Hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland: Complete Guide

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

Are you ready to hike? Located in Vatnajökull National Park in Southeast Iceland, Svínafellsjökull Glacier offers one of the most famous backdrops from Game of Thrones, Batman Begins, James Bond, and more. While Svínafellsjökull Glacier hike is short, it offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and of course getting up close to the world famous Svínafellsjökull Glacier. In this guide, I review everything you need to know about hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier, with a review at the end.

Overview of Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland

One of the best (and only) ways to see Svínafellsjökull Glacier for yourself is to go for a short walk in paradise, aka Southeastern Iceland. Keep reading to learn all the essentials you’ll need to get to Svínafellsjökull Glacier.

Svínafellsjökull Glacier Map

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I did.

Here is a 3D Map of Svínafellsjökull Glacier (from Google Earth):

Svínafellsjökull Glacier Hike 3D Map

Where to Park

There are really two options to park.

Option 1: Svínafellsjökull Parking

The first option is for adventurers who just want to see the glacier. You’ll head down Route 1 and turn onto F Road Svínafellsjökull Glacier, a gravel road accessibly by 2 wheel drive vehicles.

Here is the address: X4X4+XJ, 785 Svínafell, Iceland

Option 2: Hotel Skaftafell Parking

This option is only for if you stay at Hotel Skaftafell, as the access trail is closed off for visitors. I needed a place to stay and was pleasantly surprised that my hotel backed up to the world-famous Svínafellsjökull Glacier.

Distance Traveled

I traveled a bit over 2.5 miles from Hotel Skaftafell. If you park at the Svínafellsjökull parking lot, you can expect an even shorter hike, roughly 1.5 miles of hiking total (from the parking to the glacier and back).

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

If you hike from the public parking lot, you can easily do this hike in under an hour. From the hotel, it took me maybe 1.5 hours as I stopped for quite a bit of time at the glacier viewing point at the end of the trail.

Elevation Change

According to Alltrails.com, I climbed over 250 feet. If you start at the public parking area, you can expect roughly 147 feet of elevation climb (according to alltrails.com)

Svínafellsjökull Glacier Hike Elevation Map

Svínafellsjökull Glacier hike elevation map (via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

This is a pretty easy hike, even from the more difficult Hotel Skaftafell side. The short distance and not too steep hills make this one pretty easy to navigate through.

Overall, I’d give this hike a 4 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

There are no permits for this hike.

Cost

Hiking from Svínafellsjökull parking lot is 100% free, there is no cost. Hiking from Hotel Skaftafell requires you to stay the night, which is not exactly cheap (over $200 USD in May).

When to Go

I went in May, and it was a wonderful time to see the glacier. I would think winter may be the best time to visit Svínafellsjökull glacier so that the snow and ice add to the already dramatic glacier scene, ala Game of Thrones.

Recommended Gear

Hiking in Iceland is a pretty wild hiking experience. One moment it can be sunny and 2 minutes later you might get hit with a massive hail storm. Preparing accordingly will help you maximize your hiking experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought in May, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers and a light, waterproof jacket. I wore long paints over my shorts, which ended up being perfect for this hike in May. It was quite cold as you ascended towards the top. If anything, you can take a layer off if you get too warm, so it’s better to wear layers.
  • Water: While this hike is pretty short, it’s still a good idea to bring some water with you.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in on this trail. There are some muddy, wet, rocky, icy areas to traverse. Having said that, I wore tennis shoes, and kind of regret it. More on that in my recommendations at the end of this blog.

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These can help as you traverse hard rocks along the way.
  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on. You may not need to use one very often because there were quite a few people on this trail that you could ask to take a picture for you.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier

So what’s it like hiking to Svínafellsjökull Glacier? Read my hiking guide play by play below:

Hotel Skaftafell

I started this hike at Hotel Skaftafell. If you get the chance to stay here, the trails behind it are lovely

Walking on Hotel Skaftafell’s Trail

The best part about Hotel Skaftafell is the private trail behind it.

It will take you to a private observation point, which is beautiful, but not the end destination for this hike:

Cutting Over to Svínafellsjökull Glacier Trail / Road

Google labels this as a “road” but the portion I cut over to was definitely a series of trails. From the high point of Hotel Skaftafell’s observation of the glacier, I made my way downhill towards the glacier observation point, which is at water level.

Enjoying the Glacier

Once you get down to the bottom of the glacier observation point, you’ll see a bunch of giant pieces of ice floating around. There is even one piece that is perfectly positioned for some epic photo shots:

Enjoying Svínafellsjökull Glacier on top of Chunk of Ice

To get out on this piece of ice, you’ll need to tip-toe on some shaky rocks about 8-10 feet, and step up. I suspect one unsuspecting tourist will one day step on this ice and it will fall apart. Don’t let it be you!

After Hike Dinner

After hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier (and having gone on a glacier hiking tour earlier that day), I was pretty dang hungry and needed to refill the tank. I looked for nearby food options, but they were far and few between. I settled on pretty much the only place that was open at 7 PM, Hotel Skaftafell. I ordered the Lamb, and it was actually super good. I sweet-talked the waitress into give me more bread (for free), as the meal wasn’t all that large, and quite expensive.

Lamb for Dinner at Hotel Skaftafell in Iceland

About My Experience Hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier

Overall, hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier was a great experience. It’s a very short hike, so you won’t hurt your body much on this one. Below, I will list a few of my favorite parts and a few of my least favorite parts.

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier:

Glacier Views

The glacier views, whether at Hotel Skaftafell or at Svínafellsjökull Glacier observation point at the end of the trail offered some amazing views of this famous glacier.

Standing on Top of a Floating Piece of Ice

It’s not everyday you get an opportunity to stand on a perfectly placed piece of ice with that kind of backdrop. If you want to impress your family and friends, take a photo on that.

Serenity on the Trail

One of my favorite parts of this hike was the serenity and quietness of it. For me, the weather was great: no rain, no wind, just serenity. What also helped was the lack of people on this trail (except for at the end, there were maybe 8-10 people there), a great time of reflection.

Least Favorite Parts

Here is my least favorite part of this hike:

Too Short

I’m really nitpicking here because I enjoyed this little hike. I wouldn’t make this hike a main afternoon activity, but it’s a great filler activity if you need to burn an hour or so in the morning or evening.

Overall Score

Overall, I enjoyed this short hike. I only saw a few people out on the trail, and it was quite serene walking around the trails with a beautiful glacier out ahead.

I give this trail a 8.5 / 10.

Hiking Tips for Svínafellsjökull Glacier After the Fact

Here are some hiking tips for Svínafellsjökull Glacier that I learned after the fact that can help you have the very best adventure:

  • You should wear hiking shoes. I wore tennis shoes and, while fine for most of the hike, I definitely lightly rolled my ankle a few times on the walk back. This is because there are small rocks along the path that can test your ankle strength if you don’t have the proper support (such as from a hiking shoe).
  • While it is a short hike, you should still be cautious and pay attention along the way. The trail is certainly not flat, and it has a lot of obstacles you could hurt yourself on. Pay attention!

Final Thoughts on Hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland

Thanks for joining me on my adventure at Svínafellsjökull Glacier! Hiking Svínafellsjökull Glacier is a truly remarkable experience that immerses you in the raw, untamed beauty of Iceland’s glacial landscapes. If you want to see one of the most famous Hollywood backdrops in Iceland, Svínafellsjökull Glacier is a must. I’d recommend carving out an hour of time if you happen to be cruising by Southeast Iceland or are staying at Hotel Skaftafell.

Happy wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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