Of the innumerable hikes offered in Skaftafell National Park, the most popular are those that take you to Svartifoss and the breathtaking viewpoints of Sjonarnipa and Sjonarsker.
There are actually several official hiking trails that lead to each of these sites:
The best way to discover the park, if you have the physical fitness for it of course, is to combine two hikes for a showcase of the best the Skaftafell Park has to offer.
Here is an overview (in yellow) of the trail.
The views are absolutely fantastic, and it's not hard to see why it's one of the most popular hikes in Iceland. It takes almost 2 hours to complete this loop starting from the campsite. The hike is relatively easygoing, but there is a steady elevation in the early stages, and it's much longer than the Svartifoss trail (S2) since it is about 8.5 km long.
Time: 2 hours - Loop: 8.5 km
Starting from the campsite, take the red S5/S6 trail for 3 km to reach the Sjonarnipa viewpoint. The trail has some serious elevation, so warm up those calves! You'll go from 90 meters above sea level to 350 meters in altitude near the viewpoint. After that point, the hike is mostly downhill.
The lush Skaftafell ecosystem opens itself up, surprising for such a hostile climate, dominated by blueberry bushes which perfume the air during the walk.
It takes a good 45 minutes to get to the point of view... and it is simply amazing! You are faced with a breathtaking panorama of the immense Skaftafellsjokull glacier tongue, and beyond it the sandurs carved by the rivers flowing to the sea. You can even see Öræfajökull in the distance on a clear day.
After this transcendent experience connecting with nature, we return to Svartifoss which takes about 30 minutes. The waterfall is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Iceland, as you'll see, it is framed by basaltic organs that could have been designed by an artist.
Once you have crossed the footbridge, head towards Sjonarsker, which won't take more than 15 minutes. This is a very popular Skaftafell viewpoint, dominating the region with a magnificent panorama of the Morsardalur valley. The view is exceptional and really gives a sense of scale. When the weather is clear, you can spot icebergs floating in the Morsarsjokull lake.
From here, you have 2 options: finish the loop and go back down to the car park, passing the Hundafoss and Magnusarfoss waterfalls in particular, or if you have the courage to continue a little west to Sel, this will add about 30 minutes to the hike.
Skaftafell was initially a major farming operation, and its ruins are still visible near Eystragil. The buildings were moved in the 1830s and 1850s 100 meters away, and a farm was built in Sel that can be visited where, previously, there was only a sheepfold (see photo).