Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Spelunking: Exploring Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Spelunking has always been an intriguing adventure to me. First of all, I just love that word. Second, the thought of exploring dark, underground passageways is always an exciting feat. So, when I was researching for our Snæfellsnes peninsula road trip and came across the chance to take a journey into a cave formed by lava, I knew we couldn’t pass it up.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Vatnshellir Cave is a lava tube cave located under Snæfellsjökull glacier. This cave is located in Snæfellsjökull National Park, which is where the story began in the Jule Verne novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. It was fun to think about how this area was the setting for the adventures of such a famous story.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

We arrived at the cave in time for their 2:00 p.m. tour and got geared up and ready to head out. Flashlights and helmets were distributed, and we gathered near our guide to learn a bit of information about the cave. Vatnshellir Cave was formed around 8,000 years ago when a nearby volcano erupted. Once the eruption stopped, the top layer of lava hardened while the lava underneath kept flowing, and on a very basic level, this is how the cave was formed. The cave is filled with stories from Icelandic Saga, and we learned about Bárður, who is said to have lived here before he disappeared into the Snæfellsjökull glacier after a family tragedy.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

There are many lava tube caves in the surrounding area, but this is the only one open for tours. Vatnshellir was closed by the National Park several years ago, but now, the company we took the tour with, Summit Adventure Guides, has been granted approval to guide visitors through the cave. They are the only operator allowed inside and all of the visits to the cave have to be guided.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

We made our way 35 meters underground and around 200 meters into the lava tube. Descending deep into the cave really did make it feel like you were heading towards the center of the earth! A spiral staircase led us down into the first chamber of the cave, and from there, we walked along a rocky path that led us further into the cave. We stopped several times to discuss the various features and formations inside of the cave before heading down another spiral staircase. This staircase was over twice the height of the first, and we spiraled our way down to the bottom, round and round and round again.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Once the entire group was at the bottom of the cave, we turned off our lights and devices to experience true darkness. When the lights were shut off, an eerie silence filled the air. We were standing in pitch black, and weren’t even able to see our hands in front of our faces. Then, once we all got a feel for the darkness, our guide took out a giant flashlight to light up the staircase–it was amazing to see just how far down we had gone.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

All too soon, it was time to head back up the giant staircases. Let me just say, it felt much longer going up than down! Either way, we loved getting a look into this unique slice of Iceland that will likely keep changing because of the active geothermal landscapes surrounding it.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Once we emerged back into daylight, we decided it was time to slowly make our way back to Reykjavik. On our drive back to the city, we noticed a parking lot with a trail that led into a nearby rift, and we couldn’t resist stopping. So, off we went—out to explore once again.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

It turns out that this rift is called Rauðfeldsgjá, and it’s a fissure that was formed in the Botnsfjall mountain. The entrance to the rift is a short 10 minute or so walk from the parking lot and a slight uphill climb.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Once you reach the base of the mountain, you can make your way inside the rift by hopping along stones in the river. You will be welcomed with an ice cold river and a chamber with vibrant, mossy walls that tower high above. It was serene.

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

Rifts and Caves in Iceland

If you would like to explore further, you can hop the rocks and make your way up the stream. Apparently, there is a rope that you can use to pull yourself up and over rocks in the river. We didn’t climb too far upriver because we didn’t want to get our only hiking shoes wet; however, we did see several others venture up ahead of us. We were so glad that we ended up stopping at the rift to explore—it was a great addition to our afternoon tour through the cave.

Essential Information

  • Vatnshellir Cave is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the summer and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the winter. Tours are offered every hour on the hour, but check the Summit Adventure Guides’ website for current hours, pricing and schedules as details may change.
  • Access to the cave is only available via a tour—the tours are 45 minutes long. Tickets can be purchased from the small ticket booth on site or in advance from the website, and the booth can be found right off Road 574 along the southern portion of the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
  • Wearing good sturdy shoes is a must (no heels or flip flops allowed), and warm clothes and gloves are recommended. I forgot to bring gloves and my hands were freezing—the railing on the staircase got quite cold!
  • Rauðfeldsgjá rift is also located off Road 574 and it is east of Vatnshellir Cave. There is a parking lot located just off the road and the hike to the base of the mountain is around 10 minutes.
  • If you plan to hike through the river, it’s a good idea to wear waterproof boots/shoes/clothes and be prepared to get wet. The rocks can be slippery and dangerous, so if you decide to hike further into the rift, go at your own risk and be careful!

 

Have you ever explored any rifts or caves in Iceland? Share your favorites in the comments below!

 

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22 Comments
  • Suze
    Twitter:
    Posted at 16:22h, 11 February Reply

    We visited Iceland in April and I’d love to go back as we didn’t get time to explore a lava cave. Did it feel claustrophobic? It must have been a fantastic experience
    Suze recently posted…8 True Moments for Atypical Tourists in LanzaroteMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:57h, 16 February Reply

      It was a great experience! We didn’t feel claustrophobic at all–I was actually surprised how open it felt! If someone is super claustrophobic it would probably be a challenge, but there was a lot of space to move around and the ceilings were all high!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Cabin Getaway in the Adirondack MountainsMy Profile

  • Rhonda Albom
    Posted at 18:16h, 11 February Reply

    I am so glad you took the time to share this with us. My fear of even the thought of exploring dark, underground passageways is so great, I could feel it welling up as you descended. And unlike you, I think my journey up would have been much faster than the way down. However, it looks like a really cool experience. We have some lava caves in New Zealand, but as I am sure you already know, I haven’t been in them.
    Rhonda Albom recently posted…Walking through History: Alnwick Castle (Hogwarts) in EnglandMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:00h, 16 February Reply

      Thanks, Rhonda! Haha, yeah I can see where you’d want to rush up the stairs! It was a cool experience and the space felt pretty open, but I can definitely understand that fear. Would be cool to check out the lava caves in New Zealand sometime too–thanks for the heads up!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Cabin Getaway in the Adirondack MountainsMy Profile

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman
    Posted at 01:38h, 12 February Reply

    I have been active in the caving community for some time. We have a saying – caves rescue spelunkers. Of course, I think those two terms are timed to be out of phase so you never know which one is cool at any given moment. Kind of like earrings in high school. Was it your left ear, right ear, both ears? I never could figure that. It’s always impressive to be underground and experience utter darkness. They say, if you keep looking into the darkness your mind will make up images to fill the void. Still, despite all of that, I think I liked the impromtue hike to the rift better. Not only is it a self guided journey into the unknown, you didn’t explore it to the bitter end (sorry, had to drop the rope joke). You left your readers… dangling. Thank you for a great read and gorgeous pictures.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:45h, 16 February Reply

      Haha, too funny about that earring analogy! I can’t quite remember either. That’s awesome that you are active in the caving community–would be fun to do more caving in the future. The rift was a super fun hike and we loved how unexpected it was! Sorry to leave you hanging, lol! 🙂
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Cabin Getaway in the Adirondack MountainsMy Profile

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman
    Posted at 02:31h, 12 February Reply

    Hello Jenna and Micah,

    Hope that you don’t mind a second comment but the story of Rauðfeldsgjá and what lies at the end of the fissure is still dancing through my head. I did a google search and came up with a couple of articles similar to yours (but not as beautiful of photography) that talk about a hike along a stream with a rope at the end. If you find out where that rope goes you should shoot us an email. The mystery is intense.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:48h, 16 February Reply

      No problem at all–never mind additional comments! 🙂 I will definitely let you know if we ever figure out where that rope goes! I’ve been curious myself. It was such a gorgeous spot and I would love to head back and see where it ends the next time we are in Iceland!!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Cabin Getaway in the Adirondack MountainsMy Profile

  • Efthimis K.
    Posted at 04:01h, 12 February Reply

    Reading your story and watching the photos, it was like watching again the movie “the Descent”, so spooky! Especially when you said that you were standing in pitch black for a while. The landscape outside the caves is mesmerizing and I would love to see it in person soon!

  • Vicki Louise
    Twitter:
    Posted at 20:30h, 12 February Reply

    I’ve always wanted to try Spelunking, but looking at your photos I’m not sure if I’d be more afraid of the dark or scared of feeling claustrophobic! It would be an incredible thing to see though so I’d hope that I would toughen up and just do it!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:30h, 16 February Reply

      It was a really fun time, but I can see where you could be hesitant! This one actually felt pretty open, we didn’t have to squeeze through any tight spaces, and thankfully the flashlights were pretty bright!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Cabin Getaway in the Adirondack MountainsMy Profile

  • Leah
    Posted at 03:18h, 13 February Reply

    Sign me up for spelunking in Iceland. I hate heights and closed areas, but I’d give it a try nonetheless. I must admit, I was looking for Fraggles in your photos. Maybe you’re too young to get that reference. 🙂
    Leah recently posted…Comment on Six Sexy Hotels in Paris by Vicki LouiseMy Profile

  • Emily
    Posted at 03:50h, 13 February Reply

    That looks like so much fun! Would love to give it a go – experiencing pitch black darkness would be interesting. Although we’re going to Iceland this summer we won’t be able to do this as we’ve got small children with us, but I might explore the fissure! Loved your photos too.

  • Laura Lynch
    Twitter:
    Posted at 06:12h, 13 February Reply

    It’s nice that the cave was opened back up again for tourists to see on a guided tour. Safety and respect are better handled by a company. It looks really incredible. The darkness would be a little scary.

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:19h, 16 February Reply

      Yeah, we were glad the cave was opened back up. And I agree–while it’s nice to be able to explore on your own, it’s great to have a company taking care of it and offering a safe experience!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Cabin Getaway in the Adirondack MountainsMy Profile

  • Joan Torres
    Posted at 07:54h, 14 February Reply

    Amazing photos. Haven’t been to Iceland but, I’m seeing lately a lot of articles about this Scandinavian island so, maybe I should give it a try! I had no idea that this was the beginning of the story of the Journey to the center of Earth or at least, I don’t remember about it. The exit was Italy, right?
    Joan Torres recently posted…Beirut Travel Guide: Things to do and much more!My Profile

  • elisa
    Posted at 13:23h, 14 February Reply

    When I started reading this post I immediately thought about Jules Verne’s novel and few words later you confirmed it to me. This is something that I absolutely want to do when I will go to Iceland and you put the name and location. Thanks for sharing, pinning also the article for future use 🙂

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