Selfoss

Vatnajökull National Park / Jökulsárgljúfur, Northeast Region, Iceland

Rating: 3     Difficulty: 2
Selfoss
Selfoss was another horseshoe-shaped waterfall on the powerful glacier river Jökulsá á Fjöllum just upstream from the mighty Dettifoss. Being that it was within the boundaries of the vast (and recently created) Vatnajökull National Park (formerly Jökulsárgljúfur National Park), the glacier river was allowed to flow freely and let nature dictate how the waters would ultimately shape the falls as well as the gorge overall further downstream.

While this falls may only be 11m tall, it was very long in a way that was reminiscent of Hraunfossar. Of the four major waterfalls we've encountered on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, this one was the furthest upstream (Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss, and Réttarfoss were further downstream in this order before the river segmented and fell over smaller waterfalls within the fractures at Katlar).

Like with Dettifoss, we managed to experience this waterfall in a couple of ways, which we'll get into below.

Directions: Selfoss shares the same trailhead for both its banks as that of Dettifoss. See that page for driving directions to both sides of the river.
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East Bank
Selfoss showing its length as seen from the East Bank
In order to access the east bank of the falls, we had to start from the Dettifoss car park at its east bank. Then, we had to walk the roughly 0.6km trail leading to the top of Dettifoss. From there, the trail then continued further upstream along the east bank of the river for another 1.4km (2.8km round trip back to Dettifoss) passing through a combination of basalt surfaces, black sands, and large boulders. We definitely had to pay close attention to the trail markings and rock cairns given that it was real easy to lose the trail in such terrain. Yet the saving grace if we did momentarily lose the trail was that we knew we just had to keep going upstream to reach the falls.

I believe the overall hiking distance from the car park to Selfoss and back was on the order of 4km. It felt noticeably longer than most of the shorter jaunts we had been used to doing for most of our 2007 Iceland trip, but the distance wasn't so overwhelming that we would have to devote that much more than an hour for it. Nonetheless, the power of the milky river as its waters rushed their way to the big plunge at Dettifoss always kept our attention. The power of the river eventually started to calm down somewhat as we got further away from Dettifoss.

After getting through the sandy and bouldery stretch of trail, the falls started to show its length as we approached it. The photo you see directly above was taken as we were approaching the falls from a distance. When we got closer to the falls, there was no way we could properly photograph it on a single frame. The trail eventually terminated right at the brink of the falls where further progress meant going right into the river (not a good idea).

The impressive horseshoe shape of the falls was what made this a very fascinating experience. But even though the height of the falls seemed very modest, jumping into the falls would still be a very bad idea due to the icy cold temperature of the water as well as the churning action of the water at its base thanks to water falling on three sides.


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West Bank
Distant view of Selfoss from the West Bank
In order to access the west bank of the falls, we had to start from the Dettifoss car park at its west bank (whose southern approach was on a rough 4wd road where a high clearance vehicle was recommended). As we walked closer to Dettifoss within the moonscape section, there was a signed junction leading us to the right, which then took us to the distant view of Selfoss within a few minutes.

We couldn't continue further on the trail because parts of the river blocked further progress. It were these sections of the river that you see falling in over the cliff in the foreground of the picture directly above. Thus, trying to continue further upstream would increase the likelihood of falling over those falls!




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Looking slightly downstream towards a bold rainbow that showed up on the morning we got to the brink of Selfoss on its east bank
The nearest town of any appreciable size was Reykjalið on the eastern shores of Mývatn
Steam vent blowing off steam at Námaskarð between Mývatn and Jökulsárgljúfur
The first section of the hike was to get up to the brink of Dettifoss from the car park at its east bank.  This was where we got views of Jökulsárgljúfur canyonThe first section of the hike was to get up to the brink of Dettifoss from the car park at its east bank. This was where we got views of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon

We then had to get past the Dettifoss waterfall itselfWe then had to get past the Dettifoss waterfall itself

Then we had to keep going further upstream following along the east bank of the turbulent riverThen we had to keep going further upstream following along the east bank of the turbulent river

Julie navigating through the boulder field trying to follow the trail markersJulie navigating through the boulder field trying to follow the trail markers

Getting closer to the impressive SelfossGetting closer to the impressive falls

Closer look at the horseshoe shape of SelfossCloser look at the horseshoe shape of the falls

One day earlier, we were approaching the west bank of Selfoss and Dettifoss so we had to hike through this moonscape in bad weatherOne day earlier, we were approaching the west bank of Selfoss and Dettifoss so we had to hike through this moonscape in bad weather

Looking directly at Selfoss way in the distanceLooking directly at the falls way in the distance

This was about as far as Julie and I would get to the west bank of Selfoss before we turned backThis was about as far as Julie and I would get to the west bank of the falls before we turned back


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Right to left 180-degree sweep starting at the falls and ending in the direction of Dettifoss


Left to right sweep of the falls from the east bank well before we got to its brink


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MAP OF THE FALLS

View Larger Map




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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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