We might have more than 10,000 waterfalls here on the island, but we have a few that stands meters of cliff and spray above the rest (quite literally). And when it comes to Dettifoss, it isn’t just one of the most memorable falls in Iceland, but in all of Europe!
So, if you’re planning an upcoming trip to the island, or would just like to learn more about this waterfall that’s managed to impress an entire continent, read on. We tell you everything about Dettifoss you need to know.
As one of the must-visit sites here on the island, there are a lot of questions about the falls, from its height, and the meaning of its name to where it’s located and how it was formed in the first place. Below, we have answered all these frequently asked questions:
Where is Dettifoss Waterfall?
Dettifoss Waterfall is actually one of the main attractions in our biggest national park in the northeastern part of the island; Vatnajökull National Park. Dettifoss is conveniently located just off the popular Diamond Circle route, so many add it as a stop on their Diamond Circle road trip itinerary.
What Does Dettifoss Mean?
The name Dettifoss loosely translates to ‘collapsing waterfall’. Unlike some of our other famous waterfalls in Iceland, there is no interesting backstory or legend attached to the name but rather served as a literal description of what was seen.
How was Dettifoss Formed?
Dettifoss Waterfall is another spectacular result of Iceland being the Land of Fire and Ice. Volcanoes erupting underneath the Vatnajökull Glacier caused major flooding that not only carved out the enormous Jökulsargljufur Canyon that Dettifoss plunges into, but also helped make Dettifoss the most powerful fall in Iceland.
Well, these floods about 9000 years ago were the catalyst, but there have been many more eruptions that caused more flooding, and today global warming is also playing its part in glacier melting.
Is Dettifoss the Most Powerful Fall in Iceland?
Most definitely. Roughly, 11.581.225 liters of water go crashing over the Dettifoss cliffs each MINUTE! But not only is Dettifoss the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but it’s also the second most powerful waterfall in all of Europe! It used to claim top stop till the Rhine Falls in Switzerland bumped it off its pedestal.
How High is Dettifoss Waterfall?
Dettifoss might not be our tallest waterfall here on the island, but it’s the overall size that makes it one of the biggest falls in the country. It clocks in at a height of 44 meters and is a staggering 100 meters wide.
How Do You Get to Dettifoss?
Dettifoss Waterfall offers views from the east as well as the west side. Either side will require that you take a quick hike to the vantage points, but it’s not very far and the walking paths are pretty easy to navigate.
How Long is the Hike to Dettifoss Waterfall?
The distance of the hikes to Dettifoss varies based on the side you choose to view the falls.
The hike on the west side of the falls is the longest (800 meters from the parking lot). On the east side, the hike might be only 400 meters in distance down to Dettifoss, but it takes slightly longer since the path can get pretty steep. Both of these walks will take you about 10 minutes to complete.
When is the Best Time of the Year to Visit Dettifoss?
You can visit Dettifoss Waterfall all year around, but as part of the Diamond Circle route, we won’t recommend that you visit during our winter season here on the island – the weather can cause sudden road closures, or it might simply be too unpleasant to allow for a relaxing visit to the falls.
What is the Best Time of the Day to Visit Dettifoss?
This will largely depend on the season and the side you’ll be viewing Dettifoss from. The summer season is our peak season here on the island, so you can expect peak-season crowds to flock to this major attraction.
During this time, we recommend that you plan a visit early morning or late afternoon when the crowds are fewer. We would recommend the same times of day when viewing the waterfall from the east side for the sole reason that the parking lot does not have many parking spots.
How Much Time Should I Spend at Dettifoss?
This will 100% be your own prerogative, but generally, visitors tend to spend between 2-3 hours at Dettifoss which includes the hikes.
The Dettifoss Waterfall Hike
Although they are referred to as hikes, we merely see them as short walks to Dettifoss. As we already mentioned, the 800-meter hike on the west side is fairly easy, but does tend to get pretty muddy and slippery. This is because the west side gets most of the mist and spray created by the powerful waterfall. There is also a lower viewing deck (our personal favorite since it allows you to get very close to the waterfall).
The east side’s 400-meter walk might be shorter in distance, but can take slightly longer than the 800-meter walk because it gets pretty steep and rocky in places. And, as we already touched on, the parking on that side is limited, so you’ll be well-advised to come early or a little later to ensure that you get a spot.
How to Get to Dettifoss Waterfall
There are various ways to get to Dettifoss. You can choose from the following:
Taking a Flight
Even though you won’t be able to catch a direct flight to the waterfall itself, there are daily flights from Reykjavik to Akureyri. You can then rent a car at Akureyri and drive the 2 hours to Dettifoss. This is a great option if you don’t have much time on the island.
Taking a Guided Tour
Dettifoss is one of the stars of the show of many a guided tour here on the island. Some tours are day tours specifically dedicated to Detttifoss, whilst others are multi-day holiday package tours that merely include Dettifoss as one of their stops. Since Selfoss waterfall is so close to Dettifoss, most tours include a visit to both Dettifoss and Selfoss.
Taking a Self-drive
We are firm believers that a self-drive is the best way to explore the island, since it’s most convenient, and you stay in full control of your time and trip itinerary. For quick day outings to Dettifoss, you’ll need to be traveling from either Myvatn or Akureyri.
If you’re driving from the capital city for an overnight or as part of a road trip, you’ll need to take the Ring Road till you reach the roads that will take you to the various viewing decks (once again, it’ll remain up to you which side you want to view the waterfall). If you take Road 862, you’ll go to the west side of the waterfall. This is a paved road.
Road 864 will take you to the east side of Dettifoss. This is an unpaved road that should not be taken on without a 4x4 vehicle and is generally closed during the colder months of the year. The overall journey from Reykjavík to Dettifoss will take you about 7 hours.
Other Attractions Near Dettifoss Waterfall
If you are staying over or would like to know which other interesting stops you can add to your road trip itinerary in the area, the following sights come highly recommended:
Where to Stay Near Dettifoss Waterfall
If you are planning to overnight in the area, we suggest you book at one of the following accommodation options (whichever suits your preferences and your pocket):
Dettifoss Waterfall; the Most Powerful First Impression
Unless you meet the love of your life during your visit to the island, Dettifoss, despite being the second most powerful waterfall in Europe, will definitely be the most powerful first impression in Iceland – quite literally. So, whether you’re planning on making it a day trip or a road trip, be sure to rent a car in Iceland and not miss out on this spectacular natural wonder.