Mount Hekla is the most active volcano in Iceland,with more than 20 eruptions since 874. The volcano is part of a volcanic ridge in South Iceland 40 km (25 mi) long.  The volcano resembles an overturned boat, its keel a series of craters (including two active ones).

The area around Hekla was once forested. Forest and some grasses are much more resilient to ash and pumice fall than low vegetation areas. However, the combined effect of human habitation and the volcanic activity left an unstable surface very susceptible to erosion. The Hekluskogar 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.

How many times has Hekla volcano erupted?

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.

Geologists in Iceland keep a close eye on the volcano since an eruption is imminent. There are many monitors placed on the mountain which measure any geological changes. In 2000, scientists could see it before hand so people in the area had half-an-hour notice before the eruption started.

“Hekla” is a word for a short hooded cloak in Icelandic, so the name may refer to the frequent cloud cover on Hekla’s summit. After the eruption of 1104, stories spread through Europe by Cistercian monks 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 volcano 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 it takes about 3 to 4 hours to walk. Skiing around the rim of the crater is also possible in the spring time.  You can also go mountaineering in the summer. Visitors do need to be aware that the volcano can erupt without a warning, so it’s on each person to decide whether he or she wants to take that risk.

Located in the area is the Hekla Center that provides tourists with information and advice about the volcano and its surroundings. It also houses an exhibition on the mountain and organizes artistic events and programs.

Things to see around Hekla Volcano

Surrounding the Hekla area are other interesting places and natural wonders to see.  The nearby Thjorsardalur valley has several beautiful waterfalls and fascinating rock formations. the valley also is home to the Viking farm ruins, Stong. The farm had been buried under  lava from the 1104 Hekla eruption. An interesting recreation of the farm’s longhouse stands on the site. Thjorsardalur was a filming location for Game of Thrones.

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 16 km drive to the volcano. We recommend that use a 4WD vehicle since there are many steep slopes and rutted roads 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.