Snæ-fells-nes merely means ‘snow mountain peninsula’, which it clearly is. Covered in a permanent shield of lumpy ice, Mt Snæfellsjökull (1,446m) is the tallest mountain in the long row of grey peaks that divides the sea between Breiðafjörður and Faxaflói. Rising alone from the water, no other point is so visible from the rest of Iceland as this one majestic volcano.
Be you in Reykjavík or in the West Fjords, a sunny day will grant you a vision of the mountain and its glacier. As you approach the peninsula the view becomes even more astounding, but once you arrive at the base, the mountain disappears – it is too big to see up close. The mystique of Snæfellsnes lies in its remarkable terrain, the energy of the mountains and the legends connected to this place.
Snæfellsnes seems a determined detour that might feel like going way out on a limb. Anxious tourists often bypass the whole area just to make good distance on the ring road. That is a big mistake, since they are missing a most magnificent place. This long volcanic ridge is a natural paradise with very few people and memorable landscapes. Serious hikers will want to trek any of the many trails, especially those that cross the peninsula – a short distance that ascends some mighty mountains.
Snæfellsjökull is the smallest of Iceland’s three national parks. It might also be the most fascinating, for the twisted lava shapes, its compact size, and the contrast from sea to icy summit. Geologists consider Mt Snæfellsjökull dormant but Icelanders insist the mountain is very much alive – the last eruption took place 1,800 years ago, but the previous 10,000-year period saw some 20 different eruptions. The volcano is one of the best-known Icelandic mountains outside Iceland, thanks to the adventure novelist Jules Verne, whose tale Journey to the Centre of the Earth takes its protagonists into the earth through the Snæfellsjökull volcano. Although he never travelled to Iceland, Verne aptly described the top of the mountain as a ‘vast dome of white’. In actuality, the summit is a deep 300m crater surrounded by three separate peaks. That means the glacier takes the shape of a lens filling the hollow of the volcano with a globe of ice.
As a national park, Snæfellsjökull offers a tranquil escape with powerful views. Below the white cap, the sloping lava descends into a rough and desolate landscape of grey-black hills, craters, cliffs, and fields of broken lava rock. This is not some kind of action-packed adventure land at the edge of a volcano. On the contrary, wandering through this lost world feels meditative and ethereal. If anything, Snæfellsjökull is pure silence. It’s gorgeous and serene, so if you have some spare time, be sure to spend it here.
Getting there and away
Snæfellsjökull features its very own ‘ring road’: Route 574 skirts the shoreline all the way around the park. The paved Route 54 connects the loop between Búðir and Ólafsvík, while the scenic but more difficult unpaved Route 570 crosses quite close to the mountain’s summit. Every major tour company offers day trips to the national park from Reykjavík, with stops at all the major ‘attractions’. The ring loop is also perfect for cyclists.