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Svartifoss waterfall in Iceland - Your guide

Discover Svartifoss, one of Iceland’s more secluded waterfalls with its ethereal backdrop of basalt columns.

January 23, 2023

Svartifoss waterfall in Iceland - Your guide

Discover Svartifoss, one of Iceland’s more secluded waterfalls with its ethereal backdrop of basalt columns.

January 23, 2023

In the national parkland of Skaftafell (part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park), Svartifoss is one of Iceland’s most striking waterfalls. What sets it apart from the country’s other thundering falls is the basalt column backdrop, and out-of-the-way location at the end of a 1.5km hiking trail. There’s no denying the beauty of the falls themselves, but the walk to Svartifoss is a joy for any outdoor enthusiast. Joining a Skaftafell tour from Reykjavik could give you the opportunity to embark on the hike to this beautiful waterfall yourself. We’ve rounded up everything there is to know about Svartifoss waterfall so you can plan your visit.

All about Svartifoss waterfall

It may not be the biggest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but there’s something about Svartifoss falls that attracts visitors throughout the year. It could be the other-worldly backdrop of basalt columns, layered on top of one another like the pipes of an organ. Hexagonal columns formed centuries ago when volcanic lava flow cooled slowly, leaving a striking, twisting cliffside. This dark rock is what gives the falls their name, which translates as “black falls'' in English. Watching the spume of white water cascade against this background is well worth the walk to Svartifoss. The falls are fed by freezing cold, crystal clear meltwater from the Svinafellsjokull glacier and tumble 20 metres (80 feet) over the cliff.

From the parking area at Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre, it is a good thirty to forty-minute hike to Svartifoss. It is over three hundred kilometres from Reykjavik to Skaftafell National Park where you’ll find Svartifoss, and driving there in a day can take as little as five hours, or as long as seven hours, depending on road conditions. For this reason, it might be best to consider joining a multi-day tour to enjoy Skaftafell and explore the south coast’s other natural wonders. Those short on time can opt for a three-day tour of the Golden Circle and south coast, which includes hiking to Svartifoss. And if you really want to get under the skin of Iceland, perhaps choose the seven-day full tour of the country with its Svartifoss hike in the middle.


Black-sanded beaches, mysterious plane wrecks and fairytale waterfalls – get to know the unique sights of Iceland’s south coast.


glacier walk group

All along the south coast of Iceland, you’ll find sweeps of jet-black beaches formed aeons ago after volcanic activity. Power across the sand on an ATV or stroll along the shore and admire the rock formations. Whatever your travel style, check out our south coast guide to find out which activities are best for you.


Activities around Svartifoss

Part of the expansive Vatnajökull National Park (Iceland’s largest national park), there are loads of activities and adventures to be had around Svartifoss. Folk flock to Iceland to experience its glaciers, and a session of Skaftafell ice climbing is one of the most thrilling ways to get up close to this frozen landscape. For a more leisurely “stroll” across an ice cap, glacier walking is a popular way to experience Iceland’s glaciers and there are plenty of options on Vatnajökull’s 7700 square kilometres (nearly 3000 square miles) surface. Just remember, the surface of a glacier can hide sinkholes, cracks and ravines so joining a glacier walking experience with a professional guide is recommended – you’ll be equipped with crampons, helmets and ice axes, and your guide will ensure the safest path across the surface.

Near to Svartifoss, beneath the surface of Vatnajökull glacier, you’ll find Iceland’s biggest ice cave – the Crystal Cave or Anaconda Cave. It’s so-named because of its snaking interior and crystal-clear ice walls that look like a fairytale hide-away. Due to the ever-changing nature of these natural wonders, ice cave tours are the only way to experience Iceland’s glacial caves, with safety equipment and a professional guide leading the way. There are plenty of other ice caves in Iceland, but the Crystal Cave is the largest and often said to be the most beautiful.

Apart from winter activities like ice cave exploration, there are summer activities around Svartifoss as well. In spring and summer, when the daylight is much longer and the weather is more agreeable, it is possible to hike to Iceland’s highest peak. It is a little more challenging than the hike to Svartifoss, lasting around ten to fifteen hours depending on weather conditions. The climb up to Hvannadalshnjúkur is 2110 metres (or 6900 feet), so a good level of fitness is required. There are more sedate hikes on offer in and around Skaftafell – the easy trail to Svartifoss, for example – and the hiking routes in Iceland tend to be well-marked and well-trodden.


Filming locations for Hollywood blockbusters and spots that attract millions of visitors every year – Iceland is home to hundreds of waterfalls.


glacier walk group

You might recognise Skogafoss from Vikings and the Thor films, or Dettifoss from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Iceland’s waterfalls have provided the backdrops to major motion pictures and award-winning TV series over the years and it is no wonder with their mesmerising cascades of water, rainbows in the mist and fantasy-esque mossy rocks. Find out our pick of the best with our guide to the must-see waterfalls in Iceland.


Seasons at Skaftafell

As the seasons change throughout the year, so does the landscape across Skaftafell. In Spring, you can see nature come to life as the glacier meltwater increases the torrent at Svartifoss and the rivers are full. Wildflowers poke their colourful heads above the ground and the sun starts to warm up the days. You can see the days get longer in Spring and the weather improves greatly towards the end of the season, making itineraries more flexible. It’s not quite peak season, so you can still avoid the crowds that come to take in the majesty of Svartifoss.

In summer, nature is in full bloom and the landscape turns green and verdant. The longest days of the year mean you can enjoy some of the longest walks, perhaps summiting the country’s highest peak. Iceland in the summer sees 24 hours of daylight in the middle of June, when the sun never really fully sets. It hovers beneath the horizon, but the sky remains lights at all hours of the day. June, July and August tend to be peak season, so you might see larger crowds at some of Skaftafell’s sights.

As autumn blankets the country, the colour of Skaftafell’s scenery changes once more with foliage turning golden brown and rich shades of yellow and orange burst out around Svartifoss. Towards the end of the season, the entire country is drenched in a golden light – in a constant state of sunset and sunrise as the sun never reaches its peak in the sky. As the light casts long shadows and gives everything a sepia-toned romance to it, autumn is one of the best times of year for a honeymoon in Iceland. There’s also a chance to spot the ethereal green glow of the aurora borealis on a Northern Lights tour as the days get shorter, and your chances of seeing them increase the further into the season you are.

Home to Iceland’s largest glacier, the area around Svartifoss becomes an outdoor activity playground in the winter months. This is the best time to embark on a glacier hike as the surface is more sturdy without glacial meltwater, and the entrance to the Crystal Ice Cave is at its most secure. Iceland in the winter is a magical place – soaking in a geothermal hot spring as snow falls around you, exploring ice tunnels and spotting the Northern Lights against the deep night sky.

What to wear in Skaftafell

Which clothes to pack for a trip to Iceland depends on the activities you plan on doing. It is always a good idea to bring layers – a sports t-shirt, woolly jumper or fleece and a waterproof jacket on top. Thick socks and hiking boots are usually a good idea for all kinds of activities in the area, like glacier hikes where you’ll have to wear crampons and walking the rocky trail from the carpark to Svartifoss waterfall. In the harsh days of winter, you’ll definitely want to bring a hat, scarf and waterproof gloves with you to Skaftafell. We’ve covered clothes for hiking in Iceland so you know exactly what to bring for your outdoor adventure in Skaftafell.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still not sure what to expect in and around Svartifoss? We’ve answered the frequently asked questions to cover all the details.

How long is the hike to Svartifoss waterfall?

From the Skaftafell car park, it is a one and a half kilometre walk to Svartifoss, which takes around 45 minutes. The path to Svartfoss passes by three other waterfalls along the way – Þjófafoss (meaning thieves' falls), Hundafoss (meaning dogs' falls) and Magnusarfoss (meaning the falls of Magnus). In winter, the trail can be icy so it’s best to bring sturdy walking boots. Even though it is considered a short and fairly easy trail, there are some sections of uphill climbing and stairs, so it would not suit those with limited mobility. Hiking is the only way to reach Svartifoss and it cannot be seen from the road or nearest car park.

Is Svartifoss worth it?

It may be away from the road, but the walk to Svartifoss is definitely worth it. The picture of tumbling water against the basalt columns is a rare sight – a similar landscape to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland or Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa off the coast of Scotland. There’s a little bridge when you reach Svartifoss, allowing you to get close enough to the thundering water to feel the mist on your face. The walk itself, past three other waterfalls, feels like an activity in itself. So, if you’re in the Skaftafell area, you should certainly visit Svartifoss.

Where do you park for Svartifoss waterfall?

There are two options for parking near Svartifoss. The main place people park is at the Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre car park, which is where you can join the 1.5km hike to the falls. A few visitors have also reported that there is a second car park a little further towards Svartifoss, saving you around half a kilometre of walking, and the trails from here to the falls tend to be less crowded. However, during bad weather this car park may be closed. It is worth noting that there is a small fee to park at Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre and this fee goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of the national park.

How long do you spend at Svartifoss?

Allowing for the forty-five-minute hike each way to and from Svartifoss and ten to fifteen minutes at the falls themselves to snap pictures and admire the scenery, you could spend around two hours here. As we’ve mentioned, there are three other waterfalls on the way to Svartifoss which you may want to pause at and admire.

How are the falls during winter?

The hike to Svartifoss is open year-round and visiting in the winter months rewards you with a beautiful scene of snow-covered rocks and jagged icicles making the falls seem as though they are frozen in time. The path can be icy and slippery, so dressing in warm layers and wearing waterproof walking boots with good grip is essential in winter. In bad weather, it is always worth asking about the path conditions at the Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre before you set off.

Is the hike to the falls family-friendly?

The trail to the falls has some mild uphill and downhill sections and stairs to climb, so may not be suitable for very young children whose legs tend to get tired. But generally the hike is considered an easy, family-friendly route and you’ll see plenty of parents with children making their way along it.

Is there a tour from Reykjavík that takes you to the Svartifoss waterfall?

As it is a four to five-hour drive to Skaftafell from Reykjavik, there are no day trips from Reykjavik to Svartifoss. However, there are plenty of multi-day tours from the capital that include a stop at Skaftafell and allow you to make the hike to Svartifoss.

Overall, hiking in Skaftafell rewards with space-age landscapes, hilltop look-outs and chasing waterfalls. Following the short, easy trail to Svartifoss doesn’t disappoint. The waterfall’s basalt-columned backdrop feels as though you’re stumbling across a secret troll cave or fairytale hide-away and you can spot three other waterfalls along the way – the perfect reward for the forty-five-minute hike from Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre. If you’re visiting the Skaftafell area of Iceland, a visit to Svartifoss is well worth it.

SOUTH SHORE BLOG

Your Ultimate Guide to the South Coast of Iceland

There’s so much to see in this astonishing, magical place. But what should you know before heading out on your adventure? In this post, we’ll share everything you need to get inspired—including all of the sites you really shouldn’t miss.

Svartifoss waterfall in Iceland - Your guide

Discover Svartifoss, one of Iceland’s more secluded waterfalls with its ethereal backdrop of basalt columns.

January 23, 2023

Svartifoss waterfall in Iceland - Your guide

Discover Svartifoss, one of Iceland’s more secluded waterfalls with its ethereal backdrop of basalt columns.

January 23, 2023

In the national parkland of Skaftafell (part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park), Svartifoss is one of Iceland’s most striking waterfalls. What sets it apart from the country’s other thundering falls is the basalt column backdrop, and out-of-the-way location at the end of a 1.5km hiking trail. There’s no denying the beauty of the falls themselves, but the walk to Svartifoss is a joy for any outdoor enthusiast. Joining a Skaftafell tour from Reykjavik could give you the opportunity to embark on the hike to this beautiful waterfall yourself. We’ve rounded up everything there is to know about Svartifoss waterfall so you can plan your visit.

All about Svartifoss waterfall

It may not be the biggest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland, but there’s something about Svartifoss falls that attracts visitors throughout the year. It could be the other-worldly backdrop of basalt columns, layered on top of one another like the pipes of an organ. Hexagonal columns formed centuries ago when volcanic lava flow cooled slowly, leaving a striking, twisting cliffside. This dark rock is what gives the falls their name, which translates as “black falls'' in English. Watching the spume of white water cascade against this background is well worth the walk to Svartifoss. The falls are fed by freezing cold, crystal clear meltwater from the Svinafellsjokull glacier and tumble 20 metres (80 feet) over the cliff.

From the parking area at Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre, it is a good thirty to forty-minute hike to Svartifoss. It is over three hundred kilometres from Reykjavik to Skaftafell National Park where you’ll find Svartifoss, and driving there in a day can take as little as five hours, or as long as seven hours, depending on road conditions. For this reason, it might be best to consider joining a multi-day tour to enjoy Skaftafell and explore the south coast’s other natural wonders. Those short on time can opt for a three-day tour of the Golden Circle and south coast, which includes hiking to Svartifoss. And if you really want to get under the skin of Iceland, perhaps choose the seven-day full tour of the country with its Svartifoss hike in the middle.


Black-sanded beaches, mysterious plane wrecks and fairytale waterfalls – get to know the unique sights of Iceland’s south coast.


glacier walk group

All along the south coast of Iceland, you’ll find sweeps of jet-black beaches formed aeons ago after volcanic activity. Power across the sand on an ATV or stroll along the shore and admire the rock formations. Whatever your travel style, check out our south coast guide to find out which activities are best for you.


Activities around Svartifoss

Part of the expansive Vatnajökull National Park (Iceland’s largest national park), there are loads of activities and adventures to be had around Svartifoss. Folk flock to Iceland to experience its glaciers, and a session of Skaftafell ice climbing is one of the most thrilling ways to get up close to this frozen landscape. For a more leisurely “stroll” across an ice cap, glacier walking is a popular way to experience Iceland’s glaciers and there are plenty of options on Vatnajökull’s 7700 square kilometres (nearly 3000 square miles) surface. Just remember, the surface of a glacier can hide sinkholes, cracks and ravines so joining a glacier walking experience with a professional guide is recommended – you’ll be equipped with crampons, helmets and ice axes, and your guide will ensure the safest path across the surface.

Near to Svartifoss, beneath the surface of Vatnajökull glacier, you’ll find Iceland’s biggest ice cave – the Crystal Cave or Anaconda Cave. It’s so-named because of its snaking interior and crystal-clear ice walls that look like a fairytale hide-away. Due to the ever-changing nature of these natural wonders, ice cave tours are the only way to experience Iceland’s glacial caves, with safety equipment and a professional guide leading the way. There are plenty of other ice caves in Iceland, but the Crystal Cave is the largest and often said to be the most beautiful.

Apart from winter activities like ice cave exploration, there are summer activities around Svartifoss as well. In spring and summer, when the daylight is much longer and the weather is more agreeable, it is possible to hike to Iceland’s highest peak. It is a little more challenging than the hike to Svartifoss, lasting around ten to fifteen hours depending on weather conditions. The climb up to Hvannadalshnjúkur is 2110 metres (or 6900 feet), so a good level of fitness is required. There are more sedate hikes on offer in and around Skaftafell – the easy trail to Svartifoss, for example – and the hiking routes in Iceland tend to be well-marked and well-trodden.


Filming locations for Hollywood blockbusters and spots that attract millions of visitors every year – Iceland is home to hundreds of waterfalls.


glacier walk group

You might recognise Skogafoss from Vikings and the Thor films, or Dettifoss from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Iceland’s waterfalls have provided the backdrops to major motion pictures and award-winning TV series over the years and it is no wonder with their mesmerising cascades of water, rainbows in the mist and fantasy-esque mossy rocks. Find out our pick of the best with our guide to the must-see waterfalls in Iceland.


Seasons at Skaftafell

As the seasons change throughout the year, so does the landscape across Skaftafell. In Spring, you can see nature come to life as the glacier meltwater increases the torrent at Svartifoss and the rivers are full. Wildflowers poke their colourful heads above the ground and the sun starts to warm up the days. You can see the days get longer in Spring and the weather improves greatly towards the end of the season, making itineraries more flexible. It’s not quite peak season, so you can still avoid the crowds that come to take in the majesty of Svartifoss.

In summer, nature is in full bloom and the landscape turns green and verdant. The longest days of the year mean you can enjoy some of the longest walks, perhaps summiting the country’s highest peak. Iceland in the summer sees 24 hours of daylight in the middle of June, when the sun never really fully sets. It hovers beneath the horizon, but the sky remains lights at all hours of the day. June, July and August tend to be peak season, so you might see larger crowds at some of Skaftafell’s sights.

As autumn blankets the country, the colour of Skaftafell’s scenery changes once more with foliage turning golden brown and rich shades of yellow and orange burst out around Svartifoss. Towards the end of the season, the entire country is drenched in a golden light – in a constant state of sunset and sunrise as the sun never reaches its peak in the sky. As the light casts long shadows and gives everything a sepia-toned romance to it, autumn is one of the best times of year for a honeymoon in Iceland. There’s also a chance to spot the ethereal green glow of the aurora borealis on a Northern Lights tour as the days get shorter, and your chances of seeing them increase the further into the season you are.

Home to Iceland’s largest glacier, the area around Svartifoss becomes an outdoor activity playground in the winter months. This is the best time to embark on a glacier hike as the surface is more sturdy without glacial meltwater, and the entrance to the Crystal Ice Cave is at its most secure. Iceland in the winter is a magical place – soaking in a geothermal hot spring as snow falls around you, exploring ice tunnels and spotting the Northern Lights against the deep night sky.

What to wear in Skaftafell

Which clothes to pack for a trip to Iceland depends on the activities you plan on doing. It is always a good idea to bring layers – a sports t-shirt, woolly jumper or fleece and a waterproof jacket on top. Thick socks and hiking boots are usually a good idea for all kinds of activities in the area, like glacier hikes where you’ll have to wear crampons and walking the rocky trail from the carpark to Svartifoss waterfall. In the harsh days of winter, you’ll definitely want to bring a hat, scarf and waterproof gloves with you to Skaftafell. We’ve covered clothes for hiking in Iceland so you know exactly what to bring for your outdoor adventure in Skaftafell.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still not sure what to expect in and around Svartifoss? We’ve answered the frequently asked questions to cover all the details.

How long is the hike to Svartifoss waterfall?

From the Skaftafell car park, it is a one and a half kilometre walk to Svartifoss, which takes around 45 minutes. The path to Svartfoss passes by three other waterfalls along the way – Þjófafoss (meaning thieves' falls), Hundafoss (meaning dogs' falls) and Magnusarfoss (meaning the falls of Magnus). In winter, the trail can be icy so it’s best to bring sturdy walking boots. Even though it is considered a short and fairly easy trail, there are some sections of uphill climbing and stairs, so it would not suit those with limited mobility. Hiking is the only way to reach Svartifoss and it cannot be seen from the road or nearest car park.

Is Svartifoss worth it?

It may be away from the road, but the walk to Svartifoss is definitely worth it. The picture of tumbling water against the basalt columns is a rare sight – a similar landscape to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland or Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa off the coast of Scotland. There’s a little bridge when you reach Svartifoss, allowing you to get close enough to the thundering water to feel the mist on your face. The walk itself, past three other waterfalls, feels like an activity in itself. So, if you’re in the Skaftafell area, you should certainly visit Svartifoss.

Where do you park for Svartifoss waterfall?

There are two options for parking near Svartifoss. The main place people park is at the Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre car park, which is where you can join the 1.5km hike to the falls. A few visitors have also reported that there is a second car park a little further towards Svartifoss, saving you around half a kilometre of walking, and the trails from here to the falls tend to be less crowded. However, during bad weather this car park may be closed. It is worth noting that there is a small fee to park at Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre and this fee goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of the national park.

How long do you spend at Svartifoss?

Allowing for the forty-five-minute hike each way to and from Svartifoss and ten to fifteen minutes at the falls themselves to snap pictures and admire the scenery, you could spend around two hours here. As we’ve mentioned, there are three other waterfalls on the way to Svartifoss which you may want to pause at and admire.

How are the falls during winter?

The hike to Svartifoss is open year-round and visiting in the winter months rewards you with a beautiful scene of snow-covered rocks and jagged icicles making the falls seem as though they are frozen in time. The path can be icy and slippery, so dressing in warm layers and wearing waterproof walking boots with good grip is essential in winter. In bad weather, it is always worth asking about the path conditions at the Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre before you set off.

Is the hike to the falls family-friendly?

The trail to the falls has some mild uphill and downhill sections and stairs to climb, so may not be suitable for very young children whose legs tend to get tired. But generally the hike is considered an easy, family-friendly route and you’ll see plenty of parents with children making their way along it.

Is there a tour from Reykjavík that takes you to the Svartifoss waterfall?

As it is a four to five-hour drive to Skaftafell from Reykjavik, there are no day trips from Reykjavik to Svartifoss. However, there are plenty of multi-day tours from the capital that include a stop at Skaftafell and allow you to make the hike to Svartifoss.

Overall, hiking in Skaftafell rewards with space-age landscapes, hilltop look-outs and chasing waterfalls. Following the short, easy trail to Svartifoss doesn’t disappoint. The waterfall’s basalt-columned backdrop feels as though you’re stumbling across a secret troll cave or fairytale hide-away and you can spot three other waterfalls along the way – the perfect reward for the forty-five-minute hike from Skaftafell Visitor’s Centre. If you’re visiting the Skaftafell area of Iceland, a visit to Svartifoss is well worth it.

SOUTH SHORE BLOG

Your Ultimate Guide to the South Coast of Iceland

There’s so much to see in this astonishing, magical place. But what should you know before heading out on your adventure? In this post, we’ll share everything you need to get inspired—including all of the sites you really shouldn’t miss.