Sólheimajökull: Exploring one of Iceland’s South Coast glaciers

Meagan walking away from Solheimajokull

When you imagine the definition of frigidity, what comes to mind?

Snow? Blue ice? Whistling wind across a flat, white plain? Frozen bodies of water? An aching face?

Combine all of those together, add in a set of crampons, and you’ve got Sólheimajökull.

Located near Skogar in the south of Iceland, Sólheimajökull is perhaps one of the easiest glaciers to approach and experience. No surprise, then, that tons of tour companies offer glacier walks and experiences on and around the glacier. Despite loving adventure, we decided for forgo the glacier walk, itself – after a week hunched against the cold in a foreign country, we correctly assumed that we’d be a little too tired to scale a glacier 😉

The Boyfriend Perspective: I still kind of wish we had, though. Scale the glacier, guys. I bet you won’t regret it.

Instead, we opted for a tour that brought us to the foot of the glacier and back. Honestly, neither of us regrets the choice. The scenery, alone, was nothing short of astounding, ESPECIALLY for a Florida girl and a Virginia boy!


The experience

By the time we arrived at the Sólheimajökull site, we’d already gotten an idea of just how brutally windy the South Coast could be. Just spend a little time atop Skogafoss, and you’ll know what we mean! (I had also eaten a tad too much gluten the night before – blame the delicious bread! – and had spent the entire morning wondering when I might finally toss cookies).

When the bus pulled up, our guide encouraged us to put our crampons back on, and we soon figured out why – the parking lot was almost a solid sheet of ice. Our group cautiously made it up to the prefabbed base camp, at which point our guide turned us loose in the direction of the glacier.

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Thankfully, the snow was only a few inches deep, so the walk was fairly easy – unless you hit an uneven spot and ended up up to your knee on one leg!

Looking around, you feel completely hemmed in on both sides by mountains and snow and lava rock, and a glacial lake stretches out in front of you.

The Boyfriend Perspective: I could have spent hours here. It felt impossible to take photos that actually did this place justice.

After just under a mile of hiking, you’ll pass by the lake (stopping for pictures, duh) and finally approach Sólheimajökull.


The glacier

The Boyfriend Perspective: The walk up to the glacier is actually more memorable than the glacier, itself. Though, it was cool to see the teams of hikers at the base of the glacier with their neon harnesses, helmets, and industrial crampons. Being a climber, you definitely recognize some of the safety practices. And, being climber, it makes you really want to try ice climbing!

If you can ignore all the shouting and action, you’ll see your first hint that this is no ordinary hill: blue, snow-covered ice. Being from the Mid-Atlantic, neither of us has ever seen ice that thick in our lives. You can walk right up to it and touch it, if you want. It’s also fascinating to photograph all the ways the ice has fractured and been shaped by its many shifts and melts. One of the folks in our group swore that black and white would be the best way to capture the glacier ice – so take that as you will.

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We stood around for awhile, enjoying the views and the experience, before heading back to the base camp for snacks and bio breaks. The best part of the hike back was that we had the option to take a different, albeit less safe route.

This alternate path was higher along the side of our previous route, rather than taking advantage of the flat plain in front of the glacier. It included more rocks, icy spots, and was significantly narrower. If you ever have any doubts, WEAR YOUR CRAMPONS 🙂

The Boyfriend Perspective: Meagan’s a little over-cautious sometimes. Were the crampons useful? Yes. But I ended up doing this walk in tennis shoes and crampons and I had no trouble. So.


Final thoughts

While we might not do a full tour of the South Coast again, I think we’d definitely be game to go toe-to-toe with another glacier. Maybe this time we’ll actually scale it!


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18 Replies to “Sólheimajökull: Exploring one of Iceland’s South Coast glaciers”

  1. That looks incredible but a little to cold for me. Although climbing a glacier is high up there on my bucket list!

    1. Hah I think it was probably in the 30s F that day, and very windy. We both really like cold weather anyway, but you do start to get used to it, especially if you layer well. This was one of our last activities of the trip, and even though it was frigid, we had gotten weirdly accustomed to it… you’ll probably be the same 🙂 hope you get to your glacier soon!!

  2. I have been around Iceland, but not to the South coast glaciers. Can’t believe I missed this part! It looks absolutely beautiful. I have just been in Alaska and walked on top of a glacier, but we landed on top with a helicopter so no ice climbing! It was funny reading about crampons as I had never heard of them before I was wearing them myself a few weeks ago!

    1. That trip sounds really badass, though! Alaska is one of the places we’ve both been wanting to see for awhile, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Will have to hit you up for recommendations one of these days 🙂

  3. We live in the Austrian Alps and are quite used to snow and ice, but Solheimajokull looks like something else. Much colder than we experience here for one. Nice that you got the chance to take the alternate path back.

    1. I bet you are – and I bet it’s stunning, too! I think the day we were on the glacier it was probably in the 30s F, with quite a bit of wind. This was the trip where we really learned the importance of layering smart 😉

  4. Sounds like a grand adventure. I’d definitely use crampons and would love to see those glaciers – safe route and not!

    1. They’re absolutely breathtaking 🙂 And yes, having some extra traction really does make all the difference – it helps you take your mind off your feet so you can really enjoy what you’re seeing.

  5. Sometimes its so hard to say no to things, but I imagine climbing a glacier when you’re exhausted would be pretty tough! Either way, it looks incredible – but very cold!!

    1. Definitely chilly – layering is a must! I think next time, we might get a little ballsy and give the climb a try… who knows 🙂

  6. My group forwent a glacier hike for whale watching when we visited. I’m so disappointed! It looks like you had a lot of fun. Crampons are a must for climbing!

    1. Buuuuut if you had never been whale-watching before – or hadn’t seen those types of whales in the wild before – I think you probably made the right choice. They’re so fantastic!!! Guess you’ll just have to visit a glacier next time you’re in town 😀

  7. Sounds like a fun experience! I give you credit. While I grew up in an area with plenty of snow and got relatively cold in the winder months, I still really hate cold weather. I don’t know if I could get out there and explore a glacier!

    1. Hah! Even though we both like cold weather, the first couple of days were definitely rough. But this was our last day in Iceland, and I think we’d both acclimated fairly well by this point… if a Florida girl like me can do it, you definitely could 😉

  8. This looks like an incredible experience and I liked your boyfriends perspective. He is so damn positive and adventurous. Hiking a glacier is on the list but still there is a fear of bearing that cold. hopefully, I get the courage to fulfill this wish.

    1. Luke and I definitely keep each other going on trips, that’s for sure 🙂 The neat thing is, depending on where you are, glacier hikes aren’t always limited to the coldest months of the year. We were just in Banff, and had the option to explore the Columbia Icefield glacier when it was 60F outside – maybe that’ll be a good compromise? 😉

  9. Wind can be no joke. It can feel like knives cutting your face. I am sure all the views and the experience as a whole was worth it though.

    1. Right? We definitely made the “why am I vacationing where the air hurts my face?!” joke a couple of times. But yes, it was all 100% worth the numb noses and goosebumps. We’re planning our next trip back for warmer months, but I’m kind of sad to miss seeing Iceland in the winter again. Go figure! 🙂

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