Selfoss was another horseshoe-shaped waterfall on the powerful glacier river Jökulsá á Fjöllum just upstream from the mighty Dettifoss.
Being that it was within the boundaries of the vast (and recently created) Vatnajökull National Park (formerly Jökulsárgljúfur National Park), the glacier river was allowed to flow freely and let nature run its course.
In this case, the river’s waters ultimately shaped the falls into the curved horseshoe shape while also deepening the gorge further downstream.
Even though this falls may only be a modest 11m tall, it was very long in a way that was reminiscent of the Hraunfossar Waterfalls except with more powerful flow.
And speaking of its power, Julie and I have been to this waterfall twice, but it really seemed like the waterfall’s flow greatly increased in 2021 versus our 2007 visit.
I suspect that this was a consequence of our runaway greenhouse effect due to the Global Warming from our unsustainable wealth-building machinations, so time will tell whether Selfoss becomes even wider and more turbulent over time.
Anyways, of the four major waterfalls we’ve encountered on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, Selfoss was the first or the one that was furthest upstream.
Like with Dettifoss, we managed to experience this waterfall from both sides each yielding very different experiences, which we’ll get into below.
Experiencing Selfoss from the East Bank
In my mind, the east bank of Selfoss was the better side because we got to witness pretty much its entire length directly.
In order to see the falls from this side, we had to start from the Dettifoss car park at its east bank, and then we had to do a fairly rocky hike for about 2km (or 4km round-trip).
Of that distance, the first 600m involved hiking the benign Dettifoss Trail before reaching a signposted junction branching off to the left to continue to Selfoss.
From there, the trail then continued another 1.4km upstream along the east bank of the river passing through a combination of basalt surfaces, black sands, and slow-going large boulders.
We definitely had to pay close attention to the trail markings and rock cairns on our 2007 visit given that it was real easy to lose the trail in such terrain.
Yet the saving grace if we did momentarily lose the trail was that we knew we just had to keep going upstream to reach the falls.
However, on our August 2021 visit, it seemed like there were more trail markers and rope barricades to make it easier to keep us on track.
Throughout the hike on the east side, it seemed like the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River was very turbulent for pretty much the entire stretch between Dettifoss and Selfoss.
If there was a calm part of the river, it was towards the middle of this stretch where we spotted some unsanctioned “beaches” of glacially-scoured black sand.
Eventually when we got closer to the falls, we were pretty much able to carefully observe sections of it from various positions along the dropoffs until we reached the edge of the falls from the east side.
Further progress meant going right into the river, which was obviously not a good idea.
Anyways, when we first came here in 2007, we did manage to almost get up to the top end of the horseshoe-shaped brink of Selfoss.
However, when we came back 14 years later, we didn’t get anywhere close to that horseshoe-shaped brink because there was way too much water in the river.
Under these conditions, the downstream extremities of Selfoss were a nearly contiguous wall of water instead of distinct segments like when we first visited the falls.
After having our fill of experiencing Selfoss, we pretty much had no choice but to go back the way we came.
However, it was interesting to look across the river and see how far people on the other side were able to go (i.e. not very far).
Experiencing Selfoss from the West Bank
In order to access the west bank of the falls, we had to start from the Dettifoss car park on the opposite side of the river (see directions below).
As we walked closer to Dettifoss within the moonscape section, there was a signed junction leading us to the right.
We had the option of taking this path roughly 500-600m to the west side of Selfoss, or we could continue walking another 200m to Dettifoss before following an alternate marked track on our right.
That alternate trail followed along the canyon rim directly upstream from Dettifoss to Selfoss over a similar distance of 500-600m.
We couldn’t continue further on the Selfoss Trail because the flowing river blocked further progress, which was considerably more north than the end of the east side trail.
Selfoss resides in the Northeast Region near Reykjahlið, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Norðurþing. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.
Selfoss shares the same trailhead for both its banks as that of Dettifoss.
See that page for driving directions to both sides of the river.
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