Camping overnight in Skaftafell one gets the feeling a weeklong stay would barely do the region justice. Aside from all the activities that can be booked from the premises (including a daunting hike up Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnjúkur), the area is rife with natural wonder and geological formation.
And there are several marked paths for longer or shorter hikes to be done at ones leisure.
We opted for the hike up to the Skaftafellsjökull glacier, which takes around an hour back and forth from the information centre. The glacier itself is well worth a visit, with its black ice, odd shapes and mini-lagoons managing to keep one occupied and exploring for hours, but those that wish to make the most of their hikes should definitely spring 100 ISK for the ‘Geology trail to Skaftafellsjökull Glacier’ map.
Essentially a concise and abbreviated version of the guided tour English speakers can attend at five every day, the pamphlet teaches of the area’s geological phenomena and the glaciers history, providing numerous insights into how the region—and our Earth—were formed. Along the route of the hike you will encounter fourteen marked posts that correspond with chapters in the pamphlet. For instance, you’ll learn about stuff like red stratum (“…it originated as a layer of soil during the Late Tertiary…”), tuff (tuff is, essentially, hardened and consolidated ash), dikes (“…the heat in the magma weakens the surrounding rock, so that it later erodes away and leaves the harder dike behind…”), ‘frost weathering’ (where immense rocks are blasted by freezing water and basalt columns (“while basaltic magma is cooling, it contracts into columns which frequently become hexagonal…”).
Aside from the stunning scenery and landscape of the hike, and aside from the magnificent sensation of being next to a glacier of such enormity (and it’s black, too!), the geological tour is a fun and learning experience. And it costs 100 ISK.