Chasing Waterfalls

Black basalt columns at Svartifoss

Iceland: August 1-22

Aside from foraging for wild blueberries in the heath, one of our favorite pass times while touring in Iceland has been “collecting” waterfalls.  Few natural phenomena are more emblematic of the county than these examples of cascading water, and many of them are well marked alongside the tourist-trampled Ring Road.  Gullfoss (golden falls), with its unusual spade-shaped falls, is probably Iceland’s most visited, owing to its position along the Golden Circle, near Þingvellir (pronounced thing-vel-eer) and Geysir.

Rainbow over Gulfoss

Goðafoss (waterfall of the gods) and Selfoss are both in North-Central Iceland near the (in)famous lake of midges, My’vatn.  The two falls transmit the opaque, silt-gray water from Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, through a spectacular gorge in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.

Godafoss, where the Icelanders vanquished their pagan idols (although we held on to ours)
Best view in the house at Selfoss


There, the river’s force is concentrated on the epic Dettifoss (raging falls), reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe in terms of the volume it discharges (1,640 cubic feet of water per second).

Not too close…

We found the Icelandic parks administration to be fairly relaxed with regard to the tourists viewing this waterfall.  While Ollie was kept at a relatively safe distance, I was perfectly free to contemplate the opening scene from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus right there on the edge of the abyss.

No worries, my shoes had very good traction

Others were found farther from the crowds along lesser-known routes. Dynjandi (Fjallfoss) in the Westfjords fanned out gracefully behind a lush campsite.

Beautiful Dynjandi (Fjallfoss), a highlight of the Westfjords

We discovered the small turquoise pool at Folaldafoss just off the mountainous gravel road to Oxi on the east coast.

Foldafoss was tucked along a mountain road in the east
A waterfall carrying warm water from a hot spring

No other part of the country was as littered with waterfalls as the Eastfjords. We arrived into Seyðisfjörður on a gray day following a heavy rain. So many small cascades trickled down the steep sides of the surrounding cliffs; it was as if an enormous, heavenly abattoir was at work high above us and hidden in the clouds. All around, the sky bled out in rivulets down to the fjords where their catchments were finally turned out to the sea.

Three-tiered waterfall in the Southeast

A 2km hike that overlooked Lagarfljót, a large lake that reputably harbors a giant sea worm, accessed Hengifoss, the second tallest waterfall in Iceland.  Red striations around the falls told of various lava flows that had formed the surrounding cliffs.

Lava striations at Hengifoss

For me, the more beautiful falls were Litlanesfoss, closer to the trailhead.  Honeycombed basalt formations on both sides of the gorge framed the waterfall and were reminiscent of the columns decorating Reykjavik’s most famous church, Hallgrímskirkja.

Basalt columns of Litlanesfoss

Another terrific (and more famous) basalt falls were Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park. The dark lava columns appeared to tumble from the falls themselves.

Black basalt columns at Svartifoss

Skógafoss tumbles over a former sea cliff.  The trail beyond it marks the beginning of one of Iceland’s most famous multi-day treks from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk.  We thought about giving it a try, but 53 km on foot managed to scare us off.


However, it was the occasional sighting of a small waterfall, either at the mouth of an unpopulated fjord, or flowing alongside an unassuming country road, that we found most bewitching.  For example, the cascade Valagjá at the mouth of the Hestfjörður, deep in the Westfjords, required a tricky foray along a river and up along the walls of a steep, gravelly canyon.

Valagjá at the mouth of the Hestfjörður

Needless to say, when the clouds parted, the brief but treacherous climb was proven to be entirely worth the effort, especially when the return trip involved the aforementioned blueberry harvesting. Kolafossar was tucked away in a canyon beyond a tract of farmland. Closer to Reykjavik, some small waterfalls were located in geothermal areas, and their attending rivers were as warm as bathwater.

Kolufossar was hidden in a gorge behind a farm
Reykjafoss in Hveragerði is situated in a geothermal area

Most will agree, however, that Seljalandsfoss in the South is one of Iceland’s finest waterfalls. The 60-foot cascade is unique in that the visitor can venture behind it.  Despite it close proximity to the Ring Road, we were fortunate enough one evening to come upon it just as the sun was striking a low angle near the horizon. The site was devoid of other tourists, and the experience was all ours for the moment.  Ollie and I circled behind the waterfall twice, struck silent by the minutes as they passed and the sky grew gray.  We were leaving this land of fire, ice and raging waters in a few short days, and bound for a country where ancient civilizations would perhaps take the front seat to natural phenomena.  But these waterfalls would continue to carry on to the sea, wearing stones smoother with every rain, widening the alluvial plains with every glacial melt.  We will be back.

Sunset captured from behind Seljalandsfoss


  1. Due to our upcoming trip to Indonesia in October I came to your blog.
    We met at Ko Kadran in 2009 and then was Oliver (ollie) a very small man.
    Our name is Kees and Cathy Morren from the Netherlands.

    Nice to read that your family has been extended with a girl, a king desire.
    What a happiness and wealth that you have chosen to back with the four of you to travel in the Schengen area.
    I follow you back on foot.

    Yes we go for four weeks to my homeland Indoensie.
    We start mid October in Jakarta and Ambon then. From there to Seram and then to the Kei Islands.
    Four weeks, that we find quite a luxury.

    Warm greetings from us together /
    Cathy and Kees

    1. Hallo Cathy en Kees!
      Natuurlijk herinneren wij u van onze tijd in Indonesië op Koh Kradan. Het is heerlijk om over uw aanstaande reis horen tot de warme wateren van Indonesië! Tijdens de planning van onze reis door Europa, dachten we dat we misschien terug te gaan naar Indonesië een dag. Maar eerst moeten we hopen je te zien in Nederland! Wij zullen u laten weten wanneer we reizen de buurt van uw woonplaats. Het zal leuk zijn om u kennismaken met Kendley, onze kleine meid. Ollie zegt hallo! Veilige reis en we hopen u snel te zien.
      Emily & Ryan

      1. Hello dear family,

        We have just returned from Indonesia and have a wonderful time spent there.

        Nice to meet again and certainly in our hometown. Our door is always open. Let us know if you are in Europe in the Netherlands.

        Kind regards,
        Cathy and Kees

        1. Thank you Kathy & Kees! Wonderful to hear from you and we’re so glad your time in Indonesia was fun! We’ll be coming your way some time in 2013!

    1. Hi! Sorry for the late reply! I am pretty sure that waterfall was in the Reykjadalur valley, about 45km from Reykjavik.

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