What to do in Lofoten and when to go? The most interesting and useful facts of the Lofoten Archipelago
The largest national park not only in Iceland but also in Europe, Vatnajökull occupies one-eighth of Iceland and stretches from the south to the north of the country. A huge glacier gave name to the park.
What is Vatnajökull National Park
The park was founded in 2008 and includes the former national parks Jökulsárgljúfur, located in the north and founded in 1973, and Skaftafell, located in the South and founded in 1967.
National parks are protected areas and considered to be unique because of their nature or cultural heritage. The unique qualities of the Park are primarily caused by its large variety of landscape created by many rivers, glaciers as well as volcanic and geothermal activity. There is quite a diverse landscape in the park: the river, the area of black sand, glaciers, picturesque mountains, hills, waterfalls, streams and quicksand.
The scenery surrounding the glacier is extremely diverse. To the north, the mountain plateau is divided into glacial rivers. Askja, Kverkfjöll and Snæfell Volcanoes rise above this region, together with the volcanic mountain Herthubreith. Long ago, huge ice flows carved the canyon Jökulsárgljúfur in the northern part of the plateau. A huge waterfall Dettifoss is located at the end of the canyon, while the picturesque formations at Hljóthaklettar and curved horseshoe-shaped rock Ásbyrgi are located farther north. Marshy land near the glacier and farther east, surround Snæfell. It is home to deer and geese.
The south side of the National Park is characterized by numerous high, majestic mountain ranges and the lowland glaciers. The southernmost part of the glacier envelops the central part of the volcano Öræfajökull.
Volcanic activity also characterizes the landscape to the west of Vatnajökull, where there are two great splits.
- guided skiing tours to Hvannadalshnúkur from January till March;
- climbing to the hill, from which you can see all the waterfalls, with a stunning landscape;
- guided tours of the glacier; ice walking and climbing around Skaftafell;
- excursions to the Mount Bergmenn;
- adventure tours in the park: snowmobile tours, jeep safaris, ice climbing, sailing among icebergs in Jökulsárlón.
The weather can vary greatly through the territory of the park, as the region is quite extensive and varies in height. High precipitation is characteristic of the south of Vatnajökull glaciers. The temperature ranges from 10 to 20 Celsius above zero in summer, and winter the weather is quite mild – the temperature rarely drops below -10 Celsius.
In the mountains and on the ice cap, the annual precipitation is even more abundant, but falls mainly as snow. The snow depth on Öræfajökull ranges from 10 to 15 meters. Some snow melts and forms ice caps.
The temperature in the southern part of the park, in the glacier area, is mostly below zero in winter and can reach -20 or -30 Celsius. Strong winds and storms are typical of the region. Farther north, beyond the ice cap precipitation decreases. Precipitation increases closer to the northern coast and in some areas of the highlands, such as Askja. The temperature in the clear and calm weather in the winter can be quite low.
Where to stay
In the park, there is a large camping site, which opens in late May and operates till September 1. It is quite crowded during the summer months. Tents for rent are available.
In addition, you can stay at the following locations next to the park:
- The closest hotel – Hvoll Hostel – is located about 40 km to the west, on the Ring Road. Having turned off the main road you will need to drive another 4 kilometers on a bad gravel road. The price is affordable, but the place is secluded (and there is no internet at all!);
- rural house Bolti.
In the different parts of the park, there are enough places for accommodation, as well.
- In Drekagil and Herthubreitharlindir (Akureyri tourist club), there is accommodation in huts and camping, and the travel clubs of Fljótsdalshérath and Húsavík are located in Kverkfjöll. Accommodations in Hvannalindir are available during the summer.
- The locals in the farm near Hoffell offer to stay in the guest house, which is open all year round.
- There are two camping sites in Jökulsárgljúfur. In Ásbyrgi, there is a large and well-equipped camping ground for tents, campers and trailers. In Vesturdalur, there is a smaller site.
Where to eat
There is a small dirt road around the service station, 5 km east of the park, opposite the Hotel Skaftafell. The food is quite good there and the price is moderate, though the choice is limited. There is also a small shop near the service station, where you can buy a lot of things from tea to soap at high prices.
How to reach the Vatnajökull National Park
There are different ways to get to the national park Vatnajokull.
There is an airport 10 minutes from Höfn and flights from Reykjavik to Hofn all year, six days during the summer and five days during the fall, winter and spring. Average ticket price is about EUR 180-200.
There are daily busses between Reykjavik and Hofn during summer (EUR 60) and three times a week during winter.
There are three car rental companies, all based in Höfn: Hertz, Bílaleiga Akureyrar, and Avis.
What exactly can you do in Vatnajökull
Jökulsárgljúfur is an area that takes its name from the canyon carved by the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. In this area, there is a horseshoe-shaped rock Ásbyrgi, as well as a visitor center located Ásbyrgi and a large campground. Also there is a waterfall Dettifoss and Hljóthaklettar crater, both places are worth visiting. Askja central volcano and the mountain oasis Herthubreitharlindir are located further into the highlands. To get there you need 4x4. It is better to get to these places by road 901, then – F905. On this route there are two small passages that must be crossed. An alternative route is the road F88, but there are two passages, as well, and they are more dangerous.
An ideal starting point is the visitors center Snæfellstofa. Rangers are based in Snæfell, Hvannalindir Kverkfjöll. To travel through mountainous terrain, you also need 4x4.
The visitors’ center is located in Skaftafell; it is open throughout the year. Next to it, there is a campsite. Further east, there are the regions Heinaberg, Hjallanes and Hoffell, each of them offers something to do, for instance, hiking. There are also opportunities for travel to the closely located glaciers in this area. All of these places can be reached by the usual means of transport all year round.
Laki is also known as Lakagígar (craters of Laki). This place is very popular among tourists. You can get there on the road number 1; F206 road also leads to this area. To get there, you need a 4x4 because there are small rivers along the way. Take into account that the river may increase significantly after the rainfall.
Laki craters were formed after one of the largest eruptions in human history. Now they are also called Fire River Skaftá – this is a continuous series of eruptions, large amounts of lava and a significant amount of volcanic ash from the crack with the length of 25 kilometers across the west of the ice cap.
The park was founded in 2008 and there is not much infrastructure yet. However, there are natural wonders around every corner and they are available for every traveler. Only here you can bathe in the hot springs under the arches of the ice caves.