Skaftafell national park hikes are extremely popular among mountain lovers from all over the world as this protected area has plenty to offer: amazing sceneries, large glaciers, and the best hiking trails from the whole country.
The national park was founded in September 1967 and had around 500 square kilometers and it continues to expand.
Starting with 2008 the park became part of the newly formed reserve Vatnajokull National Park which was the biggest natural reserve from Europe at that time, covering about 12% of Iceland.
The park has a unique fauna and flora, being a true oasis with glaciers, volcanoes, lakes, and black sand beaches.
Inside the park, you can find more than 245 species of plants and more than 30 species of birds that use this reserve to lay their eggs and raise their chicks.
Location of Skaftafell
Skaftafell is located in the southern part of Iceland, close to Hofn, Vik, or Kirkjuaejarklaustur about 4 hours drive from the capital city of Reykjavik.
It is found in the southern part of the Vatnajokull National Park, a short drive from the main road that circles the country.
In order to reach this place, you have to follow the Ring Road in the southern part of the country for about 300 kilometers.
You can get there by car and the road conditions are extremely good, an asphalted road accessible to any type of car.
During the summer season, there are even buses that travel between Reykjavik and the park, so the area is extremely accessible and perfect for nature lovers.
The area is full of interesting hiking trails with different lengths and difficulty levels and is one of the very few places from Iceland with good weather and long and sunny days in the summer.
How to get to the park
Skaftafell is located in the southeastern part of Iceland very close to the popular southern coast of Iceland, which is among the most visited parts of the country because of its abundance of natural wonders, closeness to Reykjavik and incredible sceneries.
Here are the most common distances when speaking about getting to Skaftafell National Park:
- Vik to Skaftafell – 140 kilometers; 1 hour and 50 minutes
- Reykjavik to Skaftafell – 320 kilometers; 4 hours
- Jökulsárlón to Skaftafell – 57 kilometers; 55 minutes
- Akureyri to Skaftafell – 580 kilometers; 7.5 hours
- Egilsstaðir to Skaftafell – 315 kilometers; 4.5 hours
Most of the trails and the guided tours start at the Skaftafell Visitors Center and you can park your car in the designated area but don’t forget to pay the parking fee before entering the park.
What to expect from Skaftafell national park
The centerpiece of the park is Vatnajokull, the largest glacier from Iceland and the second-largest glacier from Europe.
Besides this large glacier, there are quite many glacier tongues out of which I would mention: Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, Falljökull glacier, and Svínafellsjökull glacier.
On the lower part of the national park, you will find amazing scenery with sea pea, Skaftafell birch, and rowan trees as well as angelica and wild angelica.
On this beautiful landscape, you may spot mice, Arctic foxes, and minks searching for food and in the summer if you are lucky you might even see the little ones.
Skaftafell national park hikes
Hiking Skaftafell national park Iceland is extremely popular among tourists so expect lots of people roaming around, especially during the summer season.
You can hike on your own, which is a little bit dangerous if you don’t have enough experience, or you can join a group and hike with a professional guide to the beautiful Skaftafell Glacier and its surrounding area.
For your own safety, we recommend you choose the second option and join a small group, and hike together inside the protected area.
We did so, and we choose Skaftafell National Park: 3-Hour Glacier Hike, the best day trip that allows you to hike across the largest glacier from Europe, Vatnajokull.
In the tour rate, you have included the glacier hiking equipment, a certified glacier guide that will provide you all the useful information about this impressive place from Iceland.
Hiking equipement for Skaftafell National Park
In order to hike the national park, you need to be equipped properly as the conditions are difficult even during summertime when the weather can change dramatically and the glaciers start to melt.
Here is a list of the minimum equipment that you have to have with you for hiking inside the park:
- hiking shoes
- water bottle
- action camera
- rain jacket
- portable charger
- backpack rain cover
Skaftafell national park hikes
At the entrance of the protected area, you will see plenty of boards with Skaftafell National park maps indicating the trails from the park.
There are 9 hiking trails with different lengths and difficulty levels, with the shorter ones more popular among tourists pressed by time.
1. Bæjarstaðaskógur hike M1
Quite a challenging trail, with almost 16 kilometers (round trip), Bæjarstaðaskógur hike will take you about 5 hours to complete.
The starting point of the trail is near Skaftafell Visitor Centre and you need to go towards Sjonarsker and then to Morsardalur.
This is definitely one of the most impressive Skaftagell National Park hikes as you can admire on your way a beautiful forest, a true oasis in the middle of the black sand, the perfect place to reconnect to nature.
You will pass the impressive forest and the sandy field and if you still have some extra energy climb up to Sjonarsker, a wonderful viewpoint from where you can admire the whole area.
2. Morsárjökull hike M2
Morsárjökull hike is another beautiful but quite challenging hike that has almost 21 kilometers (round trip) and requires you at least 7 hours to walk all along the path.
In order to travel all across the trail, you need to follow the path to Morsa valley but after a while, you need to walk up to the bottom of Morsárjökull, the glacier located at the end of the valley.
Yes, it is a very long hike but it offers you the unique opportunity to get close to the glacier and admire the small lagoon that opens at your feet.
3. Kjós M3
Another demanding and quite difficult route located inside the park is Kjos, a trail with 30 kilometers length that requires about 10 hours to follow it.
The trail is long and difficult so it is not for everybody, especially because parts of it are not marked, so only if you are an experienced hiker, we recommend you to follow it.
4. Skaftafellsjökull S1
One of the most accessible and popular Skaftafell National Park hikes is the one that leads to the Skaftafellsjökull glacier.
It is considered to be an easy trail, with a total length of 4 kilometers and it will take you about 2 hours.
Half of the path is well-paved, while the other half is with gravel but it is well maintained and accessible for many types of people.
The trail ends extremely close to the glacier offering a beautiful view of the glacier and the good news is that you can get close to the glacier but you have to follow the instructions and the warning signs.
5. Svartifoss – Sjónarsker – Sel S2
S2 Svartifoss – Sjónarsker – Sel is quite an easy trail from the park, which might become quite crowded during the summer season as it is considered to be one of the best day hikes from the area.
One of the most exciting Skaftafell national park hikes is a quite easy path with a total length of 5.5 kilometers and it will take you about 2 hours to complete it.
You will pass near Svartifoss waterfall, go down to a ravine to have a close look over the basalt column steps.
Follow the signs to reach the old turf house of Sel, one of the very few ancient turf houses from Iceland.
6. Skaftafellsheiði S3
Another challenging route from the park is Skaftafellsheiði with a total length of 17 kilometers that will take you about 6 hours to complete.
On your way, you will spot the tongue of glacier Vatnajokull and you will walk along with it and go up to the mountain from where you can admire the beautiful view.
You then get to a beautiful valley covered with moss and rocks, a more open area with stronger winds but fascinating sceneries.
7. Kristínartindar S4
Considered one of the most difficult Skaftafell national park hikes with a total length of 18 kilometers (round trip), Kristinartindar is a wonderful path suitable only for the experienced ones.
Those of you interested in following this path have to know that they need special equipment and extensive care for the environment.
This path is not suitable for those who have fear of height but it is a great place to observe and photograph the different textures and colors of nature.
You will be able to get close to the glacier, have a closer look at the lava field, admire from distance the beautiful ocean, and photograph Vatnajokull from the northern side.
8. Sjónarnípa S5
Sjonarnipa is another beautiful but quite challenging trail from the park with a total length of 6.5 kilometers that offers a wonderful view of the Skaftafell mountain and the surrounding area.
After an initial hike of about 1.5 km ( 0.9 miles), you will get to a beautiful wide-open dirt area having the Svartifoss right in front of your eyes.
Go down to the ravine trail to see the waterfall from its base and then continue your hike through many fields of tundra flora.
The best time of the year for this trail is in summer, as spring and autumn come with snow on the ground and you will have to fight with mud and melting ice.
9. Svartifoss and Sjónarsker S6
With a total length of 5.5 kilometers, S6 hiking trail Svartifoss and Sjónarsker is the last incredible hiking trail from Skaftafell national park hikes.
The hike lasts for about 2 hours and it is the most spectacular of the whole 9 trails that exist in the park.
The main attraction from the route is Svartifoss or the Black Fall with its black basaltic rocks in its background.
The whole path is very well maintained and you can choose to see only the Svartifoss without the viewpoint and this is just about 2 kilometers long.
If you want to follow the whole trail then prepare your camera as you will get some memorable shots from Sjonarsker’s viewpoint.
These are all the 9 trails that exist inside the protected area; depending on your physical condition and time you have, choose at least one of them and enjoy the beautiful view with unique landforms.
Most of these trails are closed during winter so you’d better plan your holiday during the warm season to be sure you can have access to each of these trails.
If you want to explore more of this amazing national park you might consider spending some nights in the hotels near Skaftafell National Park.
I have prepared for you a list of the comfiest and coziest hotels from the area telling you what I like at each of them and all you have to do is to pick your favorite one and hit the road.
Skaftafell national park hotels
After exhausting Skaftafell national park hikes you will definitely need a good place to rest in one of these hotels in Skaftafell Iceland.
My recommendations are:
1. Hotel Skaftafell
Located close to Skaftafell National Park and the famous Jokursarlon or Glaciar Lagoon, Hotel Skaftafell Iceland is a family-run hotel, the closest one to the national park with the lowest prices during the shoulder season.
The hotel features clean rooms, overlooking the beautiful lagoon and the mountains around and all the rooms come equipped with free WiFi, a private bathroom, and satellite TV.
On-site there is an a la carte restaurant serving the most popular dishes from the country, while on the second floor there is a beautiful bar with an amazing view of the glaciers.
2. Adventure Hotel Hof
Located in the beautiful town of Hof, about 15 minutes drive from the entrance of the Skaftafell National Park, Adventure Hotel Hof Iceland is a great place to set your camp if you want to explore the southern part of Iceland.
The hotel offers beautiful rooms with shared or private bathrooms with breakfast included in the room rate.
You can serve dinner at a location in the small restaurant but for lunch, you have to find another place to eat.
At the reception, there are available tours of the glaciers, ice caving, and hiking organized with local companies.
3. Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon
One of the most luxurious accommodations from the area is located in the beautiful village Hnappavellir, about half an hour from Skaftafell National Park, and is named Fosshotel Lagoon .
The rooms are modern and spacious equipped with classy toiletries and a huge panoramic window to see the beautiful landscape from the coziness of your room.
The food is delicious, the staff is extremely friendly and guests can relax and enjoy the sauna and the hot tubs.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money, plus COVID coverage.
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.