Some of the most famous waterfalls in North Iceland are Dettifoss and Selfoss.
Located in Jokulsargljufur national park, they are wide, powerful and majestic.
Below is my guide to help you plan your visit with map, comparison of East vs West banks, tips and photos.
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Why visit the Jokulsargljufur Canyon National park and its waterfalls?
About Jokulsargljufur – the canyon
Jokulsargljufur is the largest and most impressive canyon in Iceland. It is approximately 25km long, about 500m wide and its depth comes close or exceeds 100m in many places. The canyon is believed to have been formed by catastrophic flooding in the glacial river Jokusla, which originated on the northern side of Vatnojokull glacier after the last glacial period.
Jökulsárgljúfur forms the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park.
Its name means Glacial River Canyon.
It has been made famous by its series of waterfalls: from South to North: Selfoss, Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss and Rettarfoss, Dettifoss being the most famous
About the Dettifoss waterfall
Dettifoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland because it is reputed to be the biggest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume which varies between 200 and 500 cubic meters of water per second.
Dettifoss is a curtain-shaped waterfall that is 100m (330ft) wide and 44m (144ft) in height.
This waterfall appeared in the movie Prometheus (2012) in the opening scene.
About the Selfoss waterfall
Selfoss is lesser known because it is smaller and requires walking to reach it from Dettifoss.
The waterfall is a horse-shoe shaped waterfall. It is 10m high and continues into a veil like series of small waterfalls.
Note: Do not mix the Selfoss waterfall in North Iceland with Seljalandsfoss, the waterfall near the town of Selfoss in South Iceland...
About the Hafragilsfoss waterfall
The 3rd waterfall is Hafragilsfoss and is far less famous because you need a 4WD to reach it. There is no easy track to reach its bank, but the views from the ridge of the canyon are magnificent. You can learn more about it and see more photos in my article about Hafragilsfoss.
Hafragilsfoss is a curtain-shaped waterfall. It is 27m high.
To the North is also Rettarfoss: 75m wide and a 7m high drop (or 12m depending on sources...).
Planning tips and Map - Dettifoss and Selfoss, Iceland
Where is Dettifoss in Iceland? Location and Map
- Located in North Iceland (see my guide)
- East of Lake Myvatn and the town of Reykjahlíð
- Reykjahlid (Lake Myvatn) to Dettifoss = 1h10 drive
- Akureyri to dettifoss = 2h15 drive via North
- Below is a map to help you get oriented:
These waterfalls are included (with GPS coordinates, map of region and planning info) in my travel guide eBook that helps you easily plan your Iceland road trip:
Plan your dream road trip in Iceland
How to get to Dettifoss and Selfoss
- If you are visiting North Iceland and the Myvatn area, I strongly recommend renting your own car. This gives you the freedom to visit all the locations you are interested in.
- No public transportation
- Otherwise most of the Iceland Organized tours will stop Dettifoss (but normally don't include the walk to Selfoss) - See options and availability
- There are 2 roads to reach views of the waterfalls, on each side of the canyon
- East bank - Road 864 (Hólsfjallavegur) - 30km on gravel road and the parking is on the left - Also accessible from Husavik
- West Bank - Road 862 (Dettifossvegur) - 25km on that road and parking on the right with 3 more km. It is now paved from the Ring Road.
- More details further in the article
Need to rent a car in Iceland?
- Option 1 - Local experts - Iceland has a lot of specificities and offerings by local companies are adapted - compare cars and prices of quality local brands on GuidetoIceland.com
- Option 2 - International Brands - compare offers on Discovercars.com - one of the best customer-rated comparison sites!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
- If you plan on driving on F-roads in the Central Highlands, a good 4WD is mandatory
What to wear to Dettifoss?
It is essential to wear good waterproof shoes, a waterproof jacket and have something to protect your camera from the mist.
Check out my complete article with detailed suggestions and tips on what to wear and pack for Iceland to stay warm and comfortable
Accommodations around Myvatn
No accommodations right next to the waterfalls.
I think Lake Myvatn is a fantastic area to stay for a few days.
The town of Reykjahlid would be a great option to visit the area. Choose one of the lake Myvatn accommodations
The Dimmuborgir Guesthouse is one of my favorite places to stay in Iceland (I booked myself and paid entirely for my stay).
Right next to the lake and with the Hverfjall crater in the background... perfect! See more photos and check availability
Dettifoss: East or West Bank? Best side to visit? 862 or 864?
One of the most common question is which side to visit?
Should you approach Dettifoss from the East or West bank?
Ideally, you should visit both sides of Jokulsargljufur. Lol, of course. They both offer interesting perspective. They bring something different.
However, if you are very limited in time, my answer is the West Bank if you want the best view of Dettifoss and easier access.
That being said, it depends on what you are looking for, so below are the advantages of both sides (photos further down in article).
Pros of the East Bank
- Easy road along the canyon (but gravel)
- You can keep driving to reach Hafragilsfoss
- If you are also interested in Selfoss, the views are better on this side
- Less spray from the waterfall
- You can better the see the entire height of the waterfall
Pros of West Bank
- Large parking lot
- Paved road
- Easier walking paths (especially to Selfoss)
- Better views of the power of Dettifoss (in my opinion)
How long to visit both sides of Dettifoss?
- From Road 1 to carpark West (road 862) = 25min
- 10/15min walk to Dettifoss West
- From Road 1 to carpark East (road 864) = 35min
- 15min walk to Dettifoss East
So do visit both sides, with time to enjoy the views you need to plan at the absolute minimum 4 hours.
Longer to enjoy it more and to also hike to Selfoss.
Dettifoss waterfall - West Bank
Selfoss and Dettifoss walks on the West Bank
- Easy access to both Dettifoss and Selfoss on the West Bank
- 10 to 15min walk to Dettifoss – you can go to the top section or take stairs for another view
- 15 min more to Selfoss on a flat path
Road 862 and carpark West
On the West side, the road is paved all the way to the Dettifoss carpark.
It has been set up to better accommodate tourists.
There are toilets and a gift shop.
Dettifoss hike - West Bank
On this side of the canyon, there are 2 viewpoints to enjoy, depending on your fitness level.
First, you can walk 10 min to the upper viewpoint. No stairs.
You only see the top of the waterfall, but you can appreciate its width and the volume of water flowing.
Here is the view from the top. See the person standing near the waterfall!!! It gives a great idea of scale...
And then you can walk down the stairs to get up close to the massive flow of water.
5minute extra walk.
Be ready to receive a lot of mist on this side! Protect your camera.
Be reasonable and don't walk too close to the edge, it is slippery!
If you like waterfalls, don't miss my article with a video and pictures of 21 waterfalls in Iceland!
Dettifoss Iceland - East Bank
Selfoss and Dettifoss hikes on the East Bank
- Beware, there is a lot of spray from the waterfall and rocks can be slippery. Good footwear is recommended
- Parking to Dettifoss: 1.5km return (30min walk return)
- Parking-Dettifoss-Selfoss – Loop 2.5km (1h to 1h30) – the path is not paved. There are rocks and boulders.
Road 864 and carpark East
On the East side, the road is unpaved. It is a gravel road.
But it is well-leveled and maintained.
There is no issue with driving a standard car here. Just a few holes here and there, so don't drive too fast.
The carpark is not that big, so avoid the middle of the day in Summer, as it could be full.
Dettifoss hike from the East Bank
The path to the waterfall is clearly marked.
You can first enjoy beautiful views of the canyon.
The path is a rocky trail that is downhill with stairs. Be careful, it can be slippery because of the rain and the mist.
On this side, you have a brilliant view of the entire height of the waterfall.
However, you can't quite grasp the width:
You can walk right up to the edge of the waterfall and realize its power.
Don't forget to also focus on the roaring sound. Quite impressive!
On this photo you can see the edge of the other side, the West bank with the people at the top and the track:
Selfoss waterfall - hikes on West and East sides
From both carparks, there is a possibility to hike to another waterfall upstream.
It is Selfoss.
It isn’t nearly as tall or as powerful as Dettifoss but it has a horseshoe shape with many smaller waterfalls which are very elegant.
Selfoss from the West Bank
From the West bank Dettifoss carpark, the walk was very easy and flat.
It follows the river, and there are signs. It takes around 15min to enjoy the views or longer to get closer.
The entire loop is 2.5km return.
We see less of the many waterfalls, but it is still very pretty.
Selfoss - East Bank
When I was planning to see Selfoss on the East Bank, it was the end of the day and I was very tired so after 5 minutes on the path to Selfoss I decided to turn around.
It is around 2km return from Dettifoss to Selfoss.
This is not an easy flat path. There are boulders and it requires focus. I decided it was not reasonable for me to continue.
So, here is a shot by another photographer:
Dettifoss in Winter - Is Dettifoss closed or open?
In Spring, Summer and Autumn, when there is no snow, the roads to Dettifoss are open.
They are not F-roads and the West side is even paved.
During the Winter, when there is snow, the roads may be impassable for some time. They are not frequently cleared.
However, if you want to visit in Winter, Superjeep private tours sometimes run: check out program and availability
Want to see more of the best Iceland has to offer?
- All my favorite things to do in North Iceland - read article
- Tips to plan your Iceland road trip - read article
- Tips to rent a car in Iceland - read article
- Tips to drive around Iceland - read article
- Itinerary suggestions - read article
- 45 Most beautiful landscapes in Iceland in pictures - read article
- The best stops on the Ring Road - read article
- 21 Most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland - read article
- Top 5 places to see around Myvatn - read article
- The 5 most beautiful black sand beaches in Iceland - read article
- The Golden Circle - read article
- The Snaefellsnes peninsula - read article
Planning a trip to Iceland?
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