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An active volcano at the heart of the south coast of Iceland, Katla is a magnificent mountain covered by the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Visit Katla to discover the raw power of the earth.
Aerial view of Katla Volcano and glacier.
Best time to visit
Summer
Coordinates
63.65053, -19.11458
Distance from Reykjavík
160km (100mi)

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How to experience Iceland’s magnificent Katla volcano

The history of the Katla volcano: Eruptions and more

You’ll often hear Katla referred to as the most dangerous volcano in Iceland.

In some ways, that’s fair. The volcano is immensely powerful, and an eruption is thought to be imminent. But Katla hasn’t proven itself to be so deadly. In fact, there are no records of fatalities resulting from its eruptions—no matter how powerful and frequent they might be.

Katla erupts every 40 to 80 years on average, although not all of these are major events. In 2011, for example, a minor eruption is thought to have occurred beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. It melted some of the ice, causing a glacial flood in the Múlakvísl river, which swept away a small bridge. No one was hurt.

Major eruptions are much less frequent. There have been only 20 major eruptions recorded in the last 5,000 years, the last being in 1918. During this latest event, molten rock caused the glacier to melt. The mixture of water, dust, and ash extended the land of Iceland by about five kilometres out to sea. Again, no one was hurt.

Now, in recent years, another eruption has been expected. In 2016 and 2017, small earthquakes were recorded at the volcano, in a sign that something was going on. What’s more, scientists have noted that every time Eyjafjallajökull erupts, Katla doesn’t wait too long to erupt either. Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010—you may remember it—suggesting more activity is on its way.

That said, Katla is perfectly safe to visit. It’s monitored at all times for tremors and minor eruptions, so if something big is about to happen, we’ll know about it before it does. The only thing to be aware of is that that’s expected fairly soon.

How to visit the Katla volcano

As we said, the Katla volcano and its surroundings are perfectly safe to visit. It’s something you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Iceland.

Katla is situated at the heart of Iceland’s south coast, partially covered by the glacier known as Mýrdalsjökull. You can see this glacier from Route 1, Iceland’s Ring Road, or from the small fishing village of Vík. In fact, it’s visible from most of the drive along the south coast.

There are many ways to get closer to this famed volcano. Whether you want to see Katla on a hike, a snowmobile, or on an ice cave adventure, there’s something here for everyone.

One of the most popular ways to visit Katla is on a glacier hike. Starting from the Sólheimajökull base camp—next to the Sólheimajökull glacier, an offshoot of Mýrdalsjökull, you can hike up to a series of panoramic points. You’ll see Eyjafjallajökull and, of course, the mighty Katla.

Alternatively, explore Mýrdalsjökull on a snowmobile. Mýrdalsjökull is the glacier that covers part of the Katla volcano—and it typically cracks and partially melts when the volcano erupts. The rest of the time, as Iceland’s fourth largest glacier, it’s a gorgeous icy expanse stretching far into the distance.

You’ll ride across the ice and explore the breathtaking forms of this active volcanic landscape. You won’t get views like this anywhere else.

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not explore beneath the ice too? The Katla volcano ice cave is a natural cave in the Kötlujökull glacier, another offshoot of Mýrdalsjökull. It’s known for being one of the few caves in Iceland that can be visited all year round. Visit to get a different perspective on this mighty volcano.

Other things to see around Katla

The Katla volcano is at the heart of southern Iceland. It’s also the centrepiece of the Katla UNESCO Global Geopark, an area of global importance thanks to its very special geographic assets.

That means there’s plenty to see in the area, from other volcanoes to glaciers, and even beaches made of black sand.

For instance, the Geopark is home to one of the most geothermally active areas in Iceland. You’ll find the notorious volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull, Grímsvötn, Lakagígar, and Eldgjá, in the region, alongside Katla itself. Volcanic landforms such as black-sand plains and lava flows are difficult to find anywhere else. It’s well worth exploring this area on an all-terrain vehicle tour.

Alternatively, visit the area between Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull to see the impact that volcanoes can have. Take the Fimmvörðuháls hiking route, for example, between Þórsmörk and Skógar, to see the craters formed in the 2010 eruption.

While you’re in the area, make sure you stop to see the immense waterfalls that are dotted along this part of the coast. Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss are two of the most impressive.

Finally, don’t miss Vík, the village that lives in the shadow of Katla. With its lively atmosphere and the nearby Reynisfjara—the famous black-sand beach—it’s a must-visit on the south coast.

All about Katla Volcano

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