Snæfellsjökull National Park and neighbouring protected areas

- a landscape draped in lava and ice

Snæfellsjökull national park lies in the westernmost part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula and covers 170 square kilometres. It was founded on  June 28th 2001, with the aim of protecting the area’s unique nature and important historical relics. A further aim is to facilitate travel around the area and make it accessible to visitors. The Snæfellsjökull icecap lies within the national park, and the park is the only Icelandic national park that stretches to the sea. The nature reserves of Búðahraun and of Arnarstapi and Hellnar, and the natural monument of Bárðarlaug also fall under the same management as the national park.

Búðahraun lava field lies in the southern part of Snæfellsnes peninsula, and, its eastern part (around 9 square kilometres) was designated a nature reserve in 1977. The lava field harbours some of the most beautiful vegetation in the country, giving shelter to approximately 130 species of plants, including 11 of the 16 species of fern that are found in Iceland.

Approximately 0.6 square kilometres of coastal area around Arnarstapi and Hellnar was designated a nature reserve in 1979. Here you will find peculiar rock formations that have been carved out by the surf and you will get a rare opportunity to inspect flocks of kittiwakes up close. The natural monument of Bárðarlaug is an ancient water-filled crater located near Hellnar. Its bed was scoured by an ice age glacier.

National parks and nature reserves are public property, free for the public to explore and enjoy. However, all visitors are requested to follow the park’s rules of conduct.

Varied landscape
The Snæfellsnes peninsula coastline is very varied. Rocky coves alternate with black sand beaches, light sand beaches and precipitous sea cliffs that teem with sea birds in the nesting season. The lowland within the national park is mostly lava that has flowed from Snæfellsjökull and from smaller craters in the lowland. The lava fields are largely covered in moss, and intermittently they contain beautiful hollows where vegetation thrives sheltered from the wind. The lowland in the southern part of Snæfellsnes is an ancient seabed that rose up after the end of the ice age. The cliffs that divide the lowlands and highlands are thus ancient sea cliffs. The Snæfellsjökull glacier towers majestically over the area, rising above a number of smaller peaks. One can see clearly how lava streams have run down its sides.

Eysteinsdalur valley in the North is surrounded by high mountains that beckon keen hikers. Near Jökulháls, you will find areas of pumice and land that was under a glacier not long ago. Klukkufoss waterfall, at the root of Hreggnasi, is surrounded by basalt columns, and further east in Blágil gorge, you will find two waterfalls, jointly named Þverfossar, falling into the same pool.

Snæfellsjökull glacier has often been called the king of Icelandic mountains. At 1 446 metres, it was long thought to be the highest mountain in the country, and it is believed that the peak was first reached in 1754, by Eggert Ólafsson and Bjarni Pálsson.

The mountain is an active stratovolcano, built up from many lava fields and phreatic eruptions over the last 800 thousand years. The crater under the summit is 200 metres deep, full of ice and surrounded by icy crags. The glacier has been diminishing in recent years and is now approximately 11 square kilometres. The sides of the glacier are particularly beautiful, with ropes of lava winding their way down the slopes. The glacier last erupted near 1,800 years ago, spouting ashes over the Northern part of Snæfellsnes and the Westfjords. Lava flowed down the southern slopes, forming Háahraun lava field, among others.

The Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás reports that Bárður gave up on human company and walked into the glacier. Many have since regarded him as guardian of the area. The glacier has inspired many authors, poets and artists through the ages. Some believe the glacier to be one of the seven largest centers of spiritual sources in the world.

The western part of Snæfellsnes does not get much mention in ancient manuscripts, but there are some accounts of stockfish being transported through the area. The best known Saga from these parts is Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss, but it is considered rather too fanciful to count as a reliable historical source. Ruined farms dating back to the settlement era (9th to 10th century) are found in Forni-Saxhóll, Berutóftir and Írskubúðir. Near Gufuskálar, there are remains of many stonewalled shelters, believed to have been built some 500-700 years ago to store fish. If correct, these would be the oldest relics of a fishing industry to be found in the Nordic Countries. Advances in fishing around the mid 13th century were accompanied by a population growth in the area.

Visitor Centre
The national park’s visitor centre is located in Hellnar. It opened in 2004, in renovated sheep houses. The visitor centre is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 during the summer, and by arrangement at other times of year. At the visitor centre, you can acquire information about the national park from the rangers. The centre has an exhibition with the theme ‘the fisherman and nature’, documenting how people lived off the natural resources through the ages. The exhibition appeals to your senses, and guests are encouraged to taste, smell and try. The visitor centre has something of interest to people of all ages.

Read more on the Umhverfisstofnun Environment Agency of Iceland webpage.

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