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Vatnajökull National Park

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Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall

Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland is the largest national park in Europe. The park was founded on June 7th, 2008 and includes the former Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur National Parks. Containing 12,000 km2 the park covers about 12% of the surface of Iceland. The park is home to Iceland's highest mountain (Hvannadalshnúkur), largest glacier (Vatnajökull), and Europe's most powerful waterfall (Dettifoss).

Understand

The park lies on the west side of Vatnajökull - Europe's largest glacier. Skaftafell is the name of the hill that runs along one of the glacier fingers and between the mountains. There is a visitor center (open til 4pm) and campsite (open mid May) with full amenities and disability access.

History

Skaftafell is mentioned early in the Saga of Burnt Njal (a popular Icelandic Saga). It is home to some of the best fertile land in the country and so has a long history of farming. Unfortunately, it also has a history of severe flooding, when volcanoes under the Vatnjökul glacier cause mass melting and flooding of the low lands. As a consequence, farmers abandoned their lush lowland farms and moved to higher ground.

Landscape

Lowland, rivers, black sand, a very big glacier, some picturesque mountains, hills, waterfalls, quicksand, quiet brooks - what more could you ask for?

The Skaftafell is the hill where farmers settled to avoid the floods from the giant glacier. There are well established hiking paths up the hill where you can access viewpoints that look across the glaciers, several stunning waterfalls, and a mixture of fauna and bird life. The high point of the hill is around 600m and takes around two hours to reach the highest point. One of the highlights of the trek is Svartifoss (Black Falls), with stunningly beautiful black basalt columns around the falls. There is a road that goes to quite near the top allowing disabled access to the stunning views.

Glacierpan800.jpg

Flora and fauna

Climate

The Eastern side of Iceland is the leeward side getting less precipitation than the Western side. Consequentially, this sea-level area is part of the low desert in Iceland, the high desert being represented by the area East of Mývatn.

Get in

Skaftafell information center is open everyday all year round, from at least 10am to 4pm (longer in summer). Free toilets, expensive shop, very expensive Internet (including Wi-Fi), about 1000Kr/hour. Be aware that the staff may not always be aware of the current state of the tracks and paths, despite what they say. Free parking.

Fees/Permits

Free entrance to the park.

Get around

Hiking only

See

Do

  • January-March, find a guide to ski Hvannadalshnúkur.
  • Hike up the hill and see all the waterfalls and great views.
  • Glacier Guides [1]. Offers tours, ice walks and ice climbing around Skaftafell
  • Bergmenn Mountain Guides [2]. Iceland's only certified mountain guides, offering guided ascents within Vatnajokull National Park.
  • Adventure tours on Vatnajokull (Vatnajokull.com), [3]. Organized skidoo-tours, snowmobile, superjeep-safari, ice-climbing, trekking and sailing between the icebergs in Jökulsárlón.


Buy

  • Icelandic Mountain Guides, +354 587 9999, [4]. Have offered easy glacier tours and ice climbing from Skaftafell since 1994 as well as guided hikes to Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's highest peak.


Eat

There is a small road side service station around 5km East of the park, opposite the Skaftafell Hotel. The food is good and reasonably priced, but the choice is limited. There is also a mini supermarket within the service station, where you can buy many things from tea to soap at high prices.

Drink

Sleep

Lodging

  • Hostel Hvoll, [5]. The closest hostel, located about 40km on the West, on the Ring Road. Add another 4km on a bad gravel road. Reasonably cheap, but really isolated (and no Internet at all!).

Camping

There is a large campsite which opens late May to 1 September and gets very busy during the summer months. No tents for hire.

Backcountry

Stay safe

Stick to the paths and don't venture onto the glacier without a guide - danger of death.

Note that there are few gas stations in the area. One is located a few kilometers East from the Skaftafell National Park entrance, on the Ring Road #1.


Get out


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