The historical Skaftafell was a large farm at the foot of the hills west of the present camp site. Shifting glacial sands slowly buried the fields and forced the farm to a more suitable site, on the heath 100m above the sandar. The district came to be known as Hérað Milli Sandur (Land Between the Sands), but after all the farms were annihilated by the 1362 eruptions the district became the ‘land under the sands’ and was renamed Öræfi (Wasteland). Once the vegetation returned, however, the Skaftafell farm was rebuilt in its former location.
The modern park was founded in 1967 by the Icelandic government and the World Wildlife Fund (now the WWF), and was originally 500 sq km. It has been enlarged twice (in June 1984 and in October 2004), and now also includes over half of Vatnajökull and the Laki craters to the west. Further expansion plans are under way – eventually, the Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur national parks will join to form one 15, 000-sq-km megapark – 40% of the entire country.