Iceland Waterfalls. Spotting them was a constant throughout our trip around the Ring Road: these natural sights can be found everywhere. While developing our itinerary, we were blown away by the sheer number of times waterfalls were mentioned in travel guides. At one point along our journey, we had to make a conscious decision to stop pulling over to see them because they could have literally taken up all of our time. But let’s be honest, too many waterfalls is not a bad problem to have on a trip. Below you will find a snippet on all of the major Iceland waterfalls we encountered over three weeks.
Foss means waterfalls in Icelandic.
Iceland Waterfalls: Counter-Clockwise
Gullfoss is also featured in our previous post as one of the main destinations within Iceland’s Golden Circle. This is Iceland’s most famous waterfall. At about 100kms from Reykjavik, it is easily accessible by car or as a major stop on a bus tour. Double-staged falls that tumble 32 metres high, they can be viewed from several lookouts that give you the opportunity to observe the falls from different vantage points. On a windy day, make sure to wear some sort of waterproof/repellant jacket, as some viewpoints get pretty close to the action. Actually, this advice is good for any of the falls in this post, so read on with that assumption in mind. On sunny days, however, the falls will be surrounded by mist clouds and will treat you to shimmering rainbows over the gorge.
These falls were almost destroyed because of a decision by the Icelandic government to put them up for sale. Foreign investors were looking into taking ownership of the land to develop a hydroelectric project. Some say the project was dropped due to lack of financing, while a memorial to Sigríður Tómasdóttir at the falls tells the story of the landowner’s daughter that fought off rich and powerful men from destroying this natural beauty. By many, she is recognized as Iceland’s first activist. Whatever version you choose to believe, all that’s important is that the hydroelectric project never came to fruition.
About 1h30 from Reykjavik and only 30 seconds off the Ring Road are the falls of Seljalandsfoss. Driving on the road, you will spot them in the distance, as did we. We remember thinking we were so rogue, as if our eagle eyes spotted this unique Icelandic attraction, only to find out it’s quite popular, and you can see it in the distance for literally ten minutes before you reach the turnoff. As we pulled into the parking lot, we could see the falls a drop over 60 metres, making it one of the country’s highest.
There are several paths for visitors to walk and it also has the rare distinction of having one that treks right behind the actual waterfall. If you can, try to come early in the morning or later during the evening. This is a big tourist spot, so it may get really crowded if you are here during the high season Summer months. There are also paths on the left of the falls for you to walk upwards and get a bird’s eye view. However, be warned. This higher lookout is narrow and slippery – coming back down was a nightmare. Probably not a good idea to climb to this viewpoint if you are afraid of heights.
The lesser-known and often overlooked Gljúfurárfoss is only a few hundred metres from Seljalandsfoss, continuing down the same road. We had actually missed out on it when we were visiting Seljalandsfoss, not realizing they were right beside each other. We were only made aware of it that night while reading our Lonely Planet. Although we had something planned for the following day, we made sure to make a small backtrack to check it out upon our return.
You can get there by walking from Seljalandsfoss’ parking lot, or you can keep driving a few hundred metres further on Þórsmerkurvegur Road. You will spot the Hamragarðar farm and a little gravel road you can park on. If you are looking for somewhere to camp for the night, this farm offers facilities with toilets, showers, washing machines and cooking facilities.
Back to the waterfall. This one falls into a hidden cavern, so for you to get a better glimpse you will have to either walk through the stream that goes through the opening or you can climb the adjacent path using the ropes and ladders provided to get a view from the top. We opted to walk through the stream and into the cavern. This was unlike anything we have ever seen, but it takes a commitment to get the best experience. Cold water is Adamo’s nemesis and considering it was glacial water, he didn’t fare well. The water is painfully icy, and though we were only wearing flip-flops, we’re not certain water shoes would have helped. If you’d like to see this fall (trust us, it is an absolute must-see) but anticipate having trouble with the cold, rubber boots would be a great idea.
There was so much mist, it made it impossible to capture it on our camera, so we had to rely on our little videocamera. You will most likely be alone in the cave and will get to explore the area and watch the water cascade to the ground. There is even a massive rock that you can climb to get a better view.
Located in the region of Skógar, which has about 20-25 habitants, this waterfall is its main attraction and also one of the country’s largest. It has a width of 25 metres and a drop of 62 metres. There is a lot of mist, once again, and it can get pretty chilly, especially on windy days. We were unlucky enough to be there on a windy and cloudy day, and considering the fleeting weather, waiting it out and visiting later in the day may have been a good idea. After exploring for about 45 minutes, the combination of damp clothing and chilly air drove us back in the campervan to warm up and to dry off. We’ve been told that a visit on a sunny day will treat you to a spectacular rainbow – or two!
You may not be able to walk behind this massive waterfall, but you can certainly walk to the top, if you are up to it. The climb is steep but not that difficult, though it can get slippery if the stairs are wet. From here, you can observe the calm river flowing down, soon to be crashing on the rocks below. Legend has it that the first viking settler buried a treasure in the cave behind the waterfall. Supposedly, it was found years later, but the lucky ones were only able to grasp the ring handle. When it came off, the treasure disappeared again.
Dettifoss and Selfoss
It was a beautiful and sunny day when we parked our campervan in the parking lot. By this point in our trip, it was the beginning of June and we had made or way to the northeast of Iceland, working our way westward. There was still a lot of snow on the ground, but the sun and heat made that quite enjoyable. Trails are clearly marked from the parking lot that we followed for ten minuted until we reached Dettifoss (it can be dangerous to stray from the paths because of the rapid melting of snow). It is said to be Europe’s most powerful waterfall, at only 45 metres high, but about 190 cubic metres of water tumbles over its cliff every second. For you movie buffs, this waterfall can be seen in Prometheus.
The water coming from the falls looks milky due to the sediment rich waters coming from the Vatnajökull glacier. Dettifoss can be observed from either side of the Jokulsa canyon and there are several boardwalks and vantage points. When we were there, only the western side was open to the public. We have read that several accidents have occurred on the east side, mostly because visitors did not stick to the path.
About one kilometre further, you can walk and find the waterfall called Selfoss. It is far less powerful than its neighbour and may not be as impressive with its 10 metre drop. But it’s still worth the short walk.
Given its proximity to the Ring Road near Akureyri, Goðafoss, which translates to Waterfalls of the Gods, is also an extremely popular landmark with tourists. It acquired its name around the year 1000 after the country converted to Christianity and the local law speaker named Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði threw his pagan idols from the top of the waterfalls.
The falls are fed by the Skjálfandafljót river are about 12 metres high and have a width of about 30 metres. If you feel like sleeping right beside the waterfalls, you might be in luck. There’s is a hotel named Fosshóll and it is is located only 500 meters away from Goðafoss.
As always, thank you to our readers from all over the world! Feel free to comment below and share stories about your favourite Iceland waterfalls.
Safe and happy travels!
– Adamo & Joey
The Gays Abroad