It’s not hard to figure out early on that many of the best places to visit in Iceland end in FOSS (Waterfall): Gullfoss, Dettifoss, Skogafoss, Godafoss, I could go on and on. . . so I will in this post dedicated to all the WATERFALLS I visited during my ICELANDIC ROADTRIP. They say the Chase is half the fun, and when chasing waterfalls in Iceland you’ll use intuition, a bit of luck, perhaps an offline map or even better a physical map of the country, in the hopes that you’ll come face to face with your favorite FOSS of them all. The FOSSIEST you could say. But what if every single waterfall was your favorite? I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened to you too.
Iceland is full of life-giving water, a country blessed with heavy and consistent rains in every season of the year and plenty of snowfall in the colder months. So it’s no wonder that in Summer the ice melts and flows effortlessly down mountainsides, through valleys and rushes to become rivers and feed these Falls. These are some of Iceland’s greatest gifts to humans, Glorious Falls that I came to know and love. For you see, I come from a fairly Waterfall-less place in Southern California (USA) where seasons (even years) of drought are commonplace, normal. Here in Iceland with so much freshwater to be in awe of, sacred VATN/WATER, I realized that instead of Chasing Waterfalls I was encountering them. Pretty soon my encounters became rituals. After the initial shock and wonder of their presence, I would sit in prayer, heart fully open, eyes focused on the gushing waters, ears receiving their powerful sounds, body often showered by their mist, soul healed with every inhale and exhale of the adjacent force. Awareness of all Others would melt away while I shared my soul in these moments, minutes, hours. My element of choice, VATN, is particularly responsible for how I see and experience the world, which means Iceland was like a homecoming. Here my heart, mind and body found a way to speak their truest language: joy, revitalization and connection to the Source of Life.
Best in the Early Morning
Snæfellsnes Peninsula is somewhere to consider during your exploration of Iceland. When you have your own car and aren’t in a rush, you’ll discover this region is full of little treasures and one very photogenic Mountain/Waterfall duo. Lucky for me I had both the car and a wide-open schedule. Behold Kirkjufell, gorgeous mountain that towers above all else including you as you stare up at it. But if you come here, you are also coming for this view of Kirkjufellfoss, the waterfall that is worth the early rise. If you are so lucky to get yourself here before 7am (the Midnight Sun made this possible for me as I was sleeping very little each night), you may just have it all to yourself. As Iceland becomes more and more of a “destination” or “must-visit country” there will also be consequences. Little things will be lost, like moments of bliss amongst nature without the distracting bustle of tourists with selfie sticks. I stand corrected though, you may have to share the views with local Icelandic Sheep; mama and little lambs apparently are early risers like me, though the youngens are skittish and utterly camera shy. I respect it. I tend to not like cameras pointed at me before noon. I rolled around in the grass to get just the right angles, and nobody was there to bother me or judge me for putting my camera to work. If you come prepared, you can even fill up your water bottle with fresh river water from Kirkjufellfoss, which provided my body with Earth’s minerals you can’t get from the supermarket. SALUD! Road Trip Ready and it wasn’t even 8am. Here is a little perspective of the magnitude of Kirkjufell.
Easy to Medium Hike
Svartifoss resides within Skaftafell/Vatnajökull National Park. We weren’t sure we were going to see it until we found ourselves with the desire for a hike; Icelandic Summer is made for exploring after all. Starting at the visitor center of the National Park, we chose to ease our way into physical activity by hiking about an hour roundtrip to Skaftafellsjökull, which gives great glacier views. The weather was gloomy and even slightly wet this day, so we weren’t sure how much we’d be able to do if a real storm came down on us. But after that first hour when we returned to the visitor center dry and energized, the weather gods forever in our favor, we agreed it was only natural for us to tackle an Easy/to Medium Hike to the FOSS tucked away in nature.
Can you believe it? What perfection does Mama Tierra hold, inviting us to take part in the Natural Wonders, her gifts!!!! Off we went on a path up up and up into and through the park. I would say my blood was indeed pumping on this hike; it challenged me, mostly due to the incline at times, but I’d still classify it as Easy to Medium depending on your fitness level. This hike takes about 1.5-2 hours roundtrip, so allow yourself the time. Once you arrive, standing in its presence looking at the Phenomena of Basalt columns that frame the Falls (which also happened to be volcanic formations) it’s not easy to turn around and leave. You can literally get within 5 meters, or even closer if you want to. There are barricades to discourage it, but the risk is your own. I preferred the view while standing front and center and on the other side of the barricade. But I made sure to show RESPECT in nature (I always do); to say this place was special doesn’t do it enough justice. So instead I’ll just say, you can come and experience the quality for yourself.
Stay for Awhile
In Icelandic it literally means “Waterfall of the gods” and when you come here you will see why. Planning to stop here on a short visit? I’m going to say this bluntly, you should STAY FOR AWHILE. Stay and see the Power, Force, the Magical Quality of Godafoss. I had known Godafoss was an easy stopover on route to the Myvatn Geothermal area, but I didn’t know that these Falls would lure me like those Sirens lure unsuspecting sailors. I felt compelled to dedicate as much time as soul required. A slightly overcast sky didn’t take away from the beauty, and the longer I stayed, the more the landscape changed. Shape-shifting clouds above transformed the color of Godafoss subtly, and the highlight was my first Rainbow sighting in Iceland.
Just off Highway 1 on the Ring Road there are two parking lots for cars at Godafoss, one on the East side and the other on the West side of the Falls. I’m bias to the incredible views I got on the West. Here on the West you can GET REALLY CLOSE to the Falls ( just don’t look down for too long); my heart was pounding at times from the heights (and I’m not even afraid of tall spaces). You’ll may encounter a daredevil or someone looking to get big likes on instagram, but QU-EEN don’t play that game. Godafoss is alive, like you or me, and therefore has my unending respect. **I’d love to reiterate that the weather in Iceland changes so frequently (even in Summer). Perhaps one wrong move could mean death by Sirens, by temptation. Sorry to go there, but I feel it has to be said. I will highly recommend that you take a seat on a big and spacious rock and stay awhile. Breathe in the Energy, absolutely incredible energy. Such a perfect way to slow down your racing heart at the heights. You may very well end up staying a few hours, as I did, completely enraptured.
Part of the Golden Circle
As the only waterfall on this list that is recommended by all guidebooks and on all the must-lists, as it’s relatively close to Reykjavík and therefore makes up part of the Golden Circle of sights (Thingvellir/ Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss), I can testify to its beauty and charm. Google says it’s about 1 hour and 45 min from Iceland’s capital city, but if you choose to visit the Golden Circle then it’s a really quick continuation from Geysir (just 10 minutes more). I was fortunate to have chosen an off day or something, or perhaps visiting late in the day meant most of the giant tourbuses had headed back along with their tourists. I arrived at about 6pm to a practically empty parking lot, and it was just a 10 minute walk down. As moody as sky was, I loved the character it gave GULLFOSS during my visit. Most photos of Iceland’s beloved Gullfoss on google show a giant accompanying rainbow boldly painted across the waterfall, but here I witnessed its moodier cousin. Beauty in its serenity. Beauty in its Powerful mist, which engulfs you as you walk closer and closer to the canyon at its edge. A Waterfall with many angles, many personalities, always keeping it fresh. Bring all your waterproof gear because you’re bound to get wet, even if it’s not raining. You heard Powerful Mist right? And if you’re traveling solo like me, don’t be afraid to ask a bystander to snap some photos of you. Selfies just don’t cut it here. I Absolutely kept falling more and more in love with Iceland’s waterfalls throughout my trip, and Gullfoss was no exception.
Don’t forget your GPS/plan ahead your escape route
The Largest Waterfall in all of Europe. . . that’s right, just MASSIVE. But what about Power? Yup, it also boasts as the most POWERFUL Waterfall in all of Europe too. Iceland, you just keep surprising with your Natural Beauty, and the power in the Natural World. So Inspiring! If you’re adventurous enough to travel a bit off the beaten path in the Northeast of Iceland, make sure you download some sort of offline map (and possibly have written directions down on paper too) in case you get all turned around when exiting Dettifoss’ parking lot. I’ll explain further. . . But first, ahhhhhhh!!! What a “Beast”! I heard Icelandic people lovingly refer to this Foss as “The Beast” because nothing really compares to it in all of the Continent. I just couldn’t believe that the Universe conspired to get me here and to witness this sight. With an incredible 44 meter drop, you can probably imagine the sound of Dettifoss’ water equivalent to all of Iceland’s FALLS combined. I hadn’t seen or experienced anything like it prior. The width of the Falls is just as impressive, at 100 meters wide, which means you feel absolutely ant-size in comparison. The Beast’s water source is nearby Vatnajökull glacier. You have a take a short trail that lasts about 20 minutes or so to get to the waterfall, and the reveal when you arrive Stuns!
Now, about that GPS/Map/escape route. . . I made the mistake of thinking I could get to Husavík (my stop for the night) via the quickest route. Yea, quickest if you have a four wheel drive (FWD) vehicle. I am still not sure to this day if I was driving on an F-Road, which are the roads that you aren’t allowed on without FWD. Rental Car companies are Explicit about this. But I will tell you that I drove for what seemed like ETERNITY on this road that could have popped my tired at any moment it was so weathered and bad. It didn’t seem like a bad road at first, and was a gravel road at parts, but at other parts it was nothing but a dried mud road with gigantic potholes. I started panicking maybe 15 minutes into the drive, wondering how I had made such a mistake. My internal dialogue went something like this.
Should I turn back? Would it be wise? Couldn’t I just keep going and hope I’d spend the same amount of time more or less to get to the end of the road as I would to return and take a whole new road up to Husavík? It’s getting late. I’m scared (Late though Not Dark because of the Midnight Sun). What if I pop a tire or run out of gas on this road? Who will save me? (Not a single car passed me after I saw the one and only vehicle on this road, a Campervan that was going in the opposite direction). I don’t even have working Wifi here. (Yup that’s right, the signal went out and that meant no phone calls from my phone to the rental car company, tow truck, or potentially Icelandic Police). Crap! Crap! F#?K. . .There aren’t even any wildlife along this whole route, which is definitely a Bad Omen!! F#?K where is the panic button on this vehicle????!!!!
And for whatever reason, I just drove on this road as carefully as I could (longer than an hour but honestly it felt 3+ hours), calming myself down with deep breaths, hoping that the storm clouds would dissipate. The last thing I needed was a big storm to hit and render it impossible to get to the end of the yellow brick road. The more I believed it, that I would get to the end of this road, the more relaxed I became. What a fucking drive, probably one of the craziest of my life. And then Universe gifted me the sign that I needed to carry on; I spotted a sheep! Finally!!! And I swear to you I screamed of joy and then took a little snap snap photograph so that I could always remember this moment. Then a rainbow followed, the most incredible rainbow I saw throughout my 11 day trip, but I didn’t stop to photograph it. I just drove until I reached the end of the most terrifying road I encountered in Iceland, grateful. Really so very grateful. But just so you know, Dettifoss was so worth it. Just take the same road out that you came in on to get back to the Ring Road, and then have your directions from the Ring Road to Husavík or wherever you are headed next. It may take longer, but probably it won’t because the conditions of the roads are drivable, unlike the ones less traveled that are sometimes traveled when you make a wrong turn.
Perfect Location with a nearby camping
This waterfall happened to be the final Foss I saw up close and personal, on one of my final nights on the island. By the time we came here (I say we because on day 6 of my trip I met up with another Solo Female Traveler), I had encountered so many glorious Falls already, and most of them by myself. Sleeping in my car throughout my week and a half in Iceland to save money, now that I had a partner in travel who opted for camping in a tent, we’d always end the days at an official camping site, this one just a 10 minute walk to Seljalandsfoss. As usual, the daylight didn’t allow me to sleep very much, and the car was cold this night too. Lucky for me, there was plenty of magic to discover and it was light out. For when would I be in Iceland again? Only time will tell. I set an alarm to wake up by 5am and head over to the Waterfall all by myself, my friend sound asleep in the nearby tent. I took my waterproof gear this time, knowing that this waterfall is known for its showers. You can walk all the way behind it if you want, but you’ll get showered. I didn’t mind getting a little wet, with the camping so close by and a hot shower on the agenda after my time here. The best part about my visit was that not a soul was here. I watched the sky brighten slowly in the distance. Again, Universe gave me my moments, alone, in complete connection and harmony with my Natural Surrounding. It was a perfect way to end a incredible summer of CHASING WATERFALLS all over Iceland. I’m grateful for all the beauty that my eyes recognized, the gift of sight often taken for granted in our day to day lives, but mostly I’m forever grateful for the unspoken things that my soul absorbed.
Lessons from the Waterfall
Before flying out to Iceland, I had jotted down some Waterfalls in my travel notebook to keep an eye out for, but in the end, it’s not surprising to me that my trip unfolded quite organically. Some Falls just appeared as if from nowhere. Some happened right on route to somewhere else I was headed. Some were the biggest, some were the most powerful, some had the most charm, the most faces/personalities, and yet all were part of the greatest gift for me in Iceland. I left the country completely fulfilled and with a strong feeling that someday I’d be back, encountering Waterfalls once again.