Hengifoss

Egilsstadir / Lagarfljot, East Region (Austurland), Iceland

About Hengifoss


Hiking Distance: about 5km round trip
Suggested Time: 2-3 hours

Date first visited: 2007-07-01
Date last visited: 2021-08-11

Waterfall Latitude: 65.09494
Waterfall Longitude: -14.88971

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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).

Hengifoss_091_07012007 - Hengifoss
Hengifoss

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.

Hengifoss_156_08112021 - Landscape view of Hengifoss revealing the stripes in its underlying cliffs as we were getting close to its base along the new boardwalk
Landscape view of Hengifoss revealing the stripes in its underlying cliffs as we were getting close to its base along the new boardwalk

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.

Experiencing Hengifoss

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”).

Hengifoss_103_07012007 - Looking back down towards Lagarfljót showing the sweeping views to be had, especially on the way back down from Hengifoss
Looking back down towards Lagarfljót showing the sweeping views to be had, especially on the way back down from Hengifoss

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.

Hengifoss_102_07012007 - Context of people continuing past a very eroded part of the trail as seen in early July 2007. It was bad enough to turn us back on that visit, but the trail has since been improved and we saw such changes when we came back in August 2021
Context of people continuing past a very eroded part of the trail as seen in early July 2007. It was bad enough to turn us back on that visit, but the trail has since been improved and we saw such changes when we came back in August 2021

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.

Hengifoss_023_08112021 - One of the improvements made to the Hengifoss Trail over the years was the use of these non-slip grids, which were strategically placed in the steepest and most erosion-prone sections
One of the improvements made to the Hengifoss Trail over the years was the use of these non-slip grids, which were strategically placed in the steepest and most erosion-prone sections

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).

Trail Description

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.

Hengifoss_109_07012007 - Looking towards Litlanesfoss (Stuðlabergsfoss) with Hengifoss further up in the distance as seen under beautiful skies in early July 2007
Looking towards Litlanesfoss (Stuðlabergsfoss) with Hengifoss further up in the distance as seen under beautiful skies in early July 2007

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.

Hengifoss_087_08112021 - Julie and Tahia continuing up the Hengifoss Trail as it veered away from the canyon and more towards the pastures where we saw some sheep grazing
Julie and Tahia continuing up the Hengifoss Trail as it veered away from the canyon and more towards the pastures where we saw some sheep grazing

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.

Hengifoss_162_08112021 - Looking back at the context of fallen boulders that have managed to smash parts of the boardwalk leading up to the end of the official Hengifoss Trail, which underscored the inherent rockfall danger the higher up we went
Looking back at the context of fallen boulders that have managed to smash parts of the boardwalk leading up to the end of the official Hengifoss Trail, which underscored the inherent rockfall danger the higher up we went

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!

Hengifoss_181_08112021 - Beyond the end of the official trail, it was pretty much a rough rock and boulder scramble on the Hengifossá as the path became even more sketchier and the rockfall danger was ever greater
Beyond the end of the official trail, it was pretty much a rough rock and boulder scramble on the Hengifossá as the path became even more sketchier and the rockfall danger was ever greater

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.

Hengifoss_234_08112021 - Context of Mom, Julie, and Tahia making their way back down the trail. The developed lookout up ahead was to view Litlanesfoss
Context of Mom, Julie, and Tahia making their way back down the trail. The developed lookout up ahead was to view Litlanesfoss

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.

Authorities

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.

Hengifoss_012_08102021 - When we came back to Hengifoss on our August 2021 visit to Iceland, we were actually the very first people on the trail
Hengifoss_014_08112021 - Mom and Tahia making their way to the gate and steps climbing immediately from the Hengifoss car park as seen in August 2021. In fact, the added infrastructure was definitely something we hadn't noticed on our early July 2007 visit
Hengifoss_018_08112021 - Looking up at the initial climb from the Hengifoss car park
Hengifoss_020_08112021 - Another look back at the car park for Hengifoss showing that indeed we were the very first people on the trail on our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_028_08112021 - The family proceeding towards the next gate that we had to get through on the way up to Hengifoss in August 2021
Hengifoss_030_08112021 - The family on the much wider and family-friendly Hengifoss Trail as we were approaching a spur trail leading to a lookout
Hengifoss_033_08112021 - The first lookout was of the Hengifossárgljúfur or Hengifossárgil with a partial view of what I suspect to be the waterfall Jónsfoss
Hengifoss_051_08112021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to go uphill on the Hengifoss Trail. Even though the weather was quite cold and the clouds conspired to block our views of Hengifoss, at least we weren't sweating bullets on this hike during our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_053_08112021 - Looking into another part of the Hengifossárgljúfur Canyon on the way up to Hengifoss
Hengifoss_061_08112021 - Focused look at the attractive Litlanesfoss though from this angle, we can see that there was a hidden upper tier right around the corner of its basalt gully
Hengifoss_070_08112021 - Context of Julie checking out Litlanesfoss during our August 2021 visit to Hengifoss
Hengifoss_077_08112021 - Context of the lookout area for Litlanesfoss. Unfortunately, the clouds blocked the view of Hengifoss up ahead so we couldn't see both waterfalls in one go on our August 2021 visit at the moment
Hengifoss_084_08112021 - The family going past another one of the livestock gates on the way up to Hengifoss
Hengifoss_090_08112021 - Approaching another detour to a lookout of the Hengifossárgljúfur Canyon higher up the Hengifoss Trail
Hengifoss_092_08112021 - Julie and Tahia continuing to make their way up towards Hengifoss, which was still wrapped in clouds on our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_097_08112021 - Context of Hengifoss with some grazing sheep, which gave us some hope that the clouds might lift as the morning sun made a brief appearance on our August 2021 hike
Hengifoss_112_08112021 - Approaching the first of the lookouts for Hengifoss just as the clouds were lifting enough to reveal almost the entirety of the waterfall on our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_117_08112021 - This was the familiar view of Hengifoss right from the spot where we turned around in early July 2007, but on August 2021, we were determined to finish the hike this time
Hengifoss_123_08112021 - This was the sketchy part of the Hengifoss Trail that turned us around in early July 2007, but as you can see here, it was much flatter and wider than before
Hengifoss_127_08112021 - Continuing to approach Hengifoss as it was revealing more of itself the closer we went
Hengifoss_132_08112021 - Context of Mom about to go onto a boardwalk part of the Hengifoss Trail as we were nearing its end just as the clouds were momentarily lifting for us on our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_137_08112021 - Beyond the boardwalk, the trail continued to approach another side gully as well as going around another corner to reveal Hengifoss again
Hengifoss_139_08112021 - Context of a side waterfall on a particularly rocky part of the final stretch of the Hengifoss Trail
Hengifoss_140_08112021 - Looking up at the side waterfall as seen near the end of the Hengifoss hike in August 2021
Hengifoss_146_08112021 - Mom making the last of the climbs on the official Hengifoss Trail
Hengifoss_148_08112021 - Mom on the boardwalk making up the final approach to the last of the sanctioned lookouts of Hengifoss during our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_149_08112021 - Continuing to approach Hengifoss as the clouds had really cleared up and revealed more of the red stripes beside the falls
Hengifoss_154_08112021 - Looking across the stream towards some giant chunks of striated cliffs or boulders that managed to flake off as we were getting into the more rockfall-prone parts of the Hengifoss hike
Hengifoss_159_08112021 - The huge boulders resting on the boardwalk were a real reminder of the rockfall danger inherent in getting this far up the canyon before Hengifoss
Hengifoss_167_08112021 - Focused look at Hengifoss from the end of the official trail in August 2021
Hengifoss_168_08112021 - Clouds threatening to descend back down and obscure Hengifoss shortly after we reached the end of the official trail in August 2021
Hengifoss_178_08112021 - Context of the rocky scramble as I tried to get a closer look at Hengifoss beyond the end of the official trail
Hengifoss_012_iPhone_08112021 - This was my last clean look of Hengifoss during the rough scramble before the clouds covered up the falls for good
Hengifoss_188_08112021 - Unfortunately by this time, I had gotten to really sketchy parts of the scramble to Hengifoss at the same time that clouds descended and obscured the waterfall so I ultimately decided to turn back
Hengifoss_195_08112021 - Looking back at other hikers starting the scramble and trying to see if their view of Hengifoss might improve despite the cloud cover
Hengifoss_197_08112021 - When I rejoined the family at the end of the official Hengifoss Trail, it was time to start heading back down to the car park
Hengifoss_199_08112021 - Context of the boardwalk as we were making our way back from Hengifoss during our August 2021 visit
Hengifoss_213_08112021 - The family going past this rocky section of the trail as we were making our way back towards the downhill portion of the return hike from Hengifoss in August 2021
Hengifoss_229_08112021 - Making the all-downhill hike back from Hengifoss to the car park
Hengifoss_250_08112021 - The family making the final descent back down to the Hengifoss car park to end our August 2021 visit, which now was suddenly quite busy
Hengifoss_005_07012007 - Julie leaving the car park and heading straight up those stairs to get closer to Hengifoss. This photo was take in early July 2007, and the rest of the photos in this gallery were taken on that day
Hengifoss_007_07012007 - Julie further up the trail with Hengifoss in the distance in early July 2007
Hengifoss_008_07012007 - Small waterfall in the gorge near the start of the hike hinting that the Hengifoss hike yielded pleasant surprises as long as we paid attention
Hengifoss_015_07012007 - Another look at one of the bonus waterfalls that we noticed on the hike up to Hengifoss on our early July 2007 visit. I didn't recall being able to get this kind of view when we came back in August 2021
Hengifoss_017_07012007 - Context of the steep and eroded cliffs dropping off into the adjacent ravine downstream of Hengifoss in early July 2007, which constantly reminded us of the dangers of getting too close to the edge
Hengifoss_020_07012007 - Context of how close the Hengifoss Trail skirted by the ravine where the small cascades were in early July 2007
Hengifoss_021_07012007 - Julie way up ahead of me as the Hengifoss trail starts to get a little slippery and exposed
Hengifoss_024_07012007 - Looking right into the shadowy ravine at the impressive Litlanesfoss in early July 2007
Hengifoss_040_07012007 - 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 cliff
Hengifoss_028_07012007 - Context of some small patch of purple wildflowers clinging to the eroded cliffs before Litlanesfoss as seen in early July 2007
Hengifoss_043_07012007 - Julie traversing a small stream crossing on the way up to Hengifoss in early July 2007
Hengifoss_045_07012007 - Julie continuing beyond the small stream crossing on the Hengifoss Trail in early July 2007.  In August 2021, this crossing was bridged
Hengifoss_008_jx_07012007 - Some wildflowers blooming before the Litlanesfoss with a hint of Hengifoss in the distance
Hengifoss_046_07012007 - Hengifoss getting closer but exposure to dropoffs were getting more persistent now. The sign up ahead was the first of the formal lookouts for Hengifoss as seen in early July 2007
Hengifoss_016_jx_07012007 - We noticed this trio of sheep looking for grass to graze along the Hengifoss Trail during our early July 2007 visit
Hengifoss_055_07012007 - Closer inspection of the eroded and narrow part of the trail where I decided to be conservative and not continue to the base of Hengifoss in early July 2007
Hengifoss_059_07012007 - The view of Hengifoss and its red strata from our turnaround spot in early July 2007
Hengifoss_086_07012007 - Distant contextual look at the Hengifoss Waterfall and its noticeably red strata from near our turnaround spot in early July 2007
Hengifoss_098_07012007 - A group of hikers continuing past our turnaround point to the base of Hengifoss, and I'm still asking myself why I didn't follow them during our July 2007 visit
Hengifoss_014_jx_07012007 - Contextual look at Hengifoss during our July 2007 visit
Hengifoss_104_07012007 - Julie ahead of me as I can see Lagarfljót in the distance for practically the entire long downhill hike back to the Hengifoss car park


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.

Lagarfljot_012_07012007 - Something that we noticed along the Route 931 on the way to Hengifoss was that there was actually a forest! They were quite rare on our 2007 trip to Iceland, but for our 2021 trip, trees seemed to be more abundant
Something that we noticed along the Route 931 on the way to Hengifoss was that there was actually a forest! They were quite rare on our 2007 trip to Iceland, but for our 2021 trip, trees seemed to be more abundant

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.

Hengifoss_254_08112021 - Looking back at the context of the car park for Hengifoss
Looking back at the context of the car park for Hengifoss

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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Downstream to upstream sweep of Litlanesfoss while examining the basalt columns


Downstream to upstream sweep from the distant lookout area for Hengifoss


Downstream to upstream sweep from the end of the official trail


Downstream to upstream sweep from my turnaround point while examining the cliffs with rockfall danger plus the descending clouds covering the falls

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Tagged with: egilsstadir, lagarfljot, litlanesfoss, basalt, east region, austurland, iceland, waterfall



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Hengifoss June 23, 2014 1:02 pm by Dawn Brealey - 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 ...Read More
Nice waterfalls (Hengifoss) February 12, 2014 11:20 am by Georg - 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 the red & black stone layers as clearly it's possible. The hike on the south-west side of the water is nice, in the upper part at times a little bit… ...Read More

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