Covering more than a tenth of the island, Vatnajökull National Park contains the entire spectrum of Iceland’s wilderness. With everything from the highest mountain in Iceland to the deepest canyon, this national park won’t disappoint you in any way.
On the list of amazing areas in Iceland, Vatnajökull National Park is at the very top. Here you can find most anything related to the nature of Iceland, and it’s the absolute perfect place for both week-long hikes and shorter day trips. Find out more about this wonder of the world in the article below.
What is Vatnajökull National Park?
Historically, the park hasn’t been around for that many years, since it was only established in 2008. When it was created, it absorbed Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárgljúfur. If you can pronounce the second one, we will be impressed.
In 2019, Vatnajökull National Park became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List! That's due to the world-unique blend of massive glaciers and numerous volcanoes on top of the only part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that’s above water. The ridge goes straight through the park and is the reason for the 10 known Icelandic volcanoes in the area.
Vatnajökull National Park covers roughly 13% of the surface in Iceland, so saying that this is a large national park is very much an understatement. It is the largest Iceland national park they have. The park is so large, that it is made up of 7 different areas, all with their own attractions and services. Going from the south in a clockwise pattern, the areas are:
- Skaftafell in the south.
- Laki, Eldgja, and Langisjor in the southwest.
- Nyidalur, Vonarskard, and Tugnaáröraefi in the northwest
- Jökulsargljufur in the far north.
- Odadahraun and Krepputunga in the center north.
- Snaefell and Lonsöraefi in the east.
- Jökulsarlon, Fjallsarlon, and Hornafjördur in the southeast.
The most prominent part of the park is the majestic Vatnajökull glacier. It also happens to be the second-largest glacier in Europe and is the largest glacier in Iceland by far. The area in the Vatnajökull National Park is incredibly beautiful with plenty of different sceneries. There is a reason why it’s often a stop on the Iceland photo tours.
What to See and Do in Vatnajökull National Park
Covering 13% of the country, Vatnajökull offers much to see and do for adventurous visitors. Nope, we’re not talking theme parks or roller coasters, sorry. Now, if you are a fan of nature and want to see the many different aspects of Iceland, Vatnajökull National Park is the place to go.
The top of the tops can be found in the southern part of Vatnajökull National Park, as it is the home of the highest peak in Iceland. You will also come across an abundance of outlet glaciers and two massive glacier-fed lagoons.
- Jökulsarlón lagoon boat trips and the Diamond Beach.
- Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon.
- Skaftafell ice cave tours and glacier hikes.
If you want to see vast lava fields, this is the area to visit. You will find unique flora and unique geological rock formations.
- Bardarbunga volcano that erupted in 2014 – 2015.
- Langisjor lake that sits between 2 rifts that are 2 kilometers long each.
- Eldgja lava field.
In the far north, you’ll find a mystical mountain range that shows where Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse, took a step on their way to Valhalla. You will also be able to see one of the deepest and most striking canyons in Iceland.
- Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and one of the best waterfalls in Iceland.
- Ásbyrgi, the horseshoe-shaped canyon in Jökulsargljufur.
- Holmatungur nature area with an incredibly rich flora, fauna, and a river that eventually goes out into the North Atlantic.
If you want to see reindeer in the wilderness, this is the place to go. The east highlands in Iceland are well-known for their abundance of highland flora that the reindeer love to munch on. This also happens to be the home of Snaefell.
- Snaefell mountain, that is one of the very few places where vegetation reaches from the shore to the base of the mountain.
- Lonsöraefi – an extinct volcano with an incredible landscape that is perfect for hiking.
- Bruarjökull – the largest outlet glacier from Vatnajökull glacier.
The true untamed highlands are in the center north, just north of the Vatnajökull glacier.
- Askja which is a currently active volcano. Only approach with experienced guides and rangers.
- Kverkfjöll mountain range, which is the third-highest mountain group in Iceland.
- Hvannalindir – an incredibly remote area that embodies the untouched highlands of Iceland.
How to get to Vatnajökull National Park
Thanks to Ring Road 1, it’s easy to go from Reykjavík to Vatnajökull National Park. All you have to do is to get on the road heading east and continue on it for about 340 kilometers, and then you’re there! You will reach Skaftafell first, unless you decide to go on the F-roads up to Eldgja from Grafarkirkja.
To be honest, how to get to Vatnajökull National Park is an easy mission regardless of where you are and is definitely one of the top things to do in Iceland. If you happen to be in the north, you can visit Jökulsárgljúfur, which is just east of Akureyri.
It’s only if you are in western Iceland that you’ll struggle, and that is only due to distance and not the difficulty. From the east, you can either go via the highlands to the eastern parts of the park or via Ring Road 1 to the northern or southern parts.
Vatnajökull National Park is massive, so we suggest you rent a car in Iceland to get a chance to visit as many spots in the park as possible. If you’re short on time, we suggest focusing on the southern parts since it’s the easiest to access and has plenty of services.