Mount Hekla is located in the highly active volcanic zone along the south shore and is the most active volcano in Iceland with more than 20 eruptions since 874. The volcano is part of a volcanic ridge, 40 km (25 mi) long. The most active part of this ridge is a fissure about 5.5 km (3.4 mi) long named Heklugja. The volcano resembles an overturned boat, its keel a series of craters, two of which are generally the most active.
The area around Hekla was once forested. Forest and some grasses are much more resilient to ash and pumice fall than low vegetation. However the combined effect of human habitation and the volcanic activity has left an unstable surface very susceptible to erosion. The Hekluskógar reforestation project is working to restore the previously present birch and willow woodland to the slopes of the mountain. This would stabilize the large areas of volcanic ash and help to reduce erosion. It is the largest reforestation of its type in Europe.
The infamous volcano has had at least twenty eruptions since the settlement of Iceland in 874 AD. The biggest eruption was in 1104 AD when it erupted without warning, ejecting millions of tonnes of tephra. It erupted four times in the 20th century, the last time in 2000.
Hekla is a word for a short hooded cloak in Icelandic which may relate to the frequent cloud cover on the summit. After the eruption of 1104, stories, probably spread deliberately through Europe by Cistercian monks, told that the mountain was the gateway to Hell. It has also been called the prison of Judas and there is still a legend that witches gather on the volcanoe for Easter.
Things to do around Hekla Volcano
Hekla is a popular destination for hikers. The trail leads most of the way to the summit, and takes about 3 to 4 hours to walk. Skiing, around the rim of the crater, is also possible in the spring time. There you can also go mountaineering in the summer. Travellers do need to be aware though, that the volcano can erupt without a warning, so it’s on each person to decide whether they want to take that risk.
Located in the area is Hekla Center, providing tourists with information and advice about the volcano and its surroundings, as well as housing an exhibition on the mountain and organizing artistic events and programs.
Things to see around Hekla Volcano
Surrounding the Hekla area are other interesting places and natural wonders to see, for example Thjorsardalur valley, in which are several beautiful waterfalls and fascinating rock formations. Close by is also the Viking farm Stong. The ruins were excavated centuries after it got buried under lava flow of the 1104 eruption.
How to get to Hekla
The staff at the Hekla Center at Leirubakki Farm can best guide you on how to get to Hekla. From there, you have a 16km drive to the volcano. We recommend that you go on 4WD due to the many steep slopes and ruts on the way.
Hekla is about 90 minutes drive from Reykjavik and on clear days is towers over the southern part of Iceland. If you follow the Golden Circle route, you won’t miss it.
Check out our complete guide to the South Coast.