Basalt Columns in Iceland: Names, Facts, and Features

Basalt Columns in Iceland

There are many defining characteristics of Iceland that make its unique geography stand out from any other country in the world. One of these geological structures is basalt columns made from hardened lava. It is a contraction of volcanic rock that hardens into a natural pillar as it cools.

Basalt itself is a common mineral compound. However, it is rare to find it in the long, thin pillars typical in iceland. Their increased presence in Iceland is because of the large amount of volcanic activity on the island. 

It gets its unique, hexagonal shape from its composition. It forms hexagons thanks to a feature called ‘columnar jointing,’ which influences the bonds to join each other to give them their unique shape.

The largest area of basalt columns is in the Stuðlagil Canyon in the Eastern region of Iceland. It has the largest number of basalt columns in all of Iceland and one of the largest collections in the world.

Throughout the rest of the article, we take a more in-depth look at each area with collections of these hexagonal basalt columns. We discuss their geological composition and their importance to the culture and architecture of Iceland.

1. Gerðuberg

Gerðuberg is a row of almost perfect hexagonal basalt columns to the degree that some people think they could have practically been carved by hand. They run along the side of a cliff on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the West region of Iceland, resembling a wall along the cliffside. They are just outside of the village of Rif in Iceland. 

These columns designate the area of an old lava field typical to this peninsula defined by a range of volcanoes. The best-known volcano that has been dormant for years is the  Snӕfellsjökull glacier volcano. It used to have frequent lava flows. These were what had caused the formation of Gerðuberg. 

Gerðuberg is typically one of the first sites you would visit along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula if you are coming from Reykjavik. You should travel along the southern edge of the peninsula, and you will inevitably see these columns as they run adjacent to both the road and the sea.

Since it is relatively close to Reykjavik, plenty of tours will take you around this peninsula. These tours will likely include the basalt columns and plenty of other beautiful features on the peninsula. 

2. Reynisfjara

Reynisfjara has recently increased in popularity. However, it was never an overly popular spot for Icelanders, and tourists have only recently started coming to this spot. These basalt columns are on Reynisfjara Beach. The columns were formed after lava flows from a volcano flowed onto the beach during high tide, and the sea rapidly cooled them.

Reynisfjara isn’t only famous because of the basalt columns. The beach itself is one of Iceland’s famous black beaches. It stretches three kilometers along the west coast around the mountain Reynisfjall. At the base of the mountain, you can find restrooms and even a restaurant. 

Take care when walking on the beach close to the columns. There have been some dangerous landslides in inclement weather, primarily during the winter. There are dormant volcanoes and glaciers all over the area. The area is also famous for Katla, the volcano that sleeps under 900 meters of ice. It wakes up for a rumble about every 100 years.

The beach to this natural wonder is accessible all year round. However, winter is the most challenging time to reach the beach because of frequent dangerous weather patterns and rough tides. Admission is free. To get there, you can use the Ring Road to the small village of Vik. If you travel from Reykjavik, take Reynishverfisvegur Nr. 215. It is the only road straight to the beach.

3. Hljóðaklettar

Hljóðaklettar is also called Echo Rocks in English because of its unique geological formation. They are in the Northern Region of Iceland and form part of Vatnajökull National Park. The area is a distinctive cluster of columnar rock formations. They are angled to reverberate sound throughout the area. There is also an entire network of caves and rock castles in this area.

Hljóðaklettar is the only place, even in Iceland, where you will find the honeycomb weathering pattern on the columns. A hiking trail through this area is to guide you to some of the most approachable and stunning areas. It gives you excellent views of the ‘Church’ and ‘Troll’ formations within the columnar region.

This area is very close to many of the other geographical wonders in the Northern region of Iceland. These include the Hafragilsfoos waterfall, the Godafoss waterfall, Myvatn lake, and a range of hot springs.

Some tours to the Myvatn area might also include a short stop at this geological wonder. However, it will be better to plan your own trip to the Northern region more often than not, as most of Iceland’s affordable tours focus on the country’s southern half.

4. Kálfshamarsvík

Kálfshamarsvík is one of the smaller collections of basalt columns in Iceland. It lies along the coast of the Sskagi Peninsula in the northern region of Iceland. It is one of the primary attractions in this area. 

There is not much in this area, with the basalt columns formed from a long-dormant volcano. The main draw for native Icelanders is that the cove is a rich fishing ground. It is perfect for smaller boats since it is calmer than much of the surrounding region. In the late 19th century, Kálfshamarsvík became a fishing village. However, this lasted until the Great Depression and essentially disappeared by the early 20th century. That is why you can still see the remnants of an old village around the coastline.

Although it is on the opposite end of the country from Reykjavik’s capital, it is still worth visiting. You can easily access it from the Ring Road to travel into northern Iceland. From there, take the turn onto Road 74. 

You will keep driving about 36 kilometers until you reach the coastline. Unfortunately, there aren’t any tours that go unless you orchestrate a private tour since it is so far away from any other major destinations around it.

5. Dverghamrar

Dverghamrar, or the Dwarfs Steep Cliff, is a gem in Iceland’s Southern Region. Unfortunately, it is not one of the largest collections of basalt columns, so few tours stop at this location. However, it is easy to access off the Ring Road if you take a trip around Iceland.

These rock formations are only 10 kilometers east of the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur from the Ring Road. There is quite a bit of folklore centered around these basalt columns. According to legend, the inside of the cliffs is home to both dwarfs and elves. Even now, many Icelanders still believe this to be true. 

Dverghamrar is a protected natural monument within Iceland nowadays. These are an ancient collection of basalt columns, likely molded at the end of the Ice Age. During this point in time, the sea level was higher. Since then, it has backed away from the cliffs substantially, giving the impression of randomness since basalt columns form from lava cooling quickly.

6. Svartifoss

If you are interested in paying a visit to any of the basalt columns in Iceland, Svartifoss should be at the top of your list. However, the site doesn’t just include the spectacular basalt columns. It also incorporates the waterfall Svartifoss or the Black Falls. It resides in Skaftafell National Park.

The waterfall is surrounded by the black basalt columns that give it its name. There is a 20-meter ravine that you can hike down to see the waterfall from its base. This spot is so popular that there is even a Visitor Center you can hike from after parking.

The walls of columns around the waterfall inspired architects in Iceland. The impression of their shape and formation can be seen in the Hallgrímskirkja. It is also the ceiling of the Icelandic National Theatre. The famed sculptor Richard Serra also drew inspiration from the geological feature.

Take the Ring Road from Reykjavik to get to the National Park and its waterfall. It is located in the Southern region of Iceland and is only a short drive off the main road. There is some accommodation available in the surrounding area. If the weather is decent, it is also quite popular to camp in the area.

7. Arnarstapi – Hellnar

Arnarstapi is a small village located on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is among the most popular destinations to visit along the peninsula’s southern coast since it offers accommodation and access to many of the Peninsula’s natural wonders.

Arnarstapi is a clear historical draw for many people without offering any more intrigue. However, there are natural geological wonders that are easily accessible from Arnarstapi. One of these is Hellnar. Hellnar is a tiny hamlet a short walk from this small village.

What sets Hellnar apart is the unique formations of basalt columns along the seashore. It is a short, easy walk from the village. You can see them when looking down from the seaside cliffs or clambering down during low tide. Watch out, though, because this area is known for pounding waves during inclement weather.

Another draw to Hellnar is the more protected area offers a resting place for birds. In addition, the columns offer perfect sitting areas for a variety of Iceland’s unique collections of avian species.

8. Stuðlafoss

Stuðlafoss is another recently discovered natural wonder in Iceland because of the diversion of the rivers for hydroelectric power. It is reminiscent of the Svartifoss waterfall. However, it has historically been much more challenging to access than Svartifoss.

Stuðlafoss is also called the Basalt Column Waterfall in English. It is in the Eastern region of Iceland, close to the Stuðlagil Canyon. It is one of the better-kept secrets of the Icelandic landscape and is a draw for outdoor enthusiasts.

You can catch a glimpse of this waterfall from Road 923. However, you can only get the full visual force of the waterfall from close up. Take the Ring Road to get to the region and then drive to the Grund farm. 

The formation of the basalt columns around this waterfall is relatively unique. The lower columns on the waterfall are shorter. They stack up to look almost like seats. Their beauty is enhanced by the green vegetation encouraged by the humidity of the waterfall. As you look further up the waterfall, the columns elongate.

9. Aldeyjarfoss

Aldeyjarfoss is a stunning landscape of water and columns carved into the cliffside. Instead of the small rivulets that feed the Svartifoss and Stuðlafoss waterfalls, the Aldeyjarfoss is fed by a mighty glacial river, making it much more of a spectacle than the other two.

Aldeyjarfoss is a waterfall that falls 20 meters into the river Skjálfandafljót. Basalt columns surround it. Every hour, the river carries tons of soil and dirt from the area under the famed Vatnajökull glacier. Some tour groups go to this waterfall, but you can easily plan your own trip.

To get to the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, you should take Road Nr. 1 from Reykjavik or the Ring Road. This waterfall and its basalt columns are farther into central Iceland than Lake Myvatn but are in the same general region. 

These basalt columns are ancient examples of geological formations. They were formed when the Báðardalshraun lava field was active. It is now considered an ancient lava field since the eruptions that formed these columns occurred some 9,000 years ago.

10. Stuðlagil Canyon

Even though Stuðlagil is one of the natural wonders of Iceland, it was only recently discovered because of the terrifying force of the river on which it formed. The Upper Jökuldalur kept this gem hidden since it is an incredibly forceful glacial river. 

For centuries, it was too difficult to cross the river, so people on either side of the valley avoided the area. As a result, it was essentially impossible to enter the canyon where the basalt columns lie from the west side. The change came when the government first built the hydroelectric plant of Kárahnjúkavirkjun. It redirected the river’s force much further up and made the canyon area of the river attainable. 

The water has since become much clearer, and the entire system of the valley has steadily changed. Now, you can easily see the canyon’s beauty from the bottom. It is best to be close to the river once a force of nature. 

The canyon is located in the Eastern region of the country, almost the opposite corner from Reykjavik. It is easy to reach from the Golden Circle. First, you need to drive to the farm called Grund. There, you will find a parking lot. Although a viewing platform is a short walk away, the view is pretty poor. Instead, go to the Klaustursel farm and hike in from there.

There aren’t often tours that go through most of the Eastern region. However, there is a campsite nearby and other types of accommodation if you want to make this one of your personal stops.

11. Vik

Vik is a small village in Iceland with only about 300 people. It isn’t known for its booming city streets, but instead the three black basalt columns that stick up from the North Atlantic just off the shore. You can see them from the Reynisdrangar cliffs or the base of the black beach at the foot of the small village.

These pillars are made from basalt, but they have lost some of their distinctive hexagonal shapes because of the inclement weather and the rough ocean around them. They are in the southern region of Iceland at the coordinates 63.3087, -19.0173. 

The legend surrounding these columns claims that these rocks are the remnants of three trolls. The trolls were fishing but were caught too late in the frigid waters as the sun rose. Trolls cannot be touched by sunlight, and thus they froze still standing in the water with the early rays of dawn.

What are the facts about Basalt Columns in Iceland?

There are collections of basalt columns all over Iceland, and more are still being discovered as the flow of rivers changes. However, they are not the most significant tourist draw to Iceland and are often visited alongside other geological wonders in Iceland.

The presence of basalt columns always indicates the presence of a volcano and lava field. These are often ancient lava fields around a long-dormant volcano in Iceland’s case. However, there are still some areas where there is still a risk of a lava flow.

Many of the more recent discoveries of the basalt columns are because of the redirection of major rivers. Basalt columns are lava that was quickly cooled as they came into contact with frigid water. Thus, they are often buried under high tides or rushing rivers.

What is the Formation of Basalt Columns in Iceland?

Basalt columns are unique in their structure and formation. There are specific qualities that need to be present for basalt columns to form. Because of the unique structure of compounds within lava, the shape of the hexagon is possible.

To form basalt columns, you need an even flow of lava to come from an erupting volcano. This lava needs to flow into a frigid body of water where the basalt will quickly separate from other components of lava and begin to bond together. It is these bonds that create the hexagonal stacks in the water.

Are Basalt Columns in Iceland volcanic?

Yes. Basalt is one of the compounds you can find in lava. It is a volcanic rock composed primarily of plagioclase. This compound contains pyroxene and olivine, giving its unique formation and characteristics to create stoneware.

What is the highest Basalt Column in Iceland?

Basalt columns form in hexagonal columns generally. However, they can be a range of widths and lengths, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding their formation and their interaction with weather patterns and the ocean or river.

Stuðlagil Canyon features the tallest of Iceland’s basalt columns. They are many meters tall throughout the canyon, although the exact height of the tallest columns hasn’t been published or studied yet.

What is the lowest Basalt Column in Iceland?

Basalt columns can be as small as a couple of millimeters tall if the stack only just began to form before the lava shifted or stopped flowing. This can occur in any of the stacks around the country. Thus, it is impossible to identify precisely which basalt columns are the lowest.

What is the largest Basalt Column in Iceland?

The Canyon mentioned above is also the area with the largest number of basalt columns in Iceland. 

What is the oldest Basalt Column in Iceland?

Kalfshamarsvik is likely the oldest collection of basalt columns. It is thought that these columns were formed around 2 million years ago because of a volcanic area that has long been dormant.

What is the prominence of Basalt Columns for Iceland Geography?

Basalt columns are one of the lesser-known geological formations that help to make Iceland’s geography even more unique. Moreover, locals often enjoy them more than visiting tourists since they are located in many more remote areas.

What Geographical Landforms are Basalt in Iceland?

When basalt forms, it doesn’t only form the columns we are now so familiar with. Because of the nature of the interactions between the lava flow and water, other geological formations will likely come to light as well.

1. Basalt Caves

Basalt caves form when lava interacts with water inside lava caves or when a portion of the basalt has worn away by the interaction with water. Some examples of basalt caves include:

  • Halsanefshellir Cave
  • Vatnshellir Cave
  • Vidgelmir

2. Basalt Cliffs

Basalt cliffs are perhaps one of the most common geological formations basalt can have because of the nature of lava falling into a body of water and freezing right there. As a result, basalt cliffs form almost everywhere you find basalt.

3. Basalt Waterfalls

Basalt waterfalls are stunning and a little more unique since a river or rivulet had to form over the basalt columns after the lava flow erupted. Some basalt waterfalls in Iceland include:

  • Svartifoss
  • Aldeyjarfoss
  • Stuðlafoss 

4. Basalt Rocks

Basalt is technically a kind of volcanic rock or stone that forms from compounds pulled out of lava. Basalt rocks make up all basalt columns and are easier to study when the columns have started to fall apart.

5. Basalt Canyons

The only basalt canyon in Iceland has recently been discovered. The Stuðlagil Canyon is the Basalt Column Canyon because of the lava that flowed into the crevice and the one booming river from all sides.

What is the effect of Basalt Columns on the Icelandic Economy?

Basalt columns have helped promote the protection of nature in Iceland, particularly in cases where hydroelectric dams are being introduced. For example, the Kárahnjúkar plant was widely contested since it impacted the river and changed the landscape on the other side. 

There are also some instances of mining the valuable basalt from Iceland. However, Icelandic basalt is relatively protected from destructive practices such as mining. The only significant export of raw materials like this is pumice since it doesn’t hold as much tourist value and doesn’t involve the destruction of natural wonders.

What are the Basalt Column Tours in Iceland?

There are often no specific tours that take you to the collections of basalt columns in Iceland. However, if there is a tour you want to take to a specific region in Iceland that also has basalt columns, they will often stop by the area.

Is it legal to climb to Iceland Basalt Columns?

Few rules surround public interaction with most of the basalt columns around Iceland. Some of them, you can walk on. However, the amount of interaction with the columns in protected areas is much more limited. It is often legal to climb to the basalt columns but can be quite dangerous since the water around them makes the stones very slippery.