What To Do in Skaftafell in Winter

13. February 2017 —
Svartifoss

Skaftafell, part of Vatnajökull National Park, is a protected wilderness area centred around the Vatnajökull ice cap, Europe’s largest glacier outside the Arctic, covering 10% of Iceland's land mass. With some recent additions to the south, the park is now 5,251mi2 or13,920km2. What does Skaftafell in winter have in store for you?

Map of Skaftafell
Map of Skaftafell trails

Many Trails

Skaftafell is an amazing hiking area, and you could easily keep yourself busy with some 2 or 3 other day hikes in the area. For example, on the west side of Skaftafell you will find the Morsádalur river valley (M1 on the map). There is a bridge that crosses the raging glacial river, and on the other side you will find the Bæjarstaðarskógur which is a nice forest. Iceland has a very modest definition of “forest”, but it is still a great hike!  This is trail M3 on the trail map.

Both of these trails take about 4 to 5 hours and cover 16km. There is also the trail to Morsájökull (M2 on the map); if you are lucky, you will see a stream of water there falling off the top, this is Iceland’s tallest waterfall! S§peaking of waterfalls, let’s not forget the iconic Svartifoss, only 40 minutes walk form the visitor centre and with good infrastructure all the way up. See title image.

Snowy mountains
Black snowy mountains

Plan Ahead

Close up of Skaftafell map
Close up of Skaftafell trail maps

The main limitation with hiking in Skaftafell National Park in winter is always going to be daylight: It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world to be caught out in the pitch darkness. Plan ahead, start early and get back before dark is our best advice. But don’t let the darkness stop you!

The big question is: what else can you in Skaftafell National Park in winter? And the big answer is: a lot more!

Blue Ice

Two words: blue ice.  All of the outlet tongues off the Vatnajökull ice cap are part fo the national park. As the ice crawls down from the ice cap high above, its colour changes form white to blue. This is the main characteristic of blue “winter” ice. Combine this with he fact that Skaftafell receives the least amount of snow fall in the whole country, and you have a nice blue ice recipe!

As far as experiencing this blue ice, the easiest trail in the national park starts at the car park and visitor’s center, and a 45 minute paved route takes you down to where the outlet glacier Skaftafellsjökull, trail S1 on the map. It used too be that the path took you right up the glacier, but since the glacier has been receding in recent years, it is necessary to go further and further. It is definitely worth the walk.

Close up of blue ice
Blue ice

Hike and Climb Blue Ice 

So you whet your icy appetite, but it wasn’t enough? Well, fortunately you can put your feet on the ice! Stare down at your feet through meters of ice, around, above, to the sides, any direction is pure wonder. You can even climb the ice as well as walk on it if you like!

Group of people on glacier
Group of people glacier walking
Crampons
Crampons footwear

Walk with Us!

Woman on glacier
Woman surrounded by blue ice

As the pioneers of glacier walks in iceland when you are with us, you are in good hands. We have set the standard for the quality of guide training in Iceland for over 25 years. With more expertise than you can shake a stick at, we’ll take you around the ice to show some features that only we can get you to.

About the Author

Joseph content writer for Icelandic Mountain Guides

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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