While driving around in Iceland, you will come across many different types of landscape, all kinds of proof of what Mother nature can do like craters or rare rock formations, different type of fauna all around the country. Many of these places are protected for different reasons. A landmark, a destination can be categorized as:
These places are areas protected by local government and are usually intended for recreational use. They vary in size and the amount of regulations protecting them.
Natural monuments are natural phenomena that are unique, of stunning beauty or scientific interest. These include waterfalls, volcanoes, hot springs, rock formations, fossils and minerals.This are places like Hveravellir, Kirkjugólf and Dettifoss to name a few.
Nature reserves are established in areas considered important for their landscape, flora and/or fauna.
Common to all the reserves is the protection of wildlife and landscape and with development restriction and public access. The degree of restriction may vary:
Surtsey Nature Reserve is closed to everyone except scientists with permits whereas Hornstrandir, in the Westfjords, is restricted on development and construction but open to the public but with restrictions.
National parks are established in areas considered unique in landscape, flora and/or fauna, or having special historic importance. These are found on land owned by the State unless there is special circumstance and an agreement between the landowner and the Minister of the Environment.
There are three national parks in Iceland. They are:
Þingvellir National Park
GPS: 64°16’46.87″N 21° 5’17.57″W
Lies in a rift valley between the American and European Tectonic plates, on the north side of Lake Þingvellir. Þingvallavatn i.e. Lake Þingvellir is famous for its huge brown trout and its four different species of Arctic char which can’t be found anywhere in the world. Þingvellir National Park is a World Heritage site.
Camping in Þingvellir is very popular, both among Icelanders and tourists. Its easy access and you can camp there in your camper van too. There are great many hikes around the area like the Silfra fissue, one of world’s top ten dive sites.
You can now get an app for traveling around Þingvellir:
Key App features:
Þingvellir audio guided tour available in English, Icelandic, German and Danish.
Ljóð á Þingvöllum audio guided tour available in Icelandic.
Assembly site treasure hunt game available in English.
Offline Maps with hiking trails, activities and points of interest.
Service markers including camping, information centers and more.
This park lies by the foot of a glacier/volcano, known to many as the entrance to the center of earth as Jules Verne wrote. As we wrote in our blog “Snæfellsnes Travel guide“, this area is perfect for so many reasons. The park itself is just stunning with its forgotten beaches, wide expanse of lava, caves, epic shorelines and incredible views in any direction you look in. It’s also a perfect destination for people who doesn’t want to sit in their camper all day long to drive in between the places, everything is really close by. You are also away from the big crowds.
There are no campsites within the park but a few to choose from both on the south and north side. Backpackers are allowed to spend a night within the park.
The glacier is 1446 m (0.9 miles) high and it’s the highest on its south and east edges. There are snow mobile tours up to its peak but its also possible to hike up there. There are official maps of the area in English, German and French!
Europe’s biggest national park. Within the park you will find for example Vatnajökull glacier, Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur. The ice lagoon Jökulsárlón is also included in the park and it stretches all the way north to Dettifoss and Ásbyrgi. The vast region is defined by its massive glaciers, snowy mountain peaks, active geothermal areas and rivers. The Ring road will take you through the south part of Vatnajökull national park.
All the roads in the interior of the park is more or less off limits due to the roads being very coarse and there are many deep rivers to ford. Even if you have rented a 4×4 camper, the roads are off limits.
GPS: 64° 0’58.81″N 16°58’1.11″W
Skaftafell is very popular for outdoor activities with endless of trails and places to discover. It also has a full service campsite for any type of camping.
The campsite is open from 1st of May to 30th of September. During winter you may camp in your camper van in the parking lot. Vehicles may enter between 7:30am to 23:00pm. Skaftafell is one of the areas in Iceland that receives the least amount of snow due to the warm southerly winds, making most trails snow free even during winter.
Your WiFi will have coverage there too for there is a 3G mobile network in place. If you want to shower, use the laundry service, you will need a credit/debit card with a 4 digit PIN. Skaftafell is truly a beautiful place, bringing you closer to what Iceland is all about.
On the north side, further north than Dettifoss, you have Ásbyrgi, the shelter of the gods. A canyon like nothing else. It’s 3.5 km in length and 1.1 km across roughly. There are different stories how it came about. Most likely it was formed by a catastrophic flash flood from Jökulsá á fjöllum some eight to ten thousand years ago. And then again some three thousand years ago. The river has now moved and is lying 2km east. Ásbyrgi also has a nickname. In the sagas it was called Sleipnir’s footprint, When the god Óðinn’s eight legged horse Sleipnir touched the ground once with his hoof, Ásbyrgi was formed.
The canyon is divided by a huge rock in the middle called Eyjan. There are hiking trails up to the top with stunning views of the whole area. At the end of the canyon, there is a very special pond you can’t leave out. The trail to the pond is very well marked.
From Ásbyrgi, you can do day tours in any direction. Dettifoss, Mývatn and Goðafoss are all close by. You can also drive up to the northeast corner of Iceland and experience spectacular sights in any direction.
The campsite offers the same service as they do in Skaftafell. Guests should contact the visitor’s center before setting up camp. If you arrive late, camp and register in the morning. As in Skaftafell, there are sections for campers and camper trailers.
GPS: N66° 1′ 31.892″ W16° 29′ 47.559″
Close by Ásbyrgi you also have another campsite close to Hljóðaklettar, the sound cliffs. It’s a smaller campsite closer to Eyjan, the rock in the middle of Ásbyrgi.
The national parks in Iceland all offers unique experiences and is a must when driving around here. They all differ in nature and beauty, each of them with their special character. As always, wherever you camp in Iceland. Do not leave anything behind you. Do not drive off road and when hiking in a national park, stay on the trails if there is one. And buckle up for you are in for a spectacular camping trip!
Click on the map if you want a bigger version. The map is not available in English.