Going Inside a Volcano

Going on a campervan trip in Iceland gives you a lot of bragging rights among your friends back home. You can tell them all about the breakfasts you cooked beside a glacier, nights spent chasing the midnight sun, or camping out like Walter Mitty.

But how many people can say they’ve been inside a volcano? Inside the magma chamber of a dormant, lava spewing beast? Turns out, only people that have been to Thríhnukagigur Volcano in Iceland. It’s the only one in the world you can enter and more people have been to outer-space than inside it.

The name Thríhnukagigur translates to “three peaks crater.” It’s also the same volcano that Icelandic band Kaleo recorded this music video in.

Typically, when volcanoes erupt, everything shoots out of the cone and either one of two things happens: the volcano centre solidifies into a mountain, or the whole cone is blasted away from the pressure and only a crater remains. All across the bubbling earth there’s only one volcano where the lava left a hollow centre and in-tact shell, safe enough to go inside and explore.

So, let’s go through this journey to the centre of the earth. I promise you’ll come back alive.

Step 1:

Book a spot with Inside the Volcano. They operate tours into Thríhnukagigur from mid-May to mid-October, weather and eruption dependent of course. Eruptions aren’t likely, but weather in Iceland is always surprising.

Step 2:

Take your campervan to Brennisteinsfjöll and meet the guides at the welcome centre. From Reykjavík, take Road 1 south toward Selfoss. Prior to the mountain pass, you’ll notice Road 417 toward the Bláfjallaskáli ski resort. At the welome centre, you’ll be greeted by your volcano guru and other travelers arriving by bus.

Step 3:

Gear up and prepare for a rolling hike. It’s a 45 minute stroll through lava fields to the base of the volcano, so wear appropriate gear. Döog, my tour guide for the day geared us up with bright, neon green rain jackets. They worked well on the sunny walk over to the base, but didn’t cover completely for the sideways rain and wind on the return trip.

As always in Iceland, common sense and over preparation will keep you warm, dry, and happy. I recommend water resistant pants and hiking boots, gloves, and something to cover your ears. If you want to see the volcano but can’t make the hike, helicopter trips to the base are also available.

Step 4:

Hike! After a safety briefing from your guide, you’ll head out for the walk. One guide leads the faster walkers of the group, while another brings up the rear. You’ll walk from the Eurasian tectonic plate on the south side of the Reykjanes peninsula, across the fault and to the North American plate. The ridges of each are rapidly separating from one another at a pace of 2 cm/year.

Toward the end of your hike you’ll ascend toward base camp, a small building where you’ll break and warm up with tea or coffee. Then you’ll go through one more briefing and gear up with a harness and helmet.

Step 5:

Volcano! A brief walk up the side of the volcano brings you to the entrance: a lift suspended above the drained conduit system of the scoria cone where magma once flowed upward and out during the last eruption 4,000+ years ago.

From the edge you’ll be attached with a grappling hook to the suspended bridge, out to the open cage lift…

Excited? This is where it gets interesting.

Step 6:

Descend into the centre of Thríhnukagigur. The lift operator and your guide will assist you along the way, slowly lowering you down 120 meters (about 400 feet or 40 stories). For reference, that’s larger than the statue of liberty.

As you’re lowered, you’ll pass by various layers of lava. Going down, down, down the walls of the volcano change in what looks like painted hues of crimson, oranges, and deep purples.

Step 6: Take a stroll around the base of the volcano centre. Really! The guide will safely detach you from the lift and tell you a bit about the beyond that, you can climb over the rocks near the perimeter of the base. Dead centre is the lift and “drop zone,” particularly known for killing iPhones that were dangling over the edge of the cage.

Pro Tip: hold onto your phone.

You’ll definitely want to bring a phone camera or high quality camera, as it’s a breathtaking experience. Using your helmet light instead of a flash is a great trick to enhance the lighting.

Step 6: Strike a pose! Do a dance, sing a song, or preform with your band. The acoustics inside Thríhnukagigur are particularly special.

Step 7:

Ascend back up! Once your guide has everyone ready, you’ll clip back to the lift and ascend up out of the volcano. From there you’ll descend back down the side of the peak to base camp for a hot bowl of Icelandic meat soup. When everyone’s ready, there’s the 45 minute stroll back to the welcome centre.

This adventure is definitely a once in a lifetime experience, worth the ticket. I highly recommend it and suggest you check out the Inside the Volcano website for more questions and info. You can also experience a VIP concert inside the volcano during Secret Solstice music festival if you’re really up for it.

Don’t forget to share your photos from the trip along with the rest of your Happy Campers adventure. If you’re ready to go on this adventure, click below:

Happy, volcanic camping!