Hengifoss

Egilsstadir / Lagarfljot, East Region (Austurland), Iceland

About Hengifoss


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

Date first visited: 2007-07-01
Date last visited: 2007-07-01

Waterfall Latitude: 65.09552
Waterfall Longitude: -14.87291

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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 found its red striated colors on its cliff to be very interesting.

Hengifoss_086_07012007 - Hengifoss
Hengifoss

This was something we didn’t typically see in other waterfalls, and this hinted at some of its intriguing geologic history.

Origins of the Red Stripes

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.

Hengifoss_091_07012007 - Portrait view of Hengifoss with a greater emphasis on the cliffs both behind and below the waterfall
Portrait view of Hengifoss with a greater emphasis on the cliffs both behind and below the waterfall

This process would repeat, which was how there were multiple stripes.

No Longer The Third Highest In Iceland?

Speaking of waterfall height, we learned recently that it might have to be bumped down to the fourth highest waterfall in the country.

This was due 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 30m taller than Glymur.

Experiencing Hengifoss

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”).

Hengifoss_103_07012007 - Looking back down towards Lagarfljót while hiking up towards Hengifoss
Looking back down towards Lagarfljót while hiking up towards Hengifoss

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.

Hengifoss_109_07012007 - Looking towards Litlanesfoss with Hengifoss further up in the distance
Looking towards Litlanesfoss with Hengifoss further up in the distance

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.

Quite a few portions 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.

Hengifoss_102_07012007 - People continuing past a very eroded part of the trail leading 1km to the base of Hengifoss. I'm still kicking myself for foolishly deciding not to continue
People continuing past a very eroded part of the trail leading 1km to the base of Hengifoss. I’m still kicking myself for foolishly deciding not to continue

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.

Authorities

Hengifoss resides in the East Region of Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Fljótsdalshérað. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.

Hengifoss_005_07012007 - Julie leaving the car park and heading straight up those stairs to get closer to Hengifoss
Hengifoss_007_07012007 - Julie further up the trail with Hengifoss in the distance
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 small cascade within the gorge near the start of the hike
Hengifoss_017_07012007 - Context of the steep and eroded cliffs dropping off into the adjacent ravine downstream of Hengifoss, 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
Hengifoss_021_07012007 - Julie way up ahead of me as the trail starts to get a little slippery and exposed
Hengifoss_024_07012007 - Looking right into the shadowy ravine at the impressive Litlanesfoss
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
Hengifoss_043_07012007 - Julie traversing a small stream crossing
Hengifoss_045_07012007 - Julie continuing beyond the small stream crossing on the Hengifoss Trail
Hengifoss_046_07012007 - Hengifoss getting closer but exposure to dropoffs were getting more persistent now
Hengifoss_016_jx_07012007 - We noticed this trio of sheep looking for grass to graze along the trail
Hengifoss_055_07012007 - Closer inspection of the eroded and narrow part of the trail where I decided to be conservative and not continue
Hengifoss_059_07012007 - The view of Hengifoss and its red strata from our turnaround spot
Hengifoss_070_07012007 - Distant contextual look at the Hengifoss Waterfall from near our turnaround spot
Hengifoss_098_07012007 - A group of hikers continuing past our turnaround point, and I'm still asking myself why I didn't follow them
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 car park

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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.

Lagarfljot_012_07012007 - 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 Iceland
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 Iceland

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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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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