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Icelands Geological Features: Explore Geysers, Glaciers, Canyons, Craters and more


Iceland’s Unique Geological Features - and Some of Our Favorite Places

There are few places as geologically unique and diverse as Iceland. The interaction of ice and fire has carved our unique island for centuries. Experiencing Iceland's geological features is one of the best reasons to come here. You can plan an entire trip around them or choose your favorites and make them part of one of our self-driving tours.

So, here are some of Iceland's geological features to look out for and the best places to find them.

Rhyolite Mountains

Rhyolite is an extrusive igneous rock. Volcanoes produce this rock, specifically when extruding silica-rich magma from a vent, and it cools quickly on the surface, resulting in rhyolite—a beautiful, light-colored, and fine-grained rock.

The particular volcanism of Iceland results in layers of rhyolite that form colorful mountain ranges, with each layer a different hue.

The best place to see this is Landmannalaugar, where you can choose from a variety of day hikes that lead you through the mountains, past hot springs, and across lava fields. Some of them are short and easy others are tougher climbs with amazing views. Serious hikers do the Laugavegur Trek, which starts here and lasts several days. The one downside is that the roads to Landmannalaugur are not paved. They are F roads, which means you can only legally take a 4 x 4 vehicle. Fortunately, our 4 x 4 Highlands and Lowlands self-driving tour comes with a 4 x 4 vehicle. Bus tours are also available. It is dangerous (and illegal) to drive an ordinary car to Landmannalaugur. But if you take our tour, you will also get to see some of Iceland's best waterfalls and the Laki Craters and basalt columns.

Another place to see beautiful rhyolite mountains is the Kerlingafjöll range in Iceland's central highlands. That area is also full of hot springs and mud pools.

A fascinating view of Iceland's geological features includes the Rhyolite Mountains, composed of extrusive igneous rock. The Rhyolite Mountains are one of Iceland's geological features.

Volcanic Plugs and Sea Stacks

When a volcano becomes extinct, lava still fills its center. This igneous rock surpasses the surrounding materials in hardness, and erosion eventually transforms it into a volcanic plug — a vertical column of rock. When this occurs at sea, it creates a feature known as a sea stack, offering prime real estate for cliff-nesting birds.

One of the best examples is Lóndrangar, where you will find a pair of wonderful basalt columns as well as basalt cliffs, one of them 75 meters high. The area earns the nickname "Rocky Castle." Stop at the visitor center and hike a 2.8-mile / 4.5 km out-and-back trail, considered easy, providing excellent views of the cliffs. Psst. if you're quiet you might even see an arctic fox!

There are also some awesome sea stacks at Reynisdrangar, with an interesting stepped cliff formation. Take your camera! If you are taking the Arctic coast way, you can also stop to see Hvitserkur, also known as the Troll of Northwest Iceland.

Sea stack Hvítserkur in north west Iceland Hvitserkur in North west Iceland


Pseudo-Craters

Also known as pseudocraters and rootless cones,pseudo-craters look like volcanic craters. However, there's no volcanic conduit under them. They happen when lava flows over a swamp, lake, or pond. The water turns into steam and then explodes through the lava in a way that resembles an eruption and leaves a crater.

The Mývatn area is well known for its pseudo-craters, and the best examples are at Skútustađagígar. It is a row of pseudo-craters on the southern side of Lake Mývatn, formed when a lava flow came into contact with the lake. Low vegetation covers the craters, allowing you to enjoy stunning views of the lake and observe different birds, including the possibility of encountering large numbers of red-necked phalaropes. There's a large parking lot right off the ring road. Skútustađagígar is a stop on our Iceland Circle, including the Snćfellsnes self-driving tour, which covers the ring road plus an extension onto the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. You can also swing by Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe, or stop at Námaskarđ Pass to see colorful formations and boiling mud pools.

You can also see pseudocraters at Rauđhólar on the Leitahraun lava field, just south of Reykjavik a great option if you don't plan on going far from Iceland's capital.


A photo captures the landscape of pseudo-craters surrounded by greenery in Skutustadiir, around Lake Myvatn, Iceland. Myvatn, Iceland, features pseudo-craters.

Canyons

Iceland boasts some of the planet's best waterfalls. Where there are waterfalls, there are canyons, and you can find stunning canyons and gorges anywhere you go.

One of the most spectacular is Ásbyrgi, which is part of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon system in north Iceland. It's a glacial canyon that is a spectacular horseshoe that provides a sheltered, almost mystical forest of birch, willow, mountain ash, and introduced pine. Its center is Eyjan, a distinctive rock formation. Cliffs as high as 100 meters high offer nesting sites for fulmars, and the woods and heathland are a sanctuary for all kinds of birds. Local folklore, looking at the shape of the canyon, claims it is one of Sleipnir's hoof prints, left as Odin rode across the landscape. There are a variety of hiking trails here, including one suitable for people with limited mobility.

Take it in as part of our longer 12-day Iceland Ring Road & Snaefellsnes tour. This tour also includes the East Fjords, Lake Mývatn, and Husavik, where you can go whale watching.

You can also visit spectacular canyon formations at Stuđlagil, Sigoldugljufur, Jökulsárgljúfur, Fjarđárgljúfur, Múlagljúfur, and many more! You could even plan a custom itinerary around the best canyons and waterfalls.

The stunning Stuđlagil Canyon is an awe-inspiring showcase of Iceland's geological features in the east. Stuđlagil Canyon epitomizes Iceland's geological features with columnar basalt formations


Columnar Basalt Formations

Iceland has some of the best columnar basalt formations there are. People have speculated that trolls or giants made the hexagonal cylinders so perfect, but the formation is a feature of the way basalt cools, and columns are more likely when it cools faster.

Stuđlagil Canyon is one of the best places to see these dramatic formations lining the blue-green river. It's considered one of the most beautiful basalt rock formations on the planet and certainly the finest in Iceland. Stuđlagil means basalt column, but the gorge was underwater until a nearby hydroelectric plant diverted some water, causing the river to drop and revealing the formations. It's also quite a bit off the beaten track. It's about a two-hour out-and-back hike from the east side parking lot, or you can go to the west side and enjoy a viewing platform. Be aware that there are no facilities on the east side, including toilets. There's a paid toilet on the west side. It's a stop on our Iceland Circle including Snaefellsnes tour.

While Stuđlagil is the most spectacular, the Svartifoss waterfall flows over basalt columns. You can also find fine examples at Reynisfjara, Litlanesfoss, Gerđuberg, Hljóđaklettar, Dverghamrar, Aldeyjarfoss, and Arnarstapi.


Craters

A lot of eruptions in Iceland don't create traditional craters, but if you want to see one, you have plenty of options.

Our favorite is Víti in Askja. Viti means "hell," and it's a geothermal crater lake in the Askja Caldera in the central highlands. Yes, you can swim in the lake, although it's not as warm as the Blue Lagoon it's about 22 degrees, so plan accordingly, and bear in mind it can be steep in and out. Swimming or bathing in the crater on your own is not recommended. On the way, you get to enjoy a spectacular ascent, but be aware the crater is only accessible during the summer and via F roads. As already mentioned, you will need a 4 x 4 vehicle for this drive, and one of the routes requires a larger 4 x 4 with good ground clearance. You can also take a bus from Mývatn. It's a moderate hike but well worth it for the view. Wear good boots even in the summer, there's commonly snow on the trail. A great way to get up here is to take our real 4 x 4 Highland and Lowland Adventure tour. We'll provide you with a suitable vehicle that can handle the water crossings, and you will also get to cross The Keel, a lava-covered pass, and explore the Ódáđahraun lava field.

If you aren't feeling quite that adventurous, spectacular craters also exist at Keriđ, Víti in Krafla, Eldfell Crater, Grábrók Crater, Eldborg, and Geldingadalir. Keriđ in particular is close to the Golden Circle, so you can easily add it as a detour to that trip.


Black Beaches

When lava touches the ocean, you sometimes get a black beach formed of black pebbles and stones broken up by the sea after it instantly cooled the flow. Iceland's geological features are not the only place you can find black beaches, but it does have some of the best.

Top of the list, and famous across the world, is Reynisfjara. This spectacular, long beach is on the south coast near the town of Vik. It's only 2.5 hours from Reykjavik, so is a feasible day trip, but you can also spend the night in Vik (check out their pretty church). While there, appreciate the Gardar basalt columns and the Reynisdrangar sea stacks you get three for the price of one here. However, be careful on the beach and stay away from the water. Sneaker waves can suddenly show up high on the beach and suck people out to sea. Never turn your back on the ocean here. That said, it's a great winter destination if you're coming in the dark months, check out our The South Coast and Northern Lights Search to explore winter-friendly destinations and maybe see the aurora.

You can also find black beaches at Diamond Beach, Sólheimasandur, Djúpalónssandur, and Stokksnes.

Iceland's geological features include a dramatic beach with volcanic plugs and sea stacks. Iceland's geological features encompass volcanic plugs and sea stacks.


Plutonic Rock Formations

No, it has nothing to do with Pluto. Is it a planet or not? Magma cools and solidifies below the Earth's surface, forming plutonic rocks. It includes things like granite and quartz diorite.

Vestrahorn in southeast Iceland is a stunning photo opportunity, with its sharp-edged silhouette rising from a black sand beach. Nearby, Brunnhorn is playfully called Batman Mountain for its resemblance to the superhero's logo, and Eystrahorn completes the range. These mountains, formed from gabbro rock, offer a captivating sight, especially when the tide is high, covering the beach and creating perfect reflections. A must-visit on the Ring Road, it's part of the Full Iceland Circle itinerary. The Viking Café, serving as the visitor center, is under the mountain, and access to the beach, private property, requires a small fee. While there are hiking trails, the blue trail is for experienced boulderers. Activities like ATV or horseback riding tours and a replica Viking Village visit are also available, originally built for an unrealized movie in 2010.


Plutonic rock formation in south east Iceland


Geysers and Hot Springs

We've all heard of the Blue Lagoon and, of course, the original Geysir. But Iceland's geological features are a land of geysers and hot springs. The only reason humans can inhabit this challenging landscape is arguably the presence of hot springs.

Geysir is the one you need to see. Part of the classic Golden Circle tour and easily accessible from Reykjavik, Geysir no longer reliably erupts (in part due to idiots pumping soap into the vents to make it more dramatic), but you might get lucky. The action has moved to Strokkur, which erupts every five to ten minutes. Although it's smaller, you can guarantee it. We recommend a waterproof jacket as while it's fenced off if the wind is "favorable" it can still soak you quite nicely (don't worry, the water cools off very quickly, it's not dangerous). If staying in Reykjavik, you can see it on a Golden Circle tour. But another alternative is our South Iceland at Leisure itinerary, which includes Skógafoss and the Blue Lagoon. Or any tour that includes the Golden Circle.

You can also see hot springs at Reykjadalur, Námaskarđ, Gunnuhver, Hveravellir, and Deildartunguhver.


Glaciers

Despite warming trends, Iceland's geological features remain where you can get up close and personal with a glacier. However, it is not advisable to attempt hiking on a glacier without a guide and the necessary equipment. We can assist in organizing a glacier hike.

One of the best places for this is Sólheimajökull, an outlet glacier of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. The glacier walk here is easy and suitable for all ages and levels of hiking experience, and you can get right up to the glacier on your own. It's worth looking for a tour that includes the Dragon Queen blue ice cave, which is quite an experience. If you have more experience, you can opt for ice climbing. Or just take pictures of the glacier from the lagoon by the parking lot. It's generally considered the most accessible glacier in Iceland.

Other spectacular glaciers include Vatnajökull, Eyjafjallajökull, Tindfjallajökull, Langjökull, Hofsjökull, Snćfellsjökull, and Drangajökull.


Nunatak

A nunatak is a peak of rock poking out of inland ice or snow that is typically from an ice field or glacier or a peak that used to poke out of a glacier and has been shaped by it. It's an Inuit word, but you can see them here in Iceland's geological features.

Iceland's best nunatak is Kirkjufell, which translates to "Church Mountain" due to its similarity to a steeple. It's found on the north shore of the Snćfellsnes peninsula. The iconic peak is hugely photogenic, and you can get the classic shot of Kirkjufellsfoss with the mountain in the background. Park by the waterfall (it's accessible by regular car in the summer, but we recommend 4 x 4 in winter), but avoid stopping on the road. Climbing Kirkjufell is possible, but you should be an experienced climber and hire a guide. It's accessible in the winter and can look even more spectacular with the northern lights. It's part of our West and South 8-day tour.

Esjufjöll is another option, but it is located within the Vatnajökull icecap and is more challenging to access.


Active Volcanoes

A volcanic eruption in Iceland hits the news every few years. Iceland is extremely active and a good place to view volcanoes and lava, as long as you are careful and follow any signs or instructions.

The recent eruption in Reykjanes is not a tourist attraction due to its size, but the peninsula is highly active and unavoidable, as it's the location of Keflavik airport. But you can visit Fagradasfjall volcano and lava fields. Properly explore Reykjanes as part of our South Coast of Iceland itinerary, which includes the Krýsuvík geothermal area. Check for up-to-date information as the area is currently very active.

You can also see amazing activity at Vestmannaeyjar, Eyjafjallajökull, Katla, Hekla, Tindfjallajökull, Torfajökull, Örćfajökull, Esjufjöll, Ţórđarhyrna, Grímsvötn, Bárđarbunga, Kverkfjöll, Tungnafellsjökull, Snćfell, Askja, Fremrinámar, Heiđarsporđar, Krafla, Ţeistareykir, Hofsjökull, Langjökull, Prestahnúkur, Ljósufjöll, Helgrindur, Snćfellsjökull, Grímsnes, Hrómundartindur, Hengill, Brennisteinsfjöll, Krýsuvík,  and Eldey. Yes, it's a long list.


Mid-Atlantic Rift

Lastly, the Mid-Atlantic Rift runs right through Iceland. The ongoing separation of Europe and America is an essential factor in the volcanism here, as it creates a rift in the Earth's crust.

At Ţingvellir, you can take a selfie with one foot on each continental plate, as well as explore the site of the oldest parliament in Europe. But if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can snorkel in the rift! The Silfra Fissure is a water-filled gap between the two plates and it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You will need a guide, and due to the water temperature, the experience involves a drysuit snorkel. We can assist you in booking this incredible adventure.

Another fun selfie op is the Bridge Between Continents on the Reykjanes peninsular. There's a big fissure and there's a footbridge that goes across it.


Amazing photo of the Mid-Atlantic Rift, located in Iceland Mid-Atlantic Rift  in Iceland at Ţingvellir

If you want to witness the breathtaking beauty of Iceland's geological features, including mesmerizing geysers and hot springs, book one of our self-driving tours for an unforgettable adventure. We will also do a customized itinerary for you. Contact Tour. is to find out more and book your next adventure.

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