Skaftafell National Park, which sprawls across the southern tip of the Vatnajokull glacier, is one of the most popular corners of the larger Vatnajokull National Park. Dominated by the Skaftafellsjökull glacier, Skaftafell offers 1,930 square miles (5,000 square kilometers) of rugged mountainous terrain and glacial tongues.
Skaftafell National Park has no roads, so hiking, glacier hiking, and ice climbing are the main ways to get around. A vast network of trails are mapped out by the Skaftafell Visitor Center, which acts as an information center and exhibition space for the entire Vatnajokull National Park. Highlights of Skaftafell, which is dotted with active volcanoes, fast-flowing glacial rivers, and lava-sculpted peaks, include the dramatic Svartifoss waterfall, the scenic Morsárdalur valley, and the looming ice caps of nearby Oraefajokull, Iceland’s highest peak.
You have numerous options for visiting the park with a guided tour, whether you want to spend a day ice caving, ice hiking, or just stopping by for a photo opportunity. Tours typically leave from Reykjavik every day in summer, and many include visits to Skaftafell as part of a broader sightseeing tour that takes in other landmarks such as Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Skaftafell National Park is a must-visit for nature lovers.
- Tours may be canceled due to poor weather.
- One of the best views can be found at Sjonarnipa, which is to the right of the crossroad before Svartifoss.
- Due to safety issues, Icelandic tourism authorities advise attempting to hike on the glaciers only as part of a guided tour.
How to Get There
Skaftafell is about 185 miles (300 kilometers) southeast of Reykjavik and is easy to reach by simply driving along the Ring Road (Route 1). During summer, public buses can also take you there, or you can skip the hassle by booking a tour that includes round-trip transportation.
When to Get There
Although it is possible to visit Skaftafell in winter, bear in mind that Iceland experiences only a few hours of daylight in the winter months, and walking in the wild in utter darkness can be very unpleasant. Much better, then, to visit at the height of summer, when it stays light until late at night, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the natural wonders.
Often missed by visitors, Ingolfshofdi Cape is an isolated cliff on the coast that’s home to thousands of nesting seabirds in the summer, including puffins and great skuas. It does take a little effort to get there—you’ll need to ask one of the local families for a tractor ride there (for a small fee). The drive takes about 25 minutes each way.