Skaftafell National Park was established in 1967 and in 2008 became part of the largest protected area from Iceland, Vatnajokull National Park.
Skaftafell Iceland is one of the most popular attractions from the country, a natural gem packed with many amazing spots and outstanding sceneries.
The area was established as a national park on September 15, 1967 and has a total surface area of almost 4,850 square kilometers.
At this time, Vatnajokull National Park is the biggest park in Europe covering about 12% of Iceland’s surface.
The landscape reminds me of the European Alps and the park is famous for its sunny and beautiful days during summer, perfect for exploring the whole area, quite an unusual climate for south Iceland.
Inside the park, you will find volcanoes, lakes, glaciers, and sand fields inhabited by more than 30 different species of birds and home to more than 260 different species of plants.
Many kilometers of trails cross the national park, from short and easy ones to more challenging paths that go up to the glaciers and volcanoes.
Skaftafell Park is located between the town Hofn in Hornafjordur and the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur (Klaustur) and the preserved area in Öræfi, located in southeastern Iceland.
The distance from the national park to the city of Reykjavik is about 320 kilometers or 200 miles, about 4.5 hours’ drive.
Getting to Skaftafell National Park
It is very easy to get to this protected area as it is located right on Route 1 or Ring Road, the most popular road from Iceland.
The average driving time from the capital city to the entrance of the park is 4.5 hours during good weather conditions, and 5 hours during wintertime.
Definitely, the easiest way to get to the park is with a rented car, as you have the mobility and freedom to explore the area in your own way.
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There is also public transport that goes from Reykjavik to the Hofn, via Skaftafell, but there is no direct connection and you have to change buses once or twice.
Best time to visit the park
Like many other destinations from Iceland, this national park is a year-round destination with certain limitations during the snow season.
Skaftafell is definitely a popular destination among nature lovers, hikers, adventurers, and mountain lovers.
Before you go don’t forget to check your equipment and the weather forecast and no matter when you travel pack with you some thermal clothes.
The area is full of glaciers, but during the winter season, there is not much snow although it is cold and wind.
The main risks come from rains as the trails might become muddy and during dark, these trails might be quite dangerous.
That is why we strongly recommend you plan your trip taking into consideration the length of the trail, the number of hours of light, the difficulty of the route, and the season when you go.
Skaftafell’s landscape is modeled by many years of volcanic eruptions, glacial movements, and powerful rivers.
Right at the edge of the park is the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnukur, or Hvannadalshnjúkur.
The sand dirty Sólheimajökull glacier is within a short drive from the park so you definitely have to visit this area and start your adventure right at the visitors centre at the entrance of the park.
Here are the main elements that shaped the face of the park:
This national park that today is part of Vatnajökull national park is home to the tallest volcano from Iceland, Öraefajökull, with a total length of 2,120 meters is the highest point in Iceland.
The second-largest volcano in Europe after Mount Etna, Öraefajökull is the oldest and the largest volcano in Iceland, a very popular attraction from the park.
One of the most famous and beautiful waterfalls from Iceland is located inside this park and is called Svartifoss or “Black Waterfall”.
The waterfall is not the most powerful or the tallest in the country, but it is definitely the most interesting one because of the black basalt column rocks that stand aside.
These rocks were born during a volcanic eruption at the moment when the hot lava erupts at the Earth’s surface. Within minutes from the moment when it erupts, the lava cools off and the rocks contract, fracture, or crack.
Skaftafell Iceland is home to one of the most impressive Icelandic glacier tongues located inside the Vatnajokull National Park.
The most famous glaciers from the park are Falljökull, Skaftafellsjökull, and Svínafellsjökull located in the vicinity of Vatnajokull glacier, the ultimate glacier exploration adventure.
Some tourists come to this area for glacier hikes and ice climbing tours, while others come to visit the places where many epic movies were filmed.
Skaftafell National Park: 3-Hour Glacier Hike is the best way to explore Skaftafell Glaciers and have some incredible views of the national park.
The tour lasts for 3 hours and starts at the entrance of the park where you will meet your guide and after a short lesson about using crampons and ice ax, you will head to the glacier.
Glacier walks Iceland is among the most popular activities from the country and Skaftafell is the place where everything started many years ago.
Blue Ice caves
Here, in Skaftafell National Park you can find the most beautiful blue ice caves from the whole country with unique ice formations and beautiful colors.
Blue ice is extremely rare all over the earth and in order to be blue, the ice should not have any air bubbles.
Icelandic ice was formed thousands of years ago and each layer was compressed under a huge weight so no air was left inside.
Scientists use to call Iceland caves Crystal caves referring to the crystal texture of the ice, perfectly shaped and colored.
Things to do in Skaftafell Park
This national park offers a wide range of hiking trails with different lengths and degrees of difficulty.
Most of the trails start at the Skaftafell Visitors Center and you can follow them alone or with a guide.
If you go without a guide, make sure you pick the right trail, the one that fits you most from a difficulty and length perspective.
The most popular trail is the one that goes to the beautiful Svartifoss waterfall, a short and not very challenging trail suitable for most visitors.
2. Glacier hiking
One of the best glacier hiking places from the whole of Iceland is the Vatnajokull National Park area, more exactly the place where once was Skaftafell park.
If normal hiking trails can be done on your own, glacier hiking definitely needs to be done with a professional guide.
The experience is unique and you definitely have to try it; on your glacier walk, you will walk on ice, pass near deep crevasses, and admire the beautiful color of the ice cap.
Glaciers are actually the ones that make this national park so special so you cannot visit it without exploring a small part of the ice cap.
Some of the glacier tongues are accessible by car, while others can be reached by car and then on foot.
The road is quite difficult so we strongly recommend you to have a 4×4 car if you want to go to the tongue of a glacier.
4. Ice caving
Ice caving is extremely popular among tourists and locals passionate about mountain and nature adventure.
Bear in mind that this activity is not available all year round, the best time of the year for it is from March to October when the temperatures are lower and the risks are minimized as the glaciers are not melting.
You can choose for an ice caving tour or if you have more time, the best thing to do is to combine the ice caving experience with a glacier walk.
- Skaftafell: Ice Cave tour & Glacier Hike is the best-guided tour that combines both these activities in one day.
What to pack for a trip to Skaftafell National Park
You definitely have to take with you warm clothes, a raincoat and rain pants as well as good hiking boots.
If you plan a glacier hike take it with your crampons and ice ax and for those of you with little experience in glacier walks we strongly recommend going with a guided tour.
Sleeping near glaciers
- luxury: the luxurious rooms from Fosshotel Lagoon awaits its guests with clean and cozy rooms with huge windows overlooking the mountains, a great restaurant, and a bar. The glacier lagoon and Diamond beach are half an hour away from the property.
- mid-level: nestled in the middle of the wilderness Seljavellir Guesthouse Hofn is a great place to spend your night and observe the Northern Lights as the place is far from any light pollution.
- budget: the simple but clean Laekjarhus Farm Holidays Iceland located just 15 miles from the Glacier Lagoon is run by an Icelandic family of farmers, a great place to set your camp and explore the area.
If you are looking for some adrenaline and really interesting adventures then you definitely should head to Skaftafell National Park.
The park offers a wide range of outdoor activities and one of the most breathtaking sceneries from the whole country.
It is a great destination for a day tour if you are visiting the area located in the southern part of Iceland, within a few hours’ drive from the Golden Circle route.
It is conveniently located on Ring Road and there are plenty of accommodation options around the area.
The main downside is that the place becomes extremely crowded during summertime, as it happens with the whole of Iceland, so book your hotel, car, and tours in advance to secure not only your seat but also the best price.
You will be impressed by the unique landforms with outlet glaciers, beautiful volcanoes hidden beneath the ice, and the blue color caves.
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
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.