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Everything You Need to Know for Your Skaftafell Hike

In a country with breathtaking landscapes such as Iceland, it should come as no surprise that one of the most beloved activities here on the island is hiking. By going hiking in Iceland, one not only truly immerses oneself in the nature of Iceland, but one can also get to experience some of our most infamous attractions and natural wonders.


One of the go-to places for hiking is the Skaftafell Nature Reserve, and irrespective of your age, experience, or skill level, you will find a Skaftafell hike that suits you.


In this article, we will explore some of the most popular Skaftafell hikes, and tell you everything you need to know to be prepared for any Skaftafell hiking trip. So if you’re an avid hiker or are busy compiling your Iceland trip itinerary, read on, you might just be amazed at everything Skaftafell has to offer.



Skaftafell hike


Skaftafell Nature Reserve; What to Expect


Skaftafell is a beautiful nature reserve that forms part of the bigger Vatnajökull National Park today and contains some of the country’s must-visit sites such as Svartifoss Waterfall, Oræfajökull Volcano, Skaftafellsjökull Glacier and much more.


The reserve is roughly 500 square kilometers, and the best way to explore it and all its natural wonders is to go on one (or all!) of the Skaftafell hikes. If you feel like you don’t even know where to begin, don’t worry, this article can serve as a guide to some of the most popular trails and help you decide which makes the Skaftafell hiking itinerary cut.


When Should You Go on a Skaftafell Hike?


It comes as no surprise that hiking as an outdoor activity heavily relies on the weather. That’s why hiking in a winter blizzard will most likely not be a good option (unless you’re Bear Grylls). You also need to realize that, except for the extreme winter weather and harsh elements, you can still find some snow and ice that needs to defrost during early spring here in Iceland.



Skaftafell hiking season


Another factor to consider is the daylight hours (which can get pretty extreme here on the island). Our warmer months boast a legion of daylight hours that you can cram a jam-packed trip itinerary into. In fact, in mid-summer one of the phenomena you can experience is a Midnight Sun and you will find quite a few people celebrating it with a hike.


Needless to say, plenty of daylight hours work well when it comes to Skaftafell hiking since you can plan multiple shorter hikes without feeling the time crunch of the impending setting sun.


If you are planning your trip on a tight budget, we would not recommend visiting during the peak summer season here in Iceland (June to September). Peak season brings peak season prices along with it.


The same goes for peak season crowds. If you’re someone who doesn’t do well with a lot of people, including foot traffic on hikes, we recommend that you visit during one of the shoulder months whilst the weather is still nice, you’ll still have ample daylight hours, and you’ll dodge the peak season price hikes. The ideal shoulder months to visit Iceland when you’re planning on going hiking are April, May, and October.





Skaftafell Hikes; a Few Favorites


The following are a few of the most popular hikes in Skaftafell:


M1 Trail


Trail Layout: Semi-loop

Length of Trail: 15.3 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 4-5 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Easy


If you want to experience Iceland’s tallest Birch Tree forest, this is the hike for you. This trail is family-friendly (although not suitable for tots unless you plan on carrying them), and will take you all the way to Bæjarstadarskogur. On the way, you will cross a valley, and pass the Bæjarstadur ravines and all sorts of other breathtaking sights.


It is important to know that mobile signal tends to disappear on this trail, so it’s advised that you never attempt hiking this trail alone and have a few offline solutions (such as maps) with you. The streams on this trail can also suddenly turn into powerful rivers if it’s been raining or the winter snow and ice melt away, so please keep an eye on the Icelandic weather forecast, especially right before you head out.


Skaftafell M1 trail


M2 Trail


Trail Layout: Semi-loop

Length of Trail: 19.5 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 6-7 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Challenging


This trail gives avid hikers with some experience under their belt to experience what almost seems other-worldly. Except for the fact that the highlight of this trail is the Morsarjökull Glacier, hikers can actually hear pieces of ice falling from the glacier and tumbling over cliffs as they hike during the warmer summer months. This trail also has ample water “features” with a glacier lake, a river, and a couple of footbridges.


M2 trail, Skaftafell


M3 Trail


Trail Layout: Semi-loop

Length of Trail: 30 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 8-10 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Challenging


This Skaftafell hike is not for the faint of heart, and can definitely not be described as a leisurely hike for amateur hikers. The distance is grueling, but the trail itself is even more challenging. Yet, if you can take on this trail as an experienced hiker, you will be rewarded with 1000-meter-high mountains that surround a colorful glacier valley, offering breathtaking views.


Skaftafell M3 trail


S1 Trail


Trail Layout: Back-and-forth

Length of Trail: 4.1 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 1-1.5 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Easy


Although the official trail name on the map says S1, it’s also referred to as the Glacier Trail. On this trail, you get to experience first-hand what walking through a receding glacier (Skaftafellsjökull) feels like and the impact a receding glacier has on its surroundings in the form of glacier gardens, kettle holes, etc.


But don’t worry; you won’t need to spot these interesting sights all by yourself – numbered markers will give you electronic interpretations. The first half of the trail is paved and the rest consists of well-maintained gravel.


Skaftafell glacier


S2 Trail


Trail Layout: Loop

Length of Trail: 5.8 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: +/-2 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Easy


This trail is also known as the Waterfall Trail and for good reason. Not only will this trail take you through a beautiful forest, but it will also take you past Magnusarfoss and Hundafoss Waterfall, with the ultimate highlight being Svartifoss Waterfall.


The trail’s path is pretty wide and can easily walk 2-3 people next to each other. It also consists of well-maintained compact soil or mats, and the most difficult part of this trail is a few easy-to-climb platforms and steps, making it perfect for those who just want to enjoy a leisurely stroll.


Svartifoss waterfall


S3 Trail


Trail Layout: Loop

Length of Trail: 16.6 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 5-6 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Challenging


This trail is like a palette of tasters of the different terrains and landscapes one can encounter here in Skaftafell. From mountains, and glaciers, to forests and rivers – this trail has it all. Just double-check on the state of the trail before heading out since it can get quite wet and muddy during the spring and is kept closed till mid-June.



S3 Trail, Skaftafell


S4 Trail


Trail Layout: Loop

Length of Trail: 18 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 6-8 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Extremely Difficult


You’ll need to be at the top of your hiking game for this Skaftafell hike. This trail goes to Krisinartinda where you will have incredible views of the southernmost part of Vatnajökull, Skeidararsandur Beach, and the mountains of Oræfi.


But this reward is earned by crossing rivers, walking along ridges, and climbing steep and rocky inclines. As with the S3, this trail can also become pretty wet and muddy during springtime.


Skeidararsandur


S5 Trail


Trail Layout: Loop

Length of Trail: 6.5 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 2-2.5 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Challenging


This trail not only boasts a number of local attractions such as Hrutfjallstindar, Skaftafellsjökull, Kristinartindar, and Oræfajökull but is extremely popular amongst bird watchers during the spring and the summer season with an abundance of bird species.


S6 Trail


Trail Layout: Loop

Length of Trail: 7.1 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 2.5-3 hours (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Challenging


This trail is an S2 and S5 combo hike, which is why you’ll get to experience some of the most impressive highlights of each of these trails. These include Skaftafellsjökull, Kristinartindar, Oræfajökull, Hrutfjallstindar, and Svartifoss Waterfall. This trail is also one of the go-to Skaftafell hikes for avid bird watchers.



S6 Trail


S7 Trail


Trail Layout: Loop

Length of Trail: 1.6 Kilometers

Average Time to Complete: 30 minutes to an hour (depending on your pace)

Difficulty Level: Easy


This is yet another family-friendly Skaftafell hike, but this one is also suitable for smaller kids. This short and simple hike will also teach you about the area with five numbered markers giving electronic interpretations. Learn all about glacial rivers, volcanic eruptions, and what life in Oræfi was like as you walk along the trail.



S7 Trail


Which Skaftafell Hike is the Right Fit for you?


As you can see, there are plenty of Skaftafell hikes to choose from and you can use this article as a guide to pick the perfect Skaftafell hike for you. Rent a car in Iceland and head out to Skaftafell Nature Reserve to immerse yourself in the magnificent Icelandic nature on a Skaftafell hike. 


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