Area Guide: Skaftafell National Park’s Glaciers, Camping & Waterfalls

Area Guide: Skaftafell National Park’s Glaciers, Camping & Waterfalls

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photos by
Art Bicnick

With glaciers, waterfalls and lava fields in abundance, you can’t get more peak Iceland than the Skaftafell National Park. Located neatly between Vík and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, it’s an oft bypassed locale along the South coast that really shouldn’t be. Stop for a hike, a meal, and some of the best glacial views you’ll find in the country.

Stay: Hótel Skaftafell
Skaftafelli 2, Freysnes
Simple, comfortable and clean, Hótel Skaftafell is a lovely no-frills place for you to crash during your Skaftafell adventure. Make sure to ask for a room at the back of the hotel, with a view of the Öræfajökull glacier and its highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur. With the surrounding gorgeous mountains and the hum of birds in the air, you’ll feel like you’re in a real life Hudson River School painting. There’s a continental breakfast and an on-site restaurant; if you’re on a tight budget, try the nearby campsite.

Hike: Svartifoss
Vatnajökull National Park
Goth? Geologist? Nature enthusiast? Whatever your persuasion, you’ll enjoy the sublime beauty of Svartifoss. It’s a severe, dark, glossy waterfall surrounded by thick, black, hexagonal basalt columns that lean together into a cathedral-like semicircular dome, demanding respect, veneration and, above all else, Instagram photos. The hike to the falls is a relaxing 45-minute jaunt each way, with just a few steep segments, making it suitable for hikers of all experience levels. Make sure to pay for parking at the national park though—it’s easy to miss the booths in the parking lot.

Eat: Freysnes
Across from Hotel Skaftafell
Directly across from Hótel Skaftafell is an unassuming gas station, grocery store and restaurant. Don’t be put off by its exterior; head to the buffet for a heaping plate of lamb, potatoes and salad that’ll rival the best restaurants in Reykjavík. They also offer a fish option, hamburgers, and fantastic French fries.

Activity: Ingólfshöfði Puffin Tour
Ingólfshöfði Nature Reserve
Halfway between Vatnjajökull National Park and the Jökulsárlón Ice Lagoon lies the hidden black sand cape of Ingólfshöfði. Teeming with puffins and all manner of bird life, it’s a photographer’s dream. Luckily for you, From Coast To Mountains offers a tractor-drawn hayride down to the shore. Crossing marshes, sand, flat grasslands, and small waterways, the tour will get you as close to the birds as possible.

Activity: Glacier Hiking
There are various glacier hikes available in Skaftafell; indeed, the base camp is a village of tour operator chalets offering tours that range from an hour-long strolls to whole day excursions on the various glaciers dotting the region. You can take a quick jaunt onto Skaftafellsjökull, walkable from the base camp; for those with more time or endurance, there are 4-5 hour tours onto Öræfajökull. Overlooking everything is Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland’s highest peak—a seriously challenging and advanced expedition that takes 12-15 hours with a highly specialised guide. Whichever tour you choose, strap on your crampons and roam around the peaks and gullies as the sun shines; wear warm clothes and bring sunglasses for maximum comfort.

Read more town and area guides here. Read the Best of Iceland travel awards here.

A Room For The Night
Stay at Hotel Skaftafell
A Room For The Night
Stay at Hotel Skaftafell
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