Skaftafell National Park is Iceland´s second national park, established in 1967. Skaftafell is an area of almost 5.000 square kilometres and is an oasis wedged between sand and glacier. Its unique natural beauty is a result of favourable weather conditions and the interplay of fire and ice.
In 2004 Skaftafell National Park has been enlarged twice, first in 1984 and again in 2004. Skaftafell National Park consists of three very different areas: Skaftafell and Skeiðarársandur (volcano and outwash plain) Lakagígar (crater area on a volcanic fissure, former National Monument Laki), and large parts of Vatnajokull glacial cap. The strong contrast of green forested hills congested between the black sands and the white glacier is unique and very scenic. The history of fire and ice in the region and the way in which the powerful forces of nature have struggled to form the National Park is told in the Skaftafellsstofa Visitor Centre along with the story of the culture which has thrived in the shadow of the glacier and the lives of people surviving in an area ruled by fire and flood. Skaftafell was a manor farm and local assembly site in the Middle Ages The Church acquired land there very early, and later the estate belonging to the Danish king. The farmhouse formerly stood at the place called Gömlutún (Old Hayfield), where its ruins can still be seen. With the encroachment of Skeiðará, fields slowly disappeared under layers of sand, and during the years 1830-1850, the farm was relocated about 100 meters up the mountainside.
There are no roads inside Skaftafell National Park but it´s easy to get there from Reykjavik. The distance from the Reykjavik is about 330 km along Route 1. Inside Skaftafell there are number of hiking trails and large camping grounds – although the layer of grass is very thin so you might need a hammer to get the pegs in. The Vistor´s Center in Skaftafell is well worth a visit. I´ts ideal to combine a visit to Skaftafell with the glacier lagoon Jokulsarlon and the Laki crater area.
The waterfall Svartifoss is within walking distance from the main campsite in Skaftafell. Svartifoss – or ‘the black waterfall’, is one of the park’s major attractions. There are mightier waterfalls in Iceland, such as Gullfoss or Godofoss, but few are as instantly recognisable. Svartifoss obtains its name not from the colour of its waters, which foam white over the cliff edge, but from the black basalt columns that flank the waterfall. Arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern, the rocks hang off the cliff face like the pipes of an organ and were the inspiration for the architectural design of the National Theatre in Reykjavík.