Skaftafell National Park in South East Iceland is an area with stunningly diverse geological features and scenery. From the soft shelter of Bæjarstaðarskógur, the woodlands which blanket the wide valley of Morsárdalur to the ice cap of Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak in Iceland (2210 m) on the rim of the Öræfajökull Volcano. From the astonishing glossy black basalt columns beneath the cascade of Svartifoss (the Black Waterfall) to the glittering deep jewel blue and white wonderland of an ice cave.
In 1968 4807 km2 of wilderness around the farming area at Skaftafell became the Skaftafell National Park, a preservation area, designated by Umhverfisstofnun, the Environment Agency of Iceland. In 2008 Skaftafell became part of Vatnajökull National Park (Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður).
What to do in Skaftafell
There are quite a few hiking routes from Skaftafell Visitor Center. These vary from an easy 3.7 km trail which will give you a great view of Skaftafellsjökull glacier to a challenging 29.8 km hike through the valley of Morsárdalur and on to the vividly colorful rhyolite gorges and amazing basalt dikes of Kjós, a remote valley. This is an unforgettable hike for serious trail walkers used to difficult terrain.
Tours in Skaftafell
The Crystal Ice Cave tour and the Into the Glacier tour are famous winter ice cave tours from Skaftafell. Images of these caves have won prizes in major photography competitions and winged their way around the globe. The Crystal Ice Cave, at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull (glacier), has quite thin layers of ice allowing natural light to shine through – unique and magical!
The into the glacier tour does what it says on the can – takes you much deeper into the ice! – provided with a headlamp you will have perfect visibility. These tours are only operated in winter. Ice caves are constantly being re-crafted by the streams of meltwater which created them. During summer they change very fast which makes them very unstable and prone to collapse without warning. This process of change is remarkable and very special, the cave of next winter will be very different from the cave of last winter!
Skaftafell glacier walks with a guide, such as the Glacier Wonders – Glacier Walk from Skaftafell happen throughout the year. The Glacier Guides hut can be found next to the Visitor Center.
Accommodation in Skaftafell
Skaftafell accommodation is available at the camping site next to Skaftafell Visitor Center between 01 May and 30 September. Fees are payable. Toilets, showers, and laundry facilities are available.
Hof 1 Adventure Hotel is a 15 minute drive from Skaftafell, located at Hof í Öræfi, which is sometimes referred to as “Sveitin milli sanda”, meaning the area between the sands, because it sits between the sand plains of Skeiðarársandur and Breiðamerkursandur. For many centuries the farmers in this area provided hospitality to travelers. This hotel, in stylishly converted former farm buildings, is relaxed and welcoming with an impressive collection of Icelandic art work on the walls. Relax in the sauna and hot pot or enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner in the restaurant.
Hotel Skaftafell is also close. There are farms offering accommodation and camping and a few guesthouses in the surrounding countryside. Hotels and guesthouses at Kirkjubæjarklaustur are about 45 minutes driving time from Skaftafell.
Skaftafell Visitor Center
Skaftafell Visitor Center provides excellent information about hiking trails, accommodation, tours and recreational options. There is a souvenir shop with books, postcards, and local handicrafts. Coffee and restrooms are available. The exhibition gives a lot of information about the geology of the area with displays showing how the lives of local people inter-weaved with this extraordinary environment over generations. A video shows footage of the dramatic glacier flood (known as a Jökulhlaup in Icelandic) from Skeiðarárjökull (glacier) in 1996. If you want to see the awesome power of Icelandic nature in action this is the video to watch!
There is a summer café close to the Visitor Center entrance. The Shell Gas Station at Freysnesi, 6 km away on Highway 1, serving drinks, snacks, and meals is open from 10 to 23.
Vatnajökull National Park, Skaftafellsstofa, 785 Öraefi, Iceland.
February – April: 10-17
May – September: 9-19
October – November: 10-17
The Visitor Center is closed on 1st January, 24th and 25th December.
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