Formed over 3,500 years ago, the ancient lava cave of Lofthellir is home to some of Iceland’s most impressive natural ice formations. Stretching for 1,213 feet (370 meters) beneath the Laxardalshraun lava field, the lava tube has its own microclimate, with temperatures of 32°F (0°C), and visiting is an adventure in itself.
Most tours to Lofthellir set out from Akureyri, traveling by 4WD to Laxardalshraun then continuing on foot. To reach the cave, visitors have to hike across the lava fields (an easy, 30-minute hike over rough terrain), descend into the cave via rope ladder, and scramble (assisted by ropes) around the cave’s ice structures.
Inside the cave, the freezing microclimate and enveloping darkness only add to the experience, as you explore the honeycomb of underground chambers by flashlight, sliding down icy slopes and clambering around ice columns. It’s worth it for the magnificent scenery—glittering walls of ice, frozen stalactites and stalagmites, and gigantic ice sculptures carved out over thousands of years.
Things to Know Before You Go
Lofthellir is only accessible by guided tour.
Cave tours typically provide waterproof clothing, rubber boots, and flashlights, but bring warm clothes, sturdy hiking shoes, and plenty of water.
Follow the rules and avoid touching or disturbing any of the cave’s natural structures in order to preserve the fragile rock formations.
Although no hiking or climbing experience is necessary, visitors will be required to hike to the cave entrance and climb down a rope ladder into the cave.
There is no cell phone coverage or Wi-Fi at Lofthellir cave.
Lofthellir cave is not wheelchair-accessible and is not suitable for young children or those with limited mobility.
How to Get There
Lofthellir is located just east of Lake Mývatn, around 45 minutes by car. The closest international airport is in Akureyri, about a 1.5-hour drive away. Many visitors opt to join a guided tour with transportation from Akureyri or Lake Mývatn.
When to Get There
It is normally possible to explore Lofthellir cave all year round, although access is occasionally restricted in winter, depending on weather conditions.
Exploring Iceland’s Diamond Circle
The ice caves of Lofthellir are a popular inclusion on tours of the Diamond Circle, the 162-mile (260-kilometer) sightseeing route that links some of northern Iceland’s most impressive sights. Highlights of the route include nearby Lake Mývatn, where you’ll find the Mývatn thermal baths; the famous Dettifoss waterfall; and the mud pools of Hverir. Adventurous types can also enjoy hiking in Vatnajökull National Park, along the Tjörnes peninsula, or through the Gjástykki rift valley.