Established in 2008 by combining Iceland’s former Jokulsargljufur and Skaftafell National Parks, Vatnajokull National Park is one of Europe’s largest national parks. It presents incredibly diverse and dramatic scenery including glacial plateaus, active volcanoes, towering ice caps, black-sand beaches, and terrain that is bubbling with geothermal activity. The park is dominated by the Vatnajokull glacier, Europe’s third-largest glacier, and contains Iceland’s highest mountain (Oraefajokull) and deepest lake (Jokulsarlon).
The park’s southern territory of Skaftafell is the gateway to the most accessible area of the Vatnajokull glacier and one of the park’s most popular regions for outdoor activities. Visit the Skaftafell Visitor Center for information about attractions, hiking trails, and accommodations. Book an ice cave tour inside the Vatnajokull glacier or a hike on the Falljokull glacier, or book a longer day tour from Reykjavik that might also include visiting the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
Things to Know Before You Go
Dress in layers, bring waterproof boots, and be prepared for the weather to change unexpectedly.
A park entrance fee is charged on a per-vehicle basis.
Hiking trails are marked according to level of difficulty and indicate which are appropriate for wheelchair users or visitors with limited mobility.
How to Get to There
To reach Vatnajokull National Park’s Skaftafell Visitor Center, you can either drive from Reykjavik (about four hours) or take a bus or organized tour. The town of Hofn is another park gateway, accessible from Reykjavik by regular flights or by bus.
When to Get There
The best time to visit Vatnajokull National Park is in summer when days are longest, trail conditions are best for hiking, and boat tours around the Jokulsarlon lagoon are possible. While crowds are sparse in the winter, daylight hours can be as few as four in mid-December and many sights may be inaccessible.
Highlights of Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajokull National Park is enormous, so you may choose to focus on a few highlights. Svartifoss (Black Falls), named for the black lava columns surrounding the falls, is a short hike from Skaftafell in south Iceland. On the edge of the park in southeast Iceland, Jokulsarlon was formed when the Breidamerkurjokull glacier began to recede—now it is the deepest lake in the country. In the northeast, glacial rivers flowing from the Vatnajokull glacier formed the mighty Dettifoss waterfall, which stands 330 feet (100 meters) wide and drops 144 feet (44 meters).