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Monday, November 6, 2017

Hike to Svartifoss Waterfall Skaftafell - Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Day Four was a long day.  Like 6 stops/activities in one day plus driving to them all kind of long.  This part of the country just has so much to offer and shows off a vast amount of scenery in such a small area.  We started the day with some quick easy stops,  to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and Kirkjugólf Basalt Tiles.  The rest of the day was spent on a guided glacier tour of one of Iceland's glaciers and checking out the icebergs in the two lagoons and on Diamond Beach. 

Entrance to Skaftafell National Park

We had a time crunch but wanted to spend some time a) hiking and b) in Skaftafell National Park.  Our main goal in the park was to complete the short hike to the famous Svartifoss waterfall.  This was one of our first actual "hikes" and by some grace of god, the weather held out long enough for us to complete this hike in the sunshine.  It can be pretty tough to set specific days and times to hike with Iceland's ever changing weather so when the sun comes out... you shift around any and all plans you have and go hike.

Map of the Vatnajokull icecap

Coordinates: 64.0146707° N 16.9739249° W

About:  Iceland's second national park, Skaftafell was established in 1967  at a size of 400-500 square km.  The rugged landscapes, mountains and of course the glaciers have made this park a popular stop for visitor's to the land of Fire and Ice. In 1984, the area of the park was increased to 1736 square km including a considerable part of Glacier Vatnajokull. In November 2004 the area of the park was increased even more to 4,807 square km.  Iceland clearly knows how valuable these natural resources are in the sense of ecotourism and natural conservation (go Iceland!).  The park now comprises the Laki Area as well as about half of Europe’s largest icecap, Vatnajokull (is that the funnest name or what!). There are no roads in the park, but a network of trails offers the opportunity for differently extended hikes. You can do a self guided hike up to the famous waterfall Skaftafell or join one of the tour companies staked out by the visitor's center on a guided hike on one of Iceland's famous ice caps.  I am happy to report we did both. 

We started out visit to Skaftafell with a hike to Svartifoss.  We parked at the visitor's center and made a quick stop to check out the infographics and stop in the bathrooms.  From the visitors center, the hike is 1.5 km hike to the waterfall (one way). This hike is however uphill so although the hike is short, there is elevation. As you make your way to Svartifoss, you come across 3 other waterfalls Þjófafoss (Thieves' Fall), Hundafoss (Dogs' Fall) and Magnúsarfoss (the Falls of Magnús). At a leisurely pace, the hike will take you about 90 minutes stopping for photos and a break. We however had about 45 so boogied up and down this hike in a time crunch to get back to meet our group for our glacier hike.

While the waterfall itself certainly isn't the biggest, or the grandest of Iceland, it has its own charm. The black columnar basalt formations frame the waterfall and giving it its name, Black Fall. You pass three waterfalls for a quick hike in a beautiful National Park with amazing fall foliage.

Trail signage for Svartifoss

Passing the campground

The Trail:
The trail starts next to Skaftafell Visitor Centre and is well marked (several signs). The first 250 meters go through the campground but the trail then turns right and uphill. Follow the signs until you arrive at a viewpoint above the waterfall (140 m ascent in 1.5 km). Continue down into the ravine, across the footbridge, and climb up the basalt column steps on the other side of the ravine. You can continue on this trail to the viewpoint at Sjónarnípa, then head back towards the old turf house at Sel and then back to the visitor centre via Lambhagi. Because we were on a time crunch and wanted to enjoy the hike (and the cider we hiked up) we turned around at the bridge, calling the bridge before the waterfall out end point.

Following the trail up

Views on our way up the trail

Celebrating sunshine

We were so excited (so excited) to finally have some moments of sunshine and a chance to stretch our legs on a real trail with blue sunny skies above us.  The fall leaves were absolutely gorgeous in this park in late September and we enjoyed stopping at each of the waterfalls for photo ops and to enjoy our rhubarb cider from Denmark.

Rhubarb Cider

Svartifoss in the distance

Our turning point, the bridge by the falls

Svartifoss waterfall in the fall
One of the three falls you pass on your way to Svartifoss

If you want to see Skaftafell and get a hike in, this is a great way to do it.  The hike is short but there is some elevation that will allow you to break a sweat in a short amount of time, all while soaking up the landscape of Iceland.  Three waterfalls on your way to the final waterfall, beautiful basalt columns, fall foliage and a hike.... how could this go wrong?  The trail can be quite crowded at time so try to do this early on in the morning or later on in the evening.  After your hike, check out the rest of the park or join one of the guides at the visitor's center for a guided tour of the glaciers. 

Having a cider at one of the smaller falls on the way down

1 comment :

  1. I loved your post on glaciers of Ireland and now the glaciers of Iceland both are incredible. The pictures posted are so inviting. Thank you for sharing this information with all of us.


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