Iceland is all about rugged natural beauty. And one of the best landscapes exist in its vast national parks that provide a various range of activities. These national parks also offer stunning scenery, ethereal lava fields, beautiful waterfalls, vast glaciers, giant canyons, black sand beaches, and more.

There are three fundamental national parks in Iceland: Vatnajokull is the biggest, Thingvellir is the oldest, and Snaefellsjokull is picturesque.

National Parks in Iceland – Vatnajokull National Park

Vatnajökull National Park is a Unesco World Heritage site. It can also be the biggest of Iceland’s National Parks. Vatnajokull National Park was established in 2008 and has slowly grown to incorporate more areas. This national park now includes Skaftafell Reserve and Jökulsárgljúfur Park inside its region. It covers about 14% of the Icelandic territory. Yes, Vatnajokull National Park is unquestionably large! So listed below are a few of one of the best activities you’ll be able to try within the two park areas inside Vatnajokull.

Best Things to Do in Skaftafell Reserve

Skaftafell is now an element of Vatnajokull National Park and is in South Iceland. You can easily visit this even in case you only have 5 days in Iceland. Skaftafell has a big visitor center with all possible facilities including an on-site restaurant, shower and bathroom facilities, in addition to a carpark. Most tours inside Vatnajokull National Park start on the Skaftafell visitor center. Here are among the top things to do in Skaftafell Reserve.

1. Glacier hiking

Vatnajokull is the biggest glacier in all of Europe. One of one of the best tours to take from Skaftafell is to hike an element of this glacier. You are taken by a bus or a brilliant jeep closer to the glacier. The guide gives you some details about Vatnajokull, why the ice is blue in some parts, dangers to avoid, and explains methods to use equipment like crampons and an ice pick. You then start the ascent on the glacier in a single file.

For the healthier and adventurous, you’ll be able to mix the glacier hike with an mountain climbing tour. This would take you much deeper into the glacier. You may have more equipment to take care of.

2. Boat tour to Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon

Jokulsarlon is a lake that’s stuffed with water from the Vatnajokull glacier. It also has icebergs that break away from the glacier and float within the lake. One of the gorgeous experiences on Iceland’s south coast is to take a ship tour to Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon.

The fit and adventurous can go for a kayaking tour on this lagoon through the summer months.

Some of those icebergs melt and drift out to the ocean, while smaller pieces also get washed up on a black sand beach. These ice chunks glistening against the black sand is what made the ‘Diamond Beach’ so famous. It is price a visit!

4. Hike to Svartifoss

Iceland has over 10,000 waterfalls, so what number of are you able to visit? But Svartifoss is exclusive as a result of the basalt columns that surround it. The waterfall is gorgeous with a 20-meter drop with black basalt columns throughout.

The only option to access Svartifoss is to take a hike on a well-marked trail from the Skaftafell visitor center. The hike is brief but moderately difficult in some parts. It is about 2 hours round trip.

5. Ice Cave Tour (in winter)

Iceland has several glacier ice caves accessible in winter (October end until March). These natural ice caves may be myriad colours: blue, black, and white. You must book a guide/tour to go to an ice cave.

There is simply one ice cave in Vatnajokull that’s accessible all through the yr. We visited Iceland in June, and one among our memorable experiences was the Katla Ice Cave Tour.

Katla Ice Cave

Best Things to Do in Jökulsárgljúfur

Jökulsárgljúfur is a canyon in North Iceland that’s now a part of the greater Vatnajökull National Park. Here are among the top attractions to go to in Jökulsárgljúfur.

1. View the mighty Dettifoss

Jökulsárgljúfur is best known for the mighty Dettifoss, probably the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Dettifoss can also be a preferred stop on the Diamond Circle route in North Iceland. The Diamond Circle, besides Dettifoss, includes Asbyrgi, Lake Myvatn, and Husavik (the whale-watching capital of Iceland).

Dettifoss is impressive by way of its scale. The waterfall is about 100 metres wide, and 44 metres high. It is simple to drive right down to Dettifoss from either Myvatn or Akureyri.

The waterfall may be accessed from each the west and the east side. The west side is way easier. It has a carpark after which a marked path with railings and steps to achieve the falls. The east side gets you closer, so it’s more thrilling. But this site just isn’t meant for all: that you must be extremely careful on the big boulders. There isn’t any railing to carry on to and absolutely nothing between the boulders and the falls.

2. Hike the Asbyrgi Canyon

The distant Asbyrgi Canyon is accessible from Akureyri and Husavik. The canyon formation resulted of the eruption of one among the Vatnajokull volcanoes. You will information and pictures on how the canyon was shaped by geological forces within the visitor center here.

Asbyrgi Canyon Iceland

The staff on the visitor center may also explain all of the hiking options at Asbyrgi. Or you’ll be able to even drive on the canyon floor on the one road that cuts through it. But one of the best views are offered via hiking the rim of Asbyrgi Canyon.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park is one of the best stop on the famous Golden Circle route in Iceland. That’s mainly due to its unique geology and historical importance. There isn’t any other place on earth where you’ll be able to see the rift between 2 continental plates so clearly.

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland

Thingvellir National Park is about an hour away from Reykjavik. You can explore most of Reykjavik’s attractions in a day after which head to the Golden Circle the following day. 

Thingvellir was the primary national park established in Iceland in 1930. Here are among the things you’ll be able to do at Thingvellir:

1. Walk the Almannagja Gorge

From the visitor center at Thingvellir, the very first thing you see is the continental rift and a path that takes you thru it. That’s Almannagja Gorge. You can go right down to the gorge and walk its entire length. One side of the Almannagja Gorge forms the North American continental plate. The initial a part of this walk is amidst large crowds that thin out as you go further.

2. View Oxarafoss

This is an attractive waterfall in Thingvellir. You can walk the trail on Almannagja Gorge to achieve the waterfall. Oxarafoss drops in 2 stages over the cliffs of this gorge. The falls have a height of about 13 meters.

3. See the Parliament buildings

Thingvellir also has a vital place within the political history of Iceland. The first parliament was made here to manipulate the country. The site has the excellence of being the longest-running parliament before it was shifted to the capital city. You can stroll across the park area and visit the old buildings.

4. Snorkel or dive between 2 continental plates

There isn’t any other place on the planet where you’ll be able to snorkel or dive between two continental plates. The freshwater is filtered naturally through lava rocks and has visibility of as much as 100 m. For scuba diving, that you must be certified for a dry suit. Booking a tour for it is a must.

Snaefellsjokull National Park

This national park was established in 2001 and on Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is called after the famous sub-volcano glacier Snaefellsjokull. Here are among the things to do in Snaefellsjokull Park:

1. View the stunning Snaefellsjokull glacier

Snaefellsnes Peninsula has been nicknamed ‘Iceland in miniature’ due to its rugged wild landscape. One of one of the best ways to explore West Iceland is to drive down it’s scenic coastal routes. You will get a likelihood to view Snaefellsjokull glacier from many spots in your road drive. What is a novel feature is the Buðahraun lava field, which encircles the glacier.

2. Black Sand beach at Djupalonssandur

One of the cool things to do in Snaefellsjokull National Park is to go to the Black Lava Pearl Beach. At Djupalonssandur, you will note interesting rock formations and freshwater lagoons. You proceed to walk down a marked path to achieve the black sand beach.

3. Go down the Vatnashellir Lace Cave (during summer)

Vatnshellir is one among Iceland’s older lava tubes that may be explored in the summertime months via a tour. This lava cave was formed in a volcanic eruption about 8,000 years ago. You can still find minerals of this lava in Vatnshellir nowadays.

Lava caving is simply possible in Vatnshellir with a guided tour.

Lava Cave

Snæfellsjökull National Park is adjoining to historic fishing villages. You can stay the night here and visit more interesting attractions in and around these villages including probably the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland, Kirkjufell.

Iceland National Parks Summary

To summarise, Iceland has established 3 fundamental national parks. Vatnajökull National Park encompasses Europe’s largest glacier Vatnajökull and extensive surrounding areas. Iceland’s first national park was established at Thingvellir which is significant each for historic and geological reasons. And finally, there’s Snaefellsjokull National Park is called after the glacier Snæfellsjökull, the crown jewel of this national park.

Do you desire to read more about Iceland? Head to my post about among the must-see hidden gems in Iceland.

Author bio

Shweta has all the time been obsessed with travel and immersing in recent experiences. Having been to over 45 countries, she blogs at Zest In A Tote to bring family-friendly itineraries and tips, destinations, and luxury stays to her readers. Her belief in family travel needn’t be boring and one can do a mixture of local culture & food, adventure activities, and leisure, all with family. 


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