Hverfjäll Crater, Iceland

Hverfjäll is a 2500 year old tephra crater that rises from the surrounding lava fields. It is a short but steep walk to the crater rim allowing stunning views across Lake Mývatn towards Dimmuborgir and back towards the Krafla region.

Hverfjäll crater in Iceland formed 2800 years ago in black and white

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Hiking Hverfjäll

As we stand at the base of Hverfjäll all enthusiasm for the climb is fading.  The top of the crater, 180 metres away up an ash covered slope, seems hardly worth the effort.  As the path ascends the outer wall of the crater the surrounding landscape comes into context.  The endless lava fields slope to the shore of Lake Mývatn and the weird formations of lava at Dimmuborgir formed during the eruption can be seen looming in the distance. 

In the opposite direction small craters can be seen towards Krafla which still steams and grumbles today.  Hverfjaäll is at one end of a 1800 metre eruption rift formed about 2800 years ago and is part of the 90km long Krafla fissure system.  

READ MORE: KRAFLA

As the volcano erupted the magma came into contact with water and this caused massive steam explosions.  These explosions ripped the magma apart forming materials known as tephra and scoria (rocks of basalt lava with a frothy appearance).  Initially large clouds of ash were ejected scattering over a large area and these were followed by pyroclastic flows caused by the tephra.  These flows can be seen across the area as tuff hills.

As the path reaches the crater an amazing sight is presented.  Unlike a normal crater this crater has an inner ‘peak’ almost like a mini volcano within a volcano. The crater is about 140 metres deep but the inner peak appears tiny compared to the overall crater.  It is a little lopsided, not the usual circular crater as a landslide during the eruption distorted its appearance.  

The crater is thought to be one of the largest of its type in the world and is just over 1000 metres in diameter.   An undulating walk around the rim is possible although the wind howls even on a summer’s day. However, it is worth it for the views across Lake Mývatn, Dimmuborgir and across the Odadahraun lava fields to Mount Askja and Mount Herdubreid.

Photography Notes

Hverfjäll is quite difficult to photograph as it is black with limited features. For distant views it is best viewed from the rock formations at Dimmuborgir.

Once on the crater the ash and lava forms patterns where the water has run down over the centuries. Again it is very dark and cameras struggle with the bright sky and the dark volcanic material. I found the easiest way was to use my phone which worked well or take three pictures with different settings which I blended and tweaked.

READ MORE: TONE IN PHOTOGRAPHY

Given the scale of the crater it is almost impossible to fit the whole rim of the crater and the inside in one image. A stitched panorama is really the only option if you don’t have an extreme wide angle lens. The black and white image above was taken with a 24mm lens on a full frame camera and barely fits. In the ideal world I would have used an even wider lens or taken two images. However, two adventurous boys, a howling gale and limited time were against me.

The best views of the crater are from the top of the path where the smaller peak can be seen. For views across Lake Mývatn and towards Krafla you need to walk to the far side of the crater which takes a further 20 minutes. From here the smaller peak merges into the crater and isn’t as clear.

Getting to Hverfjäll

Hverfjäll is just a short distance from Lake Mývatn. It is signposted from route 848 heading south from Lake Mývatn. The track to the car park is rough gravel and ash but is accessible by most vehicles. There is a large car park with toilets and an information centre.

There are lots of options to stay around Lake Mývatn which is a short distance from this hike and this 10 day self-drive tour will take you past Hverfjall

Hverfjäll Hike Details

Distance: 4.5km to walk around the crater
Minimum time: 1 hour
Ascent: 196m
Start and Finish: Hverfjäll Visitors Centre
Road: On Road 848 close to Reykjahlíð
Parking: 65.61342°N, 16.87523°W
Nearest Town: Reykjahlíð

The path from the car park is clearly marked. It is steep and the gracel and ash underfoot slides around but takes just 20minutes even at a slow pace. Care should be taken to stay on the path as the surrounding landscape is fragile.

Other Places Close to Hverfjäll

  • Dimmuborgir – Amazing lava formations which are a 45 minute walk from Hverfjäll or a short drive away
  • Grjótagjá cave – This cave has a deep blue geothermal pool but the temperatures are too high for bathing. It is a short scramble into this magical little cave
  • Leirhnjukur and Hverir – close to Krafla is this area of geothermal activity. With fumaroles, hot springs and mud pools it is a fantastic place to explore