Skaftafell National Park
The National Park at Skaftafell is a center of activity regarding glacier-centered adventures. It is a green belt between the vast sands of Skeiðarasandur and the vast ice plains of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnjökull. Skaftafell is the smallest national park in Iceland and shares a boundary with Vatnjokull National Park, which is the largest.
The visitor’s center hosts a large campsite and is a meeting point for glacial tours. There is a free movie showing the last big volcano. A small exhibition describes the history of Skaftafell National Park. There is a cafe and a souvenir shop. A comprehensive network of hiking trails culminates at the visitor center.
Tours to Geysir and Gullfoss!
Svartifoss waterfall is easy to find on a clearly marked hiking route. The route can be very dangerous if it is icy. Please check the hiking conditions at Svartifoss at the Skaftafell visitor’s centre before attempting to hike. The hiking conditions are written on a chalk board outside the Skaftafell visitor’s centre so you don’t even have to go in to check. One path to Svartifoss leaves from behind the visitor center, the shorter path is from the car park where the road climbs up Skaftafell. By-the-way, this road is strictly for local traffic only, although I think it is OK to walk up it with consideration for local traffic.
From Skaftafell there is a network of hiking trails. Some short ones lead up the hill to some beautiful waterfalls and extend further to viewpoints where the views across the glacier are incredible. From the visitor’s center there are organised hiking tours that involve the glacier. Tours range from a simple walk on the glacier to a day-long hike up Hvanndalshnjúkur (Iceland’s tallest mountain). Other hiking trails include the long hikes to Mörsárdalur (10-12 hours) and surrounding areas.
Hiking up to the viewpoint or Svartifoss waterfall can be achieved in 1-2 hours. For the more adventurous hiker, there are several routes that take 8–10 hours. The route around Skaftafell gives you views over Skaftafellsjokull and Mörsárdalur. The round trip will take about 8 hours with photo stops. Add another couple of hours to this if you want to include one of the peaks of Kristinartindar Mountain.
Where to Stay
If you are a keen hiker or enjoy glacier activities like live ice climbing or caving, then you could enjoy the area around Skaftafell National Park for several days. The Hotel Skaftafell is just five minutes from the National Park and one hour’s drive from Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach, making it a good choice for a central location.
These hotels and guesthouses are a short drive from Skaftafell National Park. The hotel closest to the national park is Hotel Skaftafell.
Camping is inexpensive, and the season is between May and August. At Skaftafell Campsite there is a very thin layer of grass on the camp site, so don’t expect your tent pegs to slip into the ground. You will need a mallet and plenty of replacement pegs. Often times, the camp site is quiet, but they can host huge groups for organisational events. There are facilities, such as toilets and showers. In my experience, the showers have always been cold. Save yourself a bit of money and take a couple of big bottles filled via the hot tap outside and use these to have a nice, warm shower.
Nearby is Svinafell which also hosts a campsite that, although much smaller, is slightly more comfortable and less expensive.
Glacier Activities from Skaftafell
These tours depart from Skaftafell Visitor Center (except for the flights). The glacier activities are run by trained and experienced glacier guides. The flights leave from the tiny airport, where the Skaftafell road leaves the main Icelandic Ring Road.
These ice cave tours depart from (or near) the Skaftafell Visitor Center.