Discover the stunning Svartifoss waterfall hike in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.
It leads you to the black waterfall in its amphitheater of basalt columns, wit nice views towards the sea and the other Skaftafell waterfalls.
Below is my guide to help you plan your visit with tips, map, trail and photos.
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Why visit the Svartifoss Waterfall in Iceland?
Located near the South Coast of Iceland, the Svartifoss waterfall offers an intriguing shape: the water of river Stórilækur drops 20m inside an amphitheater of geometrical basalt columns (30m wide). The trail allows you to walk quite close and admire this geological wonder.
Some say that it inspired Icelandic architecture, such as the Reykjavik cathedral. And it is often listed as one of the best waterfalls in Iceland.
How was Svartifoss formed? Geology
Like all basalt column formations, Svartifoss was formed by a volcanic eruption, when the lava flow cooled down at a slow pace becoming rock. With changing temperatures, the hard rock contracts and fractures. Since the lava is warmer at the bottom, the fracture lines go down as the lava cools down, creating the vertical columns.
The water is fed by some melting glacier via River Storilaekur.
How old is Svartifoss?
I have read thousands of years ago. But I am sorry, I can't seem to be able to find sources to corroborate.
What is Skaftafell?
Svartifoss is located in the Skaftafell National Park. If you look at a map of Iceland, you will notice a huge section with a glacier called Vatnajokulsthjodgardur. Skaftafell merged into that major national park in 2008. It is situated on its South side. Its landscape is fascinating with a glacier tongue, waterfalls and views over the flat black sand area at its foot.
How to pronounce Svartifoss + Meaning
Want to properly ask questions to locals - Check out here to listen to the pronunciation of Svartifoss. It is quite surprising.
The Svartifoss name means the Black Waterfall because of the black basalt columns.
Note: this is a common name in the Nordics. Don't be confused by pictures as there is also a Svartifoss waterfall in the Faroe Islands.
More photos after the planning tips.
Planning Tips & Map - Waterfall of Svartifoss, Iceland
Where is Svartifoss? - Location / Map
How to get to Svartifoss & Skaftafell National Park
- Reykjavik to Svartifoss / Skaftafell = 4h drive
- Vik to Svartifoss / Skaftafell = 1h45 drive
- Höfn to Svartifoss / Skaftafell = 1h40 drive
- The famous lagoon of Jokulsarlon to Skaftafell = 45min drive
- from road 1, turn north on Route 998 (Skaftafellsvegur) and continue 1.5 km to the visitor centre parking.
- If you are doing a road trip on your own - head to my guide on driving in Iceland
This location is included (with GPS coordinates, map of region and planning info) in my travel guide eBook that helps you easily plan your Iceland road trip:
Be overwhelmed by the beauty, not the planning!
At the Skaftafell Visitor Center
Before you start anything, you should visit the Visitor center of the Skaftafell National Park (at the carpark):
- The Skaftafell visitor centre has many interesting displays and sells a hiking map. But if you are only doing the Svartifoss walk, do not worry it is properly indicated.
- They can inform you of the conditions of the trail and the expected weather conditions
- They can show you more hiking trails in Skaftafell - visit the Vatnajokulsthjodgardur national park website.
How long is the hike to Svartifoss?
It is 1.5km one way from the Visitor Center.
Officially it is 45min one way, but I would plan for a bit longer as a section is quite steep. Plus, you want to take your time to admire the waterfall from various angles. So, I would plan 3h for the whole hike and visit.
More info later in the article.
Can you visit Svartifoss in Winter?
It is possible to do the Svartifoss hike in Winter from the Skaftafell visitor center. Check out the conditions to see if microspikes are sufficient or if you need snowshoes.
Accommodations near Skaftafell
If you are looking to stay close to the Skaftafell national park, consider the following accommodations with excellent ratings:
- Right at the visitor center - the closest option is the Skaftafell hotel with comfortable rooms and easy access to the magnificent landscapes at sunset and when northern lights are out - check out photos and availability
- Stylish and close by - The Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon offers luxury accommodations with large windows and great views - check out photos and availability
- Charming - The Lækjaborgir Guesthouse cabins allow you to feel close t nature with all the comfort you need - check out photos and availability
- You can camp at the Skaftafell Camping ground (May to September)
Need to rent a car in Iceland?
- Option 1 - Local experts - Iceland has a lot of specificities and the offerings of local companies are adapted - you can compare cars and prices of quality local brands on this expert Icelandic website
- Option 2 - International Brands - compare offers on RentalCars.com
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
Svartifoss Hike - visitor center to Skaftafell waterfall
Where to start the Svartifoss waterfall hike
There is no way to reach the waterfall by car. Some walking is involved.
- You start the hike from the Skaftafell Visitor center carpark.
- or you can reach an upper carpark closer to Svartifoss to avoid the major climb of the hike to Svartifoss there is an alternate car park ** Currently closed**. Continue driving on the park road west past the Visitor Center. The road narrows into an almost single-lane road and climbs steeply up until reaching the small car park.
Svartifoss Hike - options
- There are 2 options to hike to the Svartifoss waterfall:
- Long Svartifoss hike - From the visitor centre, Svartifoss is a 3.4km round trip. Plan for 3 hours as a big part of it is quite steep - On the way you will also be able to admire the Hundafoss waterfall - see a few pictures below
- Short Svartifoss hike - ** Currently closed** - From the alternate car park mentioned above, it is 1.5km return. The beginning is easy but at the end to get closer there are many steps.
- In any case, wear proper walking shoes
The first part of the hike is quite steep and a bit slippery, especially after rain, so be careful in both directions.
I am sorry I must have been too focused on walking and I did not take any pictures of that.
The trail was rocky and steep in some sections. Going back down was definitively hard on the knees.
Approaching Svartifoss - trail and staircase
After the steep section of the hike, it is still not over.
The walk to Svartifoss first continues gently with a good path quite flat:
Then the path is a little bit more natural. And you reach a big staircase. Steps are large and well maintained but there are no rails:
Loop on the West bank of the river
For the return, you can either do the same path back or do a slightly longer loop.
Cross the bridge and keep going.
It will take you to
- the sundial at Sjónarsker with great views fo the area.
- old turf house at Sel (Selid turf house)
- Lambhagi (Lamb pastures)
The black waterfall in Photos
In the distance
As you hike from the parking lot, the waterfall plays Peekaboo. You can see it appearing in the distance...
Bridge of Svartifoss
Then I walked down to the foot of the waterfall, looked at it from the bridge. Many photographers come to photograph this waterfall and we had to take turns since part of the bridge does not have a good angle.
And you can approach it on the right side. There is a limit to how close you can get but some people do jump the rope to get even closer. I even saw 2 guys removing all their clothes (yes all of them) and going for a swim. It was annoying as they were right on my photographs and I had to wait. But it did not last long... the water must have been very cold.
As you can see below, the basalt columns are more important at the top of the fall. This is quite surprising. The setting is really impressive.
Hundafoss and Magnúsarfoss - other Skaftafell waterfalls
Along the Svartifoss trail, you will see 2 other waterfalls.
At the top of the steep portion of the trail, you can admire the waterfall Magnúsarfoss
And not far below is the waterfall of Hundafoss.
You can hear it loudly before you see it. There are signs, so don't worry, you won't miss it!
Here is what it looks like:
Hiking in Skaftafell
Plus, along the hike from the visitor center to Svartifoss, you can explore other areas, just walk around other trails to enjoy the views from the plateau over the black flat area and towards the sea:
Other activities to enjoy in Skaftafell National Park
Glacier Tongue Walk
From the visitor center you can also walk to get a closer views of the Glacier tongue - it is an easy path:
Skaftafell Glacier Hike (Medium difficulty)
Discover the world of glacier. How they move, what they look like once you are on them. This is an impressive world.
Departure from Skaftafell visitor center - Reserve your spot
Skaftafell Ice Climbing
Enjoy a hike on a glacier plus the climb of an ice wall. Departure from Skaftafell visitor center.
Reserve your spot
Want to see other highlights nearby?
- The famous Jokulsarlon lagoon and its iceberg - read article
- Diamond beach with icebergs on black sand - read article
- Fjallsarlon Glacial Lagoon, lesser know but as impressive - read article
- The impressive waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss (read article) and Skogafoss (read article)
- The "feather canyon" of Fjadrargljufur - read article
- Or read my complete article about South Iceland
Planning a trip to Iceland?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
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