National Parks in Iceland – How many are there?
Five national parks have been established in Iceland. However, Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur became part of Vatnajökull National Park in 2008 – so there are now just three.
- 1930 Þingvellir National Park (Þjóðgarðurinn Þingvöllum) in South Iceland.
- 1967 Skaftafell National Park, a 4,807 km2 area in South Iceland.
- 1973 Jökulsárgljúfur National Park in North Iceland.
- 2001 Snæfellsjökull National Park, a 170 km2 area in West Iceland.
- 2008 Vatnajökull National Park (Vatnajökulsþjóðgarðurinn), a 13,952 km2 area in North-East Iceland.
New areas containing some of Iceland´s greatest natural treasures have been added since 2008. The area around Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and other places have been taken into Vatnajökull National Park, extending its territory to 14,141 km2.
The national parks were formed to protect Iceland´s precious natural heritage, diverse wilderness areas, preserving the incredibly precious places and experiences which can be found within them for future generations to enjoy.
National Parks in Iceland
To get the best out of visiting Iceland’s national parks slow travel is the best way to go. You cannot travel quickly to most attractions anyway! We urge you to really absorb all the views, and every aspect of your experiences, feeling an almost sacred sense of awe and respect for the land. This is about allowing the rich experiences you encounter to weave their way into the fabric of your being – something extremely enriching and often consciousness-altering. You leave Iceland as pristine as you found it but you take away something very special and ineffable.
We cannot say it often enough, stay on the paths, leave no trace and take away only photographs and the best of memories.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its unique geology, history and cultural importance.
Situated on the Golden Circle route Þingvellir offers the visitor unique history and sensational natural wonders. The cliff of the Almanngjá gorge, where the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates ‘meet’, is simply stunning. Since around the end of the ice age these continental plates have been edging apart, producing the rift valley and some incredible geological features and scenery. You will see fabulous views over Þingvellir, the picturesque lake and church. There has been a church at Þingvellir since the 11th century, but the beautiful wooden church you see today was built in 1859. More information about Þingvellir, its facilities and attractions can be found here.
Silfra fissure, beneath the tranquil and crystal-clear waters of the lake at Þingvellir, delves down in the space between the tectonic faults, offering a unique experience, this is one of the most famous snorkeling and diving sites in the world. Diving or snorkeling at Silfra in Þingvellir National Park will show you a colorful and mesmerizing world which is greatly enhanced by the unrivalled underwater visibility. Read more about Silfra fissure here.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park in West Iceland is small in size but very big on wonders as it fully encircles the magnificent 1,446 m high Snæfellsjökull glacier. This is the only national park in Iceland which reached the coast when it was originally formed. The marine life, seabirds, magical beaches and fisherman´s coves with old shipwrecks, unspoiled headlands, the ancient Vatnshellir lava tube cave, and beautiful fishing villages with colorful stories make this an enchanting place. You can read more about Snæfellsnes here.
Whether you want to self-drive or to enjoy a tour, to visit for a day or for longer, there is so much to do and see in Snæfellsnes National Park. This peninsula is often called ‘Iceland in a Nutshell’ and traveling through such varied scenery you will surely see why. From the glossy black pebble beaches of Dritvík and Djúpalónssandur, where the remains of a shipwreck serve as a reminder of the treacherous nature of the spellbindingly beautiful cliffs, to the magnificent coastal paths and glorious headlands. At Grundafjörður, a lovely fishing town with charming scenery, you will find Kirkjufell, the iconic mountain whose image has been captured by thousands of photographers, Kirkjufellsfoss, an incredibly picturesque waterfalls tumbles down the nearby hillside. Stykkishólmur, Hellnar, Arnarstapi, Búðir, Ólafsvík and Hellissandur are all charming fishing villages that no traveler should miss. You will find accommodation, charming cafés, restaurants, camping sites, swimming pools and horse farms, tours and other amenities all around Snæfellsnes.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is home to Europe´s mightiest icecap, Vatnajökull, from which it takes its name. The park extends over the whole of the icecap, encompassing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach to the south, and covering Hoffellsjökull and Snæfell towards its easterly perimeter. Northern Vatnajökull extends over ‘Odáðahraun, Trölladyngja, the vast and lunar-like Askja volcano crater, and Holuhraun, the newest lava field in Iceland created by the eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano in 2014/15. Herðubreið, the majestic ´table top’ mountain which is Iceland´s National Mountain is also in this part of Vatnajökull.
Read more about Vatnajökull National Park adventures here. There are easy glacier hikes, challenging glacier hikes and ice climbs, glacier lagoon boat rides, winter ice cave tours .and even glacier combination tours for more serious ice adventurers.
Vatnajökull National Park contains the most remote, wildest, starkly beautiful, and sometimes barren areas of Iceland. Ódáðahraun is a harsh volcanic wasteland littered with pumice and lava boulders, giving it a very stark and raw kind of beauty. In the past this place was the greatly feared home of outlaws and, so it is said, powerful supernatural beings. At Jökulsárlón one can find some of the most enchantingly lovely ice-landscapes on the planet, this is one of the most popular tours in Iceland – Vatnajökull is a place of great contrasts. Together with the two parks mentioned below, which since 2008 have been a part of it, Vatnajökull National Park covers 13% of country.
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park can boast of Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak in Iceland at 2,110 meters (6,920 feet). This area contains dramatic and contrasting vistas shaped by great volcanoes and glaciers. Huge flood outwash areas, these volcanic desert wastelands were formed by enormous glacial floods generated by historic volcanic eruptions. Glacier tongues from Vatnajökull reach into Skaftafell National Park, their peaks rising above the green and more protected areas of Skaftafell, more information about Skaftafell can be found here. A network of hiking trails, from easy to quite challenging, radiate out from the Skaftafell Visitor Centre. A short and easy hike will take you to one of the loveliest waterfalls in Iceland, Svartifoss, whose name means ‘Black Waterfall’. Sheer white water falling over geometric black basalt columns – seriously picturesque.
When you want to get your adrenaline flowing Skaftafell has plenty to excite you, how about ice climbing and glacier hiking? A Glacier Extreme tour offers a nice challenge, or an easier, but no less sensational glacier experience suitable for everyone, such as a Glacier Wonders easy glacier hiking tour?
Since the President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, famously reached the summit this peak has been even more popular. This challenge requires a good level of physical fitness, a 4 day adventure tour would show you the South Coast and take you on a challenging trek to the summit of Hvannadalshnjúkur.
Jökulsárgljúfur National Park
Jökulsárgljúfur in Vatnajökull National Park, North Iceland. Although, this national park is small and geographically separated from the ‘main body’ of Vatnajökull, Jökulsárgljúfur, can boast of some incredible natural wonders. The region offers some fabulous hiking trails and the kind of sights which will make you run out of superlatives.
Jökulsárgljúfur means ‘Glacial River Canyon´ in English, the area includes Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, stand anywhere near this 100 m wide torrent and you will actually feel the earth quivering under your feet! A few other waterfalls are situated along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river including the stunningly beautiful Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss and Réttarfoss. A marked hiking trail threads its way to the car park at Hljóðaklettar. This 14 km hike is challenging in places, requiring some ‘scrambling’ up and down tricky slopes but it offers wonderful views of the rugged canyon. Walking between Selfoss and Dettifoss is a short, easy and spectacular walk which anyone who can traverse uneven terrain can do. A six day tour around Iceland would take you to Dettifoss and show you the most impressive sights and experiences in Iceland.
The Ásbyrgi canyon is in the most northerly part of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. This incredible horseshoe shaped gorge is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever seen. For me, the most remarkable feature was the contrast between soft, green, almost oasis like scenery and the forces which created the canyon. Peace and great destructive forces juxtapositioned side by side. There were at least two floods, known as Jökulshlaups, one at the end of the ice age and another several thousand years ago. These vast torrents, unleashed from Vatnajökull when ice dams burst, ripped out unimaginably large masses of rock. The base of the canyon is very serene, protected by the up to 100 meters high cliffs of the canyon, the trees which have been cultivated flourish and wild summer flowers add much to the beauty of Ásbyrgi.