Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park, established in 2008, encompasses not only all of Vatnajökull glacier but also extensive surrounding areas. These include the national parks previously existing at Skaftafell in the southwest and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, so that today's national park covers 13% of Iceland and ranks as Europe's second largest.
In general, national parks are protected areas which are considered unique because of their nature or cultural heritage. The unique qualities of Vatnajökull National Park are primarily its great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity.
Vatnajökull is Europe's largest glacier, with a surface area of around 8,100 km2. Generally measuring 400-600 m in thickness and at the most 950 m, the glacial ice conceals a number of mountains, valleys and plateaus. It even hides some active central volcanoes, of which Bárðarbunga is the largest and Grímsvötn the most active. While the icecap rises at its highest to over 2,000 m above sea level, the glacier base reaches its lowest point 300 m below sea level. Nowhere in Iceland, with the exception of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, does more precipitation fall or more water drain to the sea than on the south side of Vatnajökull. In fact, so much water is currently stored in Vatnajökull that the Icelandic river with the greatest flow, Ölfusá, would need over 200 years to carry this quantity of water to sea.
The south side of Vatnajökull is characterised by many high, majestic mountain ridges, with outlet glaciers descending between them onto the lowlands. The southernmost part of the glacier envelops the central volcano Öræfajökull and Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur. Sheltered by the high ice, the vegetated oasis of Skaftafell overlooks the black sands deposited to its west by the river Skeiðará. These sands are mostly composed of ash which stems from the frequent eruptions at Grímsvötn and is brought to the coast by jökulhlaups, or glacial floods. Substantial volcanic activity also characterises the landscape west of Vatnajökull, where two of the world's greatest fissure and lava eruptions of historical times occurred, at Eldgjá in 934 and Lakagígar 1783-1784. Vonarskarð, northwest of the glacier, is a colourful high-temperature area and a watershed between North and South Iceland.
The objectives of designating Vatnajökull as a preservation area, along with the main regions it affects, are the following:
• To protect the nature of the region, including the landscape, biota and geological formations, as well as cultural features
• To allow the public to get to know and enjoy regional nature, culture and history
• To provide education on nature and nature conservation and on regional history, society and cultural features, as well as encouraging research to gain greater knowledge of these aspects
• To strengthen communities and business activity in the vicinity of the park.
Visitor centres and other tourist information offices working with the park
Visitor centres and other tourist information offices working with the park provide information and services for the park and its immediate environs. The following offices operate along the south coast of Iceland:
Skaftá Visitor Centre | Kirkjubæjarklaustur | open in summer
Skaftafell Visitor Centre | Skaftafell | open all year*
Skálafell farm | Suðursveit | varying hours - all year
Hólmur farm | Mýrar | varying hours - all year
Hoffell farm | Nes | varying hours - all year
Höfn Tourist Information Centre | Höfn | open in summer
* Closed on December 25 and January 1.
Travel directory for Vatnajökull National Park
The official travel index of Iceland
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