Skaftafell National Park
I had a list of things I wanted to see in the area, one of which was Svartifoss. Several people have added a photo of it on google maps, and it seems to be pretty popular with many photo sites. Since I did not really know what to expect from the park, this looked like a sure bet. To our surprise, the hike is a rather short one and we were gone only a few hours and along the way stopped at an old power station and an old farmhouse. When we arrived at the visitor's center at 9:00 at night, we found out that the the visitor's center was actually open, and that we could hike that night because the sun never goes down.
There are two 'categories' of trails at the park. The ones that fit on the small map, and the ones that are on the big map. The small map has a bunch of tight knit and interconnecting trails the do not go very far from the visitor's center and the ones that are more time committing are on the big map. The maps are shown on opposite sides of a fold out map that cost about $5 at the visitor's center. It was very well worth the money. Since Svartifoss was a close destinaiton, we decided to start off on the trail.
The hike was a great opportunity to stretch our legs from the previous day's plane flight. It was mostly casual hiking for just a few hours. During July, the late night sun offers a nice light for photograph as well as seeing the strong rocky shadows of the mountains above. The white snow looks crisp and clean under a strong blue sky. The trail starts out with a series of stairs that wind through twisted low bushes with a blanket of purple flowered undergrowth. I was so thankful we had choosing July to visit so we could enjoy the multitude of flowers along the trail. I had hoped for lupine like all the photos in the brochures of Iceland, but we did not see any in this park, however they were along the roadside getting there.
Once above the treeline, the landscape changed to a meadow like plateau with mountains in the distance. We had hiked up to a point were we could see Svartifoss in a deep cut in this plateau. The next part of the hike would be to hike down to the base. The waterfall was really nice, but I remember the trail more fondly than I do the destination. To exit the gorge, there was a series of stone steps made from the five sided stones that make up the cliff walls. I thought that was pretty neat. They then led to a set of wooden steps that climbed the cliff wall. It was worth stopping on the steps a few times to look around at the scenery. They were wide and allowed for other hikers to pass through.
The rest of the hike was a criss cross of "let's go here" and "let's go there". We visited a powerhouse at the bottom of a different waterfall as well as a set of turf houses that are part of the park. There was also an area that had been used to keep sheep that was pretty and overgrown with more flowers. The park did a good job of mixing culture and history with the hiking. We got to the parking lot about midnight (yes, all the photos on this page were taken between 9pm and midnight) and there were still people wandering around. We met a Russian family that had missed the last bus to the hotel, so we gave them a ride since we were all staying at the only hotel in the area. I have to confess that we normally would not pick up hitch hikers, but the crime rate in Iceland seems so low that we chanced it. I am not going to recommend it, but we did it anyway. It was really nice to chat with a family from as far away as Russia and to hear about their trip circling Iceland. We all compared notes on places to visit during our vacations and then parted ways at the hotel.
Overall, the hike was very beautiful and fits into a nice evening hike without any worries of darkness in July. The flowers were spectacular and the landscape was striking. The steeper parts were built up with wooded stairs, but the trail is popular so there is not a lot of chance of seclusion. There is a chance to see other people and chat which can also be nice, but there is also chance to see a lot of big open space with mountains in one direction and the ocean in another.