Hengifoss (literally the Hanging Falls) was the star waterfall attraction of the Eastfjords area around Lagarfljót (“LOG-ar-flyoht”) and the town of Egilsstaðir.
Sitting at a lofty position at the head of the canyon Hengifossárgljúfur (also called Hengifossárgil), this waterfall was said to be the third tallest waterfall at 118m (at least when we were first here in July 2007).
However, what made this waterfall a bit unusual was the prnounced red striated colors on its cliff that contrasted the rest of its dark cliffs.
Origins of the Red Stripes
According to a sign that we noticed on our first hike here, 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 over time.
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 oxidize (rust) 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 in a sort of geologic record of past eruptions in the area.
Hengifoss sat high atop a cliff overlooking the head of lake Lagarfljót 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 instead of distant views from afar, we had to do a hike.
The official trail was about 2.5km long each way on a relentless climb before the slope kind of mellowed out at a viewpoint roughly 1.8km from the trailhead.
The remaining 700m was a combination of boardwalk and dirt with one or two small bursts of climbing.
When we first did this hike in early July 2007, the trail definitely induced that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling as it hugged the west rim of the Hengifossárgljúfur.
The trail had shown a lot of erosion, which made its steepness combined with the loose surface deceptively slippery, especially where the slopes have angled towards the canyon’s dropoffs.
When we came back to do this hike in August 2021, we noticed that significant improvements have been made to the Hengifoss Trail.
Among the improvements included non-slip grids at the steepest parts, lookouts and rest benches at strategic points looking into the Hengifossárgljúfur Canyon, trail re-routes to minimize cliff erosion, and a boardwalk near the trail’s official end.
As a result, we seemed to have had a much easier time on our 2021 visit, where my mother and daughter had no issues with the hike when I had concerns about their safety after remembering my first experience with Julie in 2007.
We treated this as a half-day excursion, but we wound up taking about 2 hours total on our first visit and nearly 3 hours total on our second visit (when we hiked at least 1km further).
The trail climbed pretty much immediately from the car park as it went up steps and passed through one of a handful of gates to keep the sheep confined to a grazing area encompassing most of the trail.
At about 550m from the trailhead, we reached the first lookout area, where we got a partial view of the waterfall Jónsfoss.
Continuing up the trail for the next 650m or so (1.2km from the trailhead), we’d eventually reach the next notable lookout area.
This was where we got to see the impressive Litlanesfoss (also known as Stuðlabergsfoss or “Basalt Column Falls”), which was surrounded by the namesake basalt columns similar to Aldeyjarfoss and Svartifoss.
When we first came here in 2007, we were treated to beautiful weather so we got to see both Litlanesfoss and a partial view of Hengifoss perched at the top of the canyon.
This was the only spot on this trail where we could see both waterfalls in one go without a drone.
On our 2021 visit, the clouds were too low for us to see both waterfalls together, which raised our anxiety levels about whether the clouds would even relent and reveal the main waterfall.
Nevertheless, beyond Litlanesfoss, the trail would veer away from the canyon rim as it went past another gate and cross over a side stream (which had a small cascade further upslope).
After another 600m or so (or 1.8km from the trailhead), we’d reach a lookout with our first full look at Hengifoss.
Although the view was rather distant from here, it was actually the turnaround point of our first first experience (2007) because the next section of trail was very narrow as it skirted a precariously eroding slope.
Fortunately on our second visit, trail improvements meant getting past that sketchy section was a breeze.
So on the final 700m or so, the hike generally flattened out as it revealed another side waterfall as well as intriguing cliff formations along the way.
The very end of the trail was actually on a boardwalk before it terminated at a lookout roughly 2.5km from the trailhead.
However, fallen rocks that smashed parts of the boardwalk on our August 2021 visit reminded us that the further up the canyon we went, the greater the rockfall danger.
Some of the giant fallen rocks on the opposite side of the river were so big that it looked like sheer chunks of cliff had flaked off and still retained some of their striated cliff patterns!
Although the trail officially ended at the termination of the boardwalk, it was possible to continue scrambling further on the rocky banks of the Hengifossá Stream to get right up to the foot of the falls.
It was even said to be possible to go behind the waterfall if the conditions allow.
That said, most of the family was content to see the falls from the official end of the trail (where the clouds did part enough for us to see it).
On the other hand, I did make part of the scramble to get closer, but I only went so far before a combination of sketchy sections and clouds coming back to cover the falls made me decide that it wasn’t worth the risk to push my luck.
Once we had our fill of Hengifoss, we then returned the way we came, where we were treated to beautiful views the whole way while also taking advantage of the all downhill trajectory.
Hengifoss resides in the East Region near 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.
Egilsstaðir (“EH-yils-sta-thir”) is the nearest town to Hengifoss so we’ll describe the driving directions from there.
At the roundabout between the Route 1 and Route 95, we drove south on the Route 95 for a little more than 11km, where we’d eventually leave the 95 for the 931 road.
Then, we took the 931 road along the southern banks of Lagarfljót passing through Hallormsstaðarskógur Forest before crossing a bridge and turning left at the three-way intersection just beyond it.
From there, we drove the final 550m to the car park for Hengifoss on the right.
Alternatively, from Egilsstaðir, we could reach the Hengifoss car park by driving along the northern banks of Lagarfljót.
We’d do this from the roundabout between Route 1 and Route 95, and take the Ring Road (Route 1) north for 2.7km towards Fellbær.
After crossing the bridge, we’d turn left onto the Route 931 (the other end of this road), where we’d then follow it for about 32km (the road then changes to the 910 Road after the three-way junction with the 931.
After another 550m, we’d then be at the car park for Hengifoss on the right.
Regardless of which way was taken, they both take about 30 minutes.
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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