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Dettifoss – Europe’s Most Powerful Waterfall

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During our three months in Iceland, we saw a lot of waterfalls. Gullfoss, Dynjandi, Hraunfoss, Goðafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, Glymur and many more. But we couldn’t claim to have adequately covered the waterfalls of Iceland until visiting Dettifoss, the largest and most powerful in Europe.

Dettifoss Waterfall

It was raining when we parked our car and set out across a well-worn trail through the snow. After about ten minutes of hiking, the roar of the waterfall could be heard, but it took another ten minutes before the Jökulsá River came into view. Soon, we were standing speechless before Dettifoss. Crashing down a cliff 45 meters wide, the churning gray water is breathtaking, its sheer power and volume almost unbelievable. The glaciers of Iceland are huge, but still, it’s inconceivable that they can generate this much water.

You can approach Dettifoss from either side of the river. The views are supposed to be better from the east, but since that road was closed by snow, we were forced to take the western route. About a kilometer further upstream, there’s another waterfall called Selfoss. Far less powerful than Dettifoss, but even more picturesque.

Dettifoss is perhaps most famous for its appearance at the end of 2012’s hit film Prometheus. Ridley Scott used the waterfall and its otherworldly landscape to represent a nascent planet still being formed. Excellent location scouting. The unbridled, transformative power of Dettifoss is something to behold.

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October 28, 2013 at 6:27 pm Comment (1)

Goðafoss – The Waterfall of the Gods

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Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods, is found just off the ring road near Akureyri. Although this makes it an easy stop for tour buses, don’t let the threat of crowds keep you away from one of northern Iceland’s most impressive natural sights.

Goðafoss picked up its name in the year 1000, after Iceland converted to Christianity. To demonstrate his adherence to the new faith, a local chieftain named Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði carried his pagan idols to the top of the waterfall and threw them into the churning void below. A bold break with the past, and I imagine Þorgeir held his breath for a while afterward, just in case the old gods weren’t so obsolete after all.

We were visiting early in the morning and the road from Akureyri had been almost completely free of traffic, so I was astounded by the crowd which had already gathered at Goðafoss. There were two big buses and at least ten other cars in the parking lot. The crowd definitely detracted from the experience, especially since a surprising number of them were misbehaving. I saw three different people throw their cigarette butts into the falls. Unbelievable!

To help mitigate my rage, I told myself that they must have a reason for the cigarette-tossing. Maybe they’re giving up smoking! Maybe they’re following the example of old Þorgeir, when he embraced Christianity, and instead of casting off their obsolete pagan idols, they’re throwing away their final cigarettes. A fantasy, I know, but it did help lessen my anger. A little.

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October 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm Comments (3)

Glymur – Iceland’s Highest Waterfall

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For a rewarding day trip out of Reykjavík, it’s hard to do better than Iceland’s highest waterfall, Glymur. Found at the end of Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord), Glymur is hidden within a canyon, and an hour’s hike is required before it comes into view. But the walk is gorgeous, and the waterfall itself completely worth the effort.

Glymur Waterfall

We hadn’t heard a lot about Glymur during our time in Iceland, so I was surprised to learn that it was once one of the country’s most popular sights. But that was before 1998, and the construction of the Hvalfjörður Tunnel. By allowing drivers to cut directly underneath and across the fjord rather than having to go around it, the tunnel reduces driving time from an hour to seven minutes. Quite a boon for industrious Iceland, but a disaster for the popularity of poor Glymur. Used to be right off the ring road! Used to be a practical stop halfway around the neverending fjord. Used to be, Glymur got some love.

Aww, we still love you Glymur! We had an excellent time hiking to this amazing waterfall. There’s a lot packed into the three kilometer track, and it was a far more exciting walk than I had been anticipating. You’ll climb a horribly steep hill, edge along a dizzying cliff, and even crawl straight through a cave. But the best part is where the path leads to a thin log balanced over a river. As in: “this is how you’ll be crossing”.

We made it across the log, up the hill, along the cliff and through the cave, and had Glymur as our reward. 196 meters high (643 feet), this is an incredible waterfall. We had ascended quite high, and behind us was a landscape almost as impressive as the waterfall itself. If you’re looking for a fun half-day excursion out of Reykjavík, definitely keep Glymur in mind. It may be past its prime in terms of popularity, but the relative lack of other people only improves the experience.

Location on our Map of the Glymur Trailhead
The Trail We Followed: Wikiloc

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October 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm Comments (7)

Over Vatnajökull and the Westman Islands

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It was a beautiful morning when we arrived at the Reyjavík city airport for our third flight into the skies above Iceland. Our trips over the Golden Circle and the Westfjords had been outstanding, and today we’d be soaring over Iceland’s four biggest glaciers, the Þórsmörk Valley and the Westman Islands.

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Near the Langisjór Lake, Southwest of Vatnajökull

Soon after settling into our four-seat Cessna, we were climbing above a sleepy Reykjavík still shaking off its morning mist. We headed east over the Hengill Mountains and Þingvallavatn Lake on our way to Langjökull, the second-biggest glacier in Iceland. Langjökull is shrinking rapidly and climatologists believe that it may disappear entirely within a couple centuries. Thanks to global warming, all of Iceland’s glaciers are losing mass, with the sole exception of Drangajökull in the Westfjords.

Leaving Langjökull behind, we soared over the highlands, passing the Klöjur Road which we would soon be driving across, and skirting the southern end of Hofsjökull. Soon enough, we were approaching the big boy: Vatnajökull. With an area of 8300 km², this enormous chunk of ice is about the size of Puerto Rico. We only saw the southwestern corner of it, but even this was enough to boggle the mind.

Now we turned around, following the Mid-Atlantic Ridge southwest. This was an area we had hiked across on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, but from above it took on whole new dimensions. In a single, spectacular panorama, we could see craters, the valley, rivers, lava fields and volcanoes. I couldn’t help but be amazed that we choose voluntarily to walk across this murderous landscape.

From here, it was a short hop across the water to the Westman Islands, which we had recently spent a couple days visiting. From the air, the damage wrought by the Eldfell explosion was much more apparent than it had been on the ground. It was shocking to see the size of the area which had so swiftly been covered by lava in 1976. We moved on to some of the other islands in the archipelago, including Surtsey, which was formed in 1963 during a four-year-long eruption. The island was immediately declared off-limits to humans and is now being used to monitor how life develops on a brand new patch of land.

An amazing flight, and one we were very lucky to experience. If you’d like to hire a pilot for a similar flight, get in touch and we can put you in touch with our contact. You truly haven’t seen Iceland, until you’ve seen it from the air.

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September 30, 2013 at 9:20 am Comments (4)

Deildartunguhver and Hraunfoss

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On either side of Reykholt are two remarkable water-related sights. Measured by the volume of water produced, Deildartunguhver is the largest hot spring in Europe. And Hraunfoss, or the “Lava Field Waterfall”, is precisely as strange as its name implies.

Deildartunguhver

At Deildartunguhver, a massive amount of water super-heated at 97°C (207°F) is continuously pumped out of a terrifying crack that has opened in the earth. The spring is powerful enough to supply the hot water needs of both Borgarnes (34 kilometers away) and Akranes (64 km).

We were visiting on an extremely windy morning, when the billows of steam produced by the springs were being blown straight across the ground. Half-expecting to have my face melted off, I stood briefly inside one of the steam clouds. Stinky and hot, but survivable. Deildartunguhver is not an especially beautiful sight, but witnessing the sheer, seething power of the earth is undeniably impressive. And a little scary.

Hraunfoss Wasserfall

We were touring the region without our own transport, which proved tricky since there’s only a single bus serving the area daily, but the friendly folks at the Fosshotel Reykholt helped us arrange a trip out to the Hraunfoss Waterfall. Here, the Hvitá River which comes thundering down from the glaciers is joined by countless tributaries hidden underneath the lava fields to the north.

The water streaming out of the porous walls of lava and crashing into the river makes for an oddly beautiful sight. Hraunfoss isn’t the most powerful waterfall we’d seen in Iceland, but is among the most unique.

Locations on our Map: Deildartunguhver | Hraunfoss

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September 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm Comment (1)

The Dynjandi Falls

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Without exaggeration, I think waterfalls might outnumber people in the Westfjords. Fed by the massive ice blocks which dominate the highland interior, and coursing down the mountains toward the shore, there seems to be another waterfall around every corner. Some are trickles, some mighty cascades, but the most impressive we saw throughout our time in the peninsula was easily Dynjandi.

Dynjandi Falls

Dynjandi begins where a wide glacial river drops off a cliff on its way to the Arnarfjörður Fjord. From the parking lot, it looks like one huge waterfall, but as you approach you realize that there are at least a dozen. A path leads past the smaller falls, up to the main drop.

Cascading down over an ever-widening series of cliffs, Dynjandi forms a pyramid shape. Its initial width is 30 meters, but by the time it hits bottom, it has expanded to twice that. You can walk nearly to the foot of the waterfall, although it’s a slippery and dangerous path, and there’s no way to avoid getting drenched by the powerful spray.

We stayed for almost two hours. With the picturesque fjord stretching off into the distance, it’s an enchanting location and easy to reach, just a couple minutes off road #60 south of Þingeyri. An unmissable sight while in the Westfjords.

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September 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm Comments (2)

Three Waterfalls of Southern Iceland

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“Don’t go chasing waterfalls”. Words of advice from TLC, the greatest American girl group of the 1990s. No doubt it’s a catchy refrain, but what a terrible message! Why should three women who achieved their own dreams dissuade their fans from “chasing waterfalls”? To stick to the rivers that they’re used to? I suspect T-Boz and co. were trying to nip future competition in the bud. And it’s not just bad advice on a metaphorical level. As we’ve discovered in Iceland, waterfall-chasing can be very rewarding indeed.

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Svartifoss

We read that the Hallgrímskirkja had been inspired by Iceland’s geography, but until gazing upon Svartifoss, we didn’t understand how literal the inspiration had been. The church’s architect reversed the color scheme from black to white, but otherwise Mother Nature has a solid case for copyright infringement.

The “Black Falls” are found in the Skaftafell National Park. The park itself is one of these massive Icelandic places where you could hike for days through valleys and across glaciers without seeing another soul. So it’s merciful that the park’s best waterfall is just a couple kilometers from the entrance. Svartifoss isn’t especially powerful but, with a backdrop of pitch-black basalt columns arranged behind the water like a curtain, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

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Skógarfoss

A rectangular sheet of water which falls straight down for 60 meters and produces an awe-inspiring splash, Skógarfoss might be the most classic “waterfall” we’ve ever seen. Most waterfalls are like, you tell a group of five-year-olds to draw a circle, and their sketches are basically correct, definitely “circles” in the general sense of the word. But then little Julie turns in this absolutely perfect circle, and you’re vaguely unsettled. Skógarfoss is like that. Almost creepy in its perfection, just like that weird little Julie.

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Seljalandsfoss

Even more impressive than Skógarfoss or Svartifoss, is Seljalandsfoss, found just twenty minutes west of Skógar. This massive cascade is visible from the ring road, not far off from Reykjavík, so it’s a sure bet that every single tour bus will be making a stop. The first time we visited was at the end of a very long day tour, when our guide gave us all of fifteen minutes to fight past the other groups and briefly bask in the waterfall’s glory.

The second time was a lot more fun. We had our own transport, were with friends, and arrived at around 10pm. The hour was late, but the Icelandic summer sun was still out, and we had the entire waterfall to ourselves. Seljalandsfoss is incredibly loud and drops directly into a deep pool, producing a thick sheet of spray. But the best part is the path which loops around behind the waterfall, allowing you to view it from every angle.

Locations on Our Map: Svartifoss | Skógarfoss | Seljalandsfoss

We visited these waterfalls as part of the Glacier Lagoon Tour and one by renting a car from SADcars

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August 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (6)
Dettifoss - Europe's Most Powerful Waterfall During our three months in Iceland, we saw a lot of waterfalls. Gullfoss, Dynjandi, Hraunfoss, Goafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, Glymur and many more. But we couldn't claim to have adequately covered the waterfalls of Iceland until visiting Dettifoss, the largest and most powerful in Europe.
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