Plan your visit
Practical information for park visitors
Perhaps the most important thing to understand before visiting Vatnajökull National Park is the difference between the park's lowland and highland areas.
The lowland areas are accessible all year round, although occasional snow storms may cause interruptions in the winter. Jökulsárgljúfur, Skaftafell, Heinaberg, Hjallanes and Hoffell are all located in lowland areas. So too are the visitor centres in Höfn, Skriduklaustur and Kirkjubaejarklaustur (opening hours vary).
The highland areas are accessible for 4x4 vehicles in summer and early autumn. Highland roads usually become impassable late autumn (sometimes earlier) and stay impassable, usually until late June or early July. The timing of roads becoming passable is dependent upon snowfall in the winter and spring temperatures.
The visitor centres in Skaftafell and Höfn are open all year round. The visitor centres in Jökulsárgljúfur, Skriduklaustur and Kirkjubaejarklaustur are open from early spring until autumn, but group visits can be organized off-season.
If you are heading into the Icelandic highlands, you must be properly prepared, as the weather, river flow and driving or walking conditions may change very suddenly.
Important safety equipment, such as communication and navigation devices, is essential in places with little traffic. If help is needed, phone Iceland's emergency number, 112, where your message will be passed on to suitable parties.
The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue provides necessary and important information for traveling in Iceland. Visit their website at safetravel.is
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of weather and climate in Iceland is the sudden change in weather. Mild and sunny conditions can turn into wet and cold without much notice. Therefor it is of great importance to monitor the weather and check regularly on weather forecasts.
The Icelandic Meteorology Office provides weather forecasts for different regions within Vatnajökull National Park.
The Icelandic Road Administration
offers information about road conditions, weather and other such basic information that can assist the foreign traveler in Iceland. A real-time monitoring of road conditions is especially useful, not least during winter time and when planning for entering the highlands.
Driving in park areas
Vatnajökull National Park authorities have endeavored to link key park locations with clearly defined roads. Efforts have also been made to reduce the number of parallel and confusing tracks formed by off-road driving over the decades.
Roads which are open to public traffic are shown on park maps, as well as other maps that follow the park's Management and Preservation Plan. All other tracks are closed to public traffic, regardless of whether they appear clearly on the ground or are indicated on any maps or drawings. Attempts are ongoing to distinguish the park's public roads in a clear manner.
Please note that ruts can form very easily in Iceland's volcanic soils, whether these are sandy, gravelly or vegetated. Besides being ugly, vehicle tracks may lead to considerable destruction of plant cover and to soil erosion. New tracks can attract other drivers and thus add to the problems caused by off-road driving. Such tracks take a long time to disappear, and can be difficult and time-consuming to eliminate. Therefore, drivers are asked to stay on public roads and to keep in mind the serious consequences of driving off-road, including the strict penalties against it. Should you as a traveler witness any off-road driving within the national park, please help by notifying the police or a ranger.
However, winter driving on frozen ground or snow is permitted, as is driving on glacial ice. There are only a few exceptions, for which you are requested to refer to the relevant rules on the park website.
Park and campground conduct
As a visitor to Vatnajökull National Park, you must follow certain rules to protect the park's natural environment, to ensure your health and safety, and to prevent friction between visitors. Visitors found in violation of rules may face removal from the park, and the possibility of legal action.
The following rules apply as general park rules and as campground rules:
- Quiet hours are from 23:00 to 07:00 (11 pm. to 7 am.). Refrain from any loud activities or noises. If a neighbor camper is disturbing you, please bring it to the attention of a park ranger.
- Keep the camp ground neat and tidy. Put all garbage and litter in garbage and recycle bins. Aluminum cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles are recycled. Anything else, for instance tin cans and glass jars, should be put with regular rubbish.
- It is strictly forbidden to bury garbage or litter within the national park. Visitors are encouraged to put aluminum cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles into recycle bins.
- Protect vegetation by all means. Do not spill hot water or burn vegetation with the use of cooking equipment.
- Pets must always be restrained or on a leash. Pets are not to be left barking or unattended. Owners are responsible for cleaning up waste from their pets.
- It is strictly forbidden to spoil the nature in any way, such as breaking branches, digging up plants, disturbing animal life, move basalt columns and other nature relics, or building cairns.
- Building bonfires and camp fires, or any other sort of open fire, is strictly forbidden within the national park.
The general park rule is to take nothing with you but pictures and memories, and leave nothing but light footprints. Following these rules will help ensure positive experience from your visit to Vatnajökull National Park.