Skaftafell is a top adventure playground for outdoor lovers in Iceland. Go cycling, glacier hiking, ice caving and more in this incredible nature reserve in beautiful South Iceland.
Skaftafell Nature Reserve was formally established as a park on the September 15, 1967. At this time, it was about 500 km2. Since then, the now-nature-reserve has been expanded twice; first, in 1984 when it went up to 1600 km2; and second, in 2004 when it went up to 4807 km2.
Skaftafell became a part of Vatnajökull National Park when the park was established in 2008.
At this point, Vatnajokull National Park became the biggest national park in Europe. It covers about 12% of Iceland’s surface and Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, is inside the park.
Skaftafell is a unique oasis surrounded by sands, glaciers, volcanoes and lakes. It’s also home to about 250 different kinds of plants and about 30 different bird species that nest in the area.
In Skaftafell you can find incredible natural beauty. The area is also renowned for its great weather. There are dozens of hiking trails found inside the park, both easy walking trails and challenging treks. This is why you can find some of Iceland’s best hikes in Skaftafell.
Skaftafell trails are usually well marked and there are wardens in the park that are ready to assist if anything is unclear.
Skaftafell is a located in between the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur (Klaustur) and the town Höfn in Hornarfjörður in the preservation area in Öræfi, South East Iceland. The distance from Reykjavík is 319 km or 198.2 mi.
GPS coordinates of Skaftafell: 64.0704° N, 16.9752° W
Getting to Skaftafell is easy. You follow the Ring Road 1 straight along the South Coast until you reach your destination.
The driving distance is pretty much the same no matter the season, but during winter you might want to add 30-40 minutes to your driving time.
Reykjavík to Skaftafell is a distance of 319 km and should take a little over 4 hours.
Vík to Skaftafell is a distance of 140 km and should take about 1 hour and 44 minutes.
Jökulsárlón to Skaftafell is a distance of 57 km and should take about 50 minutes.
Egilsstaðir to Skaftafell is a distance of 312 km and should take about 4 hours and 18 minutes.
Akureyri to Skaftafell is a distance of 576 km and should take about 7 hours and 32 minutes.
A scheduled bus goes between Reykjavík and Höfn through Skaftafell and you can find information about the bus on Strætó’s website.
The area within Skaftafell has been shaped by some of the most powerful forces known in nature.
The great Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland, and the second largest in terms of volume in Europe (3,100 km3) is located here. There are many glacial tongues which are surrounded by jagged mountains including Falljökull glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and Svínafellsjökull glacier.
It is clear for all to see how both the landscape and the history of the local people were shaped by fire and ice. On the lower areas of Skaftafell birch and sometimes rowan trees grow plentifully and angelica, wild angelica and sea pea grow well.
Ravens and a variety of birds can be found here together with mink, field mice and Arctic foxes. Svartifoss is a scintillating waterfall which dropping from a stunning crescent of geometric black basalt columns into a tranquil pool below.
The dramatic waterfall is reached by a very beautiful short hike from Skaftafell Visitor Center, on a clear day, there are magical views of towering mountain peaks and glaciers.
There are so many amazing and exciting possibilities to be discovered here that it really is difficult to choose between them – sometimes a combination tour or a longer tour is the only realistic choice!
If you want an easy adventure you can do that – if you want to experiences the extremes which Skaftafell can offer then go for it! Get ready to experience that moment of awe or to feel your adrenaline pumping.
If you need any help within the Skaftafell area you can get it by visiting the Skaftafell Visitor Center. It is located right at the edge of the Parking lot and there you can get information, shop souvenirs and get your energy bar filled up at their cafeteria.
The people working at the Visitor Center are super helpful and friendly, so don’t be shy! Ask for the documentary they show in the back, it’s free!
Right next to the Skaftafell Visitor Center you will find Glacier Hiking Booking Centers.
Arctic Adventure’s center is marked with the logo and our knowledgeable staff members are always there to help with choosing the right tour for you.
Whether you want to do a short glacier walk to simply touch a glacier or go full force into exploring the ice formations high on the glacier the guides can take you.
There are also quite a few great hiking routes from Skaftafell Visitor Center. These vary from an easy 3.7 km trail to a challenging 29.8 km hike through the valley of Morsárdalur.
Opening hours for Skaftafell Visitor Centre:
January – February: 10-18
March – April: 11-16
June – August: 8-19
November – December: 10-18
Vatnajökull National Park
Tel: +354 4708300
With the grandiose glacier Vatnajökull resting right above Skaftafell, the rivers of meltwater are inevitably a part of the scenery.
Luckily these rivers run through the sort of terrain were they sometimes reach a genuine height and eventually drop down in a stunning matter, Svartifoss and Hundafoss are two excellent samples of these drops.
Svartifoss Waterfall is an incredible and awe-inspiring waterfall found inside Skaftafell hidden in a floral utopia behind birch trees and yellow buttercups.
The name translates to Black Waterfall and you will know exactly why when the dark volcanic basalt columns start to appear. The architect Guðjón Samúelsson, the mastermind behind Hallgrímskirkja Church in downtown Reykjavík, took great inspiration from the waterfall.
Down in the center of the black bow, an elegant but narrow cascade of about 20 meters (65ft) falls vertically down. The contrast of hexagonal black columns and the white water make up a magical setting!
The river, Stórilækur that feds Svartifoss waterfall is made up from glacial meltwater that originates from Vatnajökull himself, the grandest glacier in the whole of Europe.
From Skaftafell’s parking lot, there’s a marked trail to the waterfall. The Skaftafell hike to the falls is an easy 5.5 km (3.4 mi) long walk and the surroundings are beautiful.
The path will lead you through the camping ground to follow the pathway uphill to the viewing point over the waterfall.
There you can get a good view of the horseshoe shapes hexagonal columns frame of the waterfall and can take some awesome photographs.
After a stop here you can go further down to explore the waterfall but be mindful of the signs and ropes that are there for nature’s and your protection.
Only a few minutes before reaching Svartifoss waterfall you will find Hundafoss and is a great visit for those who aren’t up for the walk to Svartifoss as Hundafoss doesn’t require much effort to visit.
Hundafoss means Dog Waterfall and legend tells stories of dogs running down the river before floating off the waterfall when the river would swell due to glacial meltwater.
Hundafoss lies along the path to Svartifoss and is well marked. The walk is about 1.5 km long and is open all year around.
Follow the sign leading you to Svartifoss from the Visitor Center through the camping site.
Once you start walking a bit uphill you will hear water flowing and at this point, you need to be on alert on your left. There will be a well-worn trail that will take you to the best place to view the waterfall.
You have plenty of options for Ice Cave tours in winter in Skaftafell.
The Crystal Ice Cave has for long been the most famous and popular one but with new ones forming or reforming every winter others are catching up quite quickly.
The ice cave is located at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull (glacier). It has quite thin layers of ice allowing natural light to shine through – unique and magical!
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!
Rising at 2,110 meters (6,920 ft), Hvanndalshnúkur is Iceland highest summit. It is a pyramidal peak found at the North-Western edge of the summit crater of the stratovolcano Öræfajökull inside Skaftafell.
It is a pretty popular hiking trail to do but is a very challenging one and you can not go without someone who has great knowledge of the trail.
There are two general paths leading up the to the summit, one rather difficult and technical but the other one far less difficult and safer.
GPS Coordinates: 64.011390°N, -16.678164°V
There are plenty of ways to spend the night in Skaftafell. Here’s a list of the recommended accommodations in the area:
Hotels in Skaftafell Area
Cabins in the Skaftafell Area
Guesthouses in the Skaftafell Area
The camping site in Skaftafell is open all year round and the entrance to the camping site is on the west side of the parking lot.
Campers should check in and register before they start putting up their tent. You register right next to the entrance gate in summer but in the Visitor Center in winter.
The camping site opening hours are:
May: 9 am -10 pm
June to August: 8 am – 11 pm
September: 9 am – 10 pm
And vehicle entry is only allowed during these hours.