There are some unique travel bugs spread across the Icelandic landscape that you can never get cured of!
From the great expanse of land extending over the horizons, the surprisingly unique flora and fauna to the breathtaking vistas at every turn give you ample time to wander and wonder.
It’s even downright dreamy for those passing through the scenery from the comfort of their car.
On the other hand, those wishing to open their arms to adventure by stepping further away from the parking lot and making a journey for a lifetime-
Assuming it’s you since you are reading this post, we are going on an expedition to explore all you need to know about the Skaftafell National Park in Iceland, including touring tips and much more.
So, lace up your hiking boots and your cameras charged because the epic discovery guide to Skaftafell starts here!
1. Adventure Made Easy: Skaftafell National Park in Iceland Overview
You might have typed over five times in all the search engines without adequate information. But you might not have found the answers you seek.
So, learn it from the heart of some Travel-alcoholics right here!
Skaftafell is a famous national park and a nature reserve to get some scintillating views of waterfalls, mountains, black sand beaches, lush oasis, and glacier creek. It is located in the Southeastern part of Iceland, occupying a 4807 km2 landmass.
In 1967 it was declared a national park by itself for its natural beauty, conducive weather conditions and abundant hiking trails, making it a great destination to enjoy outdoor activities in the Icelandic terrain.
By 2008, the Skaftafell National Park was classified under the Vatnajokull National Park and occupied the Southern part of this newly created park.
However, the word that distinguishes the Skaftafell region is the glaciers! Everywhere you turn, you can find yourself cocooned amid the mighty glaciers. And this includes enjoying the scenic drive as you reach the park.
Interesting Fact: Did you know? The Hvannadalshnjukur is considered the highest peak in Iceland, kissing the sky at 2,118 meters (6,950 ft) with a gorgeous backdrop.
In 2019, it became a UNESCO Heritage Site signalling the need for conservation because of the dwindling glaciers due to the shift in climatic conditions.
Today, it’s a place to change visitors to travellers that records a million visits annually.
2. Trailing Back in Time to the Skaftafell National Park
You might have got a well-rounded glimpse of the features of the Skaftafell area in Iceland’s South before it was pinned under the Vatnajökull National Park.
Now it’s about time to go back to the evolution of this rugged yet beautiful terrain that is a worthwhile time to add to your bucket list on your visit to Iceland!
In terms of size, the Skaftafell is colossal than Vatnajökull National. And the formation, like the rest of the rugged landscape of Iceland, dates back thousands of years.
It is stated that they came into existence with successive Öræfajökull volcanic eruptions. Additionally, flash floods and the flow of the glacial rivers snaked over the volcanic rocks and carved them to form innumerable gorges and gullies.
Historical records since the settlements around the Skaftafell region show that the landscape was initially farmland and a meeting place for the community.
Unfortunately, after the volcanic eruption of Öræfajökull in 1362, there were various natural hindrances to continue farming in that terrain.
There were consecutive glacier flooding or ash falls from the erupting Grímsvötn volcano up to the north, thwarting the fields. However, being a stubborn crew, these farmers continued farming amidst the continuous disasters and finally threw down the towel in 1988.
Interesting Fact: Did you know? Two out of ten volcanoes are still active inside the 1,400,000 hectares of Vatnajökull National Park, even today in Iceland!
3. The Skaftafell Terrain Exploration
From unique geological formations to the rich flora springing up between the glaciers and sands, Skaftafell offers a wealth of attractions to its visitors.
The beautifully rugged terrain is the best place for photoholics to capture awe-inspiring panoramic clicks to keep alive forever!
Subsequently, the Skaftafell nature reserve is also called a hiking paradise because of the exquisite multiple short trails for hiking the glaciers.
One such trek can lead you to the Svartifoss waterfall, which is enclosed by bizarre and beautiful basalt columns and renowned glaciers like Svínafellsjökull. Also, you can climb up the Hvannadalshnjukur peak.
On the contrary, if you wish to probe deeper into the region, take a trip to some attractions like the Jokulsárlón Glacier, Vatnajökull Glacier, and Diamond Beach close by.
Insider tip: Choose guided tours to take a trip with a qualified guide to try your hand at glacier hiking or ice climbing, the only two genuine Icelandic experiences you can never miss to enjoy!
4. The Skaftafell National Park in Iceland: Interesting Things You Must Know!
Just as it is essential to know the terrain, let’s now take an exciting turn to some unique, unheard facts to explore the unheard part that a library can’t tell you!
4.1 The Everlasting Struggle of Fire and Ice Has Evolved the Skaftafell Landscape
Skaftafell holds some fantastic landscapes that are unique to Iceland. The large landmass of sandy wasteland located between the glacier and the sea was formed due to successive volcanic eruptions in that zone.
These are not ordinary sands as they are primarily composed of ash stocked onto the coast by the glacial floods (Jökulhlaup).
4.2 Interesting Sunny Climate is Prevalent in the Skaftafell Region
This icy terrain has summers hotter than the rest of the areas in Southern Iceland. Due to this uncommon phenomenon, numerous outdoor activities are available for individuals across ages.
Even rowans and birch trees (fruit-producing shrubs) can grow on mild sunny days amidst the cold climate prevalent in Iceland.
4.3 Two Farms are Left throughout Skaftafell
Today, two farmlands are left in the Skaftafell National Park in Iceland, making their income from tourism.
However, farming ended completely in 1988 when frequent volcanic eruptions spewed ash sand on the fertile land, making it unmanageable for farmers to continue cultivation further and earn an income.
4.4 Vegetation is Present in the Once-Grazing Land of Skaftafell
Initially, the region was used for grazing sheep but was later stopped due to natural forces. But due to the consecutive changes in the landscape, a variety of foliage evolved.
Some include flowering plants like harebell, pyramidal saxifrage and yellow saxifrage. Other vegetation like sea pea, garden angelica, wild angelica, arctic river beauty, and willow can also be spotted in the region.
4.5 Skaftafell Houses Fauna Too in it!
This natural wonder has some animal species thriving in its landscape. Birds are usually spotted in the slopes and forests of the Skaftafell.
Some renowned species are redwing, snipe, snow bunting, meadow pipit, wren, golden plover, raven, merlin, redpoll and wheatear.
And the only wild animal that resides here is the mink, field mouse and the Artic Fox. Even insects of diverse sorts are prevalent here despite the climate.
Insider tip: You might be lucky enough to find the Artic Fox if you go on a Skaftafell glacier hike!
Ultimately, the Vatnajökull Park that now confines the Skaftafell region is considered Europe’s second largest national park after Russia’s Yugyd Va.
5. How to Reach Skaftafell Park
From Skaftafell to Reykjavik, you must take a four-hour drive staying on the Ring Road in the Southeast of Iceland, either self-driving or choosing a rental car.
Interestingly, the Ring Road on the South Coast is a popular sightseeing route in the country.
You will be tempted to stop by the South Coast and catch a glimpse of the icy beauty of Iceland. But ensure to reach the Park on time to get the best of the bigger picture.
Please note that you will be charged a parking fee of 750 ISK per car, payable by card.
Insider tip: On your way to Skaftafell, stop by the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to get stunning views of this colossal lake full of broken icebergs drifting to the sea from a glacial tongue. You can see these glaciers washed up on the Diamond seashores nearby. And both places are fantastic spots to see seals.
The alternate option for a journey by car is taking public transport from Mjódd with line 51. However, this can take up to 7 hours of journey by bus.
6. Getting Started to Reach Skaftafell
Remember, you are going to adventure on a mountainous terrain that doesn’t have proper roads. So, buckle up your body with the best essentials to get the best out of the tour! Keep these in mind while packing;
- Stock as much of supplies as possible before leaving for Skaftafell.
- Check the forecast, road, and trail situations of your day tours, especially during winter.
- Book in advance to cancel 24 hours before the to avoid uncertain circumstances.
- Choose the trails and routes you wish to explore in the park early, as hiking trails are available for different levels. Ensure the chosen trail matches your experience and fitness.
- Have an offline map on your GPS or mobile phone before getting it from the Visitor Centre. Don’t depend on signposts, as they might be misleading, especially in a harsh and you might end up losing your route.
- On top priority, have travel insurance if you want to visit the park and ensure it covers the outdoor activities you wish to participate in.
7. At the Skaftafell Visitor Centre
This is the first place you might encounter at the park entrance. You can get all your queries answered here.
Some friendly staff offer tips and advices on the best activities you can enjoy at your fitness level in the prevalent weather conditions.
Apart from this, the Centre offers you everything you need to know about geology to the accommodation you can afford while visiting the park.
You will not be charged an entry fee at the park entrance.
8. How to Explore the Park: Things to See and Enjoy
This hiker’s Eden comprises mesmerising mountains, rich leafy valleys, lava pastures, lagoons, glaciers, and waterfalls. Don’t forget to imprint your soles involving in these iconic attractions;
8.1 Svartifoss Waterfall
Tumbling down a cliff encapsulated by long basalt columns, this Waterfall is one of the famous meltwater-fed waterfalls in Iceland. Interestingly, the black columns contrasting the cascading curtain of water look like the organ pipes of a church!
8.2 Skaftafellsjökull Glacier
This 10 km long and 2km wide glacier gives a thrilling experience for hikers walking through it. Also, you get some stunning views of this glacier wonderland that is surrounded by the glaciers Öræfajökull and Vatnajökull and the jagged mountains.
A terrain sculpted by snow and ice, the Svínafellsjökull is enclosed by the black sandy beaches of the southern coast and the lunar-like landscapes of Sólheimasandur. Here you can get views beyond the horizon of Vatnajökull Park.
8.4 Glacier Lagoons
Edging Vatnajökull National Park from the Skaftafell base are some breathtaking lagoons comprising dazzling aqua-blue waters of floating icebergs. You can take a boat trip on Jökusárlón or go on kayaking at Sólheimajökull’s Glacier to cherish some adorable memories.
8.5 Sjonarnipa Viewpoint
If you wish to extend your stay in the park, try taking the S6 trail to reach Sjónarnípa Viewpoint. This is a max 3-hour flat trial to capture some stunning scenery of the snow-capped mountains.
You can spot the Artic Fox here, so open your eyes and cameras to click as much as possible!
9. Possible Means to Get Around the Skaftafell
With so many places to visit and enjoy, the only possible means to get to them is by foot. So, here’s what you need to do to get to them;
9.1 Glacier Hiking
Taking a guide with you, hiking is the most popular and the best sport to enjoy in Iceland. You’ll walk on ice, across deep crevasses, around water cauldrons for hours.
Now you might find walking on the glacier ice is time-consuming and not worth a trip. But trust me, once you’re out there, you might get diverse looks than what it appears to be at a distance!
For instance, if you’ve hiked the famous Vatnajokull glacier, you can boast a tale of climbing Europe’s largest glaciers!
However, it’s best to make advance reservations if you are on a tight schedule.
9.2 Ice Caving
Want to boast an experience journeying into the ice caves where waters run beneath the glacier? Then this is the place you must begin exploring!
However, this activity is unavailable throughout the year, unlike hiking. You can taste it in winter when the water freezes, and the glacial rivers retract.
Interestingly, new caves emerge here at different locales every year, providing new opportunities for this activity.
Most of the tours operate from October to March for safety purposes to ensure that the temperatures are low enough to slow down the glacier melting.
9.3 Scenic Views of Nature
Too much walking might hinder you from getting a glimpse of the rich flora and fauna of the place. Apart from the striking geology, you can find 287 lichen species with birch and rowan trees and 314 moss species growing on mountain slopes.
Within the park, you can find the mountain avens, glacier buttercup, angelica, and Arctic thyme. Waterfowl and waders populate the outwash plains.
While brown trout and Arctic char are found in the rivers, and Arctic foxes and deer are on the uplands.
9.4 Skaftafell Camping
This campsite has been prevalent since the early days. Initially, visitors camped near the farm Bölti up on the slopes.
However, with time, the glacial soil deposits at the hill’s base were revegetated and became a large and spacious campsite in 1974.
Today it can be occupied by campers, motor homes, and tents, with a facility to avail numerous services throughout the year.
10. Places to Fuel Your Grumbling Tummy
Wow, indulging in such exciting activities can put your tummy at stake! So, here are a few places to refuel it and get back on the trail!
- Fosshótel Núpar on the lava fields offers plenty of chews with a view. Dive into their restaurant or bar and get additional bonus hours between 4 and 6 pm.
- Glacier Goodies is a mobile shack between the Skaftafell campsite and visitor centre with some outdoor settings. Fish and chips, lobster bisque and soup, and spare ribs are some delicious takeaways here.
- Cosy and chic Cafe Vatnajökull is a special place for morning coffee, lunchtime, or afternoon tea. Pastries, soup, brownies, and coffee are all on offer here.
- Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon restaurant lies at the base of Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak. Here the beautifully presented Icelandic fusion cuisine is the best to treat yourself!
11. Skaftafell Hotel: Time to Jump into Rest and Slumber
Let me warn you! If you’re a budget traveller it’s challenging to find a hotel around Skaftafell.
One option to grab those few hotels is to book in advance. So, once your itinerary is complete begin making a reservation.
Here’s a list of the best hotels curated just for you no matter what type of traveller you are!
- Hvoll Hostel– For Budget travellers
- Adventure Hotel Hof– For Mid-range travellers
- Hotel Skaftafell– For Luxury travellers
12. Ready to Begin Your Icy Land Journey?
Is Iceland, icing your heart’s wanderlust? Then book your iciest memories here by grabbing your passport this vacation!
And set your eyes on the horizon and brace yourself for adventure abiding to be a responsible tourist in Iceland. Off you go!
Don’t forget to post your fondest icy thoughts in the comment section below for us to enjoy hiking through your memories!
Also, stay updated by trekking through the other articles on our website here to awaken to the 21st century!