Iceland High School Expedition

Iceland is a country of extremes, where geysers and lava flows coexist with powerful waterfalls and calving glaciers. Located at the edge of the Arctic Circle, much of the island remains under ice, yet it is also one of the planet’s most volcanically active countries. Take advantage of long days and bright nights to explore the wonders of these otherworldly landscapes.

June 25 - July 8, 2019
July 1 - July 14, 2019
July 15 - July 28, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged a round-trip group flight between New York and Reykjavík.

Trip Highlights

  • Explore a glacial lagoon filled with icebergs , and trek atop a glacier with a professional guide to witness the impact of climate change on the ice formations of the far north.
  • Hike black-sand beaches, ride Icelandic horses, and spot colorful puffins, then create a photo essay documenting your experiences.
  • Discuss geology with Icelandic scientists, and see the Earth in action while exploring thundering waterfalls, gushing geysers, and bubbling mud pots.
  • Learn the art of filmmaking, and produce a video that contrasts Iceland’s fiery, volcanic wonders with its icy elements.

Itinerary | 14 days

Days 1-4

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The expedition begins with a swim in Iceland's most famous geothermal pool, the Blue Lagoon, followed by an orientation in Reykjavík, Europe's northernmost capital. Get essential background on the geology of this subarctic island nation, and learn about the impact of climate change. Hike to the top of a nearby volcano and learn about Viking heritage at some of Reykjavík's cutting-edge historical museums. Head out to the Golden Circle and discover Gullfoss, a thundering waterfall that appears to vanish into the earth. Then continue to Geysir—home to the earliest geyser known to Europeans—where boiling water can rocket up to 210 feet in the air. Tour an ultramodern geothermal plant that provides much of Reykjavík's energy with an expert guide. Iceland is at the forefront of the sustainable power movement, with 70 percent of its energy renewable and much of that derived from its prodigious geothermal sources. Explore ancient lava flows to learn how volcanism continues to shape Iceland's dynamic landscape. Hike along the shores of Thingvallavatn, the country's largest lake, and learn about the geological forces that created the islands and canyons around this body of water. Summer days are very long this far north, and much can be seen and done in a single day.

Pull Quote
Iceland will make you feel alive, will light a life-long passion for extraordinarily unusual places and landscapes that will make your soul sing.

Days 5-10

Next, journey east to Höfn, a remote gateway to the mighty Vatnajökull glacier, the world's largest ice cap outside the Arctic and Antarctica. Photograph a glacial lagoon full of fantastically shaped icebergs. Participate in dynamic field-based seminars with experts on glaciology and climate change. Camp on a vast glacial moraine in the heart of Skaftafell National Park. Don crampons and ice axes to trek over the massive ice cap with certified local guides. Photograph unique rock formations along black sand beaches; or visit the original landing place of Iceland's first settlers, a headland of rugged cliffs dotted with puffins. Investigate changes in the composition of fish stocks and seabird populations caused by warming waters. Explore Iceland's southern coast and remote glacial valleys with your On Assignment team, and report your findings back to the group.

Days 11-14

Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge. This unique position makes it one of the most volcanically active countries in the world. Head north across the uninhabited interior to the wild volcanic area around Lake Mývatn. Explore bubbling mud pots, hissing steam vents, and the craters of dormant volcanoes. Hike on congealed lava flows from a series of massive eruptions that occurred in the late 1970s. Visit magnificent Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall, where gray glacial meltwater from Iceland's interior blasts through a spectacular basalt canyon. Bathe in the blue mineral waters of a natural thermal pool surrounded by black lava beds, and visit Akureyri, a thriving modern city set along a fjord. Hike to roaring glacial waterfalls, ride colorful Icelandic horses, wander through a 3,500-year-old ice cave, and enjoy your final days together as you put the finishing touches on your On Assignment projects. Present your work in Akureyri, then return to Reykjavík before flying home.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
This expedition includes several active excursions such as hiking and glacier trekking. Students should be physically fit and enthusiastic about outdoor exploration.
We will stay in small hostels and family-run guesthouse, and spend several night camping in tents.

M Jackson, Geographer and Environmental Educator

Meet Our Experts

National Geographic Emerging Explorer, geographer, glaciologist, and TED Fellow M Jackson can often be found exploring some of the world's most remote Arctic environments. M's research is focused on glacial environments and climate change. She spent a year in Iceland on a Fulbright Fellowship studying how climate change is affecting communities near the fishing village of Höfn. Her first book, While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change, blends her own personal history with climate science. M's most recent book, The Secret Lives of Glaciers, explores the complex impacts of glacier change for communities along the southeastern coast of Iceland. M's research has taken her around the globe, and she has spent more than 10 years as a glacier guide and naturalist. M will join the June 25 and July 1 departures of the Iceland expedition.

Stephen Alvarez, Photojournalist

Stephen Alvarez is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker covering stories on archaeology, exploration, culture, and adventure. He has published more than a dozen feature stories for National Geographic magazine, going on assignment in extreme places—from the highest peaks of the Andes to some of the planet's deepest caves. His latest National Geographic story on the Origins of Art led from early human sites on the southern coast of Africa to Paleolithic art caves in France and Spain. Moved by the power of humanity's earliest artworks, Alvarez founded the non-profit Ancient Art Archive, which is dedicated to using the photography and the newest image-based VR technology to explore, preserve, and share humanity's oldest artworks. Stephen also explores how new photographic technology is changing our world; in 2016, he set out to photograph the seven natural wonders of the world using Microsoft smartphones. More recently, he traveled Iceland's Southern Coast as the National Geographic/Canon digital nomad. Stephen join the July 15 departure of the Iceland high school expedition.

On Assignment Projects

Develop a photo-essay on Iceland’s dramatic geology, or tell the story of Icelandic culture through portraits of fishermen and scientists. Hone your skills as you shoot pictures of Icelandic horses and puffins. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Delve into the science behind global climate change and thermodynamic energy. Initiate a GPS project to measure and map the recession of glacial tongues, build a model glacier, or measure your group’s carbon footprint.
Document your journey, and use mobile-editing technology to produce a short film. Record receding glaciers, erupting geysers, and hissing volcanic steam vents. Interview local experts on the effects of climate change in this region. There is a supplemental fee of $250 for this On Assignment project.