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The Spectacular Waterfalls of Iceland

By Edited Dec 20, 2013 0 2

Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world, and volcanic eruptions are still adding to Iceland’s substance and geology.  The island’s volcanic past has created some amazing structures that provide the ideal setting for spectacular waterfalls.  Water spills from old lava flows, shoots out of restricted canyons and splashes down over fallen rocks.  For some people, waterfalls are the only reason to visit the country.

Near Reykjavik

Icelandic waterfalls are one of the top attractions of the country, and many are easy to reach in a day trip from Reykjavik.   Closest to the city is Trollafoss, a small falls, the top of which can be reached by following a short, rough walking path from the road.  The base is somewhat more difficult to access and you may want to skip the steep trail down the side of the hill.  The falls are well marked by signposts and easy to find.

A bit farther out, Thorufoss is a much more satisfying viewing experience, although less well signed and thus, more difficult to find.  The river Laxa I Kjos is also quite picturesque, giving you even more reasons to make the journey out to see the falls. The river is home to numerous salmon and a temporary standing place for salmon fishermen.

Continue along Thingvallavegur road to reach Thingvellir National Park and Oxarafoss , or “Axe Falls”.  This is a glorious tumble of boulders when compared to Thorufoss and is an excellent excuse for visiting the park.   There are a number of other sights to see in the park including the drowning pool and some lovely viewpoints.  This is a section of Iceland that sits on a rift between the European and North American tectonic plates.  Consequently, there is evidence of the struggle between the plates in the old scars of volcanic activity and the falls of rocks.

Northwest of Thingvellir, Sjavarfoss is a small falls on the way to Glymur.  The falls sit within an historic region, descriptions of which are currently only available in Icelandic.

Glymur, at 196 m, was once the highest waterfall in Iceland. It is quite a hike from the main road and somewhat strenuous.  The southern trail (right, as you leave the parking area) provides the best view of the falls although it is more difficult than the northern trail. It also takes you through a cool arch that is big enough to feel like a cave.  You can get to the base of the falls, but you have to wade through the river Botnsa.

Much farther west, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are both reached from the same walkway.  Hraunfossar is a series of springs that come through the Hallmundarhraun lava flow, creating a lacework of cascades.  Stay on the trail  and keep walking.  The well-maintained pathway continues to Barnafoss, a series of rapids created as the Hvita River shoots through a narrow, rocky chute.  If you brought spelunking gear, there is a lava-tube cave nearby.

Traveling east

East of Reykjavik is Iceland’s most popular falls, Gullfoss.   The Hvita River spills over an 11 m fall, turns 90 degrees and plunges over a 21 m drop, seemingly vanishing into a 32 m crevice.  The best viewing is a short walk from either of the two car lots, with the lower park being slightly easier.  Gullfoss, the Golden Falls, is on the popular tourist route known as the Golden Circle and tour buses begin filling the lots at mid morning.  Although the falls are quite beautiful, it is possible that their popularity is due to the ease of access, rather than the innate spectacular-ness of the waterfall.  Fans of Echo and the Bunnymen may recognize the area.

Nearby Faxi, also known as Vatnsleysufoss, is usually included in the Golden Circle because of its proximity to Gullfoss.  The falls are wide, shallow, and easily reached from the parking area.

Farther east, a string of falls is accessible by car.  AEgissufoss, Arbaejarfoss, Thjofafass, Hjalparfoss, Gjain and Haifoss run south to north, roughly along routes 26 and 32.  Of these, Haifoss is the tallest at 122 m and offers a neighbor waterfall (Granni) in a nearby gorge.  The setting is the barren landscape of the Icelandic Highlands and provides a dramatic backdrop as the rivers cascade from the flat plains into the deep gorge.

Continuing east along the southern Ring Road brings several more waterfalls, the first of which is Seljalandsfoss.  This is a popular tourist destination with plenty of parking for the buses.  Seljalandsfoss drops over an overhang, leaving the area behind it open and accessible.  A well-maintained trail makes a loop behind the falls and back out on the other side.  A footbridge crosses the river to return to the parking area.

Several more falls are visible from the road. or are only a short walk away, as the road continues to Skaftafell National Park.  There are many falls in the park, and Svartifoss is perhaps the best known.  Dark columns of basalt from an old lava flow frame the turbulent, raging waters, giving rise to the name of Black Falls.  Continuing along the path allows you to reach three more falls, as well as the edge of the glacier Skaftafellsjokull.

This is also the region for Iceland’s newly proclaimed “tallest waterfall”.  As the Morsarjokull glacier receded, it left behind a number of falls.  Morsarfoss, which has been visible since 2007 recently was measured at 227 m, towering over Glymur by 29 m.  The falls are extremely difficult to reach and require dedicated hiking.  This is not something to be attempted by the average, unprepared visitor.

In the north

There are many more falls scattered on the northern part of Iceland, but the one most popular is Dettifoss, said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe.  The Jokulsa a Fjollum river is glacier melt from the Vatnajokull and has several waterfalls along its path.  Dettifoss is the largest at 100m wide and a drop of 45 m.  With regard to volume, it is the largest waterfall in Europe.

The western peninsulas

The region of Vesterland has several waterfalls you can visit in succession.  Grundarfoss, Kirkjufellsfoss and Bjarnafoss are all just off route 54, which loops around the peninsula.  Rjukandi and Baejarfoss are slightly more difficult to reach.  You can continue slowly along route 574 to get to them.  Klukkofoss is much farther down a very rough road that requires slow, careful driving.


The westernmost peninsula of Iceland has a few named waterfalls that would take quite a bit of effort to reach from Reykjavik.  Djupavikurfoss drops over a cliff and into the sea near the very isolated town of Djupavik.  There is a convenient hotel here for the visitor who wants to spend some time in the area.  Even more difficult to reach is Dynjandi, also known as Fjallfoss.  You may want to visit this region by taking a ferry from Baldur, but it will still require quite a bit of driving over difficult roads.



Aug 19, 2013 11:52pm
Very beautiful... thinking to visit this plave
Aug 20, 2013 10:13am
Thank you! I loved Iceland and I'd love to go back and see more.
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