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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 south-east and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north. Today Vatnajökull National Park covers 14% of Iceland and ranks as Europe's second largest. In general, national parks are protected areas which are considered unique due to 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.
Description 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.
Preservation objectives 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:
Skaftárstofa Visitor Centre | Kirkjubæjarklaustur | open in summer
Skaftafellsstofa Visitor Centre | Skaftafell | open all year
Skálafell farm | Suðursveit | varying hours - all year
Hoffell farm | Nes | varying hours - all year
Gamlabúð Visitor Centre | Höfn | open all year *
 
*Opening hours for Christmas and New Year celebration can be found on the website http://www.vjp.is
Skaftárstofa Visitor Centre, Kirkjubæjarklaustur
In Kirkjubæjarklaustur the Tourist Information Office is situated in Skaftárstofa, on your left hand as you drive through the village.   Exhibition about the moss Documentary Films: Eruption in Grímsvötn 2011 Western part of Vatnajökull National Park   Opening hours in 2020     Participant in VAKINN Iceland tourism's official quality assurance organization  
Skaftafell Visitor Centre, Skaftafell
Skaftafellsstofa is an information and education centre where visitors can find answers to their questions about the Skaftafell area, along with information about hiking trails, accommodation and nearby recreational options. The centre has an exhibition room with a film about the soutside of Vatnajökull National Park. At the campsite there is WC, (also for disabled), running water (hot & cold), shower, gift shop, cafeteria, coach service, service station, walking paths, hiking guide, outdoor grills, washing machine. Exhibition showing the geology of the National Park. Service station close by and various other opportunities. For information ask at the service desk.  The camping ground is open all year round
Gamlabúð Visitor Centre, Höfn
Vatnajökull National Park‘s visitor centre in Höfn, Hornafjörður, is located in the building Gamlabúð next to the harbour area. It houses an exhibition about the region‘s geology, glaciers and culture. With Hornafjörður being an important stop-over for migrating birds, special attention is given to the bird life of the area. There is also a strong focus on climate change and the effect it will have in the future. The visitor centre has a small shop, with emphasis on books, souvenirs and local products. The building has wheelchair accessibility.    
Lakagígar and Laki
Lakagígar is a row of craters, formed in one of the world's largest mixed eruptions in recorded history. This continuous series of eruptions emitted a vast quantity of lava and substantial amounts of volcanic ash from a fissure stretching 25 km across the area west of the ice cap. The craters are regarded as a globally unique phenomenon and are as such a protected natural monument. In 1783, a huge lava flow streamed from Lakagígar in what became known as the “Skaftá Fires.” This is believed to have been one of the greatest lava flows in a single eruption in the history of the world: the molten lava filled the gorges through which the Skaftá and Hverfisfljót rivers flowed, and swept down in two branches into inhabited areas, to spread over the lowlands where it laid waste many farms. The eruption produced large quantities of volcanic ash. For residents of the region, and Iceland as a whole, the results of the eruption were catastrophic: this time is known as “Móðuharðindin” (the Haze Famine).All roads in the western part of the national park are mountain tracks, only navigable for vehicles with four-wheel-drive; some only for large jeeps. Some sections of road are rocky and full of potholes, and loose gravel is common. It is sometimes necessary to ford (drive through) streams and rivers which can become suddenly swollen, making them difficult, or even impossible, to cross. It is dependent on the weather when the roads are opened. Usually they are open from early June, through to the autumn. Driving is only allowed on the roads which are marked on the accompanying map. All other roads or tracks are closed to the public. Here, as elsewhere, driving off-road is totally banned by law.   
Eldgjá canyon
Eldgjá is an old tectonic graben that was reactivated in a huge eruption in 934-940. The Eldgjá vents form a discontinuous 75 km long volcanic fissure extending from the Katla volcano in the west to Vatnajökull in the east. The eruption in 934-940 takes its name from a spectacular 150 m deep and 8 km long chasm called Eldgjá (fire fissure) that occupies the central part of the vent system. Part of the fissure is under protection of the Vatnajökull National Park. There you can take a walk along the bottom of the fissure and witness the sheer scale of it. An easy hike takes you from the car park (withWC facilities) along the bottom of the fissure to Ófærufoss waterfall. Getting there: you need a 4x4 and the area is only accessible in the summer. This is a site of international geological significance. Ófærufoss is a distinctive two-tiered waterfall cascading into the fissure Eldgjá.  
Langisjór Lake, Fögrufjöll, Grænifjallgarður
Langisjór is a lake that’s 20 km long and 2 km wide in some places. The lake is to the southwest of Vatnajökull, between the mountains Tungnárfjöll and Fögrufjöll, in a beautiful and picturesque landscape. Its square measure is 27 km², it reaches a depth of 75 m and the water surface is 670 m above sea level.
Skaftafell
Scenic nature, favorable weather conditions and a network of hiking trails make Skaftafell an ideal destination to enjoy outdoor activities in Icelandic nature. Short and easy trails lead to the waterfall Svartifoss and Skaftafellsjökull glacier, but for those who want to reach further out Morsárdalur valley and Kristínartindar mountain peaks are perfect in terms of distance and labour. Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those who seek to climb Iceland‘s highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnúkur. Private travel companies operate in Skaftafell and offer guided hikes on the nearby glaciers and mountains. Also on offer are sightseeing flights over Vatnajökull glacier and other renowned attractions.
Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon by the ring road and was recently designated as a part of Vatnajökull National Park. It's still blue waters are a sight not to be missed, as it is dotted with the icebergs from the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull, a part of the Vatnajökull glacier. The lagoon flows through a narrow gateway into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the spectacular sight of the large chunks of ice on the black sandy beach. In wintertime, the fish-filled lagoon hosts a number of seals, which visit the lagoon for an easy meal. Year-round curious seals can be seen basking on the blue-tinted icebergs. The lagoon is accessible from the beach all year round, and so is the café on the banks of Jökulsárlón. For hikers, a marked hiking trail between Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón is recommended as a scenic trip through unforgettable surroundings.  A word of warning - don't jump onto the ice floating in the lagoon. Some tourists think it’s okay to do it, but it is dangerous play, and the ice can capsize leaving you stuck beneath it in the ice-cold water. So let's be very careful here.Please heed the advice of the locals and never ever step on the ice in the lagoon!  
Skálafell – Hjallanes
Skálafell is situated in the exact middle between the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón and the town of Höfn in Hornafjörður. Skálafell offers access to beautiful, marked walking paths around the area offering a mere 45-minute walk to the edge of Vatnajökull glacier. Furthermore a new walkway bridge over river Kolgríma opens the hiking area of Heinaberg from Skálafell. This area is very popular when it comes to visiting glacial areas.   
Heinaberg
Heinaberg is a beautiful area that consists of Heinabergsjökull glacier, the glacial lagoon Heinabergslón, where you can go kayaking among the icebergs during summer, and stunning landscape. The Heinaberg area is part of Vatnajökull National Park. The gorgeous glacial lagoon of Heinaberg, Heinabergslón, is accessible by car and is often studded with large chunks of glacier that break off the Heinabergsjökull glacier. The area offers excellent conditions for hikers, as it has several interesting hiking trails, along which one can see waterfalls, ravines, volcanic intrusions, and even, on a lucky day, a reindeer.   
Hoffell
Hoffell is a farmland area characterized by a large outlet glacier named Hoffellsjökull and gabbro rock. Gabbro rock is originated deep in the Earth but is visible in the area due to the uplift of the area and glacial erosion, which gives the environment a greenish hue in the otherwise dark rocks. Hoffell is an area and a farmland in southeast Iceland. It is characterised by a large outlet glacier, Hoffellsjökull, and gabbro rock, which originally formed deep in the earth‘s crust but is now visible due to uplift of the area and glacial erosion, which gives the environment a greenish hue in the otherwise dark rocks. The Hoffell area is 15 kilometres from the town of Höfn.Driving or hiking north from Hoffell along the sands of Hoffellssandur you will enjoy the spectacular scenery of mountain slopes carved out by earlier glaciers. Along the sands of Hoffellssandur you will enjoy the spectacular scenery of mountain slopes carved out by earlier glaciers. Along the way, there is also a borehole, constructed to extract geothermal water. Finally, you reach the ice of the glacier-tongue, Hoffellsjökull, skirted by the numerous hiking trails of the Geitafell mountain.The area is preserved for outdoor recreation, as it is rich in vegetation, wildlife, and geological variety. The area’s many hiking trails offer a stunning view of the diverse beautiful wonders it has to offer.