Svartifoss

Skaftafell National Park, East Region (Austurland), Iceland

About Svartifoss


Hiking Distance: 4.2km round trip (direct trail); 5km loop
Suggested Time: about 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2007-07-02
Date last visited: 2021-08-08

Waterfall Latitude: 64.02785
Waterfall Longitude: -16.97493

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Svartifoss was perhaps the signature attraction of Skaftafell National Park (now merged into the vast Vatnajökull National Park).

Even though it’s technically in the East Region of the country, I thought that it felt more like the southeast region if there was such an official regional designation.

Svartifoss_070_07022007 - Svartifoss
Svartifoss

The reason for its notoriety was that it possessed pronounced hanging hexagonal basalt columns beneath a year-round 20m tall waterfall.

Although this combination of basalt columns and a waterfall was actually pretty commonplace (we had seen numerous examples of these around the world, especially in Iceland itself), this waterfall seemed to be the poster child of this phenomenon.

Perhaps its status was further enhanced by its well-developed hiking trail making it relatively easily accessible to the majority of tourists.

The trail also featured intermediate waterfalls as well as mindblowing views of neighboring glaciers (especially on a clear day), colorful volcanic mountains, and expansive glacial sand plains (or sandur).

Skaftafell_NP_288_08082021 - On a clear day, the scenery around the Svartifoss Trail is simply breathtaking. This 2021 photo was taken near the end of the hike where Vatnajökull sits above the blue glacier arm of Svínafellsjökull and the vast glacial plains (that now seem to become more greener than the desolate black sands we had seen in 2007)
On a clear day, the scenery around the Svartifoss Trail is simply breathtaking. This 2021 photo was taken near the end of the hike where Vatnajökull sits above the blue glacier arm of Svínafellsjökull and the vast glacial plains (that now seem to become more greener than the desolate black sands we had seen in 2007)

In other words, this waterfall excursion packed a lot of the scenery that embodied all that was quintessential raw Icelandic scenery that was both pleasing to see and accessible for tourists.

Just to give you some more specifics about the scenery on offer here, of the other waterfalls that we encountered on the way to Svartifoss, we’ve also seen Hundafoss, Magnúsarfoss, and the hidden Þjófafoss.

And to extend our time here, we’ve also visited the glacier Skaftafellsjökull (“SKAP-tuh-fells-yewh-ul”) and the neighboring Svínafellsjökull (“SVEEN-uh-fells-yewh-kul”) as well as the viewpoint at Sjónarsker.

We’ll get into all of these options and features as we experienced them in the trail descriptions further below in this writeup.

The Basalt Formation

Studlagil_Canyon_241_08102021 - Like Svartifoss, Stuðlagil Canyon featured extensive pronounced basalt columns as this is a pretty common occurence throughout Iceland
Like Svartifoss, Stuðlagil Canyon featured extensive pronounced basalt columns as this is a pretty common occurence throughout Iceland

The name of the falls translated into something like “Black Falls” which might be attributable to the darkness of the underlying basalt columns.

We’ve typically found such features where there seemed to be evidence of basaltic lava being rapidly cooled by ice so it’s not surprising to see such places where there’s evidence of volcanoes coexisting with ice fields.

Some memorable examples of basalt columns throughout Iceland include Kirkjugólf near Kirkjubæjarklaustur, the Gerðuberg Cliffs near the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Reynisfjara Beach near Vík, and the Stuðlagil Canyon near Egilsstaðir.

Basaltic lava (said to be very iron-rich) tended to be very hard and erosion resistant.

Reykjavik_006_06202007 - The organ-like columns flanking the main clock tower of the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík was inspired by basalt columns like the ones beneath Svartifoss
The organ-like columns flanking the main clock tower of the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík was inspired by basalt columns like the ones beneath Svartifoss

Thus over time, the thermal stress of the rapid temperature fluctuations on the hard basalt resulted in fractures at the weakest joints the lava.

These joints happened to be vertical and at 120-degree angles thereby resulting in the hexagonal columns.

In fact, the columns of Svartifoss were such a distinctive feature that it was said to inspire Icelandic architecture, especially the Hallgrímskirkja in downtown Reykjavík.

Experiencing Svartifoss

Over the years, we’ve hiked to Svartifoss in two different ways.

Skaftafell_NP_034_08082021 - This trail junction marked the departure point between the main trail (on the right) and what I've been calling the 'Cheater's Way' on the left
This trail junction marked the departure point between the main trail (on the right) and what I’ve been calling the ‘Cheater’s Way’ on the left

The first way is a straightforward out-and-back hike along a wide and well-developed uphill trail for about 4.3km round-trip according to my GPS logs.

We hiked to Svartifoss in this manner when we first did this route back in July 2007.

The second way is a slightly longer loop hike that climbs between the west side of the Stórilækur Stream and the Böltavegur Road before rejoining the main Svartifoss Trail.

When we returned to Svartifoss in August 2021, we hiked on this loop route, where my GPS logs suggested we had hiked about 5km total.

Svartifoss_110_07022007 - Looking towards Þjófafoss, which was visible from the 'Cheater's Way' but not visible from the main trail. I believe the partially revealed waterfall further upstream on Stórilækur was Hundafoss
Looking towards Þjófafoss, which was visible from the ‘Cheater’s Way’ but not visible from the main trail. I believe the partially revealed waterfall further upstream on Stórilækur was Hundafoss

The main benefit for extending the hike in this manner was the much quieter experience for as long as we were on the west side of the Stórilækur Stream.

This was especially important to us given how much more difficult social distancing was in the face of the spread of COVID-19 variants or mutations, especially given the increased popularity and tourist traffic for Svartifoss.

However, this longer trail also brought us closer to former farm sites, allowed us to witness the hidden Þjófafoss Waterfall, and provided a little more shade (if it happens to be sunny) among other things.

Anyways, I was made aware of the longer trail back on our 2007 visit to Iceland when we were able to drive the single-lane Böltavegur Road up to a small car park or trailhead that was closer than the visitor center.

Skaftafell_NP_061_08082021 - Context of the single-lane road and the hiking trail that I've called the 'Cheater's Way' because we saw that it was possible to shave off a good chunk of the hike by driving up this road to an alternate trailhead during our first visit in July 2007
Context of the single-lane road and the hiking trail that I’ve called the ‘Cheater’s Way’ because we saw that it was possible to shave off a good chunk of the hike by driving up this road to an alternate trailhead during our first visit in July 2007

I even noticed that a tour bus had deposited visitors to that trailhead, and this compelled me to refer to this route as the “Cheater’s Way”.

That said, I noticed that the closer car park was empty on our 2021 visit so perhaps there was infrastructure blocking or at least discouraging driving up this road.

Nevertheless, despite the longer hiking distance compared to the main Svartifoss route, I will still refer to the longer route as the “Cheater’s Way” for easy reference even though it’s no longer for “cheaters”.

Svartifoss Trail Description – The Main Route to the Junction by Magnúsarfoss

For the majority of visitors, we’d have to park in one of the large car parks that now require a fee (see directions below).

Skaftafell_NP_302_08082021 - The front of the Skaftafell Visitor Center and cantina, which is the starting point for visitors hopping off of tour buses, but it's also a common landmark for starting and ending hiking excursions
The front of the Skaftafell Visitor Center and cantina, which is the starting point for visitors hopping off of tour buses, but it’s also a common landmark for starting and ending hiking excursions

From there, we’d then walk about 200m towards the Vatnajökull (formerly Skaftafell) National Park Visitor Center, where there’s cantinas and WCs.

The hike then proceeds to the west as it passes by an extensive open space and campground until it reaches a fork about 250m from the visitor center.

The well-signed main trail then ascends the fork on the right as it climbs persistently for at least the next 1.5km with the steepest section being in the first 400-500m.

At about 550m from the fork, the trail entered a lush side gully spanned by a footbridge where I was able to hear but not see a waterfall (which I believe is called Heygötufoss) dropping further downstream.

Svartifoss_009_07022007 - Hundafoss, which was the first of the waterfalls we encountered on the way to Svartifoss along the main trail. This picture was taken in 2007 before the new lookout deck was built
Hundafoss, which was the first of the waterfalls we encountered on the way to Svartifoss along the main trail. This picture was taken in 2007 before the new lookout deck was built

At about 650m from the start of the ascent, we then reached a lookout for the attractive Hundafoss, which seemed to have been much more developed over the years to better handle the increase in foot traffic.

Hundafoss means “Dog Falls” though we’re not certain how this waterfall got its name as we can only speculate that perhaps a dog fell over it for one reason or another.

In any case, this waterfall plunged over a cliff and provided a nice photo stop to help break up the persistently uphill hike.

Just minutes after visiting Hundafoss (roughly 200m further up the trail), we then saw another signpost and lookout for another waterfall called Magnúsarfoss.

Svartifoss_046_07022007 - Magnúsarfoss was the second waterfall that we noticed on the way up to Svartifoss via the main trail. Notice the pipe and turf-roofed structure blending in with its surroundings towards the topleft of this photo (taken in 2007)
Magnúsarfoss was the second waterfall that we noticed on the way up to Svartifoss via the main trail. Notice the pipe and turf-roofed structure blending in with its surroundings towards the topleft of this photo (taken in 2007)

This was a bit shorter than Hundafoss, but it featured a profile view of the ravine downstream of the falls while we noticed some hikers have managed to scramble to get right up to its top from the other side (via the Cheater’s Way).

It seemed like the lookout for this waterfall had become overgrown over the years so I was actually able to see less of it in 2021 than when I first saw it in 2007.

Just beyond Magnúsarfoss, the trail then reached a junction, where the hike continued to climb to the right, but the path on the left crossed a footbridge over the Stórilækur Stream at the top of the “Cheater’s Way”.

So this junction (about 900m from the fork at the start of the climb) would be the point where the Cheater’s Way would join up with main Svartifoss Trail.

Svartifoss Trail Description – Final Stretch to Svartifoss

Skaftafell_NP_119_08082021 - One of the colorful volcanic peaks looming above the main Svartifoss Trail
One of the colorful volcanic peaks looming above the main Svartifoss Trail

Beyond the trail junction, the hike continued to climb though not as steeply as earlier on as the views became more expansive.

Throughout this stretch, I noticed more of those non-slip grids while I also started to notice parts of the Vatnajökull Ice Field to my right as well as some colorful volcanic peaks straight ahead.

The climb would ultimately persist for another 600m from the junction until reaching the highest point of this trail at Miðheiði.

At this high point, there was a distant view towards Svartifoss, some signage, and some trails branching east towards Austastaheiði.

Skaftafell_NP_135_08082021 - Looking down at the context of Svartifoss with the footbridge over its stream fronting it as seen from Miðheiði
Looking down at the context of Svartifoss with the footbridge over its stream fronting it as seen from Miðheiði

Then, the trail descended for another 200m before reaching another trail junction by a footbridge over the Stórilækur Stream.

Besides getting some views towards Svartifoss fronted by the stream, there was also an optional 650m uphill hike to reach a viewpoint with distant glacier views at Sjónarsker.

Anyways, continuing around 50m past the footbridge (but not crossing it), the trail eventually terminated at a lookout platform fronting Svartifoss.

We used to be able to scramble around the jumble of basalt chunks at the foot of the waterfall when we first visited this place in July 2007.

Svartifoss_079_07022007 - On our first visit in 2007, we used to be able to get right up to the plunge pool fronting Svartifoss as shown here with Julie standing by it, but on our 2021 visit, a lookout platform was built further downstream with fencing to discourage scrambling any further
On our first visit in 2007, we used to be able to get right up to the plunge pool fronting Svartifoss as shown here with Julie standing by it, but on our 2021 visit, a lookout platform was built further downstream with fencing to discourage scrambling any further

However, there was fencing set up to try to discourage any more scrambling to get closer to the falls due to the volume of visitors since that time, which inevitably caused more erosion and rockfall danger.

When we showed up on our second visit to Svartifoss on a beautifully sunny day in early August 2021, we happened to see a rainbow about an hour before noon.

This marked the turnaround point of the main trail to Svartifoss, where we pretty much got to look forward to the all downhill hike to the visitor center (besides the climb back up to Miðheiði).

In addition, we were also treated to expansive views of both the glacial plains as we looked towards the ocean and the glaciers as we looked to our left (especially towards the end of the descent), which kept things interesting.

Svartifoss Trail Description – The Cheater’s Way

Skaftafell_039_jx_07032007 - The Ring Road used to be unpaved and directly on the glacial plains when we first drove through here in July 2007, but it became apparent why after realizing the effect that volcanically-induced glacial floods over the Skeiðarárjökull arm of the Vatnajökull Glacier have had on the farms that once stood by the Cheater's Way to Svartifoss
The Ring Road used to be unpaved and directly on the glacial plains when we first drove through here in July 2007, but it became apparent why after realizing the effect that volcanically-induced glacial floods over the Skeiðarárjökull arm of the Vatnajökull Glacier have had on the farms that once stood by the Cheater’s Way to Svartifoss

The quieter alternate trail started at the fork by the Skaftafell Campground where instead of going up the right fork, we kept left on the flatter trail.

For the next 400m, the trail stayed alongside the northern edge of the campground before veering to the right over a couple of bridges and trail junctions where there used to be farms.

The farms had to be abandoned due to frequent glacial flash floods or lahars (Jökullhlaup in Icelandic) on the Skeiðará River burying anything in the way.

Such flash floods resulted from volcanic eruptions beneath the wide Skeiðarárjökull arm of the Vatnajökull Glacier.

Svartifoss_010_iPhone_08082021 - The Lambhagi diversion led me from a former lamb pasture to this calm and reflective part of the Stórilækur Stream
The Lambhagi diversion led me from a former lamb pasture to this calm and reflective part of the Stórilækur Stream

By the way, this was probably the main reason why the Ring Road wasn’t fully paved on our first visit to Iceland in 2007 as we found ourselves driving directly on the black-sanded plains (though we saw it was fully paved as of our 2021 visit).

Anyways, upstream from the first footbridge, there was a small hidden waterfall that was a nice and serene deviation.

At about 600m from the fork (or about 100m from the footbridges), we then reached a trail junction with signage for the alternate trail near Lambhagi.

According to my Icelandic dictionary, hagi means “pasture” so Lambhagi means “lamb pasture”, which is probably another throwback to the days when farms were in existence prior to the glacial floods.

Skaftafell_NP_059_08082021 - There was some degree of shade in sunny weather when we hiked up the 'Cheater's Way' on the west side of the Stórilækur Stream
There was some degree of shade in sunny weather when we hiked up the ‘Cheater’s Way’ on the west side of the Stórilækur Stream

There was a side trail about 50m uphill from the alternate trail signage, which then led about 30m to a calm and peaceful part of the Stórilækur Stream.

Continuing on the uphill climb another 100m beyond the Lambhagi detour along the Cheater’s Way, we then reached a lookout with a view of the Þjófafoss (Thieve’s) Waterfall.

This lookout also yields a partial view of the Hundafoss Waterfall, which provides a bit of a preview of what’s ahead.

Next, the trail continued climbing through a grove of thin birch trees, which provided some degree of shade from the sun (at least when compared to the main trail on a sunny day).

Skaftafell_NP_098_08082021 - Seeing Hundafoss together with the Vatnajökull Glacier was another benefit of taking the 'Cheater's Way'
Seeing Hundafoss together with the Vatnajökull Glacier was another benefit of taking the ‘Cheater’s Way’

After another 250m along the uphill trail, we then reached a pleasing lookout for the Hundafoss Waterfall, where we could also see it backed by the Vatnajökull Ice Cap.

Next, the trail started to climb less steeply as it continued another 200m beyond the Hundafoss View to the old Cheater’s Way car park.

Along the way, I noticed a spur trail that I suspect went towards the west side of Magnúsarfoss.

Finally, in the next 100m (keeping right at the first trail junction leading up towards Sjónarsker by way of Vörðuskarstofa), we rejoined the main Svartifoss Trail right after crossing over a footbridge spanning the Stórilækur Stream.

The rest of the hike would proceed in the same manner as the main hike to Svartifoss described earlier.

Options for Extending Time in Skaftafell

Skaftafell_NP_225_08082021 - Context of Sjónarsker and the Skeiðarárjökull in the background reached after a 650m detour (or 1.3km round-trip extension) off the main Svartifoss Trail
Context of Sjónarsker and the Skeiðarárjökull in the background reached after a 650m detour (or 1.3km round-trip extension) off the main Svartifoss Trail

While the main Svartifoss hike could easily occupy three hours of your time, I’ve found the scenery was compelling enough to spend even more time here.

The first of these options was to the Sjónarsker landmark, which was like a compass with expansive views towards the Skeiðarárjökull and the glacial plains as well as the Vatnajökull Ice Cap.

There were several trails leaving from this compass, including an 8km trail to the top of Kristínártindar Peaks for a somewhat closer but still distant view of Mórsárfoss and the Mórsárjökull terminus.

The detour to Sjónarsker extended our Svartifoss hike by at least another 1.3km in total, but you’re looking at another 16km round-trip to pursue Kristínártindar.

Skaftafell_029_07022007 - Skaftafellsjökull, which we saw at the end of a short 1km trail (as of July 2007) going in the opposite direction of Svartifoss
Skaftafellsjökull, which we saw at the end of a short 1km trail (as of July 2007) going in the opposite direction of Svartifoss

The second option involves hiking a mostly flat trail from the Skaftafell Visitor Center to the “dirty” terminus of the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier.

When we first did this hike in 2007, we only had to go 2km round-trip to reach the end of the trail, but with Global Warming, that distance increased to at least 3.7km round-trip as of 2021.

We didn’t go further than the sanctioned lookout since the dirty ice could easily be mistaken for regular dirt thereby making it very dangerous to traverse the barricades.

Finally, there was a nearby road leading to the western terminus of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier until a landslide put an end to that access.

Svinafellsjokull_068_08082021 - Experiencing the blue ice of the jagged Svínafellsjökull, which we reached from an alternate trail and car park near Freysnes
Experiencing the blue ice of the jagged Svínafellsjökull, which we reached from an alternate trail and car park near Freysnes

So we drove to the next turnoff leading 800m from the Ring Road to an alternate car park near Freysnes.

From there, we then did a short 1.6km return hike to a view of the attractively blue terminus of the glacier.

Authorities

Svartifoss 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.

Skaftafell_NP_009_08082021 - Mom and Tahia walking from the paid car park towards the Skaftafell Visitor Center. This photo was taken in August 2021, and the next several photos were taken from that same visit
Skaftafell_NP_010_08082021 - Before our hike began, we made a quick stop to the Skaftafell Visitor Center to make one last pit stop at the WCs while reading some of the signs and maps
Skaftafell_NP_019_08082021 - Skaftafell National Park was absorbed into the much larger Vatnajökull National Park so the signage and the labeling of the buildings were changed as such
Skaftafell_NP_025_08082021 - Heading west along the wide path through an open grassy area as we made our way too the Svartifoss Trail
Skaftafell_NP_037_08082021 - On our August 2021 visit to Svartifoss, we opted to take the longer 'Cheater's Way' since I knew we might have social distancing and COVID-19 delta variant risk issues on the much more crowded main trail. So our alternate route involved skirting by the northern end of the Skaftafell Campsite
Skaftafell_NP_038_08082021 - Looking back towards the Vatnajökull ice sheet against the morning sun on a beautiful day - the first such day on our August 2021 trip to Iceland
Skaftafell_NP_043_08082021 - Tahia playing in a stream where just upstream of here was a small and hidden waterfall
Skaftafell_NP_044_08082021 - This was the hidden waterfall that was upstream from the first of the footbridges along the 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_050_08082021 - Mom and Tahia continuing to cross the last of the series of footbridges on the way to the other trail leading up towards Svartifoss
Skaftafell_NP_056_08082021 - Julie passing by some signage at the start of the forested part of the alternate trail that I'm calling the 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_058_08082021 - Right behind the signage, the trail went right through a forested area, which seemed to be increasingly more prevalent during our 2021 trip as opposed to our 2007 trip. I think that's probably due to an initiative to re-plant trees throughout the country as Iceland is perhaps doing what they can to make more carbon sinks to help scrub greenhouse gases
Skaftafell_NP_062_08082021 - While going up the 'Cheater's Way', I noticed that the single-lane road was still there, which was the real 'Cheater's Way' if you happened to be driving up this way
Skaftafell_NP_063_08082021 - Julie, Tahia, and Mom continuing up the ascending 'Cheater's Way' route towards Svartifoss
Skaftafell_NP_068_08082021 - The first break on our ascent up the 'Cheater's Way' was this view of Þjófafoss
Skaftafell_NP_070_08082021 - Context of Þjófafoss and Hundafoss further upstream as seen from the same lookout along the 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_074_08082021 - Continuing up the 'Cheater's Way' as the trail continued its relentless climb, but at least we were all alone so we didn't have to breathe through masks (or COVID-19 globules) on this ascent
Skaftafell_NP_077_08082021 - Looking back down towards the plains beyond the campsite of Skaftafell from the 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_080_08082021 - Still continuing up the quieter 'Cheater's Way' as we made our way up to Svartifoss
Skaftafell_NP_084_08082021 - Context of Julie passing by another switchback on the real 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_092_08082021 - The family enjoying an alternate and more direct view of Hundafoss from the 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_101_08082021 - Looking over the brink of Hundafoss towards the ice fields of Vatnajökull, which was more easily seen from the 'Cheater's Way' than the main trail to Svartifoss
Skaftafell_NP_104_08082021 - Tahia continuing up the 'Cheater's Way' as the trail started to open up and flatten out. Somewhere along this stretch I recalled there was a spur trail going down to Magnúsarfoss, which we opted to skip
Skaftafell_NP_105_08082021 - Mom and Tahia continuing the ascent up to the 'Cheater's Way' car park before rejoining the main Svartifoss Trail
Skaftafell_NP_107_08082021 - Going past a sign as the 'Cheater's Way' descended towards a footbridge traversing the Stórilækur Stream
Skaftafell_NP_109_08082021 - Going across the Stórilækur Stream as we were about to rejoin the main Svartifoss Trail
Skaftafell_NP_115_08082021 - When we returned to the main trail, we noticed that we were on a much busier (no surprise) yet much more developed wide trail as evidenced by these no-slip metal grids
Skaftafell_NP_126_08082021 - Context of the main Svartifoss Trail with our first glimpse at the Svartifoss Waterfall
Skaftafell_NP_130_08082021 - As we continued up the main Svartifoss Trail, we couldn't help but notice the mountain up ahead, which I think were the Kristínártindar Peaks
Skaftafell_NP_135_08082021 - The relentless climb up the Svartifoss Trail eventually petered out at Miðheiði where we got this view towards Svartifoss and the descent ahead of us to get there
Skaftafell_NP_147_08082021 - Looking across the footbridge over the Stórilækur Stream shortly before reaching the base of Svartifoss. Notice that this trail keeps climbing as it eventually goes up towards Sjónarsker and beyond
Skaftafell_NP_150_08082021 - This was the view of Svartifoss from the footbridge
Skaftafell_NP_159_08082021 - Finally making it to Svartifoss, and we made it just in time to see a rainbow across it on our August 2021 visit!
Skaftafell_NP_165_08082021 - Using the railings of the new viewing deck to take this long exposure shot Svartifoss with a rainbow
Skaftafell_NP_176_08082021 - Context of the new viewing deck at the end of the official trail to Svartifoss as seen on August 2021
Skaftafell_NP_179_08082021 - Looking back at the steps leading up to the official lookout for Svartifoss
Skaftafell_NP_183_08082021 - Looking up at Svartifoss in context with the new viewing deck towards the right side of this photo taken on August 2021
Skaftafell_NP_189_08082021 - After having our fill of Svartifoss, my Mom and I crossed this footbridge to go up to Sjónarsker
Skaftafell_NP_200_08082021 - This was the view towards the Vatnajökull Glacier on the way up to Sjónarsker
Skaftafell_NP_217_08082021 - Looking towards the Skeiðarárjökull terminus from Sjónarsker
Skaftafell_NP_260_08082021 - Mom and I eventually met up with Julie and Tahia on the main Svartifoss Trail after we took a more direct path to get to the trail junction by the footbridge we had crossed earlier from the 'Cheater's Way'
Skaftafell_NP_266_08082021 - This was the view of Magnúsarfoss from the familiar lookout, but it was way more overgrown in August 2021 than it was in June 2007 when we first saw it
Skaftafell_NP_267_08082021 - Indeed there were many more hikers on the main Svartifoss Trail, but at least we were going downhill so we didn't have to breathe as hard
Skaftafell_NP_270_08082021 - This was the view of Hundafoss from the new lookout, which was slightly more downstream than the original one we used back in 2007
Skaftafell_NP_274_08082021 - Context of the new lookout platform right off the main trail for Hundafoss
Skaftafell_NP_295_08082021 - Descending back to the flatter area by the Skaftafell Campground. Notice that blue glacier in the distance was the Svínafellsjökull
Skaftafell_NP_300_08082021 - Continuing to make our way back to the Skaftafell Visitor Center
Skaftafell_NP_308_08082021 - If the cantina at the Skaftafell Visitor Center isn't to your liking (they didn't have gluten free nor other healthy food options), we settled for the Glacier Goods food stand
Skaftafell_001_07022007 - When we first went to Skaftafell National Park back in July 2007, we could already see Skaftafellsjökull in the distance from near the Visitor Center. I didn't recall that this was the case anymore on our August 2021 visit.
Skaftafell_007_07022007 - During our July 2007 visit, we actually chose to hike to the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier before hiking up to Svartifoss
Skaftafell_008_07022007 - The brief side hike to the terminus of the glacier Skaftafellsjökull probably took us about 45 minutes round trip
Skaftafell_016_07022007 - A small tarn near the terminus of the glacier Skaftafellsjökull as seen in July 2007
Skaftafell_023_jx_07022007 - After having had our fill of the glacier terminus in July 2007, we then hiked back in the opposite direction where we encountered this sign pointing the way to Svartifoss right at the start of the ascent
Svartifoss_001_07022007 - Julie on the start of the rather relentless uphill climb towards Svartifoss in July 2007
Svartifoss_011_07022007 - This was our first look at Hundafoss in July 2007.  It provided some welcome (albeit momentary) relief from the uphill section of the trail up to Svartifoss
Svartifoss_034_07022007 - While we were near the overlook of Hundafoss, we tried to see how else we could experience this waterfall as it had a short side detour loop in July 2007, but it was since replaced by a dedicated lookout platform in August 2021
Svartifoss_025_07022007 - Another angled look at Hundafoss as the sun was coming back out in July 2007
Svartifoss_040_07022007 - Looking back at the trail and the glacial plains (sandur) below after continuing the hike past Hundafoss
Skaftafell_026_jx_07022007 - Signage confirming that we did indeed see Magnúsarfoss, which was not long after going past Hundafoss
Svartifoss_051_07022007 - Long-exposed contextual look at Magnúsarfoss, which you can see was far less overgrown in July 2007 as compared with our most recent photos of it in August 2021
Skaftafell_028_jx_07022007 - Another look at Magnúsarfoss before continuing on
Svartifoss_053_07022007 - Continuing ahead from Magnúsarfoss towards more of the trail leading to Svartifoss backed by striking mountains. I would later learn that those peaks were the Kristínártindar
Svartifoss_054_07022007 - When we finally completed the steepest parts of the initial climb, the trail opened up and flattened out. Notice the different between the trail in this July 2007 photo compared to earlier in the gallery in August 2021
Svartifoss_063_07022007 - Finally starting to see Svartifoss as we're approaching it as seen in July 2007
Svartifoss_075_07022007 - Long-exposed closeup look at Svartifoss backed by pronounced basalt columns as seen in July 2007
Svartifoss_084_07022007 - Closeup of flaked off basalt columns at the foot of Svartifoss with the waterfall spilling right on them
Svartifoss_087_07022007 - Looking right up from the base of Svartifoss in July 2007. It's not sanctioned to get this close to the falls anymore as of August 2021
Svartifoss_089_07022007 - Context of Julie checking out Svartifoss in July 2007
Svartifoss_094_07022007 - Julie hiking ahead on the descent back down to the sandur as seen in July 2007. The nice thing about the return hike was that we were treated to these views
Svartifoss_099_07022007 - Julie way out ahead of me on the return hike as I was busy admiring the sandurs and watercourses in the distance
Svartifoss_102_07022007 - I caught up to Julie at this point of the downhill hike back to the trailhead on our July 2007 visit
Svartifoss_104_07022007 - At the end of our July 2007 Svartifoss out-and-back hike, we decided to spend some time investigating the road to the Cheater's Trail, which yielded this view of the obscure Þjófafoss fronted by Hundafoss. I guess knowing about this option back then helped to inform us about how we should do this hike when we returned 14 years later, especially with social distancing being a thing


It’s a bit of a stretch to drive from Reykjavík to Skaftafell and back as a day trip so I’ll start the driving directions from Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

From the main roundabout in Kirkjubæjarklaustur just north of the Skaftá River, we’d continue on the Ring Road east for 66km before turning left onto the well-signed Skaftafellsvegur towards the Skaftafell Visitor Center.

Drive_to_Skaftafell_014_iPhone_08082021 - The drive to Skaftafell involved crossing the Skeiðarársandur where this long single-lane bridge with pullouts within it as we had to get to the east side of the plains
The drive to Skaftafell involved crossing the Skeiðarársandur where this long single-lane bridge with pullouts within it as we had to get to the east side of the plains

This turnoff was towards the eastern end of the vast Skeiðarársandur Plains with enticing views of both Skaftafellsjökull and Svínafellsjökull.

From there, we then drove about 1.6km to the signed turnoff for the car park for self-drivers on the right (the next turnoff after the one meant for tour buses).

Overall, this drive would take about an hour.

Coming in the other direction from Höfn, we’d drive 5km north to the Ring Road before heading west for 129km.

Skaftafell_NP_003_08082021 - The car park for the Skaftafell part of Vatnajökull National Park now requires payment, which was about 700 ISK when we were last here in August 2021
The car park for the Skaftafell part of Vatnajökull National Park now requires payment, which was about 700 ISK when we were last here in August 2021

Then, we’d turn right onto Skaftafellsvegur before reaching the car park for self-drivers another 1.6km later to the right.

Overall, this drive would take over 90 minutes.

If you’re interested in doing the “cheater’s route” by parking at the alternate car park, you’d continue driving on the Skaftafellsvegur west past the turnoffs for the visitor center and car parks towards the campground.

At about 750m beyond the car park turnoff, the road veers and narrows to the right as it climbs the single-lane Böltavegur.

Skaftafell_NP_106_08082021 - Looking towards the empty alternate car park that was the main reason behind me calling this the 'Cheater's Way' since it shaved off a large portion of the Svartifoss hike if you started from here
Looking towards the empty alternate car park that was the main reason behind me calling this the ‘Cheater’s Way’ since it shaved off a large portion of the Svartifoss hike if you started from here

After another 600m, the alternate car park would be on the right.

However, I have to remind you that if this was the common way to go, there would have been many cars there, but as of our latest visit in 2021, that lot was empty which suggests that perhaps there’s some restrictions to that single-lane road.

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 from the familiar lookout for Hundafoss


Comprehensive sweep starting from the upper deck of the lookout and then ending on a rock further downstream in the river both revealing different perspectives of Svartifoss


Brief sweep showing the columnar basalt as well as Svartifoss itself from the upper deck of the overlook


Checking out Hundafoss from a couple of different spots from the opposite side of the more trafficked part of the river


Brief right to left sweep of Thjofafoss before zooming in on the falls revealing Hundafoss as well


Approaching the falls


Closeup look at the falls. Guess who that is in the foreground taking a photo of it?

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Tagged with: skaftafell, national park, hundafoss, mangusarfoss, thjofafoss, basalt, east region, austurland, iceland, waterfall



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Hundafoss in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland March 1, 2019 11:51 am by John Moerk - Hundafoss is the tallest (78 feet) and first of three waterfalls encountered on the Bærjargil stream along the popular trail to Svartifoss in the Skaftafell region of Vatnajökull National Park, ...Read More

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