Iceland

Dettifoss

Iceland is a country that is often defined by superlatives - Home to the world’s northernmost capital, Europe’s largest glacier, most powerful waterfall, one of the world’s leaders in energy efficiency and coincidentally one of the most stable economies and oddly enough Europe’s largest banana plantations.

Among many more.

If you are planning on travelling to Iceland, one thing you’ll quickly realize is that it is also one of the most expensive places in the world to visit.

Even though most of the destinations you’ll want to visit are free of charge - Eating, sleeping and getting around is likely to cost you an arm and a leg.

There are of course ways to save money and travel on a budget while in Iceland, but cost tends to be one of the most important factors that prevents people from visiting, or just limiting their travels to the “Golden Circle” route.

If you’re a good at planning and you have the time and resources to travel (What has become popularly known as) the “Diamond Circle” you’ll discover that the northern portion of Iceland is just as amazing as the rest of the country and if you skipped it like many others have, you will have really missed out.

For most, the most important destination on the northern stretch of the Diamond Circle just so happens to be one of those ‘superlatives’ mentioned above - Europe’s most powerful waterfall.

You may be thinking, “I’ve already seen dozens of waterfalls in Iceland, why would I travel hundreds of kilometres north to see another one?” and I wouldn’t blame you if you asked that.

I started feeling a bit weary of waterfalls after a few days in Iceland.

But, its important that you realize that there are waterfalls, and then there is Dettifoss.

Dettifoss is a force of nature.

Standing next to this waterfall is probably one of the most humbling experiences that you’ll ever experience. The sheer size and power of this waterfall in addition to having the ability to just walk up next to it and see it so close is reason enough to make the long journey north.

Dettifoss

Known to locals simply as “The Beast”, the name Dettifoss actually translates loosely to English as “The Collapsing Waterfall.

I’d submit that its nickname is probably much more fitting.

Dettifoss is 100 meters (330 ft) wide and 45 meters (144 ft) high, making it among Iceland’s largest waterfalls. The more important measurement though (and the defining feature of this waterfall) is that over 500 cubic meters of water plummets over the falls every second creating a cloud of mist that can be seen from miles away.

It also makes for some really beautiful rainbows.

The water comes from the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river and has travelled hundreds of kilometres from its origin at Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier, to get to the falls.

The river, which is Iceland’s second longest at 206km in length then continues to flow north until it meets the Greenland Sea on Iceland’s northern coast.

Another one of the waterfall’s defining features is the odd greyish white-coloured water that flows down the river and gives the falls its distinctive colour. You might look at the photos and think that the water is dirty or polluted but the colour is actually common for glacial rivers as they are carrying volcanic sediment out to sea.

Visitors to Dettifoss are able to enjoy the waterfall from two different vantage points - namely on the West or East side of the river. It is important to note that when you are planning your visit that you will to have to keep in mind which side you want to view the falls from.

If you’ve got time to spare, you could check out the waterfall from both sides, but that will require a few extra hours of driving in order to cross the river canyon.

Whichever side you choose, there are parking lots, hiking trails and public restrooms made available by park authorities making your visit rather simple. It should go without saying that no matter which side you visit, you are going to be able to fully enjoy the waterfall.

There are however Pros-and-Cons for each.

By now you may have noticed that all of my photos were taken on the same side of the falls.

I strategically planned where I would stay the night before we went to Dettifoss so that we could wake up early in the morning and take the long gravel road out to the East Bank.

From my research I felt that the view from the East side not only would allow me to get very close to the falls but would also offer me a better view of nearby Selfoss as well.

The road to the east bank is terrible and if you’re driving a rental car you’re going to have to take it easy so that you don’t cause any damage. Likewise the hike from the parking lot to Dettifoss and further on and can be dangerous, especially during winter.

On the East side, the height of Dettifoss will be much more prevalent than the width and you’ll be able to stand next to the river at the base of the falls.

The view on the western side of the falls is a bit higher than that of the east side, so you’ll be able to better enjoy the width of Dettifoss. The view of Selfoss on this side however isn’t as good and you’ll miss out on some of its beauty on this side.

The road to the parking lot is much better and the hiking trail on the western side is much more well-developed as well as being considerably safer if you’re travelling with children or seniors.

No matter which side you visit, if you are planning on visiting both Dettifoss and Selfoss when you’re there, it is about a 2-2.5km round trip from your car!

Getting There

 

If you are driving directly from Reykjavik, it should take you a little over seven hours to arrive at Dettifoss.

I sincerely hope you aren’t driving directly from the capital just for this waterfall though - That’d make for a really long day and you’d pass by so many other interesting things!

The route you take to the waterfall depends on which side you intend on visiting, but both roads are a simple turn off of Ring Road #1, the highway that circles the country.

East Bank - Road 864 (Hólsfjallavegur)

The road to the East Bank of Dettifoss is a well-developed paved road that is open to the public year round. From the Ring Road it is about a 30km drive to the parking lot.

If you are travelling to the waterfall in the winter months, you’re likely going to be forced to drive this route due to road closures or the type of car you’re driving.

It is possible however that this road will be closed due to weather.

West Bank - Road 862 (Dettifossvegur)

If you like a bit of adventure you’re going to love this road - Road 862 is a simple turn off of the Ring Road and is a bumpy 25km drive to the parking lot.

If you’re driving a 4WD you’ll be able to fly down the road and have a pretty good time.

For everyone else, take it slow and try not to cause damage to your rental car.

The drive from the Ring Road to the parking lot is a flat and rather desolate ride that seems like its never going to end.

There are some resources online that claim that the authorities will close the gate on Road 862 during the winter months while others say that road closures depend on weather conditions. Before you go, make sure to bookmark and regularly check the road conditions and road closures on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration site which provides you with real-time information on all of the roads around the country.

Link: Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.  

You’ll find Roads 862 and 864 listed under ‘Northeast Iceland.’

Dettifoss is the highlight of every travellers journey through the northern section of Iceland’s Diamond Circle. It might be a bit of the way and somewhat of a hassle to get to in comparison to most of Iceland’s other destinations but it is highly worth the time and effort it takes to get there. This waterfall is definitely one that you’re not going to want to miss.

Just don’t try to go for a swim. You may end up in Greenland.


Hengifoss

You’ve made it this far? Congratulations. Most of the tourists who visit Iceland tend to either turn around and head back to Reykjavík after checking out the Golden Circle or after travelling as far as the south coast to see the world-renowned Black Beach and Glacier Lagoon.

I’m guessing that if you’re here looking for information about Hengifoss, you’ve probably decided to spend a bit more time in Iceland, completing what has become known as the “Diamond Circle.”

If so, you’re made the right decision - Iceland deserves a lot more time than the average tourist is able to invest and if you complete the Diamond Circle, you’ll be rewarded for your decision with amazing waterfalls, the beautiful Lake Myvatn, Hverfjall Mountain, hot spring resorts and much, much more.

Once you’ve made it past the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, you’ll have officially made it further than a large percentage of travellers. Your next stop along the road is likely the be southern-most city of Hofn to rest and stock up on supplies for your drive along the western coast of the country.

For most travellers, the first major destination along the eastern coast will be the waterfall known as Hengifoss - or the “Hanging Falls”, which is one of the prettiest waterfalls in the country and is also situated on one of Iceland’s most popular hiking trails.

Hengifoss

Regarded as one of the highest waterfalls in the country, Hengifoss is also one of the most beautiful thanks to the very unique nature of the environment that surrounds it.

The water, which originates from a plateau above descends 128 meters into a beautiful gorge that flows further down the mountain and eventually meets with Lake Lagarfljot.

What makes Hengifoss stand out though is not its height - it is considered either the second or third highest waterfall in the country - nor the amount of water that flows from the top. It’s uniqueness is thanks to the spectacularly coloured layers of strata in the gorge which brilliantly displays the age of this waterfall and of Iceland itself.

The different layers, some of which date back to the Tertiary Period display the various stages of Iceland’s geological development through the shifting of tectonic plates and volcanic eruptions. - all of which have molded the island into the ever-changing landmass that it is today.

Most notable are the eye-catching layers of red clay which are fossilized trunks of coniferous trees which are between two to sixty million years old.

The different layers of strata are beautifully lined up making the red layers of clay and the black layers of basalt look like naturally designed stripes with a waterfall conveniently in the centre.

Although the waterfall is among the highest in the country, it certainly doesn’t seem like it when you’re standing nearby as the flow of water isn’t comparable to what you’ve likely already seen at Gullfoss.

That shouldn’t matter though - You should be visiting this one more for the spectacular display of our planet’s geological history with the added bonus of a giant waterfall.

Another reason why Hengifoss stands out from the other waterfalls that you will have visited on your trip is that it isn’t located directly next to a road or the highway. In fact, if you plan on visiting this waterfall you should know that you’re going to have to be prepared for a bit of a hike.

The hike, which is roughly a two hour round trip is a beautiful one with great views of Lake Lagarfljot flanked by snow-capped mountains to your rear with mountains and Hengifoss easily visible all the way along the trail.

It suppose the hike could be considered a bit steep in some spots, so if you plan on visiting, be prepared for a bit of a workout. Never fear though, even though the hike takes around two hours, the trail is well-maintained by local authorities and the path is easy to navigate.

I should probably also mention that even though most people are hiking to see Hengifoss, you’re also going to walk past the beautiful Litlanesfoss waterfall as well!

Two waterfalls for the price of one! (Admission is free by the way).

Litlanesfoss Waterfall, like the larger waterfall upstream is also quite notable thanks to its special geological features. Unfortunately it tends to be overshadowed by the much larger Hengifoss.

The waterfall is considerably smaller at around only 40 meters in height, but is known for its beautiful columns of basalt rock that resemble a naturally formed staircase - a larger version of what you probably saw at the Black Sand Beach earlier in your travels.

The reason why this pretty waterfall is so easily overshadowed is because it is generally just a short stop along the trail. It is situated deep in a gorge and you can’t get close enough to it like you can with Hengifoss.

After you finish checking out Litlanesfoss, you’ll round a slope on the mountain and Hengifoss will start to appear in the distance. Once you get close enough you will notice signs that warn visitors not to get too close.

Some people obviously continue to walk further up the river stream to get as close to the falls as they can.

It is important to remember though that you are pretty much in the middle of no where and if you have an accident, it is going to take a bit of time before someone comes to rescue you. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger.

In truth, I hiked up a bit further than was permitted and set up my tripod in the middle of the river to take photos of the waterfall. I didn’t really walk that far though and I tried to put myself in a spot where I wouldn’t be ruining other people’s photos.

I have seen claims that there is a cave behind the waterfall that you can walk into - if you want to get in the cave though you’re going to have to do a bit of dangerous river tracing while climbing over massive rocks and you’re going to have to be prepared to get wet.

Most tourists don’t come prepared for this kind of adventure - and I don’t recommend you even attempt it if you don’t have the proper gear and a tour guide that knows the area.

Safety is the most important consideration when you’re travelling, so don’t do anything too dangerous and remember that Iceland is an incredibly expensive place to traveil. I doubt you’ll want to break the bank on an emergency helicopter ride back to a Reykjavik hospital.

Getting There

 

Ok, so I’m going to really recommend you learn from my mistake here. There are two different routes that will bring you to Hengifoss.

Google Maps will present you with two different routes to get to Hengifoss - One of the routes will take you along the coastal highway to the town of Egilsstadir and then you’ll backtrack along the massive Lake Lagarfljot before arriving at the parking lot for the hike.

It will also present you with a route that will take you in-land through the mountains.

DO NOT TAKE THE ROUTE THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS!

The road is completely washed out and is in a state of extreme disrepair. It will probably also cause a bit of damage to your rental car. Learn from me. I promise, you’ll appreciate the advice.

Follow Route One from Hofn all the way to Egilsstadir and then transfer to Route 95 and continue south.

You’ll arrive at the parking lot about half an hour later and your car will still be in pretty good shape!

Hengifoss is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland but as I’ve mentioned above, its unique geological features somewhat overshadow the height of the falls. If you are travelling through the eastern-coast of Iceland and this waterfall is not on your itinerary you are definitely missing out. Don’t let a bit of exercise scare you away from seeing one of the prettiest waterfalls in a country that is…. full of waterfalls.