Skaftafell National Park – East Iceland

Svartifoss waterfall

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 cinema showing the last big volcano. A small exhibition describes the history of Skaftafell National Park. There is a cafe and souvenir shop. A comprehensive network of hiking trails culminate at the visitors center.

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Svartifoss waterfall

Svartifoss waterfall
Svartifoss waterfall in the Summer.

Svartifoss waterfall is easy to find on a clearly marked hiking route. The route can very dangerous if it is icy. Please check hiking conditions to 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 carpark 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.

Hiking Trails

Skaftafellsjokull Panorama
The view from Skaftafell Viewpoint

From Skaftafell there weaves 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 over 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.

Mörsárdalur Glacier Lagoon
Mörsárdalur Glacier Lagoon

Camping Advice

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 quite, 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 although much smaller, it is slightly more comfortable and less expensive.

Buy a Camping Card.

Glacier Hiking

These Tours depart from Skaftafell Visitor Center (except the flightseeing). 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.

Ice Caving

These ice cave tours depart from (or near the Skaftafell Visitor Center.

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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.