I used to work as a park ranger in Skaftafell National Park (now a part of Vatnajökull National Park) for three summers. These were some of the best times in my life. The place is stunning.
One of the amazing things about Skaftafell is that most part of it is only accessible by foot. There is a road to the camping site and service area, which is just by the entrance of the park, and that‘s it. There are many beautiful walking paths that lead to waterfalls, glacier rivers and glaciers, forests and rhyolite formations. The mountains in and surrounding the park are of very different formations and colors.
The highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur, 2110m, in the volcanic mountain Öræfajökull, rises high above the national park and Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Europe, forms a big part of it.
The vegetation in Skaftafell is very variable on Icelandic standard and it has one of the highest numbers of vascular plant species in Iceland. There are also a variety of bird species in the park and they tend to sing all night during the brightest nights.
Svartifoss is the favorite spot of my younger daughter. It is a small waterfall with beautiful columnar basalt pillars surrounding it. She likes to spend time by the waterfall and cool her toes in the creek beneath it. Tourists often ask for the great big waterfall, which is a misunderstanding, of course, since the waterfall itself is very small. The surroundings are what you‘re looking for.
Skaftafell is located in an area called Öræfasveit, meaning the countryside wasteland, referring to the big black sands that have been formed by the glacial rivers and volcanic eruptions. Two eruptions have occurred in historic time, 1362 and 1727. Now, the sand has grown a little bit but the big glacial rivers flow freely over big parts of the sand. The area used to be one of the most isolated areas in Iceland and accessible by car from the west only when bridges were built on the sands in the 1970‘s. Before the bridges people had specially trained horses that could „swim“ with people and luggage on their backs across the rivers. Those were dangerous trips.
Many people like to climb the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur, but it is not advisable without an expert guide. Some guides work from the camping site in Skaftafell.
How to get there:
The visitor centre and camping is accessible only 2 km from road no. 1, by road no. 998.