Iceland’s National Parks
Iceland is a country blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. No wonder it's fondly referred to as the land shaped by fire and ice! If you are planning your trip to Iceland, you probably would have heard many stories about this country's landscape, history and cultural significance that made it a place to visit. In fact, Iceland national parks and their breathtaking natural phenomenon are something you need to witness firsthand when on your Ring Road trip because no visit to this country will be complete without a trip to these amazing parks.
Iceland currently has three national parks in total. The largest was a result of combining two parks together in 2008. Although, each of these three national parks has their very own uniqueness, however, just picking out these three areas from Iceland's vast untouched and undeveloped ecosystem seems somewhat subjective. But again, there is a good reason why making these three natural reserves accessible to the public something to dream about.
Together, these parks in Iceland hover over an estimated area of about 13,986 square miles (5,400 sq km) in total - giving it a wonderful wilderness experience for adventurous tourists.
Important Reason to Visit Iceland's National Park
With Iceland’s vast landscapes and exciting outdoor activities, a trip to the national park will give tourist an ever ending experience. From scuba diving between two continents' meeting points to swimming in Iceland’s best diving lakes and hiking on the famous Icelandic glaciers - these parks are indeed a spark to tourist wildest imaginations.
The three national parks in Iceland are – þingvellir (Thingvellir), Vatnajökull, and Snaefellsjökull. Jökulsárgljúfur and Skaftafell were formerly independent entities but in 2008 they were formally merged with Vatnajökull and since then have fallen under the control and management of Vatnajökull National Park.
The entrance of each of the three national parks in Iceland has its own visitor center and all activities including information on each of these national parks can be sources at these centers. However, if you are looking for in-depth information on these national parks we recommend you visit their respective websites as each has its own unique information about the history, environmental and geographical importance.
In this article, we are going to take a look at the uniqueness of each of these national parks and why tourist needs to visit each one for a total feel of an adventurous Iceland. Once you rent an Iceland campervan, it's time to explore!
The Historical Thingvellir National Park of Iceland
The Þingvellir National Park is along the Golden Circle route and is also referred to as "The Field of Parliament". It's situated in the Bláskógabyggð municipality a 40-minute drive of about 31 miles (49 km) from the city of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland.
Þingvellir pronounced as Thingvellir is a highly revered national park because of the history surrounding it. Established in 930 AD the site was arguably where the first democratically elected parliament on the face of the planet. Although this fact is very controversial, however, it’s of no doubt that it was at this time that the nation of Iceland was born.
History has it that those elected to this parliament traveled hundreds of miles, some by horseback and some by foot, wagging through the dangerous Icelandic countryside to ensure they represent the needs of their kinsmen. It was an open-air assembly for the parliament called Althing.
By 1798, the parliament was abolished and Þingvellir was made a national park in 1928 as a means of protecting what was left of the parliament site. The current Althingi is in Reykjavik.
Thus, it is of no surprise that Þingvellir was a symbolic shrine for Icelanders and subsequently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another interesting reason why this national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site is its astonishing geological location. Þingvellir is the only few places in the world where tourist can see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates openly visible from the earth.
Today, when you take a trip to Thingvellir National Park, you will see what is left of the Althing - ruins of about 50 booths created from stone and turf. The visitor center for Iceland is decked out with the latest state-of-the-art interactive multimedia exhibit which highlights the nature and cultural significance of the park including the landscape with the aid of illustrative audio and video presentation from a large screen monitored TV and the presentation is made available in five languages which include: Icelandic, German, French, English, and Danish.
There are different activities you can engage in when you are at the park some popular ones include the scuba diving at Silfra. This place is considered the best diving spot in all of Iceland because of its marvelous ecosystem, unique rift, and its pure visibility.
The park has two permitted areas for campers to camp, both of which can be accessible from the 1st of June to 15th-30th of September.
The first camp which is called Leirar which has four other separate grounds for tourists to camp (Hvannabrekka, Fagrabrekka, Nyrðri-Leirar, and Syðri-Leirar) The Leirar campground is about 5 minutes easy walking distance from the visitors’ center.
The second campground which is Vatnskot is very close to the popular lake Þingvallavatn which is situated along an abandoned farmstead.
Note that the visitors’ center is closed to tourists from the 1st of October to 31st of May.
Whichever campsite you decide to stay, it’s important to purchase the camps permit at arrival at the visitors’ center. The good thing is that no reservation is needed to camp at any of these camps but it does not mean you cannot make a reservation if you want to.
Camping at Þingvellir could cost about ISK1300 a night per person in addition to paying ISK300 for each tent/campervan.
For disabled or senior visitors the fee is ISK650 a night per person and an additional ISK300 for tents and campervans.
For children below 13 years of age, there is a free overnight stay at the campground and if you are coming in a group of say 10 you can expect to get a 15% discount on overall price.
Vatnajökull National Park
This is no doubt the largest National Park in Iceland and second largest national park in Europe after Yugyd Va in Russia. The park was established on 7th June 2008 and covered an estimated area of 5460 square miles (14,141 sq km) or approximately 14% of Iceland landscape.
One place tourists can’t resist visiting at the park is the ice caves at Vatnajökull park. Ice caves are usually formed when the water of an existing cave freezes and this gives the cave corridor a white ghostly look when you walk through it.
Apart from the exhilarating cave adventure Vatnajökull National Park also contains some of the world's most breathtaking tourist attractions which include the largest glacier in Europe, the highest waterfall and also the tallest mountaintop.
Over the years, Vatnajökull National Park sweeping slopes and frozen landscapes are renowned for featuring in many cinematic and television productions. A popular James Bond film called "A View To Kill" was also shot here in 1984.
The park is divided into four administrative territories - West, East, North, and South and each is run by local operators. The Western territory extends to areas like Vatnajökull, the Lakagígar craters, Langisjór, and an information center which is jointly run by the national park and the local community at a town on Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
The Southern territory goes further into Vatnajökull’s southeast and from Lómagnúpur Mountain to Lónsöræfi. Skaftafell is where they have their visitors center and their campsite. Also, information centers are co-run in Hoffell, Hólmur, Höfn, and Skálafell.
The Eastern territory has the Northeast Vatnajökull, the famous Kverkfjöll mountains and also parts of the Snæfellsöræfi hiking area. Skriðuklaustur is where the visitors’ center is located.
The Northern section includes the North-Western section of Vatnajökull, portions of Jökulsá á Fjöllum, and the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. The visitors center is located in Ásbyrgi.
There is the presence of National Park Rangers in the parks highland areas providing educational services and also conducting safety patrols.
Tourist can spend days enjoying Vatnajökull National Park enjoying mesmerizing attractions from glacier hikes, ice caves adventures, glacier lagoons and to the most exciting snowmobiling. All in just one park!
On July 5, 2019, Vatnajökull National Park was officially designated as a World Heritage Site.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
A journey from Reykjavík to Snæfellsjökull National Park can take up to 118 miles (190 km) which is approximately 2 hours 40 minutes’ drive by car and the park covers about 66 square miles (170 sq km) of land. The Snæfellsjökull National Park has within it lava plateaus, rocky coves, slopping glaciers, and towering bird cliffs - a miniature of all Iceland's wonderful ecosystem in one place.
As you drive nearer to the park, you get to see the Snæfellsjökull volcano as it gets larger and larger until it actually dominates the whole entire landscape. This is one of the most captivating features for tourists visiting the site.
Apart from the volcano in Snæfellsjökull visitors are also thrilled to explore the famous Sönghellir or "cave of song" as it's referred to with its distinctive echoes resounding all through the cave. Also, tourists are thrilled to read out names that have been engraved on the interior of the cave walls including that of Eggert Ólafsson and Bjarni Pálsson who were the early 18th century guests at the cave, however, having your names engraved on the walls is no longer encouraged.
Snæfellsjökull National Park also has within its landscape perhaps has the most beautiful pitch-black sand and pebbles beach which is covered and surrounded by green lush moss lava called Djúpalónssandur. Here you could also see the remains of the old British trawler.
Also for wildlife lovers the park is home to Grundarfjörður town adjudged the best place to spot killer whales. The town harbor is also a tourist attraction for whale watching.
The Snæfellsjökull National Park has three camping regions for visitors during the summer months:
This is the largest urban settlement in Snæfellsbær and the campground is open to visitors from the 15th of May to 15th of September and you can indulge yourself with services like hot and cold water, showers, and toilets in their service center.
Located on the northwestern edge of Snæfellsnes Peninsula and a 9km away from Ólafsvík, the campsite beautifully sited on a dried lava plateau called Sandahraun. The campsite boasts of facilities like shower, toilet, swimming pool and a cafe along a beautiful looking coastline.
Located on the southern edge of Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This site boasts of service centers such as cafes at hamlet Hellnar that is a 30 minutes trek along the beautiful coastline.