Thousands of hikers descend on active Icelandic volcano

Magma flow from active volcano
(Image credit: Getty)

Officials in Iceland are warning visitors to be extremely careful as thousands of hikers arrive to witness an active volcano that began erupting last week.

As Smithsonian Magazine reports, the eruption in Meradalir Valley arose from a huge fissure the length of three football fields, and so far over 20,000 people have made the trek to take in the spectacular sight for themselves.

The Icelandic government has called the eruption "relatively small" and explained that it poses little risk to infrastructure such as roads, or to populated areas. However, getting up close and personal with the lava flow could be dangerous, no matter how incredible it looks.

Eruptions are unpredictable, and conditions can change rapidly if the ground becomes unstable. There's also the risk posed by toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide, which can be particularly severe for children and animals. The Icelandic Meteorological Office warns that gas pollution could exceed safe levels at any time, accumulating in the valleys and then being forced upwards by prevailing winds.

No walk in the park

According to National Geographic writer Robin George Andrews, it's difficult to predict how long the eruption will last, or how much lava it will produce. It may end soon, or the eruption may spread beyond the valleys to the sea, where lava will create plumes of toxic gases.

Licensed guides aren't wasting time waiting, and are already busy leading hikes to the site, but just walking there can be dangerous for inexperienced visitors. Travel site Iceland Review reports that two people had to be rescued en route to the valley last week, including one who broke their ankle on the trail. According to a local police commissioner, many people have been attempting the 10.6 mile hike late in the day to see the lava flow in the evening, but have set out without flashlights.

Two children also suffered hypothermia while walking to the site with their parents, and those under 12 have now been banned from visiting. According to Reykjavik Grapevine , police have been monitoring the trail with surveillance cameras, and rescue workers have marked it out with stakes to help stop hikers wandering off-course.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.