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Skaftafell National Park Iceland | Complete Guide 2023


The Vatnajökull National Park in southeast Iceland contains the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. It distinguishes itself with unexpected and strikingly different landscapes. From waterfalls to glacial lagoons, and geological structures to black sand deserts, this region offers a wide range of natural attractions to tourists.

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It is regarded as one of Iceland’s most picturesque locations because of the stunning contrast between the white glaciers, black beaches, and green meadows. One of Vatnajökull National Park’s crown jewels, Skaftafell National Park Iceland, offers a variety of hiking trails to its tourists. a wonderful location to view the range of natural treasures the national park has to offer. For all visitors to the Vatnajökull Region, Skaftafell is a must-see.

A major portion of the surface of the huge glacier and that of Laki were added to the original area, significantly increasing the protected area from 500 sq km to 4,807 sq km, after it was first established in 1964. The entire region has been a part of Vatnajökull National Park since 2008, making it the biggest national park in all of Europe.

Skaftafell’s lack of roads is among its most outstanding features. As a result, walking is the only practical way to experience everything the park has to offer. The Svartifoss waterfall, which is known as the “black waterfall” because of the surrounding black basalt columns, and the Svnafellsjökull glacier are only two of the destinations accessible by a network of trails.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland is without a doubt Skaftafell, which is frequented by both local Icelanders and foreign visitors.

How to reach Skaftafell National Park Iceland?

There are primarily two methods for doing this. You may start by renting a car and driving yourself. It will be a wonderful journey that allows us to go at our own pace and stop whenever we like.

A lot of tourists instead take a guided trip to the south coast to reach Skaftafell. This makes life a little easier because all one has to do is relax, take in the scenery, and wait for the person to arrive.

It takes roughly four hours to go from Reykjavik to Skaftafell, which is located in the southeast of the nation just off the Ring Road. The trip could take considerably longer, though, as there may be numerous stops along the way to take in the natural beauty that this section of Iceland has to offer tourists, as the south coast is one of the most traveled roads in the area.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the Mrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers, the black sand deserts of Sólheimasandur and Skeiarársandur, as well as the stunning coastal rock formations of Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar, are notable views encountered en way to Skaftafell. They can be enjoyable pit stops on the road to Skaftafell, as well as the nearby settlements of Vk and Kirkjubaejarklaustur. The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a vast lake filled with enormous icebergs that slowly drift towards the sea after breaking off from a glacial tongue, is another attraction that cannot be missed.

What to see at Skaftafell National Park?

Due to its diverse geographic features and natural beauty, the entire region is ideal for breathtaking adventures. The park is typically divided into three sections: Skaftafell, Skeidararsandur, a glacial plain of black sand produced by the transport of debris by rivers fed by glaciers, and Lakagigar, which is a particularly striking volcanic area, a row of spectacular craters in the southern highlands of Iceland that constitutes the National Monument Laki, the cape of Vatnajokull, and the numerous tongues of ice that reach the sea from it.

A great visitor center is also located in Skaftafell, where visitors can find out useful information about all nearby activities and lodging. A display at the center details the region’s glaciers and volcanoes as well as the historical impacts they had on nearby villages.

Trips to the Glaciers

The great range of hiking trails in Skaftafell is well-known. These, however, are often shorter, circular, and appropriate for most hikers, in contrast to those in the Icelandic highlands.

One can walk up Skaftafellsjökull, the glacier that carries the same name as the national park, for instance, from the Skaftafell Visitor Center. Only about 4 kilometers separate the two points, yet they lead directly to the glacier’s base. On the other hand, there are various paths that can take between six and eight hours if you want to take on something more difficult, like the Kristnartindar path, which leads to the base of Iceland’s tallest peak, Hvannadalshnkur.

Svartifoss waterfall (Black)

Although it has a 20-meter drop, this Icelandic waterfall is not the biggest one. However, it is a memorable destination to visit because of its exceptional location and breathtaking surroundings. The waterfall is distinguished in particular by its basalt columns, a striking collection of stones that resembles the pipes of a church organ and sets the stage for the river’s cascading from the wall onto the rocks below.

It’s not necessary to be an expert in geology to appreciate its unusual shapes. It is no accident that the most well-known church in Reykjavik, Hallgrmskirkja, was designed with Svartifoss’ distinctive shape in mind. A 90-minute roundtrip trek through some of Skaftafell’s breathtaking landscape is required to get to the waterfall. Worth every effort.

Ice Caves and the Crystal Ice Cave

The glacier caverns, which provide a distinctive spectacle, are undoubtedly one of the area’s many attractions. Only in the winter, when the frost causes the streams to subside and the structure to become solid, are they accessible. Although new caverns are created every year, the Crystal Ice Cave is unquestionably one of the most evocative.

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The Vatnajokull Glacier has been digging and carving into the granite for centuries to lengthen its outcrops, gradually forming this brilliant blue architectural wonder. It still moves and transforms, however slowly, and provides tourists with fantastical performances that cannot be missed. The ambiance in the cave is special because of the natural light that enters through the ice.

There are many options for visiting these locations, and they vary by trip type, ranging from the most tranquil and acceptable for everyone to the more severe and daring ones, which are only advised for those who have the necessary experience to confront them.

Lakagigar ei crateri di Laki

Lakagigar, a sequence of 130 volcanic craters along a 25-kilometer-long eruptive fissure, can be found in the park’s southwest corner. It is said to have been the greatest eruption in recorded history. The craters are a part of the Grimsvotn Volcanic System, which is located between the Myrdalsjokull and Vatnajokull glaciers and is a very active region.

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During a brief but devastating eruption that occurred between June 1783 and February 1784, the region produced some of the most spectacular geological formations in the entire globe. Lakagigar is challenging to get there, necessitating the use of a 4×4 vehicle. It should go without saying that if you enjoy off-road driving, this may be among your favorite Icelandic experiences.

The official website of the Vatnajökull National Park, which encompasses the Jökulsárgljfur and Skaftafell national parks along with the Vatnajökull ice cap itself and vast surrounding areas, is where you can find out more information about the attractions of the park and the surrounding areas.

Best Hiking Spots in a Wonderland

A unique monument to the alluring yet potent beauty of Iceland’s natural landscape, Skaftafell is regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in the country. It features a wonderful contrast of white glaciers, black sands, and green meadows.

The area is marked by a number of waterfalls, including Svartifoss, Magnusarfoss, Hundafoss, and Thjofafoss. The Morsa River’s hot springs, Morsarjokull’s ice caves, and the water features along the beginning of Skaftafellsjokull’s enormous ice tongue are just a few examples of the region’s outstanding natural beauty. The area is also large, accessible, and well-organized. a place that must be included in the vacation itinerary on the island of ice and fire, where breathtaking beauty can only be produced by nature, which rules supreme.

The Skaftafell Visitor Centre

At Skaftafell, there is a Visitor’s center that serves as the primary hub for independent travelers and tour groups seeking information. Any questions you might have regarding the larger Skaftafell area, including its geology and history, can be answered at the Skaftafell Visitor Center. Information about neighboring hiking routes, leisure activities, and lodging is also available at the Visitors Center.

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Skaftafell also has a hotel, however, it tends to fill up quickly. Fortunately, there are several hotels, lodges, and cottages scattered around the southeast, and the region is not far from the towns of Höfn or Kirkjubklaustur.

When you should visit Skaftafell National Park Iceland?

Summer is the ideal time to visit Skaftafell since it is mild and the days are long, allowing you to walk for as long as you desire. Even in the dead of night, you can walk. Having said that, the park presents fantastic chances all year long, with each season providing something unique.

Glacier hiking and ice caving are excellent winter activities. But during the winter, certain Skaftafell trails are impassable. The national park and campground are available all year round, although from September to May, due to the inclement weather, tent camping is not advised.

How to Prepare for Stay in Skaftafell National Park?

How long must you spend at Skaftafell?

Calculate how much time you can devote to Skaftafell while still having time to tour other areas of Iceland, of course. If you have more time, there is enough to keep you busy for several days, but you can easily spend two to three days there without becoming bored.

The majority of people stay for at least one whole day, which gives you enough time to reserve a proper glacier trip, such as a glacier trek, ice cave tour, or ice climbing tour, as well as take a quick, independent hike to see the Svartifoss waterfall or another notable feature of the park (see the path options further below).

If you only have a few hours to spare, there is a fantastic Skaftafell sampler available. The three- to four-hour Glacier Walk Express trip transports you to Falljökull on IMG’s glacier bus, where you can enjoy a short glacier walk and see a wonderland of sculpted ice.

Searching Accommodation

Despite being one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations, there aren’t many places to stay in the vicinity. It’s best to reserve your lodging well in advance. Modern hotels, more affordable guesthouses, and the campground located right in the middle of the hiking paths are all options. Choose your favorite alternative by visiting Airbnb or

Hotel at Fosshótel

Because of the elongated shape of this stylish, modern hotel, every room, from the rear patio to the picture windows, makes the most of the nature outside, where pristine white glacial snow and ice contrast with dark basalt rocks.

Skaftafell Hotel

Hotel Skaftafell, located beneath the glacier, makes a great home base for touring the national park. The hotel’s top priority is its service. The company offers packed lunches and will organize trips on your behalf, and its employees are happy to offer route planning assistance.

Adventure Hotel Hof

The distance between the hotel and Vatnajökull National Park is three minutes by car. Breakfast and dinner alternatives are available, although the lodging is basically furnished.

Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon

This contemporary hotel is covered in wood and has a pleasingly simple interior with pops of color. It is 27 miles from Svartifoss Waterfall in the national park and 29 kilometers from the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.

Camping Skaftafell          

The Skaftafell campground is close to the visitor center. Simply show up and select a pitch from the 400 available. In the middle of the campsite are restrooms with showers, laundry, and dishwashing facilities.

Wild camp near Skaftafell National Park

In Iceland, it is strictly forbidden to go wild camping with any kind of motorized vehicle. In national parks or other protected locations like Skaftafell, tent camping is not permitted outside of licensed campgrounds.

A tent may be erected for one night above 400 meters in elevation on multiday backpacking journeys made on foot. By not encouraging or participating in wild camping in Iceland, please be respectful and set a good example.

What to do Before Visiting Skaftafell National Park

You must make earlier preparations because Skaftafell National Park is situated in a remote area. If you’re trekking in the wilderness, be ready for the weather to turn bad and dress accordingly. If necessary, postpone your hike until the conditions are better. Before leaving, especially in the winter, you should confirm that the roads are clear.

Here are some steps to take in advance:

Prior to traveling to Skaftafell, stock up on provisions in town.

Review the weather report as well as the state of the trails and roads. Get a precise local prediction from the Weather is or the Skaftafell nine-day forecast. Check Safetravel for information on road and path closures or detours caused by floods, severe snow, landslides, or even volcanic activity. Winter is a crucial time for this.

When you reserve tours in advance, you have up to 24 hours to cancel.

Choose the trails or regions of the park you want to explore, and then organize your trip accordingly. The park offers easy-to-difficult hiking paths. Select those that are appropriate for your level of experience and fitness.

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Before leaving, you should either get an offline park map from the visitor center or download one to your phone or GPS. It’s easy to become lost, especially in bad weather. Don’t rely on signposts; sometimes they are difficult to see, particularly when the mists descend. The website also provides information about the topography and level of difficulty of a walk, in addition to information regarding road and trail closures.

Travel insurance is crucial if you’re visiting Iceland. Make sure your insurance covers any outdoor activities you partake in, including hiking, if you’re exploring the park.

Things to do at Skaftafell National Park


Skaftafell’s extensive network of trails crisscrossing pristine terrain makes hiking one of its main draws. Everything from a quick stroll to the Svartifoss waterfall to a climb up Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnkur, or the expansive vistas from the Sjónarnpa and Kristnartindar trails are available.

See the list of the top hikes in Skaftafell below. To go on a traditional walk, sign up for the Npstaaskógar Skaftafell trip.

Observing nature

Vatnajökull National Park, including Skaftafell, is home to roughly 314 moss species and 287 lichen species, as well as birch and rowan trees that thrive on the mountain slopes, in addition to its remarkable geology and volcanic and glacial landscapes.

You can locate Arctic thyme, mountain avens, angelica, and glacier buttercup inside the park. Waterfowl and waders live on the outwash plains, brown trout and Arctic char live in the rivers, and deer and Arctic foxes live on the uplands.

Climbing a glacier

With Icelandic Mountain Guides, Skaftafell serves as the launchpad for a variety of exhilarating outdoor pursuits. Book your upcoming expedition online or at the sales hut at the Skaftafell Visitor Center.

We have an adventure for you, including glacier walking, ice climbing, and mountain climbing on Hvannadalshnkur, Iceland’s highest peak.

Dining options close to Skaftafell Nature Reserve

With a view of lava fields, Fosshótel Npar serves up delicious snacks. Enjoy Happy Hour from 4-6 p.m. while dining in the restaurant or bar.

Between the Skaftafell campsite and the tourist center, there is a little mobile shack called Glacier Goodies with some outdoor seating and some take-out food including lobster bisque and soup, fish and fries, and spare ribs.

Cafe Vatnajökull is a terrific place for morning coffee, lunch, or afternoon tea. It’s stylish but intimate. The menu includes brownies, pastries, soup, and decent coffee.

Hvannadalshnkur, Iceland’s tallest mountain at 2110 meters, is directly beneath the restaurant at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. Give yourself some exquisitely presented Icelandic fusion food.

What to Pack for Skaftafell National Park and How to Dress

Dressing in breathable layers is essential due to Iceland’s unpredictable weather, especially outer layers that are waterproof and windproof. You must wear sturdy hiking boots that support your ankles, and if you’re camping in Skaftafell Campground, you’ll need a sturdy tent that can handle wind and rain.

Make sure you have the appropriate gear, including an all-weather backpack, before setting out on a multiday hike. We’ll supply crampons, an ice axe, and, if required, a helmet and harness if you’re going glacier trekking with us. Find out what to wear for a glacier hike by reading our advice.

How to stay safe in Skaftafell

Only seasoned hikers should go out in the winter. Always check the weather forecast and inquire at the tourist center about the trail conditions, even in the summer. Relocate if you can to a different day if the weather is hazardous.

If you’re going on a walk by yourself, download the “SafeTravel Iceland app” and register your itinerary with Safetravel. Hiking with a guide is recommended for novice hillwalkers. It is never a good idea to go glacier hiking alone, and you should never try to step on an iceberg that is floating in a lagoon, even if it seems frozen.

How to behave responsibly while visiting Iceland

When trekking in Iceland, there are a few simple rules to remember:

• Follow the paved paths.

• Staying at traces

• Consider wildlife.

• If you plan to walk a glacier, arrange for a guide.

Wrapping up!

Skaftafell National Park Iceland, as a jewel within Vatnajökull National Park, offers a unique tapestry of natural attractions that weave together Iceland’s stunning geological diversity.

From the breathtaking basalt columns of Svartifoss waterfall to the grandeur of Skaftafellsjökull glacier, every step in this reserve is an opportunity to connect with the raw forces that have shaped this land.

Whether you’re drawn by the allure of glacier hiking, the mysterious beauty of ice caves, or the rugged charm of volcanic craters, Skaftafell offers a truly unforgettable experience for both hikers and nature enthusiasts alike.


How can I reach Skaftafell National Park?

There are two primary ways to reach Skaftafell. You can rent a car and embark on an adventurous road trip, allowing you to explore at your own pace. Alternatively, many visitors opt for organized tours along the south coast, providing a convenient and scenic journey.

What are the highlights of Skaftafell National Park?

Skaftafell boasts an array of attractions. Don’t miss the Svartifoss “black” waterfall with its distinctive basalt columns, the glacier hikes like Skaftafellsjökull, and the mesmerizing ice caves. Additionally, Lakagigar’s volcanic craters and the lush meadows add to the park’s charm.

When is the best time to visit Skaftafell National Park?

Summer is the ideal time to explore Skaftafell, offering milder weather and extended daylight for hiking. However, each season brings its own allure, with winter offering glacier hiking and ice-caving experiences.

What should I bring when visiting Skaftafell National Park?

Dress in breathable layers and pack waterproof and windproof outerwear due to Iceland’s changeable weather. Sturdy hiking boots are essential, and for glacier activities, crampons, ice axes, helmets, and harnesses are provided.

What are the accommodation options near Skaftafell?

There are various accommodation options near Skaftafell, including hotels like Fosshótel Núpar, Hotel Skaftafell, Adventure Hótel Hof, and Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon. The Skaftafell camping site and selected wild camping options are also available.

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