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One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, Hekla rises up from the lava fields and plains of the island’s south. While the last significant eruption was in the year 2000, the area around Hekla is constantly monitored for seismic activity and it is considered safe to visit. Those that do visit Hekla can enjoy miles of hiking trails, super jeep adventures and a landscape unique to this part of Iceland.
Snow-covered peak of Mount Hekla.

Experience Volcanic Activity at Mount Hekla

The History and Legends of Hekla Volcano

The Hekla volcano was formed thousands of years ago and is still one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. Formed from layers of ash and lava, it is considered a stratovolcano despite how it looks. Stratovolcanoes are usually cone-shaped, but Hekla is like a long ridge of heaped rock. In English, Hekla translates as ‘cloak’ and people speculate that the name derives from the near-constant presence of clouds around the volcano.

Since the year 874 AD, Hekla has seen 20 significant eruptions, though this volcanic system has been active since pre-historic times. Scientists have dated eruptions back as early as 5050 BCE. In 1104, one of Hekla’s most dramatic eruptions put it on the map. Half of Iceland was covered in tephra (rock fragments ejected by volcanic eruption) and farms and settlements within a 15-kilometre radius of Hekla had to be abandoned. The eruption became known across Europe, leading to one of the most famous myths around Hekla – Christians of the time believed that Hekla was one of the main doorways to Hell. In a text from the middle ages by Cistercian monks, Hekla was compared to Vesuvius which was considered the “chimney of Hell”. In the text, Vesuvius was called a “small furnace compared to this [Hekla’s] enormous Inferno.”

Hekla’s activity has been sporadic over the centuries with gaps as long as 250 years between eruptions, or as short as 10 years. On average, Hekla tends to erupt every 100 years, but since 1970 it has changed its pattern and small eruptions have occurred every 10 or so years. The last Hekla eruption was in the year 2000, a spectacle that featured fire fountains and bursts of Strombolian eruption. One of the biggest eruptions was in 1947 when bombs of lava spewed from the fissure and were thrown as far as 32 kilometres. The resulting ash cloud travelled as far as Helsinki. The activity continued over 13 months until it eventually settled down. Now, Hekla is monitored closely for any signs of seismic activity as it has been ready to erupt again since 2006.

How to Experience Hekla

There are a few ways to experience the beauty and awesome power of Hekla yourself. First, you can admire the volcano from the viewing platform at the LAVA Centre in nearby Hvolsvöllur while also learning about Iceland’s volcanic history. The drive from Reykjavík to Hekla takes around two and a half hours and is on mostly paved roads. However, if you want to drive closer to Hekla, a 4x4 or super jeep is required as it is an off-road experience.

Once you reach the Hekla area, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. Meandering walks lead past cascading waterfalls and through the valleys between the volcanic ridge, with views of Hekla at every turn. Hiking to the top of Hekla is not advised at all as the volcano system has been ready to erupt since 2006 and in the past there has been little warning before an eruption.

There is also the opportunity to experience Hekla by super jeep on a 4x4 adventure across the Hekla lava plains and up the slopes of the volcano. If slow and steady is more your thing, there are several horse farms in the area that offer horse riding experiences. The Icelandic horse is a unique animal and following the bridleways and narrow paths through the countryside on the back of a famously friendly, small horse is the perfect way to see this isolated part of the country.

Sight and Attractions around Hekla

Hekla is in the south of Iceland where there are plenty of natural wonders to fill your days with outdoor adventures. Nearby, you’ll find hikes past scenic waterfalls in the Gjáin

Valley, and trails that lead to the majestic cascades of Háifoss up in the hills and Hjálparfoss which sits within the lava fields of Mount Hekla. Within the area, you also have the small folk museum of The Commonwealth Farm which features a replica turf-roofed Viking farm and church – perfect for pictures.

If you plan on hitting the hiking trails around Hekla, you can stop off at the Secret Lagoon for a soothing soak on the way back to Reykjavík. The geothermally heated pool has attracted outdoor bathers since the 19th century and the bath-warm water is the ideal place to rejuvenate sore muscles after a long hike. If you’re refuelling after a hike or fueling up ready to hit the trail, Sólheimar eco-village can also be included on a day trip to Hekla. Here, geothermally heated greenhouses grow vegetables which are turned into hearty Icelandic soups and stews.

From Hekla, you can also re-join the Route One main road along the south coast of Iceland to experience glacier walks, black-sand beaches and fairytale waterfalls.

All About Hekla Volcano

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