Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Svartifoss waterfall

Svartifoss is one of the unique waterfalls in South-Iceland. It is situated in Skaftafell, which belongs to Vatnajökull National park. Skaftafell is a true oasis after driving through the vast black lava sand plains of Skeiðarársandur glacial outwash. 

Svartifoss is such an elegant waterfall, 20 metres tall, and black columnar basalt formations beautifully frame the waterfall and give it its name, Black Fall. From afar it looks like a big heart. It is a very romantic waterfall and one of my girlfriends got engaged by Svartifoss :)

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell, south Iceland

At the Visitor centre in Skaftafell, which is open all year round, one can get information on how to reach Svartifoss waterfall. The hike is 1.5 kilometres from the Visitor centre, uphill, and on the way to Svartifoss, you come across other waterfalls in the gorge.

Svartifosscannot be seen from the road and the hike up to it takes some 90 minutes back and forth with photo stops. If you do the circular hike, which I did and show you in this travel-blog, then the hike is 5.5 km according to Vatnajökull National Park.

The short video above I shot so that you can hear the waterfall, as it were ;)

You can walk straight down to Svartifoss to see it up-close. Last time I visited it had been fenced off for nature protection, so we cannot get as close to it as before, but pretty close all the same.

I think it is better now that the waterfall has been fenced off as before I couldn't take a decent photograph of it as visitors with tripods would be lined up right in front of it.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

The hike is uphill from the camping ground, but not too taxing. And it is so worth it.

The beautiful hexagonal basalt columns at Svartifoss inspired our State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson when he designed Hallgrímskirkja church, which is one of the landmarks of Reykjavík - Iceland's capital city.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

On your way back you can either return the same way or cross the bridge by Svartifoss and return back on the western side. On that route, you will get a closer look at some of the other 3 waterfalls, and get to see Selið turf house and the lovely Lambhagi - Lamb Pastures.

The waterfalls below Svartifoss

Þjófafoss waterfall in Skaftafell, south Iceland

Photo of Magnúsarfoss from the east bank of the river.

The waterfalls below the famous Svartifoss waterfall in Vestragil - the Wester Gorge - are called: Magnúsarfoss, Hundafoss, Þjófafoss and the last one was called Lambhagafoss waterfall, but it disappeared during Skeiðarárhlaup glacial burst, which has caused the land to rise some 10 metres since 1800, according to the information sign at Lambhagi.

You can see Magnúsarfoss waterfall from the east bank on your way to Svartifoss, somewhat blocked by the trees. It is the second waterfall which you will see on the hike, first you will see Hundafoss, see my photo below.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Photo of Hundafoss from the east bank of the river.

Hundafoss - Dogs' Falls are not clearly visible on the east-side of the river leading to Svartifoss, here you can see it from the side but can be clearly seen from the west-side of the river. It is beautiful on either side of the river though, just a different angle.

Hundafoss waterfall in Skaftafell, south Iceland

Photo of Hundafoss from the west bank of the river.

Hundafoss got its name - Dogs' Falls - from the fact that during the swelling of the river dogs from the farms there sometimes floated off the waterfall!

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Magnúsarfoss - the Falls of Magnús (a man's name) can be seen just above the old home electric generator, which operated from 1925-1973. The locals of this area rebuilt the electric generator in 2001.

The generator is to be found inside a turf house looking structure, which looks quite magical in the gorge. If you pass the turf house you will get a view of the Magnúsarfoss waterfall from the west bank.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Magnúsarfoss waterfall from the west bank of the river. 

To see some of the waterfalls from the west bank you have to go to the edge of the gorge and there is a lot of shrubbery blocking the view. I never thought I would be complaining about trees in Iceland ;)

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Þjófafoss as seen from the west bank.

Further down in the gorge you can see a small waterfall called Þjófafoss - Thieves' Falls. The waterfall above it is Hundafoss - Dogs' Falls.

Sjónarsker view-dial

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

It is well worth it to take a relatively short hike up Skaftafellsheiði heath to Sjónarsker for a great view of the surrounding area. There at 310 meters above sea level, you will find a view-dial.  

This view-dial was designed by the instigator of view-dials in Iceland, Jón J. Víðis, and erected by the Department of Education in 1973.  Jón J. Víðis was the great-uncle of my husband's, who is named after him. My father-in-law, Jakob Hálfdanarson, has taken over the business of making these view-dials and you can find his view-dials in many places in Iceland :)

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

The view-dials show the names of the surrounding mountains. I love finding these view-dials scattered around my country and seek them out on my travels.

Selið turf house

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

You will find a lovely small turf farm in Skaftafell, called Selið. It was built in 1912 in the southern style and is one of the few remaining turf houses in South-Iceland. Those of you who read my blog know that I have visited all of the turf houses and turf churches in Iceland and have written a blog about most of them. I adore these traditional houses, in which Icelanders lived for more than a millennium.

Selið turf house was built from driftwood from the coastline this area, turf and rock. The cowshed was built under the living room so the heat from the cows could be used to heat up the living room and the quarters above.

This area was much more isolated in the olden days with glacial rivers on both sides - it was indeed one of the most isolated areas in Iceland. It wasn't until 1974 that ring-road 1 was opened. Before that time the road used to stop by Mt. Lómagnúpur and we from the west could only have a peek into the landscape further on.   

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

People were living at Selið at least in 1832, but at that time the farm was moved up on the hill as the glacial river Skaftá was playing havoc in this area.

The last inhabitants, Runólfur Bjarnason and his wife Ólöf Sigurðardóttir, lived in this turf farm until 1946.

Most of the remaining turf houses in Iceland, not all though, are under the supervision of Þjóðminjasafn Íslands - the National Museum of Iceland. The Director of the National Museum back in 1970 was Kristján Eldjárn, who was later to become the President of Iceland. He visited Selið turf house and found it to be in such a good shape that it deserved to be reserved, and it came into the possession of the National Museum in 1972. The National Museum repaired and restored Selið from 1970-1980.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

We are allowed to have a peek inside the turf house in the summertime, but seeing that the turf houses are historical buildings, then we should tread lightly and show respect. No food is allowed inside Selið.
Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Turf houses must be maintained regularly and during my visit, in the summer of 2015 it was most likely being painted, so I guess it must be black in colour now.  

Lambhagi - Lambs pastures

Lambhagi in Skaftafell, south Iceland

Now, this is a beautiful spot in Skaftafell. In the olden days until 1900 ewes were milked by the farmers. Their lambs were kept here in Lambhagiovernight as the ewes were milked in the mornings. After the milking, the ewes and the lambs were reunited.

This is such a lovely spot and imagining it being crowded by lambs makes it even more special. The river flowing from Svartifosswaterfall and the other 4 waterfalls turns into a small still lake here with small fish in it - it is ever so peaceful and serene. 

I recommend resting here for a while after visiting the waterfalls, taking in the tranquillity of this lovely place.

Lake below Svartifoss in Skaftafell, south Iceland

You now return to Skaftafell Visitor centre, which is quite close by. You can also walk around the ruins of the old turf structures in the old field - Gömlutún. Here you can see the history of farming for the past centuries at Skaftafell, but older ruins are buried beneath the Skeiðarársandur glacial outwash.

The turf house ruins are very well marked with information signs - kudos to Skaftafell for doing such a good job! I have often seen ruins of turf houses in Iceland and would have loved to know more about them, so I was happy to see all these information signs in Skaftafell :)

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

You can also hike to the edge of Skaftafellsjökull glacier, which is an easy 3.7 km round-trip, which starts from the Visitor Centre in the opposite direction of the previous hike. A part of the hike is paved but then it turns into gravel.

The return hike is around 1.5 hours, depending on how close you go to the edge of the glacier. Be careful here though and never go unaccompanied on the glacier. The glacier is moving and there are deadly crevasses in the ice, which only experienced glacier guides know about.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

 If you fancy going glacier hiking you can join a Glacier Hiking Tour in Skaftafell.

There are several tours to choose from f.ex.:


Here you can see the location of Skaftafell and Svartifoss waterfall on the map.

Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Skaftafell is located some 326 km away from Reykjavík on ring-road 1 and 2 km on road 998 for Skaftafell. You can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive there in 4 hours, go on a summer self-drive tour or join the many guided Skaftafelltours.

There are many stops on the way so I would recommend that you take it easy and visit all the major sights on the South-coast along the way, f.ex.:


Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

Also, check out the many self-drive tours around Iceland:


Svartifoss & other Astonishing Attractions in Skaftafell in South-Iceland

In the winter time, a very popular tour is the 2 Day South-Coast Adventure will take you to Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon & Ice Caves.

I haven't hiked on Svínafellsjökull glacier yet, I have just hiked up to the edge of the glacier (see my photo above), but if you want to read up on glacier hikes then I have added a travel-blog on a glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier.

Have a lovely time at the beautiful Skaftafell :)

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