Iceland's ice caves are some of the wildest natural formations of any in the world. They're beautiful and altogether quite illusionary; sometimes, it's unclear where one begins and where it ends. This is part of the allure of visiting one, though, and it's why so many people book tours to Iceland when there are two feet of snow on the ground.

Iceland is a country that's beautiful no matter the time of the year, and its ice caves only make it that much more of an enticing offer to avid travelers. For those who don't mind getting a bit chilly and find themselves feeling uber adventurous, here's what to know about taking an ice cave tour.

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Iceland's Ice Caves

Interestingly enough, the ice caves in Iceland aren't always found in the same spots. These 'caves' occur when water melts in a way that makes it cave-like, creating an entrance from which visitors can enter and exit. They're also known as crystal caves due to the way the light is refracted within them, resembling - as the name implies - crystals. These caves are so impressive because they require an entire year of seasons in order to form. When higher summer temperatures make their way around, the existing glaciers left over from the winter and spring seasons begin to melt.

As the ice melts, it creates streams of water that essentially carve out tunnels in the glacier itself. While the entire thing doesn't melt, it melts enough to allow people to squeeze through - i.e. the 'caves.' This process takes months and by the time winter rolls back around, everything is frozen solid again. This makes the process very unique to Iceland's geology and while it's not the only country with ice caves, it's one of the best for ice cave tours.

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When To Go & Where To See Them

According to Happiest Outdoors, the two main ice caves are located in one of two places, and one of them is privately owned. The reason visitors need to be on a tour to see both of them is that while one is not privately owned, it's still a risky excursion. That's not to say it's unsafe but there are risks associated with visiting the ice caves, and it's better to do so with a tour (self-guided tours are not permitted in any way).

When To Visit The Ice Caves

Iceland's ice caves are only open during the winter months which, obviously, is when they're the safest to visit. This is when they're frozen solid and since the temperatures from the middle of November until the middle of March are quite frigid, there's little chance of anything thawing until April. While the glacier might still seem intact during the warmer months, no one should be lulled into a false sense of security. Warm temperatures mean that there's a high risk of ice cracking, which can make the entire cave unstable. Additionally, glacial water is constantly running out of the caves during the spring, summer, and fall, which can also become a hazard.

Where To Find Ice Caves

It's pretty easy to find Iceland's most popular ice caves. Those that are the closest to Rekjavik are:

  • Mýrdalsjökull (Katla Caves near the Vik glacier)
  • Svínafellsjökull (found in Skaftafell National Park)
  • Langjokull (a man-made ice cave, requires a tour reservation since it's on private land)

Two ice caves that are just as popular but do require a five-hour drive from Reykjavik are found in Vatnajokull National Park. This is in the southeast part of the country and while tours can be booked, visitors might need to find transportation there themselves. Travelers can either rent a car and drive themselves or find a mini-bus tour that will take them to Vatnajokull National Park.

Ice Cave Tour Companies

There are many tour companies in existence now that can take travelers through caves found around Iceland. Those looking for a basic tour can opt for those in Vatnajokull National Park, those that tour the Katla Caves, or those that explore the private, man-made cave Langjokull. No matter which tour company travelers go with, they should plan on booking their tour at least two months in advance in order to secure a spot.

What To Know When Touring An Ice Cave

Visitors to the ice caves should be aware of the fact that more often than not, the ground within the cave is uneven. Therefore, good shoes should be worn (preferably those with good traction) and visitors should pay attention to their footing. There are no specialized skills required to take a tour of an ice cave, though, and visitors don't even need to be experienced hikers to do so. It probably also goes without saying, but it will be cold - dress in layers!

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