We were excited to get out of the city limits of Reykjavik to explore Skaftafell National Park. Since it was winter, we were limited to where we were able to hike. We chose Skaftafell because the weather tends to be more mild in the south than some of the other areas we were researching.
We also did not want to be driving our whole trip. This part of the trip is my favorite. I realized I can survive in cold weather for long periods of time without hiking if I have warm enough cloths and the distraction of the aurora borealis to keep my mind off the climate.
This area had varying climates with snow and sand gusts blowing across the road to high snow covered mountains, volcanoes, and glaciers. I can’t wait to return to Iceland one day to complete the Ring Road drive.
Panorama of Jökulsárlón
Drive to Skaftafell National Park
During the drive, we saw some amazing landscapes. We stopped to take pictures of a waterfall and other landscape views. We saw glaciers, volcanoes, and the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Some areas were snow covered and others had the prairie look but with black, sandy soil. I did a time lapse video from the car by hooking up my video camera to my tripod in the front seat and letting it run for about an hour and a half of our drive. This became my new “project” for the trip when we had good views driving. Ring Road did not have too much traffic, so we made good time.
Views on Ring Road Drive
Approaching the park provided views of the largest glacier we have seen. Skeiðarárjökull glacier was massive and never ending. We continued to drive and started to see Skaftafellsjökull and Svínafellsjökull glaciers. We then turned off Ring Road to get information at the park visitor’s center. They did not seem to be extremely knowledgeable on the hikes we were interested in. The guy told us there was snow, so we should not attempt the one route. Andy bought a topography map with routes of hikes we were interested.
Jökulsárlón – Iceberg Lagoon
With being extremely excited for a decent forecast for the Northern Lights, we headed out for Jökulsárlón to see the glacier lagoon before heading the furthest east we would be on our trip to Höfn.
Jökulsárlón is a lagoon of icebergs from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. We had good weather with reflection. We stood on some icebergs close to the shore of the lagoon for pictures. I decided to walk along the edge and take in the massive views of the lagoon, glacier, and mountains.
The movement of the water was from the waves crashing into the shoreline from the Atlantic Ocean, and icebergs can take up to 500 years to exit the lagoon to the ocean. We were here for about an hour or two before decided to drive an hour or more to Höfn.
The views on this section of Ring Road were amazing with the sun set colors lighting up the snow covered mountains and fjords. We were starting to get into the eastern fjords territory of Iceland. We also passed a few reindeer farms on this portion of the drive. Höfn did have a small grocery store and two gas stations. We decided to grab food to waste some time before searching for the Northern Lights. We both had reindeer burgers. Yum!
Night One – Jökulsárlón for the Aurora Borealis
We had a feeling that the following day would be the better night for the lights. We stopped back at Jökulsárlón around 10 pm at the same place we were earlier today. We put on our puffy down jackets and went outside to brave the cold to set up our cameras and wait for the show to start.
We waited for a while before Andy saw the “ribbon” of lights starting off to the northeast. We started taking long exposure pictures. My feet got extremely cold because I had had my low hiking shoes on. We probably stayed outside for about 1.5 to 2 hours.
I lasted a little longer than Andy did before heading to the car. We were not extremely impressed until later in the cycle with the light formations staying low on the horizon. The forecast for the aurora borealis was rated to be moderate viewing, which made sense. We drove back to the cabin and went to bed around 2 am.
Hiking in Skaftafell
We dressed in our hiking gear and headed back into Skaftafell National Park. We parked at the Visitor’s Center, where the winds were howling. We debated which hike we should do. Originally, we were planning on hiking to Kristínartindar, but the wind changed our plans fast.
Instead, we decided to go to Svartifoss at least, which was a waterfall with unique dark lava columns as the cliff the water falls over. A portion of the hike was through brushy areas that reminded us of Alaska because of the red colors. We both were hiking with our hoods tied completely around our faces, trying to block as much wind as possible.
After getting to Svartifoss, we walked around to take pictures. We decided to continue and see Sjónarsker, which was a total of 6.5 km (~4 miles) from the trailhead near the Visitor’s Center and was a loop trail. The loop went to a viewpoint of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier before looping back to the parking lot.
We walked through the low brush, with the mountain and volcano tops peeping above red and brown foreground. We took a few pictures and kept hiking debating to go further to Kristínartindar.
This hike was by no means as difficult as it was rated. We actually did get into some thin wooded areas, which are rare for Iceland, where we saw a few ptarmigans still with their winter white feathers. They were not very camouflaged. Some parts of trail started to get muddy with snow melting down.
It was not as windy now, so we decided to try to see how close we could get to Svínafellsjökull, which was more scenic than Skaftafellsjökull, with blue tinted seracs and carved banks. We ventured off the paved road and headed down a pot-holed covered dirt road.
The Beaches of Jökulsárlón
We decided to check out the beach near Jökulsárlón, where the icebergs wash up on after exiting the lagoon. The lighting was excellent on the icebergs with the black sand and waves crashing against the larger ones. We walked to the left from the parking lot to watch seals play in the lagoon.
On our drive back, the winds continued to pick up and was blowing snow across the road at some points. I took a time lapse of the drive as we were trying to find a new place other than the lagoon to photograph the aurora borealis.
Night Two – Jökulsárlón for the Aurora Borealis
We dressed warmer with some of the lessons learned from the night before and headed back to the lagoon. The aurora borealis started earlier than last night and had a better show. It was definitely colder with more winds.
We found spots from the main parking lot we were in earlier, which caused concern for tour buses entering the area. The tourists from the tour buses stayed in the parking lot and their camera flashes did not ruin our time lapses.
We then set back and watched the light show once again. The movements were not as linear and there were more levels to the movements. We were joined by other photographers with one that entered my frame a few times.
Jökulsárlón Aurora Borealis
I was much warmer the second night. Andy’s time lapse included a slight reflection from the lagoon. the lights went in phases again from little activity to bright streaks in the sky. There was something spectacular about the aurora borealis that made me forget that is was cold out. I finished my time lapse and headed back to the car. On my way back, the solar winds picked up again, so I took a few pictures near the car.
We headed back to the cabin around midnight, so we were out for two to three hours. We went to bed and decided to re-pack for departure in the morning.
Guesthouse Lækjarhús in Hof
Hof was a typical sized village for the area from what we saw on our drive. It did not have any gas or grocery stores, but it did have a soccer field in front of what appeared to be a school. We were at a foot of the mountains in a little cabin that looks like a nice wooden storage shed in the States.
We paid cash and got the key to the little cabin and were surprised to find we had wifi in the cabin. The cabin had a fully stocked kitchenette, dining table, and two sets of bunk beds. We spread out our sleeping bags and pillows (which we brought to avoid paying extra for bedding) and had a snack while deciding what to do for the rest of the day. This was the first time I pulled out my journal to write about the trip.
Below is the combined time lapses from Jökulsárlón:
Here is a time lapse of us driving Ring Road near Skaftafell National Park:
What other things can you do at Skaftafell?
More in this series:
- Iceland – Reykjavik and Super Jeep Tour
- Iceland – Golden Circle Route and Reykjavík
- What Happens When a Country Does Not Have Enemies
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