Vatnajokull National Park (formerly Jokulsargljufur National Park), Northeast Region (Norðurland eystra), Iceland

About Selfoss

Hiking Distance: 4km round trip
Suggested Time: 60-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2007-06-28
Date last visited: 2007-06-29

Waterfall Latitude: 65.80454
Waterfall Longitude: -16.38584

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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.

Selfoss_069_06292007 - Julie at the brink of Selfoss
Julie at the brink of Selfoss

In this case, the river’s waters ultimately shaped the falls into the curved horseshoe shape while also deepening the gorge further downstream.

While this falls may only be 11m tall, it was very long in a way that was reminiscent of Hraunfossar.

Of the four major waterfalls we’ve encountered on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, this one was the furthest upstream.

Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss, and Réttarfoss were further downstream in this order before the river segmented and fell over smaller waterfalls within the fractures at Katlar.

Like with Dettifoss, we managed to experience this waterfall in a couple of ways, which we’ll get into below.

Experiencing Selfoss from the East Bank

Selfoss_038_06292007 - Selfoss showing its length as seen from the East Bank
Selfoss showing its length as seen from the East Bank

In order to access the east bank of the falls, we had to start from the Dettifoss car park at its east bank.

Then, we had to walk the roughly 0.6km trail leading to the top of Dettifoss.

From there, the trail then continued further upstream along the east bank of the river for another 1.4km (2.8km round trip back to Dettifoss) passing through a combination of basalt surfaces, black sands, and large boulders.

We definitely had to pay close attention to the trail markings and rock cairns 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.

Dettifoss_031_06292007 - In order to get to the east bank of Selfoss, we had to first encounter the brink of Dettifoss' east bank
In order to get to the east bank of Selfoss, we had to first encounter the brink of Dettifoss’ east bank

I believe the overall hiking distance from the car park to Selfoss and back was on the order of 4km.

It felt noticeably longer than most of the shorter jaunts we had been used to doing for most of our 2007 Iceland trip, but the distance wasn’t so overwhelming that we would have to devote that much more than an hour for it.

Nonetheless, the power of the milky river as its waters rushed their way to the big plunge at Dettifoss always kept our attention.

The power of the river eventually started to calm down somewhat as we got further away from Dettifoss.

After getting through the sandy and bouldery stretch of trail, the falls started to show its length as we approached it.

Selfoss_036_06292007 - Julie navigating through the boulder field trying to follow the trail markers
Julie navigating through the boulder field trying to follow the trail markers

The photos you see towards the top of this page were taken as we were approaching the falls from a distance.

When we got closer to the falls, there was no way we could properly photograph it on a single frame.

The trail eventually terminated right at the brink of the falls where further progress meant going right into the river (not a good idea).

The impressive horseshoe shape of the falls was what made this a very fascinating experience.

But even though the height of the falls seemed very modest, jumping into the falls would still be a very bad idea due to the icy cold temperature of the water as well as the churning action of the water at its base thanks to water falling on three sides.

Experiencing Selfoss from the West Bank

Selfoss_017_06282007 - Distant view of Selfoss from the West Bank
Distant view of Selfoss from the West Bank

In order to access the west bank of the falls, we had to start from the Dettifoss car park at its west bank (whose southern approach was on a rough 4wd road where a high clearance vehicle was recommended).

As we walked closer to Dettifoss within the moonscape section, there was a signed junction leading us to the right, which then took us to the distant view of Selfoss within a few minutes.

We couldn’t continue further on the trail because parts of the river blocked further progress.

These sections of the river were what you see falling over the cliff in the foreground of the picture directly above.

Dettifoss_001_06282007 - The path to get closer to Selfoss' west bank deviated from the Dettifoss west bank trail at this junction
The path to get closer to Selfoss’ west bank deviated from the Dettifoss west bank trail at this junction

Thus, trying to continue further upstream would mean going into the river and thus increasing the likelihood of falling over those falls!


Selfoss resides in the Northeast Region near Akureyri, 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.

Dettifoss_098_06292007 - The first section of the hike was to get up to the brink of Dettifoss from the car park at its east bank.  This was where we got views of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon
Dettifoss_035_06292007 - We then had to get past the Dettifoss waterfall itself
Dettifoss_015_06292007 - Then we had to keep going further upstream following along the east bank of the turbulent river
Selfoss_044_06292007 - Getting closer to the impressive Selfoss
Selfoss_047_06292007 - Rainbow hidden further downstream of the horseshoe-shaped Selfoss
Selfoss_050_06292007 - Closer look at the horseshoe shape of Selfoss
Selfoss_055_06292007 - Looking downstream again at the partially-concealed rainbow and the horseshoe-shaped Selfoss in long exposure
Selfoss_057_06292007 - Another look in long exposure at the horseshoe-shaped brink of Selfoss
Selfoss_001_06282007 - Looking directly at Selfoss way in the distance from the west bank
Selfoss_023_06282007 - This was about as far as Julie and I would get to the west bank of Selfoss before we turned back
Selfoss_012_06282007 - Another look at Selfoss from the west bank. Notice the figure near the brink of the falls in the distance on the topleft of this photo.  That gives you an idea of the size of this waterfall

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.

For geographical context, Reykjalið was about 64km northeast of the east bank car park for Dettifoss, 101km (under 90 minutes drive) east of Akureyri and 479km (under 6 hours drive) northeast of Reykjavík.

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Right to left 180-degree sweep starting at the falls and ending in the direction of Dettifoss

Left to right sweep of the falls from the east bank well before we got to its brink

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Tagged with: jokulsa a fjollum, vatnsjokull, jokulsargljufur, northeast region, iceland, nordurland eystra, iceland, waterfall, akureyri, grand canyon, dettifoss, horseshoe

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