Last update: 18 June 2021
Volcanic eruption on Reykjanes Peninsula
The greatest show on Earth is happening in Iceland right now. After months of speculation and more than a year of intense rumbling it has finally happened. Reykjanes kicked into action, and coughed up a new volcano in Geldingadalur, a secluded valley below Fagradalsfjall on 19 March 2021.
Mindblowing & magnificent
What followed is a series of breathtaking events so incredible it has blown the minds of many people in Iceland and around the world. This volcano is truly magnificent. It’s just too epic for words. Multiple craters appeared, erupting simultaneously in April, until one of them took over and turned into a giant lava geyser in May. Yes, that’s right: it behaved like an actual geyser, shooting fountains of lava hundreds of metres high in the air! Then it started gushing out cascading lava waterfalls in June. It’s one of the most versatile eruptions the world has ever witnessed.
Fagradalsfjall – the mountain of the beautiful valley.
How very appropriate.
Fagradalsfjall fissures and crater row on 13 April 2021.
How to get to Geldingadalur and Fagradalsfjall
In this article I will take you through the ongoing dynamic developments, show you how to get to the Fagradalsfjall eruption site and provide some essential & useful recourses for your trip. You can find maps, videos and of course beautiful pictures of baby craters 😉
Never before has a volcanic eruption in Iceland been in such an accessable place. Fagradalsfjall is only 8 kilometres from the town of Grindavík, on the south coast of Reykjanes Peninsula. It takes about 1,5 hours to hike to Geldingadalur from the nearest road, the 427 Suðurstrandarvegur east of Grindavík.
The hiking route keeps changing due to advancing lava flows, new craters and safety measures. I continue to update this article as the excitement unfolds. It evolves with the volcano, so most likely there will be something new going on when you check back in.
I will be going to the eruption site again between 21 and 25 June to check out the latest developments & hiking routes.
Do you want to visit the Fagradalsfjall volcano? What information are you looking for when planning a trip? Let me know in the comments below!
Fagradalsfjall volcano update
The eruption is not only extremely beautiful, it causes a bit of a headache and nuisance as well sometimes…
13 June: It has happened: the main hiking Route A has become virtually inaccessible. Sooner than expected, a sudden lava flow from Geldingadalur burst over the rim to the south and tumbled down a third sliding slope into Nátthagi Valley, cutting of the track almost by its root. It flows over the path just above the steep hill, at a point where there is still no view of the crater. Although there are spectacular views of the lava rushing down into Nátthagi from several directions! The first flow ran over on 22 May, and the second came in on 5 June, when the two lava barriers at the end of the Nameless Valley finally gave in.
Perhaps the volcano was getting a bit worried about too many people getting too close. Or it just wanted some privacy 😉
Lava flows over the western barrier into Nátthagi Valley on 5 June 2021. Photo: RÚV.
28 May: Meanwhile the lava flow that plunged into Nátthagi Valley is only about 2 kilometres from the Suðurstrandarvegur road between Grindavík and Þorlákshöfn. Current expectations are that it may reach the road in 20 to 90 days. If the eruption keeps going and the lava can’t be stopped, it could be flowing into the ocean before the end of summer, like Kilauea did on the Big Island of Hawaii. That would be quite a spectacle, even though a blocked road is a bit cumbersome…
The volcano itself is blissfully ignorant of all this and keeps gushing with great enthusiasm.
The birth of the newest Iceland volcano
The Fagradalsfjall volcano in Geldingardalur was born on the evening of Friday 19 March 2021. In the darkness, an ominous red glow in the sky became visible from Reykjavik, about 55 kilometres away. The next morning, daylight revealed a ‘beautiful little eruption’, a tiny crater joyfully spreading its lava in steady streams ❤️
A 3D model screenprint of the newly erupted volcano. Map: Spaceport 3D.
Volcano madness ensues
And people around Reykjavík and all over Iceland went crazy. Thousands flocked to the eruption site every day, trying to find the best way to get to the area. There were kilometres of cars lining up on the road to Grindavík, randomly parking on the roadside and causing huge traffic jams. On some days, the line of cars even extended beyond the turn-off to the Blue Lagoon and people had to hike more than 15 kilometres to even get to the start of the track.
The hiking path towards Geldingadalur was busier than the Laugavegur in high season on any given day!
Hundreds of people sat down on the slopes around the valley, to watch the greatest show on Earth. The atmosphere was similar to Þjóðhátíð in Herjólfsdalur on Vestmannaeyjar. Some people even brought guitars and sang brekkusöngur on the slopes of Geldingadalur. Others were trying to fry eggs and bacon or pizzas, or roast marshmallows on the hot lava rocks.
Hiking route to the volcano
In the meantime, a rough hiking track has been marked by the local rescue teams. There was little to no infrastructure in the area, but there are ambitious plans going on to improve access, facilities and parking places. Instead of closing off the area and prohibit entry, they make sure people can follow the safest route to the volcano. Icelanders do not run away from a good eruption; they run towards it! 😉 They facilitate it and get things done.
Geldingadalur and Fagradalsfjall volcano map
Updated on 14 June 2021
Even when this eruption comes to an end, the area will be a huge attraction for people to visit. This is the current hiking route to Fagradalsfjall from the parking areas along Suðurstrandarvegur, 8 kilometres east of Grindavík. The purple outline is the fast-spreading lava field, the danger zone is shown in red.
Further on in this article you will find more details & practical stuff about the hike to Geldingadalur and the Fagradalsfjall volcano.
Fagradalsfjall hiking route and danger zone. Photo: Almannavarnir (Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management).
Rumbling on Reykjanes
It had been rumbling around the Reykjanes Peninsula since the end of 2019, with swarms of earthquakes in the area throughout the year. In January and February 2020 it already looked like an eruption was about to happen in Mount Þorbjörn, just behind the Blue Lagoon. Magmatic intrusion caused an uplift of about 10 cm around the mountain. Crisis meetings were held in the nearby town of Grindavík and evacuation plans were discussed.
Volcanic tremor is imminent
At the end of February 2021, excitement was building and volcanic tremor became imminent. More than 50.000 earthquakes were recorded and cracks appeared in the roads near Grindavík. People escaped from the town, because they just couldn’t sleep due to the constant earthquakes and rumbling.
A perfect eruption
Then the volcano decided to erupt in the most convenient location: inside an isolated bathtub-shaped valley, on an uninhabited mountain plateau surrounded by higher peaks and dotted with more bowls and valleys. Even though it’s near the area between Reykjavík and Keflavík international airport, there is no threat to any infrastructure or towns, as of yet. It will take quite some time before all these tubs are filled with lava. If they run over, it will most likely flow towards the ocean to the south.
Previous predictions were more worrysome. After Þorbjörn settled down, Mount Keilir was the next likely candidate for an eruption, and lava was expected to flow over the main airport road, into the Blue Lagoon, or towards Grindavík.
Birth of the future lava geyser.
Fagradalsfjall – Iceland’s baby volcano
Scientists initially didn’t expect that the Fagradalsfjall eruption in Geldingadalur would last very long. Perhaps only a few days or weeks. But this stubborn little volcano has a mind of its own, and keeps surprising everyone. And it’s growing more and more spectacular each day inside its own secluded valley. There have been so many changes and new episodes you can barely keep up with it!
A chain of volcanic events and fissures is at the bottom of this article.
The growing volcano is delighting millions of people around the world, thanks to the livestream from the webcams set up by RÚV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Everyone and their drone wants to be part of it and take a piece of the action.
One happy little volcano. Or actually, two!
Mesmerizing livestream of a new volcano being born. Photo: RÚV.
The drone-melting volcano
Streams of mindblowing lava photo’s and spectacular drone videos were coming out of Iceland and flooding all over YouTube. Countless drones have already been sacrificed to the volcano and melted in its fiery pits, while trying to fly close over the craters and look straight into the eye of the eruption.
The volcano is probably getting annoyed by all these drones buzzing around its head, trying to peek into its craters and inner sanctuary. So it just devours them with fiery tongues like a lava chameleon 🔥
Bjorn Steinbekk must be the king of molten drones. Thanks to him and many others, we can enjoy some spectacular first row & close-up views of the creation process of Earth itself. But I wonder how many he has ruined already! And how many molten drones the craters have spit out by now…
The Night of 8 Erupting Volcanoes
13 April 2021
After two weeks I couldn’t take it any longer. I was as restless as the ground beneath Reykjanes, and well & truly hit by the Volcano Virus. I just had to go and see the thing. This would be an unprecedented chance to see an erupting volcano that close. So went on a mad dash to Iceland, booked a last-minute flight, submitted myself to various covid tests and a strict 5-day quarantine, and got out just in time for my birthday.
The birthday craters
And it turned out to be the most spectacular show so far. I was treated to not just one, but 4 new birthday candles that appeared on the eruption site that day. It was the only day when all 8 craters were erupting simultaneously.
I’ve seen a couple of spectaculair things, but standing next to a line of 8 erupting volcanoes was a whole new level of the mind being blown. This was completely Off The Scale. A volcano geek’s wildest dream come true 😉
The crater that will take over the show and become a giant lava geyser. It looked so cute & innocent the day it was born… 😉
It was a raging madhouse, one great big lava fountain festival. Hallucinating orange rivers were streaming in all directions, lava ponds bubbling up all over the place, and fast-flowing lava falls pouring out of various craters.
Erupting craters and lava streams everywhere!
Collapsing craters and lava sliding slopes.
The north crater sends off a mighty river of molten rock.
It was incredible to stand there and be surrounded by it all, seeing geological processes happening on an epic scale before my own eyes. Hearing the mesmerizing sounds of gushing lava coughed up from multiple fiery pits. The intricate crushing and tinkling of lava streams and rivers.
It was funny to realise that flowing lava actually sounds a lot like breaking glass!
I went to the Fagradalsfjall eruption site again the next day, and two more times during that week. On 17 April, lava flowed over the last part of the hiking track (Route A), and closed off access to the hill where the rescue team and scientists are based. In the following days, the other craters subsided one by one. On my last visit on 19 April, one of the original twin craters was only belching up fumes. The other one stopped erupting a day later.
Lava streaming into Meradalur.
The Fagradalshraun lava field and volcanic geyser at the beginning of May. The second valley to the right is quickly filling up! Photo: mbl.is / Kristinn Magnússon.
Hiking to the Fagradalsfjall eruption site
The hike to the volcano
The walking track to the viewing points in Geldingadalur is about 3,5 kilometres one-way. It takes about 1 to 1,5 hours from the car park if you take it easy. The first 2 kilometres are on relatively flat terrain, although it’s a little rocky in some parts. There are 2 or 3 somewhat steep sections up the hill during the last kilometre, but they are quite short. These pictures were taken when the track was still rough in April.
Hiking distance: 7 kilometres return
Elevation: 300 metres
The volcano track when it was still a bit rough.
The steep hill up.
Track improvements (and rearrangements)
The hiking route was changed a couple of times due to lava flows and new developments. The initial rough track has been greatly improved. Route A is now a comfortable wide gravel path and much easier to walk. The path gradually winds up along the hillside and bypasses the steep sliding slope on the original Route A.
Unfortunately, people could only enjoy it for about a month. Most of Route A has been cut off by the advancing lava flow on 13 June – see the updated Geldingadalur and Fagradalsfjall volcano map further up in this article.
The old Route B will become the main alternative to hike to a volcano lookout point again. But it’s a lot rougher and steeper than the recently smoothed Route A. And you can’t get as close anymore as before…
The ‘Nameless Valley’ (nafnlausa dal). This is now competely filled up with lava…
Important information about weather and safety conditions
Ocasionally the eruption site is closed in case of horrendous weather, blizzards coming in, or too much gas pollution around the track in combination with an unfavourable wind direction. In the first weeks of the eruption, rescue teams had to work day and night to scoop up people around the valley, who were lost, tired and cold. Nowadays the rescue team is usually present from 12 o’clock noon to midnight.
Before you set off, check Safe Travel – they added a special eruption page. Blika has a handy overview of weather-, wind-, precipation- and gas pollution conditions (in Icelandic). More details about the gas pollution forecasts are on Veður, the Icelandic Met Office weather site.
Lava flowing over the hiking track into the Nameless Valley and Meradalur on the other side.
Best time to see the volcano and lava flows
Although you can see spectacular sights any time of the day, the best time to visit is during the magical twilight hours before sunset, when the lava starts glowing and illuminating the sky in the soft evening light of the approaching midnight sun. This is of course also the busiest time on the eruption site.
How to get to the Fagradalsfjall hiking route
As with many places in Iceland, driving a car is by far the easiest way to get anywhere. There is no direct bus or shuttle from Keflavík Airport to Grindavík. But there are some options:
- Strætó public bus from Keflavík Airport or from Reykjavík to Grindavík. The bus usually goes once every 1 or 2 hours, and you need to change either in Keflavík town centre (Reykjanesbær) or at the turn-off to the Blue Lagoon (bus 55 and 88).
- The ‘Eruption Bus’ from Grindavík to the start of the hiking track.
- Reykjavík Excursions Volcano Bus from Reykjavík BSÍ to the start of the hiking track.
These last two buses only go on Saturdays so far, but they might become more frequent when more tourists come to visit during the summer.
The rescue team base at the start of the hiking route.
Fagradalsfjall parking areas near Grindavík
The start of the track is easy to find. Coming from Grindavík, you’ll see the rescue team’s base to the left of the road. The main parking area is on the other side of a small lava field to the right, but you have to drive about a kilometre further down to get to the access road. When I was there, the access road to the parking area was a rough track. It’s doable with a normal car, but you have to drive very carefully (and slow!)
Even a fish & chips truck has arrived on the scene. Although it may not always be open when you most want it to be, before or after the hike… Meanwhile, the rescue teams have also added some toilet booths and a food & drinks kiosk, where you can buy some much needed snacks.
Lights down the hill (and a drone flying overhead).
Eruption glow in the sky.
Fagradalsfjall and Reykjanes volcanoes map
This handy interactive map shows the Fagradalsfjall area, as well as several geological hotspots and hidden treasures around Reykjanes. You can also zoom in for more details.
Chain of volcanic events in Geldingadalur
First episode – The twin volcano
19 March to 4 April 2021
The eruption started off in a single crater with two tiny cones on the side. A few days later, the main crater partly collapsed, while one of the secondary cones dramatically increased during the first week. The smallest cone proved to be a fierce little one, and has almost grown as big as the main crater. By the end of March they were happily erupting side by side.
The old and the new craters. The original twin volcano is on the left.
Second episode – A chain of new craters
5 to 13 April 2021
A whole line of new craters explode onto the scene every 2 or 3 days, culminating in the spectacular Night of 8 Erupting Volcanoes on 13 April.
How many craters and fissures are in Geldingadalur and when did they start?
- 19 March: Fissure #1 kicks off the eruption in the confined bowl of Geldingadalur. The crater sits on a little hill inside the valley, gradually filling it up with lava flows.
- 5 April: Fissure #2 appears on a ridge north of Geldingadalur. It quickly develops into a ‘mini-Holuhraun’ with a vigorously boiling elongated crater. This crater emits very scenic lava patterns and sends spectacular rivers of lava down a steep gorge into Meradalur, the valley below.
- 7 April: Fissure #3 opens up between the two craters. It connects the separate lava fields from the first and second craters and forms into a tall lighthouse beacon.
- 10 April: Fissure #4 pops up between the second and third crater and adds more lava to the flow into Meradalur.
- 13 April: The Fissure Fountain Festival! Fissures #5, #6 and #7 join the show closely together between the first and third crater, while fissure #8 appears between the third and fourth crater. The whole area between the first crater to the south and the second crater to the north is filled with a straight line of eight erupting volcanoes.
Fagradalsfjall craters and hiking routes. Map: RÜV.
Third episode – Demise of the old craters
14 to 26 April 2021
Crater #2, the northernmost one, is the first one to go out. It had been very active from the start, but emptied its boiling crater lake in a great river of molten rock down to Meradalur as a final goodbye on 13 April. The other craters stop erupting one by one. By 20 April, only one of the new craters remains active.
Meanwhile, lava has flown over part of the hiking track Route A. The triplets #5, #6 and #7 grow fast and finally merge into one great firepit. It’s already bigger than the original twin craters, and is now referred to as Crater #5.
Fourth episode – The giant lava fountain!
27 April to 1 June 2021
There is no end to the surprising twists & turns in this epic volcano saga. Scientists and other volcano enthusiasts are stunned, confused and awestruck when Crater #5 turns into an actual lava geyser. It starts producing huge fountains of over 300 metres tall, erupting on and off every 5 to 10 minutes. It quickly fills up the second valley to the east of Geldingadalur and sends big lava flows down another slope into Meradalur. The hill with the rescue team and measurement stations becomes an isolated island in the lava sea.
On 2 May, the flow from Crater #5 merges with the earlier lava from Crater #2 in Meradalur. The fountains took a day off on 8 May, but kicked into action again shortly after. It just keeps gushing and gushing!
My birthday craters took over the show and turned into a giant lava geysir. The April 13 crater rules them all 😉
Fifth episode – Lava flows into Nátthagi Valley
(and towards the road!)
22 May 2021 & ongoing
The lava flow has reached the edge of the second valley, known as the ‘Nameless Valley’ (nafnlausa dal), right up to where the hiking track comes in. Construction workers frantically built two lava defence barriers on the edge of the valley, to divert the relentless flow and stop it from tumbling down into Nátthagi Valley. Once it gets there, it will eventually flow over Suðurstrandarvegur road a few kilometres further on.
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Beware of the Lava Monster. It will devour anything that comes in its way. Including multiple drones, webcams, and silly tourists that dare to thread on it while its sleeping… 😉 It shows no mercy.
The barrier only lasted for a week. A huge lava avalange came crashing down the sliding slope into Nátthagi Valley on 22 May. Engineers are exploring options to protect the road from the advancing lava. The second barrier next to the hiking track couldn’t handle the increased flow anymore and finally gave in on 5 June. Spectacular streams of lava are rushing down the sliding slope into Nátthagi Valley, adding more to the flow that already went down the eastern side.
The Silver Crater
In the meantime, the fountains have subsided, but the volcano keeps pouring out cascades of lava. It keeps coming up with surprises and takes on the appearance of a shiny silver crater. Cooled bits of lava around it have formed a glassy crust that reflects a silvery glow. Perhaps it will be spitting out diamonds next! 😉
The cup runneth over. The horn of plenty. It just keeps gushing & giving… Photo: MBL.
Sixt episode – The bowl runs over
(and cuts off more and more parts of Route A)
4 June 2021 & ongoing
The crater becomes a giant bowl of roiling & boiling lava, gushing out huge cascading lava waterfalls like a fiery version of Dynjandi. It’s now approximately 200 metres tall, and rises above many of the surrounding hills in Geldingadalur. On 4 June, lava flows over the ridge behind the main viewing hill right across from the volcano, making it yet another island in the lava sea. Sooner than expected, a sudden flow from Geldingadalur bursts over the rim to the south and tumbles down a third sliding slope into Nátthagi Valley, cutting of the track almost by its root.
Evolution of the volcano
This excellent compilation by Hermann Helguson shows how the Fagradalsfjall volcano and its many craters evolved from the very start of the eruption until the beginning of June. Fantastic views and beautiful lava flow patterns.
The latest report from Reykjavík Grapevine shows close-up views of the lava flow in Nátthagi. Their volcano newscasts are brilliant. Very informative, with detailed explanations and stunning (drone) footage. The reporter’s enthusiasm is contagious. I’m a big fan.
Future predictions of the Fagradalsfjall eruption
What will it think of next?
Scientists are predicting that the Reykjanes eruption could last longer than initially expected. It might go on for many months, or even years to come. Fagradalsfjall is a very unusual volcano; its behaviour keeps surprising everyone and is completely diferent from any other volcanoes. Normally, an eruption is more powerful at the beginning and gradually becomes less. This one does quite the opposite.
Wilderness Coffee with a view to 8 erupting volcanoes.
No signs of slowing down
The intensity has grown dramatically since the lava geysers at the beginning of May. The lava flowing out of the crater has increased by 70% and the eruption is twice as powerful as it has been for most of the time so far. It’s very unusual for an eruption to be still growing stronger after nearly 3 months. And earth scientists in Iceland see no signs that it’s slowing down any time soon.
It could become a shield volcano
According to early data, this is the oldest lava that has bubbled up to the surface in Iceland for 7000 years. The fountains are fed by ancient magma rising straight up from the mantle. It may even become a dyngja, a shield volcano, like the massive Mauna Loa on Hawaii; the queen of all shield volcanoes. Which means it could go on for years, or even decades. In recent history, the Krafla fires near Mývatn went on for 9 years between 1975 and 1984.
A dyngja in the making….
The eruption site is now officially named Fagradalshraun – the beautiful valley lava.
Volcanic eruptions in Iceland in the past decade
Fagradalsfjall volcano is the first eruption in Iceland since the remote Bárðarbunga came up with huge fire fountains in 2014. It’s in an area that hasn’t erupted for 800 years. The last time was during the infamous Reykjanes Fires in the 13th century, when the Eldvörp-Svartsengi volcanoes produced ominous lava flows on the western part of the peninsula.
Now that the beast has woken, Reykjanes might be in for a new Episode of Fires. Local scientists think that up to 20 new volcanoes could appear out of the fissures all over the peninsula during this renewed period of activity, that could go on and off for the next decades or even centuries…
Map of the Reykjanes volcanic systems. Photo: Iceland GeoSurvey (ISOR).
Average number of eruptions in Iceland
On average a volcanic eruption happens in Iceland every 4 years or so. Its unique location, on top of a hot spot and the Mid-Atlantic rift zone, makes the ground restless underneath its shallow crust. In the last decade, there have been 4 volcanic eruptions in Iceland.
- 2010: Fimmvörðuháls, from 20 March to 13 April, followed by
- 2010: Eyjafjallajökull, from 14 April to 23 May
- 2011: Grimsvotn, from 21 to 28 May
- 2014: Holuhraun (Bárðarbunga), from 31 August 2014 to 27 February 2015
Iceland seems to have a secret strategy: in times of crisis they throw in a volcanic eruption to boost the economy. This proved to be very succesful when they engaged Eyjafjallajokull in 2010. Last year, the Suðurnes region had the highest unemployment rates of Iceland. This volcano will bring a much-needed increase to the region’s economy, now that Reykjanes is the hottest place in the country.
Which one will be next?
There has been much speculation over the past years on which one would be next. Grímsvötn, the most frequently erupting volcano? The unpredictable Hekla, who may explode at any given moment with very little warning? An unexpected new island rising from the sea near Vestmannaeyjar, like Surtsey did in 1964?
Or the scariest beast of them all, the ‘long overdue’ Katla volcano, who has been rumbling for years and sets off mighty eruptions and giant jökullhlaups when it goes. Katla’s magma tubes are connected deep underground to Eyjafjallajökull, and said to be triggered usually within a decade or less after Eyjafjallajökull went off…
Two spectacles in one: a volcanic eruption and northern lights! 😀
The youngest volcano in Iceland
In the end, the giants and usual suspects were all beaten by this extraordinary new eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula. It started almost to the day that Fimmvörðuháls kicked off last decades’ eruptions on 20 March 2010.
And Eldfell on Vestmannaeyjar is no longer Iceland’s youngest volcano.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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Iceland volcano eruption livestream
Mesmerizing views of the gushing crater, from the MBL webcam on Stórihrutur.
Livestream from the RÚV webcam on Fagradalsfjall.
Covid travel restrictions Iceland
In these uncertain times, things can change quickly. Procedures are constantly evaluated and updated. For the current situation regarding Covid-19 related travel advice and restrictions in Iceland, see Covid.is (in English).
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