry a day pack so that you can add or subtract items of clothing as your temperature falls or rises. You need to be very careful not to risk hypothermia up there so make sure you are going to be warm enough. Carry food and water and also a torch in case the light fades while you’re still up there.
Lastly, make sure you have packed your camera as you will be keen to record this breathtaking landscape and – probably – take a souvenir photo or two that proves you made it up there. A smartphone is adequate for panoramic landscape shots, though if you’re keen to capture more of the detail, carry a DSLR with a good telephoto lens for those close-ups.
Should you hire a guide?
Guided hikes have several advantages. You’re heading up to the volcano with someone who knows the terrain far better than you do, which minimises the risk of getting lost or straying off the path. If you’re not a very experienced hiker, the guide will give you confidence, encouraging you as you tackle the more difficult bits of the hike and generally reassuring you as you progress. Before you book a tour, check out reviews to see which companies get the best feedback from other travellers.
How to get to Fagradalsfjall volcano and where to park
Fagradalsfjall is easy to reach from Reykjavik and also from Keflavik Airport. Access is from the south of the eruption site. About ten minutes east of Grindavik along route 427 look out for the official car parks that were set up during the initial phases of the eruption. As with anywhere in Iceland, you aren’t allowed to park by the side of the road.
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