The mythical hidden volcano Snæfellsjökull & "Iceland in a nutshell"
Snæfellsjökull National Park was established on June 28, 2001, with the aim to protect and conserve this area’s unique nature and important historical relics, to facilitate travel around the region and make it accessible to visitors.
The Snæfellsjökull ice cap lies within the Park. This is the only Icelandic national park that stretches to the sea. The nature reserves of Búðahraun (Budahraun) and of Arnarstapi and Hellnar, and the natural monument of Bárðarlaug (Bardalaug) are also part of the National Park. Búðahraun lava field lies in the southern part of Snæfellsnes peninsula, and its eastern part was designated a nature reserve in 1977.
The lava field harbours some of the most beautiful vegetation in the country, sheltering approximately 130 species of plants, including 11 of the 16 species of fern that are found in Iceland. The coastal area around Arnarstapi and Hellnar is renowned for peculiar rock formations that have been carved out by the surf. Flocks of kittiwakes can be seen in this area.
The Park’s boundaries follow the eastern border of the Gufuskálar (Gufuskalar) estate in the northern part of the Snæfellsnes (Snaefellsnes) peninsula, a line east of the glacier and along the eastern edge of the Háahraun (Haahraun) lava field to the Gjafavík (Gjafavik) cove in the south. Snaefellsjokull National Park covers an area of 170 km2 (65 sq. mi). The coast is varied and alive with birdlife during the breeding season. The coastal plain is mostly covered by lava that flowed from the glacier or nearby craters. The lava is covered with moss but sheltered hollows can be found in many places, filled with a sizable variety of thriving, verdant plants.
Snæfellsjökull glacier (1,446 m) towers majestically over the Park, with trails of lava and signs of volcanic activity clearly visible on its flanks. The geology of Snaefellsnes Peninsula is diverse, with formations from almost every era of Iceland’s past. The more prominent formations in and around the National Park mainly date from geologically “modern” times, back to the last Ice Age. Lava is prominent on the landscape of this Park with two types present: rough, jagged lava and smooth, ropy lava. Most of the lava emanated from the glacier, from the summit crater or from subsidiary craters on the flanks of the mountain. These lava formations are varied and fascinating, and there is a wealth of caves in the area.
Perhaps all the caves and the lava inspired Jules Verne to choose the top crater at Snaefellsjokull as the entry point in his famous novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864). Another famous novel set against the background of Snæfellsjökull glacier is Christianity under the Glacier by Iceland’s Nobel Laureate Halldór (Halldor) Kiljan Laxness.The adventurous Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss is the best known of the Icelandic sagas that take place in this area, whose protagonist eventually disappears into the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
Relics of the past
There are archaeological remains from the period of Iceland’s settlement around 1100 years ago – examples of which are the Forni-Saxhóll (Saxholl) farm, Berutóftir (Berutoftir) and Írskubúðir (Irskubudir). Near Gufuskálar there are a large number of dome-like structures of unknown origin, thought to be between 500 and 700 years old. They are probably the oldest known relics of the fishing industry in Scandinavia. Along the Snaefellsnes peninsula there were fishing outfits, where hundreds of fishermen fished the rich fishing grounds near the coast using open rowboats. The most renowned among them is Dritvík (Dritvik), where the fisheries probably started in the 16th century, and, according to the annals, between 300 and 400 fishermen, using 60 boats, spent the time during the fishing seasons. Ruins of their abodes and a lava maze on the hill south of the cove are protected. Fishing flourished in the 13th century and the human population grew in the areas around the glacier. A church had been built on Ingjaldshóll (Ingjaldsholl) hill before 1200 AD. The size of the church bears witness to the considerable population of nearby towns and villages, at least during fishing season. Fishing declined on Snaefellsnes peninsula during the 19th century because of changes in fishing techniques.
Park rangers operate in the Park area during the summer months, providing information as well as tending the area. Visitors are advised not to enter caves unless accompanied by an experienced guide. Travellers are also advised to keep to the marked trails when exploring nature, to help conserve the ecology and the remarkable geological features. It is advisable to contact a park ranger for specific information regarding activities and visiting the Park.
Villages close to the National Park include Hellissandur, Rif and Ólafsvík. They are picturesque fishing ports with many points of interest, providing accommodation and various activities for tourist such as hiking trails, long sandy beaches and birdwatching.
Snæfellsjökull National Park Visitor Centre
The Visitor Centre is located in Hellnar. The Centre has an exhibition with the theme “the fisherman and nature”, documenting how people lived off the natural resources through the ages.
Open daily from 10 am – 6 pm during the summer months, and by arrangement at other times of year.
Park rangers are available to assist with information.