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Svartifoss: the Black Waterfall of Iceland

Svartifoss is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland. So impressive in fact that it has actually inspired some of the architecture that you can find on the island. But what makes this waterfall so unique? How was it formed? And how does one get there?


All of these questions and more will be answered in this ultimate guide about the Svartifoss waterfall, the “muse” of Iceland.


Svartifoss

The Basic Svartifoss Facts: What You Should Know


We often get asked about Svartifoss Waterfall by visitors who have seen Svartifoss photos on Google or via friends. The reason that the Svartifoss falls immediately piques people’s interest is because of its unique features.


Svartifoss (also known as the black falls of Iceland) is a waterfall in Skaftafell in the Vatnajökull National Park. It might not be one of the most impressive in terms of power or height. It clocks in at just 20 meters compared to Glymur Waterfall’s 198 meters. Now, in unique beauty, it might be uncontested.


Ice-cold water from the Svinafellsjokull Glacier tumbles over the cliff with a dramatic black backdrop of hexagonal basalt columns that almost look like it’s embracing the falls. Whilst watching this scene, you can easily catch yourself thinking that you’ve just landed on an alien planet.


What Does Svartifoss Mean?


The word Svartifoss translates to “black waterfall” because of its black basalt column backdrop.


When is the Best Time of the Year to Visit Svartifoss?


The answer honestly depends on who you ask. The Svartifoss Waterfall in Iceland is open all year round. Still, there are preferences for both summer and wintertime based on different reasons. Generally speaking, Svartifoss is the most popular during the summertime.


This is not only because of the warmer and more forgiving weather conditions, but also because there is a short hike to Svartifoss. Even though the path is well maintained and short, most prefer not to take on any hikes during the colder months. The hike is filled with its snow, rain, wind, and just a few daylight hours.


It is also worth noting that there is a local saying on the island that says, “you can experience all four seasons in one day in Iceland”. This means that despite the season, the weather can change fairly quickly. To ensure that you don’t get caught unaware, just keep an eye on the Iceland weather forecast.


Svartifoss Iceland

What is the Best Time of the Day to Visit Svartifoss?


This will depend heavily on the season you’ve chosen to visit Svartifoss. When visiting Svartifoss Waterfall in the winter months, you need to take daylight hours into account. Since you have only 4 hours available mid-winter, you’ll need to plan your trip accordingly, taking the Svartifoss hike time into account.


When visiting Svartifoss Waterfall in the summer months, you’ll be competing with the peak season crowds. This means that you’ll have to start your outing pretty early if you don’t want to end up swamped at Svartifoss. The Svartifoss hike can also get fairly uncomfortable with all the foot traffic on the trail and the warmer weather later in the day.


How was Svartifoss Formed?


Svartifoss is the perfect example of why Iceland is called the Land of Fire and Ice. Through many centuries of volcanic activity, lava has flowed over the cliffs. Some of the flow cools down suddenly as it comes into contact with glacial water. The rest, cools down slowly, exposed to the freezing Icelandic air.


When the lava cools down, it turns into what appears to be a big black rock mass. This type of sediment is what is called basalt. Basalt has a tendency to crystallize in hexagonal shapes and is the exact material that you can find as Svartifoss’s dramatic backdrop today.


Basalt and other sedimentary volcanic rock are also what the black sand beaches in Iceland consist of. The only difference is that the hands of time, the wind, and the waves have broken the rock mass down through many centuries. That's what formed the fine black sand you walk on today.


Svartifoss black waterfall

Hiking in Svartifoss


As we’ve already mentioned reaching the waterfall will require a short hike. Below you will find some answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding hiking in Svartifoss:

  • How long is the hike to Svartifoss? If you take a look at a Svartifoss trail map, you will see that the Svartifoss trail is very short compared to some of the longer hiking trails in Iceland. It is just 1.5 km one way. It will take you roughly 45 minutes to get there. So, you’ll need to carve out about 1.5 hours for the hike and at least 20-30 minutes as the time you’ll spend gawking at the falls.

  • How far is it from the Skaftafell visitor center to Svartifoss and back? The Skaftafell visitor center is where most kick off their Svartifoss hike. The distance from the Skaftafell visitor center to Svartifoss is roughly 1.6 km.

  • Is the trail difficult? The Svartifoss trail is not difficult at all and can be completed by all ages and skill levels. The path is also well-maintained, so you won’t struggle. The only time that the trail might become a bit of a challenge is during the winter months.

  • Are there guided tours to Svartifoss? There are many options to choose from when it comes to guided tours to Svartifoss. You can book a guide at the Skaftafell visitor center if you want a Svartifoss guided tour. Or you can opt for a private third-party guided tour via a guide you’ve booked on the island.

Alternatively, you can also book a spot on one of the guided group tours that are offered on the island. These can range from quick day outings to multi-day tours that include various attractions and activities.

  • Is camping in Svartifoss allowed? You can’t camp at the falls themselves; instead, Skaftafell Campground is one of the campsites in Iceland that come highly recommended. From the campground, it’s just a short stroll to where the Svartifoss trail starts (in other words, basically Svartifoss camping).


Svartifoss hike

How to Get to Svartifoss


If you start your journey from the capital city of Reykjavík, you can drive 330 km east along Ring Road 1. You'll then reach Skaftafell in the Vatnajökull National Park.


This journey will take roughly 4.5 hrs by car, so you’ll need to take this time along with the hike, etc. into account when planning your outing. Once you’ve arrived, you can leave your car in the Svartifoss parking lot before you head out on the trail to the falls.


Svartifoss Waterfall; an Absolute Must for Any Iceland Itinerary


With 10 000 waterfalls in Iceland, it can be tough to decide which to include on your Iceland itinerary. But when it comes to Svartifoss, it is hands-down one of the top 5 waterfalls on the island to visit and one that simply cannot be missed.


So whether you book a spot on a tour or rent a car in Iceland to do some exploring yourself, don’t miss out on this natural wonder! It’s the ultimate result of the Land of Fire and Ice.

1 comment

1 Comment


Brandee Diamond
Brandee Diamond
Dec 05, 2021

What is the best month to visit black falls?

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