Hikes in skaftafell of 3 and 5 hours, What is the difference?

trekking skaftafell

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When we see Iceland on a map our eyes always go to that large white area located to the southeast, the Vatnajökull glacier. And rightly so, it is not only the largest in Iceland, but in all of Europe. You may have already seen that Vatnajokull and Skaftafell are two different names that sometimes seem to be talking about the same thing. Here is the explanation: Jökulsárgljúfur and Skaftafell were two national parks that since 2008 were united under the name Vatnajokull National Park.

Skaftafell, therefore, is a part of the Vatnajökull glacier.

If you are going to visit this area, you should do a Skaftafell hikes. Walk with crampons, climb uphill and see the life of a glacier, the streams, the blue crevasses and the seracs at the top of its summit. Well, you have two ways to do it.

The short version with a 3-hour Skaftafell hike, an ideal glacier hike for any traveler. And on the other hand, the Skaftafell excursion of 5 hours, which is more complete. We tell you how it works and the differences between both tours.

Duration of the Skaftafell hikes

Keep in mind that the indicated duration is for the entire tour from the time you leave until you arrive. From that time, you have to subtract an hour and a half that is dedicated to pick up material, transportation, etc…

Therefore, in the 3-hour tour you walk on the ice for 1 hour and a half, while in the 5-hour tour, the time you spend on the glacier is 3 hours.

Skaftafell hikes starting point

Both tours start from the same meeting point, a parking lot very close to the glacier. So you will have to arrive by car. There the team will be waiting for you to give you your glacier trekking equipment: crampons, ice axe and helmet.

When the whole group is gathered and with the material, you will have to get back in your car to go to the second parking lot, next to the glacier itself.

wearing crampons in skaftafell hike

Arrival at the glacier

After parking, the guides will divide the groups by language. Then, you will cross a small bridge to the area where, already on ice, you will put on your crampons. The adventure begins!

You will start walking with your group, you will climb a small slope and the guide will give safety instructions and explanations on how to walk flat, uphill, downhill…Then you will walk like a duck for a while until you get used to it and when you are sure, let’s get started!

arriving at skaftafell glacier

Beginning of the Skaftafell Tour

The activity consists of walking on the ice of the glacier itself, while the guide explains how it forms, transforms, its movements, shape changes and how “alive” it is.

At the same time you will see different formations of the glacier itself: crevasses, small caves, streams … what from afar looks like a simple block of ice, from up close shows all its splendor.

You realize that it is alive, that it is something ephemeral, that the ice you see and step on “soon” will be replaced by another coming from the center of the glacier itself. I put that “soon” in quotation marks because the times when we talk about glacier are longer than ours.

glaciar skaftafell ice walls

What is the difference between the 3-hour and 5-hour Skaftafell trek?

The first part of the tour is the same in both versions. However, while in the 3-hour tour you stay in the lower part, in the 5-hour tour you continue walking up to the top of the glacier, and that is where we live incredible moments.

Climbing to the top of the glacier gives you more emotional images- You get amazing views of the entire valley and the plain with the sea in the background, and you get close to the seracs (the high part that is shaped like “towers”).

On the other hand, the process is the same in both tours. The way back to the area where we put on our crampons to take them off is the same, we return to the glacier parking lot and hand over the material.

We give a hug to the guide for the experience we have lived and continue with the a href=”https://www.howlanders.com/en/tours-iceland” title=”Tours in Iceland”>trip through Iceland. You do not return to the first parking lot, where you meet for the first time with the equipment, so you save a few minutes.

skaftafell glacier top

Which option to choose?

In short, with the 5-hour option you can enjoy all its splendor being practically alone with your group. In addition, as it has only one departure time (10:30) and the Skaftafell hikes can be tiring, you take the opportunity to eat at the top of the glacier, with those views, that air you breathe, the light … an experience that without fear I can say that it has been one of the best of our trip.

Reading the lines I have just written it seems that the difference is not so big, and it really is not, but the experience is much more intense in the 5-hour tour.

In our opinion either of the two experiences is amazing. If you are a mountain lover do not hesitate and book the 5 hour tour.

trekking skaftafell

If you are not that passionate about the mountain but still want to experience it, then maybe the 3 hour tour is for you. If you are going during the cold season, maybe the 3-hour tour is the best option.

Finally, if you have little time to visit Skaftafell and you don’t know whether to do this trek or visit the ice cave, the best option is to book the combined Skaftafell trekking and ice cave tour.

Anyway… decisions, decisions, decisions, as every trip is full of them, but either way, we are sure you will enjoy this wonder of nature.

Have a good trip!


Journalist and traveler. Laura has traveled around Iceland several times and is in love with its nature, especially the northern lights. She loves the cold, the icebergs and says that at some point she will move to the land of ice. For now she tells us about her adventures traveling around the island.

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