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Iceland may not have many trees, but it makes up for it by overwhelming visitors with a vast network of volcanoes, glaciers, canyons, calderas, rivers, lakes, and the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Starting June 7, you can visit all these features in one place: Vatnajokull National Park. Covering 13,000 square kilometers and 13 percent of Iceland, it’s Europe’s biggest national park.
Right now, the park is mostly pure backcountry, but extensive plans have been put in motion to open several ranger stations, visitor centers, and other services by 2012. From the spectacularly-named Olof Yrr Atladottir, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board:
“Visitors are a vital part of Iceland’s rural economy and contribute positively to the protection and sustainability of our magnificent landscape.”
“Personally, I see a myriad of possibilities for all sorts of activities opening up such as action tours, eco-recreation, study visits and learning experiences as well as the chance to experience the nurturing silence of Iceland’s highlands.”
Travel officials expect the national park to boost visitation to Iceland from 30,000 to 42,000 per year — that’s still far less than most major U.S. parks get in a year, and we’re talking about the entire country. You have to figure half of those visitors just want to get loaded in Reykjavik and visit Bjork’s birthplace.
— Ted Alvarez