Want to stop driving around Iceland and walk for a while? Discover the Svartifoss waterfall hike that leads you to the black waterfall in its amphitheater of basalt columns. The walk to Svartifoss Iceland also offers nice views towards the sea and takes you to the another Skaftafell waterfall of Hundafoss. Below is my guide to help you plan your visit.
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About the Svartifoss Waterfall 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 trails allows you to walk quite close and admire this geological wonder. Some say that it inspired Icelandic architecture, such as the Reykjavik cathedral.
The Svartifoss name means the Black Waterfall because of the black basalt columns.
It was not my favorite waterfall but I appreciated the whole hike.
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.
PLANNING TIPS - Svartifoss Waterfall & Skaftafell National Park Access
Where is Svartifoss? - Location / Map
Below is a map to help you locate the Svartifoss waterfall on the South Coast of Iceland
How to get to Skaftafell National Park & Svartifoss
- Located on the South Coast of Iceland (see my Region Guide)
- Reykjavik to Svartifoss / Skaftafell - 4h drive
- Vik to Svartifoss / Skaftafell - 1h45 drive
- Skaftafell visitor centre - Approximately 67 km east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur on the Ring Road or 54 km west of the icebergs at Jökulsárlón, 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
Svartifoss (with GPS coordinates of carpark) is included in my eBook:
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.
Svartifoss Waterfall Hike
Where to start the Svartifoss 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.
** Currently closed** 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. 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 2 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.
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 maintain but there are no rails:
The waterfall of Svartifoss in Photos
As you hike from the parking lot, the waterfalls plays Peekaboo. You can see it appearing in the distance...
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 aspart of the bridge does not have a good angle.
Getting closer to Svartifoss Iceland
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 here the basalt columns are more important at the top of the fall. This is quite surprising. The setting is really impressive.
Iceland Svartifoss - FAQs
Now that you have seen the unusual Icelandic waterfall, here are the answers to questions you may have about it:
How was Svartifoss formed?
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 meting glacier via River Storilaekur.
You can learn more deeply about the geology of basalt columns in general in this article.
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.
How long is the hike to Svartifoss?
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.
How to pronounce Svartifoss?
Want to properly ask questions to locals - Check out here to listen to the pronunciation of Svartifoss. It is quite surprising.
The other Skaftafell waterfall - Hundafoss
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:
And at the top of the steep portion of the trail, you can admire 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:
I am sorry I did not take many sections of this part of the Svartifoss waterfall hike. I was quite tired.
The trail was rocky and steep in some sections. With difficulty and help, our 70 year old co-traveler, managed to go down, so it is not too difficult either.
The views were great:
Other Activities to enjoy in Skaftafell National Park
From the visitor center you can also walk to get a closer views of the Glacier tongue - it is an easy path :
But they also organize activities on the glacier such as:
Skaftafell Glacier Hike (Medium difficulty)
Discover the world of glacier. How they move, what they look like once your are on them. This is an impressive world.
Departure from Skaftafell visitor center
or Skaftafell Ice Climbing
Enjoy a hike on a glacier plus the climb of an ice wall. Departure from Skaftafell visitor center
Accommodations near Skaftafell Iceland
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 latest prices
- Stylish and close by - The Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon offers luxury accommodations with large windows and great views - check out photos and latest prices
- Charming - The Lækjaborgir Guesthouse cabins allow you to feel close t nature with all the comfort you need - check out photos and latest prices
Planning a road trip around Iceland? Check out my eBook to help you define your itinerary:
Want to see more of Iceland's beauty?
Discover more things to do and places to see in Iceland in my online Iceland Destination Guide.
Do you think this is worth the hike?
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