About Faxi, Studlafoss, and the Laugarfell Waterfalls
Faxi, Stuðlafoss, and the Laugará Waterfalls near Laugarfell in the Highlands of East Iceland together make up part of the so-called waterfall circle.
We only had time to do an out-and-back hike along the Laugará Stream (pronounced “LUHY-guhr-ow”), but even with this sampling, it wound up being the big waterfall surprise of our August 2021 trip to Iceland.
In fact, we were so impressed by the waterfalls on this hike that it was enough to shake up our Top 10 Iceland Waterfalls List.
The major waterfall destination of this excursion was the Faxi Waterfall (not to be confused with Vatnsleysufoss), which thundered 20m on the powerful Jökulsá í Fljótsdal River.
However, the hike to get there involved following the Laugará Stream, which featured a series of waterfalls including the picturesque Stuðlafoss Waterfall (not to be confused with the one by Stuðlagil Canyon).
Had we been able to complete the entire waterfall loop or do part of the hike in the opposite direction leaving from Laugarfell, then we would have visited Kirkjufoss, which was also on the Jökulsá í Fljótsdal.
Indeed, this excursion opened our eyes to the hidden gems in the East Iceland Highlands, and I’m keen to come back to experience more of this remote part of the country.
On a more serious level, it also made me think about what other scenic wonders nearby had been sacrificed for the controversial Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Plant.
About The Hike Along The Laugará To Faxi
The way we did the hike to Faxi was a modest 5km out-and-back excursion (though my GPS logs suggested we had hiked 5.2km round-trip).
The Waterfall Circle that starts and ends at the Laugarfell Hot Springs (see directions below) was said to be an 8km loop hike.
Although the hike was mostly flat until the stretch between the top of Stuðlafoss and the top of Faxi (which I’ll get more into below), staying on the trail was deceptively tricky.
That’s because some parts of the trail kind of disappeared or led us astray while at the same time, we tried to follow wooden sticks with red paint on them that sometimes led us astray as well.
I suspect the reason for the apparent disconnect between the trails-of-use and the sticks was that the sticks needed to be in higher ground to be visible when there’s snow.
However, the trails tended to sink with use given the erosion associated with trampling on the moss and grass.
Indeed, it’s not your typical follow-an-obvious-trail kind of hike, and it kind of reminds me more of a cross-country route-finding kind of hike (at least as of our August 2021 visit).
Therefore, I found that navigating with the surveyed topo maps on Gaia GPS helped to keep us on track though in general, the path pretty much followed the Laugará almost the entire way.
Overall, we spent about nearly 3 hours on this excursion though we probably spent a solid 30 minutes admiring Faxi while picking wild strawberries.
From the Laugarfell Hot Springs car park, we went over a stile to the east onto a somewhat faint trail as the cross-country-like hike pretty much began in earnest.
Barely 150-200m beyond the stile, we encountered the first waterfall of the hike.
This waterfall dropped into a small but steep narrow canyon probably dropping around 5-10m, which we were able to see both in profile as well as head-on.
As we continued down the trail along the Laugará, we’d go across one minor stream and ascend a small bluff before continuing with the cross-country hike.
At around 300m beyond the first waterfall (shortly after traversing the minor stream and bluff), we noticed another side cascade feeding the Laugará Stream to the north.
In another 350m (or 650m beyond the first waterfall), we reached a particularly confusing part of the hike where the trail-of-use seemed to disappear but the red-painted sticks led us away from the Laugará Stream and veered to the right.
Eventually, the red-painted sticks acting as our breadcrumbs skirted alongside the stream again where we noticed reddish algae on some of the overflowing parts of the stream.
After descending another gully and minor stream crossing, the trail would descend towards the next cascade on the Laugará at about 1.5km from the first waterfall.
This particular cascade tumbled before it twisted below the cliffs where we couldn’t get in front of it without a drone.
At this point, the trail continued to descend as it went another 150m or so to the brink of Stuðlafoss and another 250m to a more frontal view of the same waterfall.
By this time, the trail made a fairly moderate descent and we started to see some mist rising further downhill on the Jökulsá í Fljótsdal River.
In another 250m along the trail as it continued its moderate descent towards the Jökulsá í Fljótsdal, we reached a trail junction right next to a footbridge over the cascading Laugará.
By this point, the source of the mist we saw earlier was the thundering Faxi Waterfall, and we managed to cross the bridge and follow one of the informal use-trails towards its end by the edge of a mist-filled canyon.
This was the end of the trail as far as we were concerned as we got somewhat frontal views of the Faxi Waterfall.
The late afternoon/early evening sun on our hike yielded one end of the rainbow looking further downstream while its other end appeared on top of the brink of the falls.
Given the mist that also sprayed the tall grass in this area, Julie and Tahia managed to find some wild strawberries that also tasted quite sweet.
After having our fill of this spot (roughly 2.5km from Laugarfell), we started to make our way back, but I made one last quick out-and-back detour to the brink of Faxi for one last look.
On that detour, I also got to see the front of the cascade on the Laugará Stream tumbling below the footbridge together with the downstream turbulence of Faxi and more evening sun rainbows.
But after having my fill of this spot, we then did the climb back up to Laugarfell to end the upside-down excursion.
Given more time and research, we could have brought a change of clothes and soaked in the Laugarfell Hot Springs to recover from the hike before leaving the area.
Faxi, Stuðlafoss, and the Laugará Waterfalls reside in the Highlands of the East Region between the Kárahnjúkar Dam and Egilsstaðir, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Fljótsdalshreppur. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.
It makes sense to describe the driving directions from Egilsstaðir (“EH-yils-sta-thir”), which is pretty much the biggest town in the East of Iceland.
Starting from the roundabout connecting Route 1 (Ring Road) with the Route 95, we then drive south on the Route 95 for 11km.
Then, we turned right onto Route 931 and followed it for about 21km as it followed the southeastern shores of Lagarfljót before eventually crossing a bridge and reaching a three-way junction.
Turning left at the junction onto Route 933 (Fljótsdalsvegur), we then drove for a little over 3km to the next turnoff with the Route 910 (Austurleið).
From there, we turned right to go up the switchbacks and drive for nearly 35km to the signed turnoff for Laugarfell on the left.
Finally, we took the unpaved turnoff (Laugarfellsvegur) for the final 2.2km to the car park at the Laugarfell Hot Springs car park.
Overall, this 75km drive would take a little over an hour.
For geographical context, Egilsstaðir was 27km (about 30 minutes drive) west of Seyðisfjörður, 175km (about 2 hours 15 minutes drive) southeast of Mývatn, 248km (over 3 hours drive) east of Akureyri, 186km (under 3 hours drive) north of Höfn, 448km (under 6 hours drive) northeast of Vík, and 6351km (7.5 hours drive) northeast of Reykjavík.
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