Morsarfoss

Skaftafell National Park, East Region (Austurland), Iceland

About Morsarfoss


Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2021-08-08
Date last visited: 2021-08-08

Waterfall Latitude: 64.11473
Waterfall Longitude: -16.88597

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Morsarfoss (Morsárfoss) was proclaimed to be the newest and latest tallest waterfall in Iceland at 228m tall, which would dethrone Glymur, which previously held that distinction at 196m.

This waterfall is the result of the rapidly receding Morsárjökull Glacier (an arm of the larger Vatnajökull Glacier), which reportedly made its first appearance in the Summer of 2007.

Morsarfoss_013_08082021 - Morsarfoss (Morsárfoss) or perhaps should be called Morsárfossar
Morsarfoss (Morsárfoss) or perhaps should be called Morsárfossar

Coincidentally, that Summer was when our first visit to Iceland took place though the literature still held that Glymur was the tallest waterfall in the country before someone started to measure the appearance of Morsárfoss.

As the discovery started to circulate, a naming contest was held, and ultimately the name Morsárfoss was decided to be this waterfall’s name.

In any case, as you can see from the photograph above, there are problems with the assertion of Morsárfoss being the tallest waterfall in Iceland.

Why Is Calling Morsárfoss Iceland’s Tallest Waterfall Problematic?

As I alluded to earlier, if you look at the photograph on the featured image of this page, you’ll see that Morsárfoss is still mostly covered in ice as of our last visit in August 2021.

Morsarfoss_027_08082021 - Looking towards the segments of the Morsárfoss that's not as covered in ice so it maybe the taller component as opposed to the thicker segments to the right that is partially covered in ice. In order to see more of these segments, you'd have to summit the Kristínártindar Peaks
Looking towards the segments of the Morsárfoss that’s not as covered in ice so it maybe the taller component as opposed to the thicker segments to the right that is partially covered in ice. In order to see more of these segments, you’d have to summit the Kristínártindar Peaks

Granted as Global Warming continues to accelerate, the terminus of the glacier continues to recede and expose more of this waterfall as well as others.

In fact, we noticed there are a handful of neighboring waterfalls so this should be collectively called Morsárfossar Waterfalls to be plural.

However, as we have witnessed in the glaciers of Norway, Global Warming has meant that glaciers are now being replaced with new waterfalls.

So who knows if Morsárfoss will retain this title as more of Iceland’s glaciers continue to disappear with the acceleration of Global Warming?

Kjenndalsbreen_088_07192019 - The disappearing Kjenndalsbreen Glacier in Norway is being replaced by new waterfalls in much the same manner that Morsárfoss is replacing the former ice cover from the receding Morsárjökull Glacier
The disappearing Kjenndalsbreen Glacier in Norway is being replaced by new waterfalls in much the same manner that Morsárfoss is replacing the former ice cover from the receding Morsárjökull Glacier

Personally, this is one instance where I have very mixed feelings about seeing new waterfalls or having old waterfalls swell up as a result of disappearing glaciers because it’s symptomatic of a planet that is not functioning as it’s supposed to.

Further complicating any tallest waterfalls list is the fact that there’s no consensus for determining the height of a waterfall.

For example, if you have multiple tiers or a cascade, how far apart must the individual tiers be to count as a singular waterfall as opposed to multiple waterfalls?

There are also other complications concerning how long the waterfall must flow for it to count if it doesn’t flow year-round.

Milford_Track_day3_107_11282004 - Once proclaimed New Zealand's tallest waterfall, there's no denying that it's the country's mightiest waterfall
Once proclaimed New Zealand’s tallest waterfall, there’s no denying that it’s the country’s mightiest waterfall

In any case, this debate is almost like a contest to see which mountain has the highest glacier or snow field that will recede enough to cause a drainage down that mountain.

In my mind, comparing Glymur and Morsárfoss is a lot like comparing Sutherland Falls and Browne Falls in New Zealand.

Or, it’s like comparing Angel Falls in Venezuela versus Tugela Falls in South Africa.

In all of these cases, it’s pretty clear which one would be the preferred waterfall to spend the effort, money, and time to visit.

Doubtful_Sound_023_11252004 - Browne Falls in New Zealand's Doubtful Sound is proclaimed to be the tallest in the country, but it just blends in with the other cascades found there so you really have to know how to spot it
Browne Falls in New Zealand’s Doubtful Sound is proclaimed to be the tallest in the country, but it just blends in with the other cascades found there so you really have to know how to spot it

Indeed, the bottom line is that it feels like throwing superlatives like “the tallest waterfall” is really nothing more than contrarian click bait.

It may attract headlines because it challenges what you think you know is the tallest waterfall, but at the end of the day, the new title holder may not be worth the trouble to prioritize.

That’s why I tend to take such proclamations of something being one superlative or another like “the tallest” with a grain of salt, and it’s why I’m ambivalent about maintaining such lists.

How To Experience Morsárfoss

Thus far, I’ve been able to witness Morsárfoss from a long distance within the Skeiðarársandur Plains by the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area (see directions below).

Morsarfoss_005_iPhone_08082021 - Here's a contextual perspective of how far Morsárfoss is when seen from the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area from within the Skeiðarársandur Plains
Here’s a contextual perspective of how far Morsárfoss is when seen from the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area from within the Skeiðarársandur Plains

From here, it was roughly 21.5km as the crow flies from the picnic area to the actual waterfall itself so I had to use a powerful 300mm zoom lens to even photograph it properly.

Without it, the waterfall would appear like nothing more than a low resolution dot in a photograph with typical zoom.

If this isn’t enough to get your fill of Morsárfoss, then it’s possible to extend the Svartifoss hike towards Sjónarsker, where an additional 8km of hiking (or 16km round trip) from there can take you up to the Kristínártindar Peaks.

Yet even from that vantage point, it would still be 6.25km away as the crow flies so it’s a lot of work for such a distant view.

Skaftafell_NP_119_08082021 - The Kristínártindar Peaks are quite conspicuous on the main trail to Svartifoss, but summiting those peaks would be one way to get closer to the Morsárfoss (or Morsárfossar)
The Kristínártindar Peaks are quite conspicuous on the main trail to Svartifoss, but summiting those peaks would be one way to get closer to the Morsárfoss (or Morsárfossar)

In order to get closer to the terminus of Morsárfoss, you’d have to hike into Morsárdalur (i.e. the valley left behind by the receding glacier).

One way of getting there would be to hike the main Svartifoss Trail to the trail junction by Magnúsarfoss, and then leave the Svartifoss Trail and continue 8km towards the lagoon Morsárlón.

All told, that would be roughly 20km round-trip of hiking.

If you were to incorporate Svartifoss on the hike and then deviate to Sjónarsker before descending into Morsárdalur and eventually Morsárlón, then you’re also looking at an additional 8km (16km round-trip) deviation from the 4.3km Svartifoss hike.

Skaftafell_NP_225_08082021 - Sjónarsker was a compass-like landmark near Svartifoss, but several trails branch off from this landmark, including two of them yielding a closer experience with Morsárfoss
Sjónarsker was a compass-like landmark near Svartifoss, but several trails branch off from this landmark, including two of them yielding a closer experience with Morsárfoss

Either way, getting a closeup look at Morsárfoss requires a level of determination that I think is uncommon for a waterfall like this unless you’re after glacier views where the waterfalls would be secondary.

Authorities

Morsarfoss (Morsárfoss) resides in the East Region near Skaftafell, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.

Morsarfoss_006_iPhone_08082021 - A picnic table at the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area
Morsarfoss_003_08082021 - Looking in the distance at other receding segments of the Morsárjökull revealing new waterfalls in its place
Morsarfoss_005_08082021 - From the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area, I was also able to spot other waterfalls in the distance like this one
Morsarfoss_010_08082021 - Distant look at the thickest segment of Morsárfoss except most of it is still covered in ice
Morsarfoss_011_08082021 - Another focused look at the rightmost segments of Morsárfoss
Morsarfoss_020_08082021 - Zoomed in look across the segments of Morsárfoss including the leftmost tiers, which I suspect could be seen in their entirety from the Kristínártindar Peaks


I’ll first describe how to get to the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area, which was the easiest way to experience Morsarfoss (Morsárfoss).

Then, I’ll describe how to get to the Skaftafell Visitor Center since I’d imagine any further hikes to get closer to the falls would involve either starting from there or driving from to alternate trailheads.

Morsarfoss_008_iPhone_08082021 - The signed turnoff for the picnic area of Háöuldukvisl
The signed turnoff for the picnic area of Háöuldukvisl

Starting from the main roundabout in Kirkjubæjarklaustur just north of the Skaftá River, we’d continue on the Ring Road east for 52km to an easy-to-miss turnoff.

There’s a picnic sign warning of the turnoff ahead, and then there’s a sign pointing to the left saying Háöuldukvisl.

Once on the unpaved turnoff, we were able to find parking in one of the empty spaces around the road and see the waterfall from afar.

We didn’t continue on the road so we can’t say where it goes, but the views of the falls doesn’t improve beyond the picnic area where we took most of the photos you see on this post.

Overall, this drive would take about 45 minutes.

Morsarfoss_009_iPhone_08082021 - A lot of open space at the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area in the Skeiðarársandur Plains
A lot of open space at the Háöuldukvisl Picnic Area in the Skeiðarársandur Plains

If you’re coming from Höfn, then you can drive 5km north to the Ring Road, and then drive 143km to the Háöuldukvisl turnoff on the right.

Overall, that drive would take around 2 hours.

As for driving to the Skaftafell Visitor Center, those directions have already been presented in the Svartifoss write-up.

Anyways, for overall context, the hamlet of Skaftafell (or Freysnes) was 73km (about an hour drive) east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, 131km (over 90 minutes drive) southwest of Höfn, 307km (over 4 hours drive) southwest of Egilsstaðir, and 328km (about 4.5 hours drive) east of Reykjavík.

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Back and forth sweep showing the context of Morsarfoss before zooming in on the waterfalls within the receding glacier itself

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Tagged with: tallest waterfall, iceland, morsarjokull, vatnajokull, skaftafell, glacier, global warming, haouldukvisl, skeidararsandur



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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