Hengifoss

near Egilsstaðir, East Region, Iceland

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 3
Hengifoss - Iceland's 3rd tallest waterfall

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Hengifoss was the star waterfall attraction of the Eastfjords area around Lagarfljót and the town of Egilsstaðir. While this waterfall was said to be the third tallest waterfall at 118m (at least when we were there in 2007), we thought the red strata patterns on the cliff giving rise to the falls was also very interesting as it was something we didn't typically see in other waterfalls.

According to a sign that we noticed while hiking, it explained that there was a four-step process giving rise to the red stripes. The first step was the deposition of volcanic ash and basaltic lava. Then, the mineral rich ash sitting atop the hardened basalt became soil. Clay compounds were formed from this soil as a result of the damp climate of the Tertiary Period. Then, lava would flow over the soil, which was rich in iron, causing it to oxidate and turn red thereby resulting in the reddish clay trapped between the thicker basalt layers. This process would repeat, which was how there were multiple stripes. Speaking of waterfall height, it was we learned recently that it might have to be bumped down to the fourth highest waterfall in the country thanks to the discovery of a waterfall (possibly named Morsárfoss) that was only possible to be seen after the recession of the glacier Morsárjökull. The falls was said to be taller than Glymur by 30m.

Looking towards Litlanesfoss with Hengifoss further up in the distance Trivial statistics aside, this waterfall sat high atop a cliff overlooking the head of lake Lagarfljót ("LOG-ar-flyoht") as well as its surrounding forest (a rarity in Iceland) called Hallormsstaðarskógur ("HAT-lorm-sta-thur-skoh-gur"). This meant that in order to get a closer more satisfying view of the falls, we had to do a hike, which was 2.5km long each way on a pretty much relentless climb before the slope kind of mellowed out a bit closer to the falls. We treated this as a half-day excursion, but we wound up taking about 2 hours total (though it would've been maybe another 30-60 minutes longer had we continued to the end, which I get into below). On the way up, I noticed smaller waterfalls deep in the gorge adjacent to the trail. Most of those were not easy to see (and the morning shadows didn't help matters either). However, at about 1.2km on the trail, Julie and I noticed the intriguing Litlanesfoss (also known as Stuðlabergsfoss), which was surrounded by basalt columns, which was flanked by obvious basalt columns in much the same way as Aldeyjarfoss and Svartifoss. Depending on the viewing angle and where we were along the cliffs, we were able to see both Litlanesfoss and part of Hengifoss further upstream together.

During much of the hike up, there were frequent spur trails taking us towards a parallel trail skirting the edge of the gorge containing the waters from Hengifoss. Much of this "edge trail" were worn and slippery due to the loose pebbles atop packed hard dirt. Thus, we not only had to mind the butterflies in our stomachs whenever we found ourselves close to the cliff edges, but we also had to be very cognizant of the dropoff hazard (which the signs here also warned about).

Eventually, we climbed up to a point where the parallel trails converged and it continued until we were essentially at the apex of the climb with still another 0.5 kilometer left to go to reach the base of the falls. We actually stopped where we got a fairly distant but total view of Hengifoss because there were more worn sections of trail where it looked very easy to fall into the gorge in many spots. But I'm still kicking myself for not doing that last section of trail. I even witnessed a handful of people continuing on past us, but for some reason I opted to be content with the view from here.

At least with the long climb up, the rest of the hike was all downhill back to the car park. We got to enjoy the views throughout the hike while also enjoying once again Litlanesfoss and some other unnamed falls in the gorge as well.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

West of Egilsstaðir (on the way to Hengifoss), we followed the lake on Lagarfljót, which produced reflections like what is shown hereWest of Egilsstaðir (on the way to Hengifoss), we followed the lake on Lagarfljót, which produced reflections like what is shown here
Looking down into the ravine at the impressive Litlanesfoss (which was on the hike up to Hengifoss) though the morning shadow didn't do us any favorsLooking down into the ravine at the impressive Litlanesfoss (which was on the hike up to Hengifoss) though the morning shadow didn't do us any favors
After visiting Hengifoss, we spent the afternoon going east of Egilsstadir and heading over to the beautiful SeydisfjordurAfter visiting Hengifoss, we spent the afternoon going east of Egilsstadir and heading over to the beautiful Seydisfjordur
Something that we noticed on the way to Hengifoss was that there was actually a forest! I believe this was one of the few groves of trees left in IcelandSomething that we noticed on the way to Hengifoss was that there was actually a forest! I believe this was one of the few groves of trees left in Iceland
Julie leaving the car park and heading straight up those stairsJulie leaving the car park and heading straight up those stairs

Julie further up the trail with Hengifoss still seenJulie further up the trail with Hengifoss still seen

Small waterfall in the gorge near the start of the hikeSmall waterfall in the gorge near the start of the hike

Another small cascade within the gorge near the start of the hikeAnother small cascade within the gorge near the start of the hike

Looking at the context of the ravine where the small cascades wereLooking at the context of the ravine where the small cascades were

Julie way up ahead of me as the trail starts to get a little slippery and exposedJulie way up ahead of me as the trail starts to get a little slippery and exposed

At a little above the half-way point of the uphill hike, we saw the impressive Litlanesfoss and its basalt columns.  Notice Hengifoss perched further up the cliffAt a little above the half-way point of the uphill hike, we saw the impressive Litlanesfoss and its basalt columns. Notice Hengifoss perched further up the cliff

Julie traversing a small stream crossingJulie traversing a small stream crossing

Hengifoss getting closer but exposure to dropoffs more persistent nowThe falls getting closer but exposure to dropoffs more persistent now

We noticed this trio of sheep looking for grass to graze along the trailWe noticed this trio of sheep looking for grass to graze along the trail

Closer inspection of the eroded and narrow part of the trail where I decided to be conservative and not continueCloser inspection of the eroded and narrow part of the trail where I decided to be conservative and not continue

The view of Hengifoss and its red strata from our turnaround spotThe view of the falls and its red strata from our turnaround spot

A group of hikers continuing past our turnaround point, and I'm still asking myself why I didn't follow themA group of hikers continuing past our turnaround point, and I'm still asking myself why I didn't follow them

Context of the hikers going the last 1km to the base of HengifossContext of the hikers going the last 1km to the base of Hengifoss

Heading back downhillIt's all downhill on the way back!

Julie ahead of me as I can see Lagarfljót in the distanceJulie ahead of me as I can see Lagarfljót in the distance


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

From Egilsstaðir ("EH-yils-sta-thir"), drive south on the Ring Road (Route 1) for 11km. Then, turn right onto Route 931 and follow it for about 21km as it follows the southeastern shores of Lagarfljót before eventually crossing a bridge and reaching a three-way junction. Turn left at the junction onto Route 933 and drive for 1.6km. The turnoff for the signed car park is on the right.

Note that while driving the 21km stretch along Route 931, we passed alongside a forest, which was probably the most extensive forest remaining in Iceland. To better appreciate the trees, there was even a short walk labeled Gönguleið that went amongst these trees.

For more geographical context, Egilsstaðir was 645km (7.5 hours drive) northeast of Reykjavík and 266km (3.5 hours drive) east of Akureyri.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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Hengifoss  
An amazing place to visit. Easy walk to the waterfall with stunning views of the lake and mountains you as you walk off - you will not be disappointed …

Nice waterfalls (Hengifoss) 
I liked both waterfalls . They're quite different but both pretty and special: One is surrounded by very even basalt columns and the other is showing …

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