Vatnajökull is more than just Europe's largest glacier; it is also part of Europe's largest national park.
Guess what it's called… That’s right, the Vatnajökull National Park. But it’s not like the name Vatnajökull is particularly catchy to start with; meaning something along the lines of Watery Glacier, or Glacier of Lakes.
The national park covers an impressive 13% of the entire island of Iceland and includes two former national parks and huge swathes in between joined together with the creation of the new park in 2008.
There are simply too many amazing facts about the glacier and the national park to list here. Indeed if we did list all the amazing facts it would probably turn out to be quite boring. So here are just a few: due to its size and huge variety of landscapes (ranging from glacier to forest to mountain and more), the national park contains Iceland’s highest and lowest points. It also boasts the places with the country’s most, and also least, annual precipitation, and the places with the country’s warmest and coldest recorded temperatures. Vatnajökull is the world’s largest glacier outside the polar zones. It would take Iceland’s biggest river 200 years to pass the amount of melt water that Vatnajökull dumps straight into the sea every year.
Iceland’s biggest volcano is under the ice, as well as Iceland’s most active volcano and there is no shortage of tour providers in the national park and the nearby town of Höfn who are only too happy to take you up there for a look-see.
Of course if geology, volcanology, glaciology and climatology fail to excite your psychology, you can always go up the glacier to try your hand at snowmobiling, ice climbing or playing with super jeeps!
Elsewhere in the national park you will find Skaftafell (an old national park in its own right, famous mostly for being beautiful), Ásbyrgi (a gigantic horseshoe shaped line of tall cliffs filled with particularly dense vegetation), Dettifoss (Europe’s biggest waterfall by volume), and Askja (a flooded caldera system which has formed Iceland’s deepest lake, as well as a geothermal bathing lake called Víti).
The national park rangers operate three visitor centres and two campsites in the vast park. Unsurprisingly none of them are on the glacier itself. The glacier is a stark, cold and crevasse-covered dangerous place. If you go with an experienced guide you have an extremely good chance of getting back home safely. The same cannot be said of lone wanderers!