Exploring the natural wonders of Iceland
During our 2-week stay we were blessed with unusually good late fall weather allowing us to experience many natural wonders. Although we saw many, here are our four favorite Iceland waterfalls.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall | 63.6156° N, 19.9886° W
Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most picturesque waterfalls and at 200 feet high it is beyond impressive. Seen from a distance it is enormous. Up close it is a thunderous, cascading wall of icy glacier water. It stretches your imagination to think that this tall cliff once marked the country’s coastline. Today the sea is located across a stretch of lowlands, visible from the falls.
The geology of this area has a special resonance with the Icelandic people, as well as the rest of the travelling world. Seljalandsfoss waterfall is part of the river Seljalandsá which has its origins underneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. The volcano that lay beneath this ice cap was the one that erupted in 2010, impacting air travel around the world and wreaking havoc at airports across Europe.
Being that we arrived early in the day in late September there were no tour busses and only a smattering of cars in the parking lot. As the parking lot is quite far from the falls it gave us plenty of time, and perspective, to view just how awesome they are. Although not the largest falls in Iceland it is no wonder that they are one of the most visited and photographed features on the island.
Once we approached the falls it was hard to talk over the roar of the massively cascading water. Rainbows came and went with the light and birds shot in and out from behind the falls as if they were taking their morning shower.
One of the best features of the Seljalandsfoss is the path that leads up to, and behind the falls into a deep, wide cavern allowing visitors to fully encircle it. It is a loud, slippery and very wet experience that left us totally exhilarated.
Being that we had plenty of time to explore we hiked several of the trails up to, around and away from the falls. The expansive lowlands to either side of Seljalandsfoss allowed us to witness it from various vantage points as well as to discover smaller falls along the same cliff.
After several hours we returned to the car windburned and wet yet imbued with the sense that, once again, we had experienced something truly magical.
Skogafoss Waterfall | 63.5321° N, 19.5114° W
Among the hundreds of waterfalls dotting the landscape of Iceland Skógafoss waterfall is truly one of the most impressive sites. It is astonishingly big, measuring 200 feet high and 80 feet wide and seen from the Ring Road it resembles an enormous painting by the nineteenth century landscape master Frederic Church.
Once out of the car and headed toward the base of the falls we quickly realized the enormity and power of this great waterfall. Not only does it make a deafening roar but the volume of water hitting the ground creates a constant blast of cold, wet wind that takes your breath away. Staying dry is not an option when approaching the falls!
A more ethereal and ephemeral side effect of all this moisture are the numerous rainbows. On the day that we arrived the morning light was just right as we witnessed several of these multicolored gypsies dancing in and out of view. Some were so close it felt like we could touch them.
In addition to its epic size, Skógafoss also enjoys another unique distinction. Starting at the base of the falls there are 527 steps (we lost count!) to a viewing platform that overlooks the drop while observing the massive Skógá river that feeds it.
Most visitors return to their cars after hiking to the overlook yet if they knew what lay beyond this point they would do as we did and climb the short wooden ladder and follow the river into higher ground. There we saw several of the 20 plus additional waterfalls that careen off the river, each one more magnificent than the next.
Walk far, and long enough, and we would have run into the massive Eyjafjallajökull glacier that feeds this and many other rivers in this region.
Another day. Another time.
Svartifoss Waterfall | Black Falls | 64.0275° N, 16.9753° W
Svartifoss waterfall, otherwise known as “Black Falls” is not visible from the Ring Road, as other well known falls are, yet it is worth the 60-90 minute hike that it takes to reach this stunning natural wonder.
With a 66 foot drop Svartifoss is considerably shorter than many of Iceland’s falls. However, what it lacks in height it more than makes up for it with its amazing amphitheater of hexagonal lava columns which surround the waterfall resembling a massive church organ.
Under platinum grey skies we walked across expansive shrub and moss covered meadows showing off their muted pallet of fall colors. During the hike we crossed several wooden bridges spanning rivers of crystalline water while marveling at distant glaciers and snow capped mountains.
The roughly 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot to Svartifoss kept us in suspense as we could not see the falls until the last minute. After more than an hour we started to hear the sound of rushing water as the trail began its steep descent to a long footbridge that crossed the river at the base of the falls.
The curved backdrop of basalt columns hanging off the side of the cliff was mind boggling and we scrambled off the bridge to head up the river for a closer look. The base of the falls was littered with fallen, broken chunks of columns, some of which were the size of small cars. Scattered about for a hundred yards it resembled the playground of mischievous gods.
Once again we found ourselves in the midst of another raw, majestic Iceland landscape with not another person in sight as we spent the next couple of hours crossing the bridge to the other side to hike up, around and to the top of the falls.
Aside from the obvious reference of “organ pipes” and all that confers, we could not help but marvel at the beauty and grandeur of this sacred place.
Godafoss Waterfall | 65.6828° N, 17.5502° W
Godafoss Waterfall or “waterfall of the gods” is located in the northeast part of Iceland and is easily accessible from the Ring Road. It is fed by the 175 mile long Skjálfandafljót river, the fourth largest in Iceland, which accounts for the massive volume of raging, angry water pouring over its cliffs. The waterfall flows over a 98 foot wide, horseshoe shaped rock face that rises in the center creating two separate falls.
On the day that we arrived there was not another visitor in sight adding to the emptiness of the extraordinary Bárðardalur valley. With icy grey skies matching the color of the water the only thing that separated the river and falls from the sky was the ancient lave field, wearing its best fall colors of rust, ocher and moss.
Seeing the enormous river carved deep into the valley and the falls gushing an unimaginable torrent of water over its cliffs was a experience in unrivaled beauty and the awesome power of nature. The cold grey skies and lack of tourists along with the vast bleakness of the landscape left us feeling energized and blessed to be in such an awe inspiring place alone.