Vatnajökull is not only the biggest glacier in Iceland but in the whole of Europe. It covers over 8100 km2 and has around 30 outlet glaciers. Vatnajökull National Park was founded in 2008 on the foundation of Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárgljúfur reserve. The National Park is the largest protected area in Europe. Apart from the glacier, the National Park includes some highly regarded natural marvels; huge glacier rivers, stunning canyons, beautiful glacier lagoons and impressive waterfalls.
Vatnajökull is best accessed and viewed from the south. Here numerous outlet glaciers stretch down from the plateau – Breiðamerkurjökull, Svínafellsjökull, Falljökull, Skeiðarárjökull to name a few. Öræfajökull is one of the best-known outlets because it is the home of Iceland’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur. It has become quite popular to hike to the top and because of conditions on the glacier this is only doable in a short period of the year, the top can be really crowded on a sunny day in late April/May.
The famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is to be found in the southern part of the glacier and here crystal ice caves formed every winter, attracting thousands of visitors from all over. Numerous tour operators offer glacier hikes on the outlet glaciers around the Skaftafell area.
Underneath the great ice mass lie two of the most active volcanoes in Iceland; Grímsvötn and Bárðarbunga. Grímsvötn is the most active of the two estimated to have erupted up to one hundred times since the settlements of Iceland. The last eruption in 2011 was relatively small and did not have any serious effects to day to day lives in the vicinity of the glacier.
The northern part of Vatnajökull glacier can only be accessed from the highlands, making it more difficult for the average traveler, but a visit to the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park with a certified tour operator is highly recommended. There are numerous marked hiking paths around Vatnajökull glacier here is a link to the ones that are within the National Park.