Hiking in Skaftafell Nature Reserve | Top Hiking Locations in Iceland

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As you would expect from one of the gems of the land of ice and fire, Skaftafell Nature Reserve can stun you with its natural beauty. Enormous mountains are visible from a considerable distance, as you move further towards the nature reserve. There are ample reasons for why locals consider Skaftafell their favorite. Among other reasons such as its wondrous locales, Skaftafell is also worth visiting for its hiking routes. You can think of this area, as a gem for visitors, that is not fully discovered yet. Skaftafell Nature Reserve is situated on the South East Coast of Iceland, associated with the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull. Skaftafell Nature Reserve used to be a National Park in Iceland, but is now part of the larger Vatnajokull National Park. You can explore this beautiful spot, which can also be called a hiker’s heaven.

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell National Park

Tours to Skaftafell

Top Hiking Routes to Take

There are multiple hiking routes all over the vicinity. Each hiking route has its appeal and offers something unique that makes Skaftafell worth exploring. There are sandy wastelands formed by regular flooding from the glaciers, making Skaftafell even more amazing. Another interesting part about this place is that it is fertile, providing a nest to rich birdlife, natural birch forests, and arctic foxes. Although, farming in this particular area and several surrounding areas has been completely abandoned. The reason for this is volcanic disturbances and regular flooding.

Globetrotters who find their way to this beautiful location, choose hiking as their favorite activity in Skaftafell. The geographical and natural diversity offered by Skaftafell is most suitable for trekking and exploring. The entire place has well-marked hiking trails. There are various colors used for marking on the trails to signify the difficulty level. Blue is for easy, red for moderate, and black for challenging routes. The visitors can cover the paths at their speed and in their own time. An individual’s hiking pace depends on their fitness level and what they want to see on a particular day. So many things are dependent on other factors too such as weather which can turn at a moment’s notice in Iceland. However, if you are planning to discover the hiking trails in Skaftafell, you must know all about them. Read on ahead to find out about different trails in Skaftafell.

Svartifoss waterfall and Sjónarnípa Viewpoint

Svartifoss waterfall is also popularly known by the name of Black Falls. As a matter of fact, the waterfall is the most famous and loved attraction at Skaftafell. The reason for its naming is the majestic hexagonal black basaltic rock in its background. The 20 meters tall waterfall is one of the shorter treks, suitable for beginners as it is manageable and easy. The explorers can easily reach this spot from the campsite. The hiking route to the waterfall is 1.5 kilometers long and begins at the visitor center. It will take you about 40 minutes to undertake the hike up to the waterfall. Initially, it is a steep climb but as you continue, you will find a well-maintained and better path. The waterfall offers simply wonderful views for you to relish. 

After spending a considerable time, admiring the scenes at Svartifoss waterfall, visitors can move forward to explore Sjónarnípa viewing point, before heading down to the visitor center via Austurbrekkur.. You need to walk back to the crossroads just before the waterfall and there is a signpost indicating Sjónarnípa to the right. You must not miss out on the viewpoint as it offers a mesmerizing view over the magnificent Svínafellsjokull glacier and the surrounding mountains. Moving in the direction of the sightseeing spot, you can take the trail and from there is another route back to the visitor center. The total distance for the combined hike to Svartifoss and Sjónarnípa is 7.4 kilometers and it takes three hours to comfortably complete the hike.

Kristínartindar

Beginning from Skaftafell Visitor Centre, the visitors have to follow the same lead as they followed for Svartifoss waterfall. There are two routes that can be followed from here. The first one is all the way to Svartifoss and then heading on to Sjónarsker. On the other way, which is shorter, you have to cross the river on the walking bridge adjacent to Magnúsarfoss and from there head towards Sjónarsker. From this way, the trail leads towards Kristínartindar. At the bottom of Kristínartindar, when you reach the crossroads, take your left. Continue along the trail through the steep rock scree, reaching to the top of the ridge. From there you will turn to your left and reach the top.

The same way is to be used for heading down through which the visitors climbed up. Except for this time, when you reach back at the ridge, you need to go along the path that goes to the left. You will reach down towards Gláma through this route. Continue down to Sjónarnípa from Gláma. From here onwards you go towards the visitor center/campground via Austurbrekkur. You need to keep in consideration that the trail to Kristínartindar is generally not open for visitors from early spring and sometimes till the end of June because of difficult conditions. There are no alternative access routes available to Kristínartindar. This trail is almost 18 kilometers long and the approximate time consumed is eight hours.

Svartifoss - Sjónarsker - Sel

This trail initiates from the same point – Skaftafell Visitor Centre. It is a well-indicated path; it will not take much time for the visitors to find their route. After the first 250 meters that go through the campground, the path then turns towards the right and uphill. You need to keep following the signs till you reach a viewpoint on the top of Svartifoss waterfall. Take the way down into the ravine. Eventually, you will reach the basalt column steps on the other side of the ravine. This hike has many breathtaking views to offer and those who like the adrenaline rush of the adventure must take this hike. You have to keep following this trail to the viewpoint at Sjónarnípa. From here you can head back to the old turf house at Sel, relishing the beauty of the historical spot. This is one of the few ancient turf houses left in the country. The visitors can go back to the visitor center via Lambhagi after enjoying some time here. This is a fairly easy path, suitable for all hikers. It will take you about two hours to complete this 5.5-kilometer-long trail.

Skaftafellsjökull

This is also a well-marked hiking trail that you begin from the visitor center. The visitors will find half the way well-paved, while the other half is a gravel surface but easy to cover. The trail finishes quite close to Svínafellsjokull glacier and from this point, you can enjoy a fantastic view of this impressive glacier. The visitors can go near the glacier but they strictly have to follow instructions on a warning sign at the trail’s end. When you return to the visitor center, there is an alternative route that you can take by turning towards the left on the crossroads. You arrive at this point about 300 meters before the endpoint. The complete round-trip is just about four kilometers long. At most, it takes the visitors two hours to finish this fairly easy trail.

Note that if you would like to hike on the glacier, you will have to be with a certified glacier guide. You can book glacier hiking tours in Skaftafell here. 

Bæjarstaðaskógur Hike (M1)

Bæjarstaðaskógur is a stunning natural birch forest. The forest is not particularly huge but you will surely be impressed to explore this immensely beautiful spot in Skaftafell. The birch in this area grows as long as 12 meters. If you want to explore a calming place, which offers a detachment from hustling cities and crowded areas, this trail is for you. The place is like a true rich oasis in the sands, away from the running city life.

You need to head towards Sjónarsker and continue your hike to Morsárdalur. Keep moving across the footbridge over Morsá River and straight on the marked trail that will lead you to the birch forest in Bæjarstaðarskógur. The road proceeds through the woods and past two lovely ravines that are worth a look from close. It is important to note here that there are no way-markers in front of the ravines nor a proper trail. Although the marked trail resumes adjacent to Jökulfell and keeps going to the footbridge at Götugil. You need to cross the bridge and continue along the marked trail to Skaftafell Visitor Centre. The challenging round trip is 15.8 kilometers long and takes about 4-5 hours at a comfortable pace.

Morsárjökull (M2)

Morsárjökull is another beautiful hike with a striking presence. With a small lagoon at its feet, Morsárjökull reaches up almost above the valley. You need to follow almost the same path as Bæjarstaðaskógur Hike. You will head towards Sjónarsker from the visitor center and follow along till Morsárdalur. You have to keep moving through the marked trail between Grjóthóll and the glacial lake in front of Morsárjökull. For your way back, return to Grjóthóll and keep the trail moving across the footbridge on Morsá River. Eventually, you will come to another footbridge by Götugil by continuing on the trail adjacent to the river. Just cross the bridge and follow the path to Skaftafell Visitor Center.

The entire trail is 20.9 kilometers long. It takes almost seven hours if we consider the pit stops in between. Please consider that this is a long hike and for those who are experienced hikers with exceptional stamina. Hence, it is recommended that if you have just begun hiking, consider all things before beginning this hike. However, those who are not choosing to climb the path do not miss the chance to see the beautiful glacier. Morsárjökull is also visible from many of the other paths.

Kjós (M3)

The route more or less stays similar to the above two hiking routes. You have to reach Morsárdalur, via Sjónarsker. Keep the trail moving across the footbridge over the Morsá river. You have to keep following the marked trail till you reach the birch woods in Bæjarstaðarskógur. As you reach the signpost in the woods, turn towards your right. The visitors have to figure out a suitable route for themselves as there is no well-defined trail that leads to Kjós. They just need to keep going till they reach the Kjós. On the way back, visitors have to follow the same route that would take them back towards Grjóthóll. Instead of going over the bridge, the visitors should continue on the path next to the river until you arrive at the footbridge by Götugil. From there, the marked trail can be followed to Skaftafell Visitor Centre. This 30 kilometers long hike is full of adventure but a difficult one. It will take you about 10 hours to cover this trail and this is strictly for experienced hikers.

turf houses in Skaftafell Nature Reserve

Activities in Skaftafell

Other spots That You Can Enjoy

Skaftafell is a paradise for those who want to spend some quality time amidst nature, taking a satisfying look at the amazing scenes on offer. There are other marvelous spots that you can see on your visit to Skaftafell.

Ingólfshöfði Cape

Ingólfshöfði in south Iceland

An isolated bird cliff, Ingólfshöfði Cape is on the shore surrounded by black sands and precarious rivers. This nature reserve has immense historical significance. An interesting anecdote is that the cape shares its name with the first settler of Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson. It is believed that he lived his first winter here in 874 before moving towards the west. It is also a haven for thousands of nesting seabirds such as puffins and great skuas.

Make sure you carry your camera along as you would bring some breathtaking pictures from this trail. Another unique thing that you can experience here is a tractor ride with one of the local families that will readily take you there. You will have to cross six kilometers of streams, marshes, and sands through the half an hour tractor ride to reach Ingólfshöfði Cape. This is the thing about Iceland. The country can surprise you in unimaginable ways. Note that it is not recommended to get to Ingólfshöfði Cape on your own vehicle. 

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in south Iceland - south Iceland

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is another breathtaking place that you simply cannot miss when visiting Skaftafell. The explorers can see icebergs regularly breaking off and dropping in the lagoon. At this unique spot, sometimes the lagoon brims with icebergs and at other times, it is empty. Interestingly, the lagoon does not freeze as it is connected with the ocean which makes it salty. The area is surrounded by the majestic mountains, bringing to you some of the memorable scenes. Please ensure that you do not step on the icebergs as they might break and flip overturning the situation dangerous for you. When you are at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, do not forget to visit the Diamond Beach. You can reach the lagoon in an hour-long drive from Skaftafell.

Road trip to Skaftafell Nature Reserve

How to Get to Skaftafell

You can conveniently reach Skaftafell from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. It is situated around 300 kilometers from the city. You will have to take road number 1. The route is fairly easy to cover with any car type. If you visit here in the summers, you can also use public busses that take you to Skaftafell.

Camping in Skaftafell

The campground in Skaftafell, close to the visitor center, is open for visitors from 1 May to 30 September. The campground consists of all necessary facilities like showers, toilets, a washing machine, and a dryer. Along the ring road, the visitors can find campsites, guesthouses, hotels, and homestays. Remember, Skaftafell is a place that is increasingly getting popular because of its beautiful hiking trails. Hence, the accommodation fills up quickly. If you are planning to visit here, make your reservations and other preparations well in advance. You do not need to make reservations for the campsite. 

Skaftafell campsite in south Iceland

Other Important Information

Skaftafell is a charming spot that you would remember for a long time but just like other places in Iceland, this spot too can surprise you with uncertain weather. Make sure you are completely prepared for your visit here, with all the necessary hiking gear. Pack warm clothes and make a bag of essentials beforehand. There are no gear stores in the vicinity to assemble the things.

Skaftafell Visitor Centre is a service and information center where visitors can find answers to their queries about the Skaftafell area. You can find all the information about the hiking trails and their alternative routes. Skaftafell Visitor Center also has the reception for the campground. A display of respect towards nature is expected from all the visitors. Please keep the trails and the campground clean.

Svínafellsjokull glacier and Skaftafell Nature Reserve in south Iceland

More Tours & Activities in Skaftafell

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