Plan Your Visit to Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell holds a special place in Iceland’s heart. For decades, this beautiful area has been one of the most beloved sites for Icelanders to spend their holidays in summer with their families and treasured memories are deeply rooted this majestic nature park. Truly, Skaftafell area in Vatnajökull National Park is one of the must-see destinations in Iceland.This beautiful mountainous region in the south of Iceland is nestled on the southern edge of the mighty Vatnajökull Glacier. The old Skaftafell National park was nearly 5.000 km2 but since 2008, the epicenter of the largest National Park in Europe, Vatnajökull National Park, covers 12.000 km2.The Skaftafell area is the perfect place to see all the variety that Icelandic nature has to offer; active volcanoes, majestic glaciers, powerful glacier rivers, graceful waterfalls and endless sandy plains that reach the horizon. Skaftafell is also the birthplace of Icelandic Mountain Guides. By combining our passion for guiding with our love of nature, we launched our first glacier tour in Iceland in 1994. As the proud creators of the Glacier Walk in Iceland, we gave people the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of extreme nature in a safe and environmentally friendly way.
The Skaftafell National Park is still one of the cornerstones of our business. We have an office right next to the Visitor Center where we sell and begin all of our tours in the park. The Glacier Walks are the most popular tours and for a good reason. Setting your foot on a glacier, looking into water cauldrons and deep crevasses is an out-of-this-world experience for those who have never experienced glaciers or walked on crampons.
We offer a variety of tours for all skill levels, like the popular Blue Ice Experience easy glacier tour, perfect for the whole family, and going up to the longer 4 hours Glacier Adventure, where we venture further up the ice, seeing deep crevasses and high ice ridges all around us. For the most adventurous ones, we have the 7 hours Full Day Glacier Adventure where we hike up through the 4 hours route and continue on up to the ice plateau above to find some of the largest cauldrons glaciers can hold, as well as great views of the icefall above us and up to the Hvannadalshnjúkur summit.
If you prefer something more vertical, you can try Glacier Ice Climbing. During our Ice Climbing tours, we take small groups to some of the highest glacier walls on the outlet glaciers in the park to practice. Our highly trained guides can tailor the ice climbing to any skill level, whether you have never tried any form of climbing before or are a veteran rock or ice climber.
Mountain Climbing in Skaftafell
The glacier walks suits those who want to experience glaciers without too much physical effort. But for those who want a real challenge and climb a proper mountain, we have plenty of possibilities. Our most popular mountain climb is the summit of Hvannadalshnjúkur (2.111m), the highest peak in Iceland.
This is a beautiful hike that starts at just above sea level and ends up on the top of Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak of the Öræfajökull Glacier, one of the most powerful volcanoes in the world. A mountain climb of a similar level is the summit of Hrútsfjallstindar Peaks (1.875m). This is one of the most majestic mountains in Iceland, slightly lower than Hvannadalshnjúkur but requiring similar skill level and stamina. You will be rewarded with spectacular views over the whole Skaftafell National Park.
Non-guided hikes from the Skaftafell Campsite
Skaftafell National Park is a paradise for hikers. Apart from our glacier tours, there are plenty of trails around the park for people of any skill level. The most popular walk is up to the Svartifoss waterfall, less than an hour from the campsite and Service Center. The black basalt columns around Svartifoss make it easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. Another short and easy hike for everyone is the path to the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier, a mere half hour walk away from the campsite and visitor center. This is the glacier that Icelandic Mountain Guides used to do Glacier Walks on, but as Iceland is constantly changing and the glacier is slowly melting due to environmental factors, it is not safe to do more Glacier Walks on Skaftafellsjökull.
A large lagoon in front of the glacier blocks hikers’ access to walk onto the ice. Nevertheless, it is still quite a sight to see. For longer day-hikes, many people choose the Kristínartindar Peaks (1.126m). It is possible to walk a very interesting circle around the Skaftafellsheiði plateau, linking the beautiful Svartifoss waterfall, the amazing views from the Kristínartindar Peaks and strolling above the cliffs that Skaftafellsjökull Glacier has carved through millennia. This circle takes between 4 and 6 hours and should be within the capabilities of most average hikers. Many longer hikes are also possible, such as long day hikes into the Morsárdalur Valley or overnight trips in the Skaftafellsfjöll Mountains.
All hikers intending to venture off the beaten track in the park are encouraged to report to the Visitors Center and submit their travel plan. If planning on camping outside of the designated campsite, reporting to the Visitors Center is both advised and mandatory for safety reasons. The park has published a map of its most popular hiking routes and they are available online.
How to get to Skaftafell
Skaftafell is situated in South Eastern part of Iceland. You can reach the park easily by the Ring Road, or highway number 1. It is about 330 km east of Reykjavik and 130km west of Höfn. You can drive from Reykjavik by any car without a trouble but public buses are available daily throughout the summer months and a few times per week during winter.
Where to stay in Skaftafell
The most popular place to stay in Skaftafell is the campsite, but hotels and guesthouses are also available in the nearby area. Skaftafell campsite is accessible within an easy walk from the Visitor Center and our Icelandic Mountain Guides office. It has bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. This is the starting point for most hikes and tours in the park. On the outskirt of the park is Hotel Skaftafell and various farm guesthouses.
Skaftafell park is a unique place on earth. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this wonder.
This is a once in a lifetime experience, so start planning your visit to this magnificent place.
About the Author
IMG Staff Writer
An anonymous but well informed member of our team that enjoys sharing their knowledge of Iceland & Greenland’s stunning nature.
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