If you haven’t already realized, our visit to Iceland was a revelation. We never thought about visiting the island country before the pandemic, but once they opened up to vaccinated guests, it quickly went on our short list.
An additional benefit to visiting Iceland when we did is that many of the sights are outside. While several of the waterfalls and geysers are accessible by car, some of the best sights require a hike to get there.
While we used to go to exercise classes together, that was a long time ago and we’re more sedentary than we’d like. I left out many of the activities that included long hikes, but I wanted to visit one location, and Sharon reluctantly agreed.
Svartifoss is a waterfall located in Skaftafell and part of Vatnajökull National Park. After leaving Glacier View Guesthouse, it was a 90-minute drive on the Ring Road to the parking lot for the national park. This was one of the few places where we had to pay for parking in Iceland.
We walked to the visitor center from the parking lot, where they have an information desk, gift shop, restaurant, and bathrooms. This is also where we paid for parking since the kiosks at the parking lot were all broken.
According to the trail map, the walk to Svartifoss is 1.5 km and is rated as an “Easy” hike. The only addendum to the description is that you’ll climb 140 m during the walk. I’m bad at conversions, but I should have done the math and realized we’d be climbing 500 feet on the hike to the waterfall.
For most of the hike, we were looking uphill. Some areas were steeper than others.
Unlike some hiking trails we’ve been on in the US, this one was the nicest I’ve ever walked. It has gravel all along the path and a metal mesh embedded underneath to keep the stones from washing away.
We took plenty of stops to catch our breath and grab a sip of water. It did give us a chance to look back at where we came from and how high we’d already climbed. The parking lot is at the bottom of the path.
About halfway into the journey, you’ll pass your first waterfall. This one is located just off the trail. There’s an observation platform and places to sit on the steps if you like.
It’s a nice enough waterfall, just not worth the hike to get here if that’s all there was to see. It was more a good place to rest before continuing the hike. We soon realized we would not make it to Svartifoss in the 45 minutes the guide claimed as that time is for Icelanders who go for walks every weekend and do this for fun. 🙂 Sharon was not having fun.
Just after this picture, we were rewarded with our first view of the waterfall. It’s like they designed the path to give you a peek and draw you in for the last part of the hike. Sort of like the Disney castles are designed to pull you down Main Street.
The best part of the rest of the hike? It was all downhill 🙂
We eventually made it down to the bridge and were able to get a better look at the waterfall. It was amazing to see up close.
There is another path along the right side of the river that takes you even closer.
Here’s where you can get a close-up view of the rocks and water.
If you’re wondering, these formations are made of basalt and form in these geometric shapes when they cool at a specific temperature. They can be found all over the world, but some of the more famous locations are Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (That’s the rock from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)
The reason the waterfall keeps the geometric shapes is that the rocks never get a chance to erode. When the force is too great, they break off and fall to the bottom. Notice all of the pieces at the base of the falls and downriver.
After getting all the pictures and video we wanted and then just staring at the waterfall for a while, it was time to head back to the car. We knew the first part of the walk would be back up to the overlook, but it would be all downhill from there.
In all, it took us 2 & 1/2 hours, which includes the walk and time we spent at the waterfall. Definitely longer than the 2 hours the guide says it will take (and their hike takes you across the river, up the other side of the rocks, and back along a different path.) There is one more waterfall along the way, located off a side trail, but we decided to skip it after what we just saw.
When we made it back to the gift shop, we grabbed lunch at the visitor center and headed outside to eat with a view of the glacier.
After lunch, we needed to get back on the road as we were driving around the glacier and headed to Höfn for dinner with a stop at the glacier lagoon. Little did we know that this would be the highlight of the day 🙂 I mean the waterfall, not the sandwiches.
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