Selfoss

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

About Selfoss


Hiking Distance: 4km round trip (east side); 2.8km round trip (west side)
Suggested Time: allow at least 60 minutes

Date first visited: 2007-06-28
Date last visited: 2021-08-13

Waterfall Latitude: 65.80547
Waterfall Longitude: -16.38815

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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 as seen during our first visit in late June 2007
Julie at the brink of Selfoss as seen during our first visit in late June 2007

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.

Dettifoss_170_08122021 - This was Julie standing near the brink of Selfoss when we came back in August 2021, but as you can see here, the flow was so great that we couldn't get up to the same spot that we did before
This was Julie standing near the brink of Selfoss when we came back in August 2021, but as you can see here, the flow was so great that we couldn’t get up to the same spot that we did before

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.

Indeed, in successive order, the other waterfalls were Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss, and Réttarfoss before the river semented and fell over smaller waterfalls within the fractures at Katlar.

Like with Dettifoss, we managed to experience this waterfall from both sides each yielding very different experiences, which we’ll get into below.

In fact, in order to even visit Selfoss, we had to start from either of the Dettifoss car parks (see directions below or the Dettifoss page).

Experiencing Selfoss from the East Bank

Selfoss_038_06292007 - Selfoss showing its length as seen from the East Bank during our first visit in late June 2007
Selfoss showing its length as seen from the East Bank during our first visit in late June 2007

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.

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

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.

Dettifoss_154_08122021 - Julie and Tahia checking out the swollen Selfoss from its east side during our August 2021 visit
Julie and Tahia checking out the swollen Selfoss from its east side during our August 2021 visit

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.

Dettifoss_165_08122021 - Looking downstream at the extent of the downstream extremities of a swollen Selfoss with an early afternoon rainbow appearing in the mist during our August 2021 visit
Looking downstream at the extent of the downstream extremities of a swollen Selfoss with an early afternoon rainbow appearing in the mist during our August 2021 visit

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

Selfoss_017_06282007 - Distant view of Selfoss from the West Bank as seen in rainy weather during our late June 2007 visit
Distant view of Selfoss from the West Bank as seen in rainy weather during our late June 2007 visit

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.

Dettifoss_West_194_08132021 - The flowing river prevented us from safely continuing further upstream along the west side of Selfoss
The flowing river prevented us from safely continuing further upstream along the west side of Selfoss

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.

Authorities

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.

Dettifoss_087_08122021 - The family starting to take the trail towards Selfoss on the east side
Dettifoss_200_08122021 - Looking back at the sign pointing the way to the east side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_089_08122021 - Context of the east side of Selfoss Trail with the east bank of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River
Dettifoss_092_08122021 - Looking downstream towards the brink of Dettifoss where a double rainbow was wafting up in its mist
Dettifoss_094_08122021 - The trail along the east side of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River was quite rocky and rough despite its modest 1.4km distance
Dettifoss_116_08122021 - Looking down at some people who managed to scramble to the black-sanded shores of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River as we were making our way to Selfoss
Dettifoss_117_08122021 - Context of the trail conditions as we were headed further upstream to Selfoss' east side
Dettifoss_123_08122021 - Looking further ahead at the context of people being towered over by giant boulders flaking off the basalt cliffs in the distance
Dettifoss_131_08122021 - The family skirting alongside the basalt-like cliffs en route to the east side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_132_08122021 - Looking down across another 'beach' along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River en route to the east side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_136_08122021 - Looking back at a lot of people coming and going with a bright rainbow over the mist caused by Dettifoss further downstream
Dettifoss_138_08122021 - Looking at one of the detours leading to a view of Selfoss from its east bank
Dettifoss_142_08122021 - Looking across the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River towards someone who was on the west side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_156_08122021 - Looking back at the cliff context along the east bank of Selfoss
Dettifoss_159_08122021 - Context of the east side trail to Selfoss with Selfoss getting ever so near
Dettifoss_162_08122021 - Looking ahead at a lady taking pictures around Selfoss, which provided us a bit of a sense of the scale of Selfoss
Dettifoss_167_08122021 - Looking downstream along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River from the east side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_173_08122021 - Julie, Tahia, and Mom doing a little exploring around Selfoss with Dettifoss and its rainbow in the distance
Dettifoss_175_08122021 - Another contextual look at Selfoss peering further downstream from its chaotic brink
Dettifoss_180_08122021 - Context of Mom, Julie, and Tahia walking back towards the Dettifoss East car park
Dettifoss_181_08122021 - Looking back towards the context of people standing near the east bank of Selfoss
Dettifoss_186_08122021 - After having our fill of Selfoss, the family made their way back to the car park
Dettifoss_195_08122021 - Approaching the Dettifoss portion of the hike again after having left the east side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_197_08122021 - Last look towards the brink of Dettifoss as we made our way back to the trail junction for Selfoss
Dettifoss_211_08122021 - Looking into the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon as we made our way back up to the east side car park for Dettifoss
Dettifoss_West_153_08132021 - Taking the cliffside trail along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River towards the west side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_West_156_08132021 - Another look at the context of the rocky trail as it approached the west side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_West_158_08132021 - The Selfoss Trail had this non-riverside interlude on the way to the west side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_West_161_08132021 - Julie and Tahia continuing towards Selfoss while respecting the barricades
Dettifoss_West_162_08132021 - This was the view upstream towards Selfoss from the cliffs on the west side
Dettifoss_West_176_08132021 - Broad view towards Selfoss from the west side as we got closer to the trail's end
Dettifoss_West_184_08132021 - Context of Mom on the Selfoss Trail with Selfoss and the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River to her left
Dettifoss_West_193_08132021 - Profile views of Selfoss' west side, which was the best we could do for most of our views considering most of Selfoss faced east (away from us)
Dettifoss_West_196_08132021 - After having her fill of Selfoss, Mom started to head back to the Dettifoss West Trailhead
Dettifoss_West_217_08132021 - Looking upstream at the turbulence of Selfoss with people on the east side looking on for a sense of scale
Dettifoss_West_225_08132021 - Closer look at a section of the Selfoss Trail that was roped off because it looked like cracks on the ground were emerging and would eventually fall into Jökulsá á Fjöllum River!
Dettifoss_West_241_08132021 - Something we noticed about our August 2021 Selfoss experience was that we saw dirt that kind of flaked in this manner as if they were leaves. We weren't sure why we saw this
Dettifoss_West_242_08132021 - Taking the cliffside trail along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River towards the west side of Selfoss
Dettifoss_West_247_08132021 - Julie and Tahia returning to the WCs and car park thereby ending our Selfoss and Dettifoss visit in August 2021
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 (photo taken in late June 2007)
Dettifoss_035_06292007 - We then had to get past the Dettifoss waterfall itself en route to Selfoss (as seen in late June 2007)
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 as seen in late June 2007
Selfoss_047_06292007 - Rainbow hidden further downstream of the horseshoe-shaped Selfoss during our late June 2007 visit
Selfoss_050_06292007 - Closer look at the horseshoe shape of Selfoss in late June 2007
Selfoss_055_06292007 - Looking downstream again at the partially-concealed rainbow and the horseshoe-shaped Selfoss in long exposure during our late June 2007 visit
Selfoss_057_06292007 - Another look in long exposure at the horseshoe-shaped brink of Selfoss as of late June 2007
Selfoss_001_06282007 - Looking directly at Selfoss way in the distance from the west bank during our late June 2007 visit
Selfoss_023_06282007 - This was about as far as Julie and I would get to the west bank of Selfoss before we turned back to end our late June 2007 visit
Selfoss_012_06282007 - Another look at Selfoss from the west bank in late June 2007. 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, Reykjahlið was 101km (under 90 minutes drive) east of Akureyri, 165km (about 2 hours drive) east of Egilsstaðir, and 479km (under 6 hours drive) northeast of Reykjavík.

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Downstream to upstream sweep starting with rainbow over Dettifoss in the distance before panning across the wide expanse of Selfoss


Another sweep but from closer to the brink of Selfoss that started with distant rainbow by Dettifoss and then trying to pan across the full extent of Selfoss


Back and forth sweep starting with the downstream rainbow before panning over to the horseshoe part of the falls itself and then finally panning back and beyond towards the rainbow by Dettifoss way downstream


Back and forth sweep starting from near the brink of Selfoss before panning down towards the rainbow over Dettifoss and then finally panning back towards the horseshoe of Selfoss


Downstream to upstream sweep starting with distant brink of Dettifoss and then panning over to Selfoss


Panning from downstream to upstream and across the falls at a single spot on the west side of Selfoss


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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