Skaftafell is the best place in Iceland to book a glacier expedition, but it’s also a great starting place to access many hiking trails. Some of them offer beautiful viewpoints of glaciers and surroundings, while others lead you to others sights, like the famous Svartifoss waterfall.
Skaftafell Visitor Centre (bus stop) is very useful to get information about nearby hiking trails and accomodation.
Mountain Guides and Glacier Guides offer many glaciers tours, either from Skaftafell or Reykjavik, and are both located near Skaftafell Visitor Centre. Although prices vary depending on the hike length and chosen company, they usually include rental of ice axes, snow pants and spikes for boots (also possible to pay extra to rent boots if you only have hiking shoes).
I couldn’t go in Skaftafell without hiking on a glacier! After a 45-minute bus ride, we walked for 30 minutes and then started our expedition on the glacier. The tour guide was really friendly and taught our group a lot about glaciers. He helped me getting over a glacier mill (or glacier hole) so I can get a better view of it. That was amazing! The blue color and the speed of the water running through it were impressive. He called one of the glacier mills “the swallower” and explained that if one of us fell into it, he could not save us… We had to be careful around those!
Our tour guide made us do some push-ups in order to drink water directly from the glacier. Even though it looks dirty (dust and bits of rock stock in the ice), the water was fresh, cold and clean.
Hiking in Skaftafell
- A trail starts next to the Visitor Centre and ends near Skaftafellsjökull glacier. The beginning of the trail is paved while the rest is made of gravel. It took me about 1,5 hour to make the round-trip at a slow pace (3,7 km, negligible elevation gain, easy). You get an impressive view of the glacier and there’s a small lagoon between the trail end and the glacier, with small pieces of ice floating, which was nice to see (although this lagoon is nothing compared to Jökulsarlon!).
- Another easy trail I liked is the one that leads to Svartifoss and Sel (5.5 km round-trip, 150 m elevation gain, 2-2.5 hours). Because small trees line the trail, this is very different from other paths in Iceland. Leaving from Skaftafell Visitor Centre, you will pass through a campground. Right after, turn right to follow the trail uphill. You will pass two waterfalls before reaching Svartifoss: Hundafoss and then Magnusarfoss. Not long after Magnusarfoss, you’ll arrive to a trail junction. If you go right, you’ll see Svartifoss first and if you go left and make a detour, you’ll see an old turf farm called Sel (you can enter and explore it). The trail forms a loop, so you’ll be able to see both sights either way. What makes Svartifoss so special is not its size (only 12-meter high) nor its power, but the magnificent formations of basalt organs around it. You’ll see! 😉
Here is a map to help you find trails and major sights. Use “+” and “-” buttons on the bottom left of the map (or the wheel on your mouse), to zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.
Where to stay (book early in Skaftafell, it’s a very popular spot):
- When I traveled in Iceland, I stayed at Bölti Guesthouse, but it seems closed now.
- Skaftafell Campground in Vatnajökull National Park: Open from May 1st – September 30th, places for approximately 750 tents. No booking or reservation is necessary for the campsite although it is recommended for groups of 40 people or more. Facilities include toilets, showers, laundry, barbecues, internet and electricity for campers (no kitchen). Check-in for the campsite is at Skaftafell Visitor Center, check opening hours here.
- Svínafell (about 8 km from Skaftafell): camping and sleeping bag accommodation, with basic cooking facilities, dining room, laundry services, showers and toilets.
- Hotel Skaftafell: 3-star hotelwell located (about 2km from Skaftafell), with a restaurant and a gas station just across from the hotel. Some rooms offer a view on Vatnajökull Glacier.
- Litla-Hof Guesthouse: breakfast included, located about 15 km from Skaftafell.
- Hof 1 (formerly Guesthouse Frost & Fire): breafast included, with hot relaxation facilities available for guests in the guesthouse. Located about 15 km from Skaftafell.