As oftenas I’ve visited Skaftafell, I still get goose bumps when I see the mountains in a distance as you approachthe national park.Skaftafell national park has been my favourite spot in Iceland for many years. However because of its location it hasn't gained as much popularity as other places in Iceland. The national parkis located at the South East Coast of Iceland at the roots ofVatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Europe.It's difficult to describe the beauty of the area in words, but the scenery in Skaftafell is like no other; here you'llfind stunning glaciers, black beaches and some of the highest peaks of Iceland.
Activities in Skaftafell
With plenty to keep you busy, the more active person will find a great choice of activities where as those in search of a more relaxing stay can discover the unspoilt environment.Whether you choose to go glacier hiking, bird watching,ice climbingortrekking peaks, you'll find an adventure everyday in Skaftafell. Read about my experience going glacier hiking and ice climbingin Iceland.
Trekking isprobably the most popular sport among visitors.The geographical and natural diversity makes Skaftafell an ideal place for trekking and exploring. The trails are well marked and different colours will indicate the difficulty of the trek (blue -easy, red - moderate and black - challenging).Take the trails at your own pace, and rest when you need to. How much ground you’ll cover depends on what you want to see in a given day and your physical level.
One of the shortertreks will lead you toSvartifoss or "black waterfall".It'sundoubtedly one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland with blackhexagonal basalt columns surrounding the20m tall waterfall.The hiking trailto the waterfall is 1,5 km long and starts at the visitor center.The view of the waterfall is simply unbelievable andif you're feeling up for it and have the time, you can continue up toSjónarnípa.
When you have taken your time and admiredSvartifoss you should walk back to thecrossroads right before the waterfall and there you'llwill find a signpost indicating Sjónarnípa to the right. Sjónarnípa is a viewpoint that shouldn't be missed out on, with a view overthe mighty Skaftafell glacier and the surrounding mountains.You can follow thetrail all the way to the sightseeing point and from there is a another trailback towards the visitor centre. The entire round-tripalong with Svartifoss and Sjónarnípa is 7.4km and takes about 3 hours at a comfortable pace.
Ingólfshöfði Capeis an isolated bird cliff on the coast surroundedby black sands and perilous rivers.This historical nature reserve is home tothousands of nesting seabirds, like puffins and great skuas.The cape is named after the first settler of Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson, who spent his first winter here in874 before moving further west.
The landscape is breathtaking and makes for some dramatic pictures.In order to get to the cape you need to get a ride with a tractor from one of the local families that will happily take you there for a small fee.The drive takes about 25 minutes each way, crossing 6 km of streams, marshes and sands in a tractor-drawn hay cart. I can promise you, it's simply a unique experience!
If you are interested in visiting glaciers during your stay in Iceland, then Skaftafell is the right place to go. Originally that's where operated glacier tours in Iceland started, in order to help locals and travellers toenjoy the extreme naturein a safe way.Hiking on one of the glacier tongues or exploring the constantly reformingice caves is one of the best experiences you can find in Iceland.
There is a vide selection of glacier tours from Skaftafell; you can chose fromeasy 2 hour hikes or longer hikes withice climbing. Some travellers ask me how to get there on their own, but that's not something we'd recommend at all.You need to go on a guided tour in order to get all the necessary equipment like crampons and a harness. On top of that the glaciers are constantly reforming with new cracks and holes forming every day resulting in deadly traps forinexperienced hikers. Sadly, a number of tourists have died in Iceland due to the extremenature.Just recently we had a terrible accident where a French hiker fell under a snow cap.It reminds us that the Icelandic environmentshould not be taken lightly.
To be on the safe side, read about things that can kill you in Iceland.
Youdon't feel like a real Icelander until you have conquered the highest peak of Iceland,Hvannadalshnjúkur. The peakislocated on Öræfajökull and is 2.110 meter high. Thisunforgettable hike will test the hikersstamina and willpower. Usually the hike isdone within a day,startingin the middle of the bright summer night and reaching back to town before dinner time.
When the top is reached it providesunique views in all directions where you can see theblack coastline, as well as panoramic viewsof surrounding glaciers and the beautiful valleys below. The hike doesn't require anytechnical skillsbut it's both physically and mentally challenging.
Hvannadalshnjúkur peak can only be reached over a short period of time every year. Usually the season rangesfrom May to late August, depending on snowconditions of the peak.
Since Iceland has a diverse terrain,mountain bikingis another popular activity. It offers environmentally sound way to explore the magnificent landscape and hidden trails of the national park. When I last visited Skaftafell with a group of friends, wedecided to rent a mountain bike and wentforaride into Bæjarstaðarskógur, a beautiful forest lying 15 km from the visitor center. Our journey started at thecamp site in Skaftafell and continued from there intoMorsárdalur. During the mostpart of the journeywe bicycled ondried upriverbeds which makesthe ride quite bumpy. Later on we reached the forest where wefollowed a trail further in, leading us to somebeautiful ravines.
Mt. Lómagnúpurhas in my eyes alwaysbeen one of Iceland's most majestic mountainswith its prominent peak of688 m. Its particularly famous for it's unique shape and location. There are small hiking trails that lead up the mountain which offer scenic views of the ocean and surrounding Skeiðarársandur black sand. Around the mountainare obvious remains of landslides that happened in 1790 and 1998.Like other promontories atthe south coast of Iceland, Mt Lomagnupur was the tip of a fjord, surrounded by the ocean during theice age. Now the area has filled up with sand.
Mt. Lómagnúpur plays a role insome oldIcelandic folk stories, where the mountain was believed tobe the home of a giant named Járngrímur. The story describes howFlosi Þorgeirsson from Njál's sagadreamt that Járngrímur came to him from Lómagnúpur and foretold the fates of a group of menthat had murdered Njáll and his family.
Later on the giant of Lómagnúpur has been believed to be a guardian of Iceland that scared off foreign kings who tried toinvade the country.Our local Regína has spent some time in the area and wrote an interesting article about it.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a magical place that no travellershould miss during hisvisitin Iceland. The lagoon liesat the tip of a glacier's tongue, where ice bergs regularly break off and fill the lagoon. The featureofthe lagoon changes daily; it can be full offloating icebergs or it can be pretty much empty.The lagoon is connected to the ocean making it salty which prevents it from freezing.
The area is really spectacular and watching the icebergs float around,surrounded by mountains is a unique sight. However the lagoondeservesthe utmost respect, as the beauty of itcan transform into a hazardous situation with icebergs breaking and flipping over. That's why we don't recommend travellers to step on the ice.
The lagoon is conveniently located at the ring road with a short 1 hour drive from Skaftafell.
Did you know that Iceland has a diamond beach?
Just next to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon lies a blackbeach filled with ice cubes that have been carried with the stream down to the ocean. The black beach forms an unbelievable contrast with the diamond-likeice. I recommend visiting during thegolden hour when the glowingraysshinethroughthe ice.Theice-chunks are in all sizes and shapes as they getpolished by the ocean and wash ashore again.
How to get there?
Skaftafell is easy to reach lying about 300 km from Reykjavík on the south coast. Since you will bedriving the whole way on roadNr. 1, (an asphalt road in decent condition) any car type will do.Throughout the summer you an also findpublic busses that take you all the way.There are no roads in the park itself but a lot of different hiking trails.
Find the cheapest rental cars in Iceland here.
Where to stay?
It can get a little bit tricky to find accommodation in Skaftafell, howeveralong the ring road there are campsites, guesthouses, hotels and homestays. However as tourism is booming in Iceland, accommodation in Skaftafell sells out fast, soif you are not planning on camping you should reserve in time. Anotherpossibilityis to bookaccommodationinthenearest towns likeKirkjubæjarklaustur (69km to the west) or Höfn (130km to the east).You can look throughaccommodations here.
Remember to respect the nature
Skaftafell national park has beenprotected since 1967. Always show respect and enjoy the nature without spoiling it.It is a good idea to determine what rules apply. It is not allowed to driveoff-road like elsewhere in Iceland or lightfiresexcept atspecially marked places.Educate yourself by reading through the dumbest things to do in Iceland.
What to bring with you for a stay in Skaftafell
If you are planning on visiting Skaftafell I would recommend bringing with you warm clothes and good hiking shoes. There are endless outdoor activities in the area, but it's a very remote place so there are no stores for gearing up. Dress up here.
For budget option: Bring camping gear
The park has a pretty spacious campgroundclose to the visitor center which is openfrom 1 May to 30 September.While visitors can enjoy hiking throughout the entire park, camping is only allowed in these designated areas. It's not necessary to make reservation beforehand as it hardly fills up.It has all necessary facilities like showers, washing machine and a dryer, however you need to bring your own cooking facilities.
Time to hit the road
You won't find a more spectacular experience than spending time beneath Europe's biggest glacier far away from the crowds, with nothing but the flora and fauna for company. There areseveral tours to choose from in Skaftafell. So now it's time to hit the ring road!