Skaftafell

The Oasis of South Iceland

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About Skaftafell

Skaftafell Nature Reserve has been crowned "the oasis" of South Iceland by nature lovers. Situated between giant glaciers, it covers 4,807 km² of Iceland’s largest park, Vatnajokull National Park. Wide green valleys, towering colorful trees and a variety of hiking trails draw in visitors from Vatnajökull National Park and beyond. 

Skaftafell Nature Reserve area was used mostly for farming right after Iceland was settled. But two major volcanic eruptions in the area caused the end of traditional farming. By 1967, Skaftafell turned into a national park. Previously called Skaftafell National Park, the reserve merged with Vatnajokull National Park in 2008. Covering 14% of Iceland, Vatnajokull is the largest national park in Europe.

Skaftafell Iceland has become a south coast jewel that boasts some of the most diverse nature. Visitors get the opportunity to sample an array of magnificent highlights, from Falljökull Glacier to Morsárdalur Valley and the Skaftafell waterfalls. Nature enthusiasts will love all the Skaftafell activities the park has to offer!

Geology

Svartifoss Waterfall

Skaftafell's grand landscapes are thousands of years in the making. Powerful forces generated from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes formed the magnificent landscapes you see today. However, like the rest of Iceland, the impressive geographic features of the region are ever-changing. 

Natural attractions abound in Skaftafell park, but the main highlight of the area is the popular Svinafellsjokull glacial tongue. The reserve also boasts Iceland's highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnjukur, reaching 2,110 m (6,920 ft) tall. 

Overflowing with waterfalls, forests, and ice caves, the reserve is a nature lover's dream. Skaftafell offers a bounty of flora and diverse wildlife. The area is home to over 30 different types of bird species and rare plants.

Skaftafell Map

Where is Skaftafell located?

Skaftafell Nature Reserve is tucked away on the southern edge of Vatnajokull National Park. The reserve is one of the iconic sights of Iceland’s southern coastline and is a must-see stop for drivers traveling along the famous Ring Road. The closest cities to the reserve are the small southern towns of Kirkjubaejarklaustur and Hof.

How far is Skaftafell from Reykjavik?

Skaftafell is located 326 km (203 miles) from Reykjavík. Drivers can reach the park by taking the main road #1 east from Reykjavík. This drive takes approximately 4 hours. Travelers also have the option to go by bus, which takes seven hours. 

Skaftafell Visitor Centre

Skaftafell Visitor Centre

The Skaftafell Visitor Centre is located on the edge of the park grounds

Skaftafell Visitor Centre provides travelers with all the information they need about the reserve. Visitors can find information on the best hikes in Skaftafell, accommodations, and available tours. While you’re there, check out the exhibition inside the centre showcasing Skaftafell’s diverse geography.

Skaftafell Visitor Centre Address

Vatnajokull National Park 

Skaftafellsstofa

785 Öraefi

Iceland

Skaftafell National Park Hours

January to February: 10:00 - 18:00

March to May: 9:00 - 18:00

June to August: 8:00 - 19:00

September: 9:00 - 19:00

October: 9:00 - 18:00

November to December: 10:00 - 18:00

Skaftafell National Park Parking Fee

Skaftafell Visitor Centre charges a 5 USD parking fee for regular passenger vehicles. Tour buses and mountain trucks must pay 7 USD.  

How to Get to Skaftafell

Reykjavík to Skaftafell road

Skaftafell Nature Reserve is located in southeast Iceland. For visitors in the capital, the drive from Reykjavík to Skaftafell (326 km) takes approximately 4 hours. To get there, take Ring Road 1 east from Reykjavík until you reach Road 998. Look for the Skaftafell sign and then turn into the Skaftafell Visitor Center. The towns nearest to Skaftafell are Kirkjubæjarklaustur, 69km west and Höfn, 130km east.

Car isn't the only option to get to the park. A scheduled bus travels between Reykjavík and Höfn via Skaftafell. For information on bus schedules check this website: www.straeto.is

Traveling to Skaftafell in Winter

Man standing in Skaftafell in the winter

Skaftafell in the winter covered with snow

If you are planning on driving to Skaftafell National Park in winter always check the weather and road conditions. Winter roads can be difficult to navigate so drive carefully. As a safety measure download the 112 Iceland app, which sends an SMS to the Icelandic emergency service 112. The SMS even sends your phone's GPS location. 

If you plan on renting a car it is better to choose a 4x4 but not necessary. Additionally, in the winter check that the tires on your car are studded. The south coast road doesn't have many gas stations so fill up when you see one. 

Take extra care when driving past Lómagnúpur and Sandfell. Wind gusts in these areas are often quite intense and can reach hurricane strengths.

If you don’t feel comfortable driving in the winter months there are tours that go from Reykjavik to Skaftafell!

Weather in Skaftafell

Skaftafell is known for its pleasant climate, however, the weather can vary. In the winter temperatures average at -10°C (14°F) and in the summer rise to about 10°C (50°F). High altitude areas stay relatively cold and rarely reach higher than 10°C (50°F). 

Weather in the highlands include periods of snow, rain, and wind. These powerful winds push cold air downward, causing cold breezes in the lowlands. Strong winds and rain can occur unexpectedly, so pack warm layers. Always check the weather and road conditions before your journey!

What to Do in Skaftafell

Hit the Hiking Trails

Skaftafell hiking trail

Skaftafell hiking trails are popular with nature lovers

Adventurers love the scenic trails of Skaftafell park. There are several popular trail routes to choose from in the summer with varying levels of difficulty and walk time. Before you strap up your hiking boots we recommend you hit the Skaftafell information center.  

There you’ll find a Skaftafell hiking map of the best trails. If you have any questions before your trek talk to the park rangers at the center. If you choose to take an alternate route, circular routes are suggested as well as trying to return the same way. 

GPS devices and hiking apps are also an option but keep in mind network coverage is often limited. If you want to use your tech devices on a long hike, download an offline map beforehand. 

For safety reasons, do not take the longer trail routes in the winter. However, if you do choose to go hiking in Skaftafell during this season, the visitors center suggests the trail to Skaftafellsjökull glacier rather than the Svartifoss trail.

Head Out On A Glacier Hike

Glacier hike in Skaftafell

Skaftafell glacier hikes across Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier

Trekking across an ancient glacier is a surreal experience. Skaftafell glacier hikes are available for visitors looking for either short or longer ice adventures. 

Hike across Falljokull Glacier, an outlet glacier of Vatnajokull, on a guided 3.5-hour Skaftafell Glacier Walk tour. This ice cap offers sensational views of the surrounding park.  

For hikers with more time to spare, join an exhilarating half-day (5.5 hours) tour across Europe's largest glacier. The Glacier Hiking Adventure on Vatnajökul tour guides trekkers from Skaftafell to the iconic Vatnajökul glacier. This expert-guided tour includes specialized safety gear, including crampons and an ice axe. 

Conquer the dramatic terrain of this magnificent park on an unmissable tour.

Explore The Skaftafell Ice Caves

Inside ice cave in Skaftafell

Skaftafell ice caves are open in the winter

Don't just trek across the glaciers, explore the ice caves below. Skaftafell Nature Reserve is one of the few spots that offer access to Iceland's crystal blue ice caves.  

Delve into the depths of Vatnajokull and experience fantastical ice formations. Our experienced glaciers guides will show you how to get to Skaftafell ice caves, housed in Europe’s largest glacier!

Before you hike through the caves you can still catch the views from above! Our Skaftafell Ice Cave tour allows you to check out the Skaftafell Glacier from inside out. Visit the glorious natural ice caves housed beneath this impressive glacier. 

Don't forget to bring your camera, the ice caves offer spectacular photography opportunities!

Climb Iceland’s Highest Peak

Hvannadalshnúkur highest peak

Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak

Summit Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur, on a thrilling mountain hiking tour. Towering 2100m/ 6900 ft above Vatnajökull, this massive peak sits atop Öræfajökull volcano. 

Test your stamina on this tough 12 to 15-hour quest to the top. Our journey will take us across vast glacial landscapes, spectacular ice sculptures, and sunken craters. As we get closer to the top you'll be met with some truly outstanding views. 

This hike is not for the faint of heart, it is both physically and mentally challenging. However, the rush of triumphing over this summit is unlike any other! If you are a thrill-seeker looking for a challenge, our Hvannadalshnúkur Summit Hike tour might be for you.

Where to Stay in Skaftafell

Camping

Camping grounds in Skaftafell

Camping grounds in Skaftafell Reserve is a popular activity

Camping in Skaftafell Iceland is a wonderful way to enjoy the reserve. Campers are welcome no matter what season as campsites are open all year round. Before you set up your tent, check-in and register at the right gate. If you choose to come in the summer you'll register next to the entrance gate on the west side of the parking lot. For those coming in the winter head over to the Visitor Center.

The Skaftafell Camping is located on the edge of the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. There is room for over 400 tents and an area for camping trailers. 

Svinafell is a smaller campsite located just minutes away from the reserve. It features 8 camping areas equipped for families and a larger area for big visitor groups. Onsite services also include cooking facilities, toilets, showers, and a washing machine and dryer. 

Campground reception hours at Skaftafell Visitor Centre:

January - February: 10:00 - 18:00

March - April: 9:00 - 18:00

May: 9:00 - 19:00

June - August: 8:00 - 19:00

September: 9:00 - 19:00

October: 9:00 - 18:00

December: 10:00 - 18:00

Vehicle entry is only allowed during these hours.

Hotels and Guesthouses

Hotel Skaftafell

There are several hotels and guesthouses close to Skaftafell

Visitors who wish to enjoy Skaftafell overnight, but don't want to camp have several options to choose from. Accomodations near Skaftafell Iceland can be found close to or on Route1, offering convenient lodging for people traveling the Ring Road. 

During the summer months Skaftafell cottages, hotels and guesthouses are often booked up. So to ensure a room it is recommended you book your accommodations well in advance.  

  • Adventure Hotel Hof: This reasonably priced, newly renovated accommodation offers a family-friendly atmosphere. The hotel features a restaurant with a buffet breakfast. Located only 15 minutes away from the Skaftafell Visitor Centre. 
  • Hotel Skaftafell: A comfortable 3-star hotel is located just 7 minutes from the Skaftafell Visitor Centre. The popular lodging has modern rooms which feature beautiful views of Vatnajokull Glacier. Onsite visitors can enjoy the Hotel Skaftafell Restaurant, a restaurant with a bar and breakfast options. 
  • The Potato Storage Guesthouse: A trendy guesthouse that features well-decorated rooms, private bathrooms, and mountain views. It is located between Skaftafell (8 km) and the small town of Hof (15 km). 
  • Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon: This 4-star nature hotel features rooms with panoramic mountain and ocean views. The deluxe Fosshotel can be found 28 km from Skaftafell. 

Adventure Hotel Geirland: A charming hotel that features rooms in country-style cottages. Visitors can enjoy an onsite restaurant/ bar with a scenic mountain view. Located just outside of Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

Safety in Skaftafell

Glacier hikers in Skaftafell

Skaftafell guided tour

If you plan to visit Skaftafell Nature Reserve without a guide, make sure to check for weather warnings. Before hiking any of the trails visit the Skaftafell Visitor Centre for information on trail conditions. Even if you are an experienced hiker, make sure to inform someone of your travel plans before leaving. 

We recommend inexperienced hikers not to go hiking in Vatnajökull National Park solo and join a guided tour. Expert guides are experienced with the terrain and are familiar with the routes in the area. 

Campers please only set up your tent at a designated campsite. There is plenty of room for everyone, so keep yourself and the park safe. 

Weather conditions can cause trail closures so be mindful and always stay on the permitted hiking trails. As always, respect nature and don't leave any litter behind!