Deep in western Iceland lies a glacier. Well, it appears to be a glacier at first glance. It’s truthfully a volcano with a glacier cap. For 700,000 years, it sat in the Snæfellsnes peninsula, sometimes visible from the nearby city of Reykjavik. It’s called Snæfellsjökull, and it’s one of the most iconic sites in the country.

Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park

Snow-Fell Glacier

Reaching a height of 4,744 feet (1,446 meters), Snæfellsjökull is a stratovolcano located in the national park of the same name. Translating to “snow-fell glacier,” the mountain holds great significance both historically and culturally to Iceland. Archeological digs have discovered remains from the settlement of Iceland 1100 years prior, with curious dome structures nearby. Nobody knows who created them, but they’ve been dated to be between 500 and 700 years old.

Because the mountain is a volcano, what was once a thriving fishing destination is now a geological wonder. Lava flows have covered the nearby coast, which is currently covered with moss. Pockets of thriving plant life can be found, however. There are also plenty of caves, some of which can be explored with the aid of a guide. Unique to Snæfellsjökull National Park is the coastline, the only park in the country to extend to that point. Because of its varied nature, the shore is prime real estate for birds during mating and breeding season.

Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss is one of Iceland’s many folk tales, telling the story of the guardian spirit of Snæfellsjökull. Bárður was a half-human, half-troll who would roam “in grey cowl with a walrus-hide rope around him, and a cleft staff in his hand with a long and thick gaff.” In the saga, the people worshipped him, calling upon him during times of trouble. While the author’s name has been lost to history, the 14th-century epic is still a treasured story in Icelandic culture.

Snæfellsjökull mountain
Snæfellsjökull mountain

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Outside of Iceland, however, most people only know of Snæfellsjökull from its inclusion in the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. The story follows Professor Otto Lidenbrock as he travels through volcanic tubes leading to the Earth’s center. Lidenbrock, his nephew, and their guide make their trek using an entrance found in Snæfellsjökull. While the book is very clearly science fiction (it is unlikely any mastodons are living within the mountain), it still successfully brought attention to the landmark and helped make it the tourist destination it is today.

As previously mentioned, the area directly near the mountain was once a fishing haven. While the region is now under the protection of a national park, the nearby villages still thrive. Hellissandur, Rif, and Ólafsvík are all communities close to Snæfellsjökull with active ports. They’re also bustling commercial centers and cater to tourists well. Still, many prefer the further away but more accessible Reykjavik.

The park that Snæfellsjökull is part of has its own share of attractions. The Saxholl Crater offers great views of the surrounding areas with an easy climb to the top. Djúpalónssandur Beach offers four “strength stones,” the same used by sailors to test their might. Cave exploration is a popular activity, with such caverns as “the singing cave” Sönghellir.

Djupolansandur's strength stones
Djupolansandur’s strength stones

Snæfellsjökull is a beloved site for many reasons, both for its beauty and cultural significance. Natural icons like the mountain sometimes pale in comparison to human-made landmarks, but Snæfellsjökull is special. Human creations, both big and small, eventually fade away. But with almost a millennia under its belt, this mountain won’t be so easily reduced to rubble. Here’s to another 700,000 more, Iceland. May your glacier-volcano hybrid stand tall.

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