Your Official Travel Guide to Skaftafell Nature Reserve


blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

    Iceland has three official national parks, and recently Skaftafell has been included in one of them. Today, thousands still flock to this nature reserve each year to partake in all sorts of exciting activities and to check out the myriad of natural wonders it has to offer.

    In this article, we will tell you everything from what you can expect from a visit to Skaftafell, and how to get there to everything that you can add to your trip itinerary and what the most loved activity in the park is. So, without further ado, let’s dive into Skaftafell Nature Reserve.

    What Makes Skaftafell Nature Reserve So Special?

    Skaftafell is the perfect representation of the Land of Fire and Ice, with its diverse and contrasting landscapes and terrains. You can see volcanoes, but you can also see glaciers, you can see waterfalls rushing over cliffs, but also icebergs drifting lazily in a glacier lagoon.

    With such contrasting diversity, it’s no surprise that Skaftafell is considered to have that star quality and has been featured in movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Batman Begins, and James Bond. Skaftafell Nature Reserve was established in 1967, and incorporated into the greater Vatnajökull National Park (the largest national park in Iceland and the second-largest in all of Europe).


    Where is Skaftafell National Park in Iceland?

    Skaftafell lies nestled at the foot of the Vatnajökull Glacier inside the Vatnajökull National Park in the southeastern part of Iceland. Although it’s just about a 4 hours' drive to the park from the capital city of Reykjavík, we suggest that you rather add Skaftafell as a stop on a road trip around the country since it’s conveniently located close to our main road and popular road trip route, the Ring Road, and there’s no way that you will be able to get to see and do everything that Skaftafell has to offer in just one day.

    How to Get to Skaftafell National Park

    You essentially have two options when it comes to visiting Skaftafell:

    Get There by Going on a Tour

    There are many tour operators and private guides on the island that will be able to get you to Skaftafell via one of their guided tours. This is a good option if you want to hand over the responsibility to someone else for a bit and want to learn more about the area from a knowledgeable source.

    Tours can range from private tours to group tours. As well as from day tours and combo tours to multi-day holiday tours that include a wide variety of local attractions. Whichever type of tour you choose will be based on your own personal needs, requirements, and budget.

    Get There by Driving Yourself

    This will always be the best way to explore the island, since you’re always in full control of your itinerary and your time, and it’s not necessary to rely on anyone else. This is obviously also the option you’ll take when taking on that Ring Road road trip. Getting to Skaftafell from the direction of Reykjavík is also incredibly easy. Simply get onto the Ring Road and head east for about 330 kilometers till you find the turnoff to the park.

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    How Much Does it Cost to Visit Skaftafell National Park?

    Visiting Skaftafell is free of charge, but you will need to pay a parking fee of about ISK 1000 (roughly $10). This can be paid at the Skaftafell Visitor Center. If you choose to visit the park via a guided tour, that’s another ballgame and the price will be determined by the specific tour operator.

    When is the Best Time to Visit Skaftafell Nature Reserve?

    Skaftafell is open to the public all year round, but determining the best time for you to visit will heavily depend on what you want to do and see inside the park. Needless to say, winter in Iceland (December to March) is ideal for ice cave exploring or glacier hiking, but not so much for longer hiking treks or camping in a tent. For that, you’ll need the better weather conditions and increased daylight hours of the warmer months (May to October).

    Hiking at Skaftafell

    Hiking in Skaftafell is a much-loved activity for both locals and visitors here in Iceland. There are no roads in Skaftafell, so whichever attractions or activities you are interested in will require some hiking. Most trails start at the Skaftafell Visitor Center and vary in distance and skill level required, so you will find one that will suit you – whether you’re a family with kids or avid hikers looking for a challenge.

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    Where to Stay Near Skaftafell Nature Reserve

    With so much to do and see it only makes sense to stay over for a night or two. Irrespective of personal preference or budget, the area has many accommodation options to choose from. For a bit of luxury, you can opt for a hotel stay at places such as Hotel Skaftafell. Or you can go the self-catering route with places such as The Potato Storage. For the most budget-friendly trip, you can book a spot at the Skaftafell Campground.

    Other Things to Do and See at Skaftafell Nature Reserve & Surrounds

    You will find a plethora of attractions and activities to choose from inside the park and its surroundings. Here are a few things not to be missed:

    • Go hike the Skaftafell Glaciers (this activity is only available as a guided tour due to safety concerns)
    • Visit Svartifoss Waterfall
    • Check out Oræfajökull (Iceland’s highest volcano)
    • Take a stroll in the Bæjarstadaskogur Forest
    • Check out the old Selbær farm and homestead and see how Icelanders used to live in the area
    • Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
    • Take a walk on Diamond Beach

    Svartifoss waterfalls

    Skaftafell; A World Where Natural Wonders Await

    Visiting Skaftafell is an incredible experience. Breathtaking views, trekking across diverse and completely contrasting terrain, seeing everything from waterfalls and volcanoes to glaciers and old settlements - Skaftafell truly has it all, and we highly recommend that you stay over to properly experience everything the reserve has to offer.

    If you rent a campervan in Iceland, you’ll also be able to save a ton on accommodation costs by booking a camping spot whilst camping in comfort and style. We hope to bump into you on one of the Skaftafell hiking trails or local sights soon! 

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