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Skaftafell in a Day: How to Make the Most of Your Visit

Skaftafell Morsárdalur marek-piwnicki

Skaftafell is located in the heart of Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland. It has been protected since 1967 and is a breathtaking wilderness that combines spectacular natural scenery with cultural heritage. You’ll pass by on the way to Fjallsárlón if you’re coming from the west. Like many places in Iceland, Skaftafell boasts extraordinary landscape and is a good focus point for several outdoor activities, not least scenic hikes. At Skaftafell, you will also find food trucks, good camping grounds and tourist information centre if you decide you want to stay overnight.

While you might plan a fleeting visit, it’s easy to spend a whole day or more here. How much you manage to achieve depends on several factors, including the weather, hours of daylight and how long you like to spend exploring or admiring the view. But here are some ideas about how you can organise your time and make the most of visiting Skaftafell in a day.

Svartifoss Skaftafell

Svartifoss Waterfall

Svartifoss doesn’t receive the number of visitors that admire the likes of Skógafoss or Seljalandsfoss. But don’t for one minute think that this is because it isn’t as impressive – far from it. The rocks either side of this jaw-droppingly gorgeous waterfall seem almost symmetrical, cementing its appeal. Visitors to Svartifoss reach it following a short hike which passes two other falls, Hundafoss and Magnúsarfoss it’s a little steep in places but easily manageable for those in reasonable shape.

The path runs out as you reach a small clearing framed by charcoal grey basalt columns. The landscape you see today was created around 300,000 years ago when lava flowed across a plain called Skaftafellsheiði. As the lava cooled, it split into columns and it’s these which flank a narrow but tall waterfall – Svartifoss. The name translates as “black waterfall” as the rock appears dark.

Sel Turf Houses

Turf houses decorate the Icelandic landscape. Once, the scarcity of construction materials meant working with what you had, often stones and grass. That was the case here at Sel. The first farm at Selbær was built around 1832 but the structures that you see today date from back from 1912. It hasn’t been used for agriculture since 1946 and was later renovated to form part of the National Museum of Iceland. It’s easily combined with your Svartifoss waterfall hike; allow half a day is needed to explore both sights.

You’re able to see how farmers would have constructed buildings that accommodated a number of functions. Here, the cow barn is on the ground floor, while the living quarters can be found above it. This was deliberate, as the presence of the animals would help provide heat, while the addition of the turfs would help insulate the roof. Nevertheless, duck inside and you’ll soon see that conditions were rudimentary by modern-day standards: no sane person would be keen to live like this today!

Sel Turf House - Skaftafell
Morsárjökull - Skaftafell Iceland

Morsárdalur Valley

Skaftafell national park is known for its rewarding hikes, which vary considerably in length. If you’re looking for a longer trail than simply visiting Svartifoss, consider Morsárdalur valley. This is a 10 km long valley, its broad, level base carved out by a past glacier. A trail continues here from Svartifoss waterfall, or you can hike directly on a flatter path from the visitor centre. Don’t miss the sylvan cluster of willows and birch trees that form Bæjarstaðarskógar forest. Serious hikers will want to push on to Kjós, a starkly beautiful canyon covered with boulders.

Skaftafellsjokull Glacier – Skaftafell

Skaftafell is a real treat for glacier fans. Two of its most striking glaciers are Skaftafellsjökull (photo) and Svínafellsjökull. Skaftafellsjökull glacier is one of the many outlet glaciers that emanate from Vatnajökull glacier, just as Fjallsjökull glacier foes further east above the glacier lagoon at Fjallsárlón.

Svínafellsjökull’s surface, veined with ash, has deep blue crevasses and icy ridges. It forms part of an extraordinarily diverse view, overlooking glaciers, snow-capped mountain peaks, wooded slopes and the ocean. However, due to the risk of rock falls it’s not possible to hike on this glacier but you can admire it from a safe distance.

Skaftafellsjokull Glacier - Skaftafell
Hvannadalshnjúkur Skaftafell

Hvannadalshnúkur

While most hikes in Skaftafell are relatively short and straightforward, Hvannadalshnúkur offers more of a challenge. This triangular peak is Iceland’s tallest, standing more than 2000 metres tall. The summit of Hvannadalshnúkur is covered in ice year-round but it conceals an active volcano, forming part of Oraefajokull’s crater. Past eruptions have led to powerful floods that have had devastating consequences.

The presence of crevasses and steep, slippery inclines means you’ll need to engage the services of an experienced mountain guide if you’re keen to scale this magnificent mountain. It’s a strenuous climb that takes between 12 and 15 hours, but if you’re content to make this the sole focus of your day in Skaftafell, the outstanding views over the surrounding sandy plains and outlet glaciers make this an unforgettable experience.

Lambhagi

For something altogether less extreme, another summer favourite is to explore the Lambhagi pass. Once, there was a waterfall here, which disappeared under the sediment deposited by the Skeiðarárhlaup glacial flood. Today’s visitors might instead swim in the clear water of the river or pack a picnic to eat in this delightful place.

Lambhagi has a long history, in fact, the stone wall you see here is one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Skaftafell area. The place used to be where lambs were separated from their mothers and weaned, though this practice has long been discontinued.

Lambhagi Skaftafell - Photo Regina Hronn

How do you follow Skaftafell?

Once you’ve visited Skaftafell, you’ll need to find some place equally scenic to avoid being disappointed. For more scenic nature continue east a short distance to Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and explore these very special, iceberg-strewn lakes. You can book a boat tour at both lagoons. For an intimate glacier experience we recommend booking Fjallsarlon Iceberg boat tour, sailing up to the glacier wall and exploring icebergs along the way should be on anybody’s bucket list.

OUR TOURS

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5-6 hours

29.900 ISK

May - Nov

Your multi adventure starts with a calm boat ride on Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon. Following the boat ride, you’ll land at the foot of Fjallsjokull glacier, a place we have secluded access to. After the glacier hike, you will walk to a jeep for a fun 15-20 min. return drive.

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75-90 min

10.100 ISK

Apr - Nov

Sail with us in a Zodiac boat, amongst floating icebergs on the majestic Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This adventure tour will allow you to connect with the Icelandic nature in a way you have never experienced before. Come, have fun and cruise with us!

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Overnight

155.000 ISK

May - Oct

Immerse yourself in the spectacular Icelandic wilderness and spend a memorable night on the lagoon. The magnificent view over the glacier lagoon towards Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe is sure to impress even the most experienced traveler!

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75-90 min

101.000 ISK

Apr - Nov

On this private tour you can decide along with your captain how your cruise evolves. Cruise among icebergs and sail beside the glacier wall in your own style! This tour is popular with couples, friends & families who want to share an adventure in a private and personal way.

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2 hours

255.000 ISK

Apr - Oct

Cruise to a secret island located close to the edge of the glacier in the lagoon. Set foot on land that only few have entered! Sip champagne and take in the magnificent view towards Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. Create memories that will last a lifetime.

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3,5-4,5 hours

24.500 ISK

Nov – Mar

Explore the Icelandic wilderness on our way to a blue ice cave located in Breidarmerkurjokull glacier outlet.
Ice caves are a natural wonder that every adventurer should behold.

BLUE ICE GLACIER HIKE

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3-4 hours

21.900 ISK

Encounter the extraordinary by joining our exclusive glacier hike! This trip is tailored for those who seek adventure, are physically fit, and have a deep desire to explore the untouched, rugged attraction of Fjallsjökull glacier.

Fjallsarlon Iceberg Boat Tour Iceland

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