Svartifoss Waterfall: Iceland’s Unique Basalt Column Wonder

  • by Yanshu
  • South Iceland
  • 19 May 2023

Discover Svartifoss, Iceland's unique waterfall surrounded by striking basalt columns, found in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. Perfect for hikers and nature lovers, Svartifoss offers a breathtaking experience amidst volcanic landscapes. Visit now to capture stunning photos and enjoy scenic trails.

Svartifoss Waterfall: Iceland’s Unique Basalt Column Wonder

What’s So Special about Svartifoss

Svartifoss is a stunning waterfall located in the south-east of Iceland, within the boundaries of Vatnajökull National Park. Known for its striking hexagonal black basalt columns that frame the cascade, this natural wonder has earned the nickname “Black Waterfall”. These basalt formations create a unique geological amphitheater, amplifying the beauty of this 20-meter high waterfall.

The basalt columns of Svartifoss share similarities with other famous Icelandic landmarks, such as the Hallgrímskirkja Church and the National Theatre, which both showcase striking black columnar basalt formations in their architecture. The black basalt columns surrounding Svartifoss are not just a breathtaking sight but also hold geological significance, as they reveal how the ancient lava cooled and crystallized over time.

A close-up shot of Svartifoss waterfall, South Iceland.

I recommend visiting Svartifoss from the western side, where you can hike through a scenic trail that leads to the waterfall. During the hike, you will be rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding landscape, including glaciers, mountains, and other picturesque Icelandic waterfalls. Along the trail, there are several viewpoints that allow you to appreciate the magnificence of Svartifoss from different angles. The overall experience is not only visually captivating but also provides an opportunity to learn about the geological history of the region.

For visitors to the Southeast region of Iceland, Svartifoss waterfall is truly a remarkable natural wonder that deserves to be explored on your trip to Iceland. The combination of its dramatic black basalt columns and powerful waterfall creates an unforgettable sight that showcases the country’s awe-inspiring landscape and geological diversity.

Photo credit ©Toby Elliott via Unsplash.
Svartifoss waterfall in winter.

Hiking to Svartifoss Waterfall

Svartifoss waterfall is an extraordinary site in Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Iceland, known for its unique basalt columns and striking beauty. As you embark on a hike to Svartifoss, you’ll follow well-maintained trails suitable for all levels of experience.

Our journey begins at the visitor center, where multiple hiking routes to Svartifoss are available. To make the most of our time and enjoy breathtaking views, I recommend the Svartifoss Trail (Waterfalls Trail). This trail offers a pleasant hike that lasts approximately 1-2 hours, leading us to the majestic waterfall and allowing us to admire other waterfalls along the way.

One of the highlights on our route to Svartifoss is passing the Hundafoss and Magnúsarfoss waterfalls, which stand tall as the first and second waterfalls encountered on this trail. As you continue your journey, we’ll hike through a picturesque landscape with views of Columnar Basalt, an incredible natural formation that adds to the enchantment of this journey.

Hiking to Svartifoss waterfall is a popular activity in South Iceland.

As you approach Svartifoss, you’ll be captivated by its unique amphitheater of basalt columns. The best spot for capturing this grandeur is at the viewing platform. From here, photographers can take impressive shots of the waterfall and its surrounding wonders, snapping breathtaking images that last a lifetime.

Throughout your hike, the trail offers various views towards the sea and other Skaftafell waterfalls, making it a must-try route for nature enthusiasts. While the trail may include some uphill hiking, the descent back to the visitor center is relatively easy, allowing us to enjoy the rich Icelandic landscape from start to finish.

The hiking experience to Svartifoss offers an unforgettable journey into the heart of Iceland’s natural beauty. The well-maintained trail, stunning viewpoints, and geological wonders make this hike a fantastic choice for adventurers of all ages and abilities.

Exploring Skaftafell and Vatnajökull National Park

As you venture into the beautiful Skaftafell area, it’s important to know that it is part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park. This park is home to Iceland’s largest ice cap, the mighty Vatnajökull Glacier, making it an ideal spot for adventure enthusiasts.

Before starting our exploration, we’ll need to pay a parking fee at the entrance of the park. From there, you can visit the informative Skaftafell Visitor Center, where you can acquire all the necessary information and advice about the area, as well as the hiking trails we’d like to follow.

The Skaftafell Nature Reserve boasts a plethora of scenic hiking trails catering to all skill levels. One of the most popular routes is the Svartifoss hike, and for good reason. Along this trail, we’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding glaciers, as well as the famous Svartifoss waterfall, characterized by its striking black basalt columns.

For those who are more inclined towards ice exploration, a Skaftafell glacier hike is a must. This guided hike will lead us across the glacier tongue of Vatnajökull, offering a unique, up-close look at the remarkable ice formations. Remember to always follow proper safety measures and never venture on the glaciers without a certified guide.

Exploring Skaftafell and Vatnajökull National Park is an unforgettable adventure, offering a multitude of activities and stunning natural beauty. Whether you choose to hike amidst lush green landscapes or traverse icy glaciers, this region will surely leave a lasting impression on us.

Notable Nearby Landmarks

Fjadrargljufur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, a breathtaking geological wonder in southeast Iceland, stretches over 2 kilometers and reaches depths of 100 meters. Formed during the last Ice Age, approximately 9,000 years ago, this canyon boasts steep walls and winding water from the Fjaðrá river. 

Renowned for its dramatic vistas, lush greenery, and striking rock formations, it’s a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and photographers. Easily accessible from Route 1, Fjaðrárgljúfur offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience.

It’s about a one-hour drive from Svartifoss Waterfall to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, heading westwards

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in south iceland
Fjaðrárgljúfur, the Feather Canyon is a stunning sight to see in South Iceland.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach

Jökulsárlón, a stunning glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland, features floating icebergs calved from the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier. Its icy waters, home to seals, flow into the Atlantic, creating the nearby Diamond Beach. This beach, named for its ice chunks sparkling like diamonds on black volcanic sands, offers a surreal contrast and a photographer’s paradise. The lagoon and beach, easily accessible via Route 1, are must-visit spots for witnessing Iceland’s dynamic and captivating natural beauty.

From Svartifoss waterfall to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, it takes about 50 minutes by car via the Ring Road.

Glacier Lagoon icebergs
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon filled with floating icebergs.

Waterfalls and Landscapes

Besides Svartifoss waterfall, often referred to as the Black Falls, there are plenty of other picturesque waterfalls and landscapes to explore in the area, including:

Remember to also visit the amazing landscapes surrounding Lambhagi and the gorgeous gorge at Skeiðarársandur. One fantastic viewpoint to capture the beauty of the area is Sjónarnípa, which offers stunning panoramic views of the mountains and the glacial rivers.

Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall you can walk behind.

Additional Points of Interest nearby Svartifoss

In addition to waterfalls, there are numerous other attractions around Svartifoss worth experiencing:

  • Kristínartindar: A beautiful hiking location with scenic mountain views
  • Lambhagafoss: A small yet awe-inspiring waterfall near Skaftafell
  • Diamond Beach: A breathtaking beach with pristine icebergs glittering in the sun
  • Selið Turf House: A traditional Icelandic turf house, offering insights into the local culture and history
Vagues au Diamond Beach
Waves crushing on glacial ice chunks on the Diamond Beach.

Geology and Architecture Inspired by Svartifoss

The unique hexagonal basalt columns formed by the Stórilækur River are a significant characteristic of Svartifoss, influencing several artists and architects. Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson found inspiration in these columns as he designed some of Iceland’s most famous buildings, such as the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik. As you explore Svartifoss and nearby landmarks, take time to appreciate the fascinating geology and the inspiration derived from the natural surroundings.

Reykjavik downtown pickup and drop off stops
Hallgirmskirkja church in Reykjavik.

Frequently Asked Questions about Svartifoss

How to Get to Svartifoss Waterfall from Reykjavik?

To visit Svartifoss Waterfall from Reykjavik, drive along the scenic Route 1, also known as the Ring Road,  towards Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park, it’s about a 4-hour journey. Once there, enjoy a moderate hike through beautiful landscapes, taking roughly 45 minutes to reach the stunning basalt-column framed waterfall, a true Icelandic treasure.

What is the difficulty level of the Svartifoss hike?

The Svartifoss hike is generally considered to be of easy to moderate difficulty level. It requires hiking uphill to reach the waterfall, but the return hike is downhill, making it a relatively comfortable experience for most visitors. The hike takes approximately 60 minutes roundtrip, and you should allow about 1.5 hours for the hike and taking pictures.

Are there any nearby attractions in Skaftafell National Park?

Yes, there are several attractions in Skaftafell National Park, which is part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park. Apart from the mesmerizing Svartifoss waterfall, you can explore the gorgeous glaciers, mountain peaks, and various hiking trails in the park. Additionally, you can visit the Skaftafellsjökull glacier and the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon, offering breathtaking views and opportunities for photography.

Are there any other waterfalls to explore in Iceland?

Iceland is home to numerous impressive waterfalls apart from Svartifoss. Some of the other well-known waterfalls include:

  1. Gullfoss waterfall: A powerful and iconic waterfall located in the Golden Circle.
  2. Seljalandsfoss waterfall: A stunning waterfall that you can walk behind, offering an unforgettable experience.
  3. Skógafoss waterfall: A spectacular 60-meter high waterfall on the Skógá River.
  4. Dettifoss waterfall: Known as Europe’s most powerful waterfall, located in the Vatnajökull National Park.
  5. Goðafoss waterfall: A beautiful and historically significant waterfall in the Bárðardalur district.

These are just a few examples of the incredible waterfalls that can be found throughout Iceland, each with its own unique features and surroundings.

About the author
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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