Lofthellir Cave is a lava cave renowned for its incredible ice formations in North Iceland.
Explore hidden depths on a lava cave tour in Iceland.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Lofthellir was formed in a volcanic eruption about 3,500 years ago. Like all lava caves, it was created when a river of lava cooled from the outside, forming a crust around the molten rock, which then flushed out, leaving a tube behind it. The lava field surrounding Lofthellir, also formed in this eruption, is called Laxardalshraun.
The cave itself is approximately 370 metres long, and varies in width throughout; entering it requires guests to crawl, but inside there are large, open spaces where you can comfortably walk. Due to the elements brought up from the mantle of the earth in the eruption, the walls and ceiling of the cave have interesting colourations, with red, yellow and green shades revealing deposits of iron, sulfur and copper respectively.
Officially, Lofthellir is an ice cave; while this term is usually attributed to the crystal blue caves underneath Vatnajökull, these are, in fact, glacier caves. Ice caves have permanent ice within them, but their structures are composed of rock.
The temperature of Lofthellir is around freezing throughout the year, meaning the beautiful ice structures do not melt. This ice forms when liquid water seeps through the porous lava rock above, and trickles down the walls and ceilings of the cave. This is what creates the ever growing icicles that make Lofthellir so unique.
Lofthellir is located several kilometres to the east of Lake Mývatn, and thus is most easily reached from the northern settlements of Akureyri, Húsavík and Reykjahlið. After parking near Mount Hvannfell, it is accessed by hiking for about half an hour across a relatively flat plane of lava.
The cave, however, should not be entered without the company of a professional guide. Not only are they familiar with the cave and the dangers associated with exploring it, but will provide you with a helmet, torch and crampons for safety. Furthermore, guides can tell you about the geology and folklore associated with Iceland’s lava tubes.