Dettifoss and a row of waterfalls

Dettifoss, Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss and their surroundings east of Jökulsá á Fjöllum were protected as a natural monument in 1996. Selfoss, Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss and their surroundings were protected in order to preserve the waterfalls in Jökulsá á Fjöllum and their immediate surroundings.

Dettifoss, Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss form a unique row of waterfalls in Jökulsá á Fjöllum. North of Hafragilsfoss, the canyons cut through a row of craters called Randahólar. There, you can see a cross-section of the feeder to a crater.

Where Are Dettifoss, Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss?

The natural monument is within Öxnafjararhreppur, Norður-Þingeyjarsýsla. The natural monument covers an area of 485.1 ha.

Points of Interest

Sites of Natural Interest

Jökulsá á Fjöllum has its source in Vatnajökull and flows into the sea in Öxarfjörður. From its source, Jökulsá first flows through sloping highlands, adorned with occasional tuff mountains and fire-forged lava fields. At the edge of the highlands, the land descends, the water flow increases and the river cascades in large waterfalls down into the canyons that are named after it. Jökulsárglúfur are the largest and most imposing river canyons in Iceland. They are around 25 km in length, 1/2 km wide and their depth reaches over and around 100 m in many places. The higher canyons, from Dettifoss to Syðra-Þórunnarfjall, are the deepest and most impressive, nearly 120 m in places. Dettifoss is often thought to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is 45 m high and around 100 m wide.

Further down is Hafragilsfoss, 27 m high, named after Hafragil, which flows from the canyons to the west, but a little higher is Selfoss, only around 10 m high but very wide. These waterfalls form a group, a rare feature anywhere in the world. By Hafragil, the canyons cut through the row of craters Randahólar, providing a cross-section of the volcanic fissure on the canyon wall. The crater on the eastern ridge of the canyons is called Sjónnípa, where the cross-section of the feeder to the crater is. It is clearly visible from the western ridge of the canyons. Many springs emerge and form beautiful waterfalls in the Hafragil lowlands. The land around the waterfalls is bare and characterised by lava fields, rough gravel plains and old riverbeds. There are, however, vegetated hollows west of Dettifoss and down to the Hafragil lowlands on both sides of the river. Snow buntings and wheatears are a common sight in the area, as they like rocky habitats. Ravens can also be spotted and sometimes even falcons and merlin.

Cultural Heritage

Dettifoss has long been a popular tourist destination. The majority of travellers approach the waterfall from the east, as the roads have always been better in the east. The waterfall has charmed not only many tourists, but also poets, who have written immortal poems about it. These have included Kristján Jónsson Fjallaskáld, Einar Benediktsson and Þorsteinn Erlingsson. Einar Benediktsson wanted to harness the waterfall and wrote about it in a famous poem about Dettifoss. Þorsteinn Erlingsson, on the other hand, was vehemently against that idea and wrote the poem “Við fossinn” (By the Waterfall), which was his response to Einar’s ideas.

But the waterfall and the river are still unharnessed and provide moments of pleasure and happiness to all who take the time to visit it. The book Ódáðahraun, Volume I, says that the place names Hafragil, Hafragilsfoss and Hafragilsundirland originate from: A troll woman from Bláhvammur in Bláfjall who stole two billy goats in Öxnafjörður. She needed to hurry and tied the goats’ horns together, flung them over her shoulder and leaped over Jökulsá with them on her back.


The area is privately owned but is supervised by the Vatnajökull National Park, and surveillance and other operations are handled by their staff. A permit for construction must be obtained from the Environment Agency of Iceland. In June, July and August, there are almost daily visits to the area to assist visitors, take care of the toilets, collect garbage and monitor hiking trails. Volunteers from the Environment Agency have handled maintenance and repairs of the footpaths in the area, and the facilities have improved immensely in recent years.

Jökulsárglúfur and surroundings offer diverse opportunities for outdoor activities and nature viewing. The most popular rest stops are Ásbyrgi, Hljóðaklettar, Hólmatungur and Dettifoss. But there are interesting and beautiful places that are worth a visit in between all of them.
There are rest stops by Hafragilsfoss and Dettifoss, and from there are hiking trails alongside the river to the three waterfalls.

There are fun hiking trails that run all over the national park, and everyone should be able to find something to their liking. There are campsites within the national park, as well as a range of accommodations in the vicinity. There is no campsite within the natural monument. During summer, there is a fixed schedule in the national park. There are short and long hikes as well as a children’s hour and evening entertainment, to name a few.

We ask visitors to show good conduct and respect the rules of the national park and the natural monument. Thus, we lay the foundations for future generations to enjoy the area in the same way as we do today.

A marked hiking trail runs from the parking lot to the viewing platform by Dettifoss. From there is a good view over the waterfall. It is possible to get closer to the waterfall, but use caution when getting closer. Walking to Dettifoss from the south is impressive; the roars grow louder and the earth trembles. Some think the waterfall is even more powerful from the east, as the view of the waterfall naturally differs dramatically whether one is on the west side or the east side.

A marked hiking trail continues from Dettifoss and south to Selfoss. Viewing this waterfall that seems so tiny compared to its big brother is, however, magical. It was once named Williardsfoss to honour a “friend to Iceland”, Williard Fiske.

The hike is approx. 1 hour there and back. From the parking lot by Hafragilsfoss, there is a short hiking trail to Sjónnípa, the crater where you can see a cross-section of a volcanic feeder. From there and from the parking lot is a great view over the waterfall and the Hafragil canyons. This is where Jökulsárgljúfur are deepest and most striking, over and around 100 m high. Going down to the lowlands by the waterfall is not recommended. A marked hiking trail runs alongside the canyons from Hafragilsfoss and to the Dettifoss parking lot. The views over the canyons from the Dettifoss parking lot are very interesting.