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Svartifoss: Iceland's Majestic Waterfall

Updated: Apr 18

Svartifoss is a hidden gem that captivates both locals and tourists with its unique beauty. Tucked away in the heart of Vatnajökull National Park, its dramatic black basalt columns set against the cascade of crystal clear water set it apart from other waterfalls.

This guide aims to delve into the wonders of Svartifoss, offering insights into its formation, uniqueness, the best time to visit, and much more. Prepare to embark on an unforgettable journey, unraveling the allure of one of Iceland's most remarkable natural wonders - Svartifoss.


How Was Svartifoss Formed?

Svartifoss, one of the most iconic waterfalls in the land of fire and ice, has a formation story deeply rooted in Iceland's volcanic history. Thousands of years ago, lava flowed across this region, cooling rapidly upon contact with the cold air and water.

This rapid cooling caused the lava to crystallize and fracture into hexagonal columns, a phenomenon seen in basalt formations worldwide. Over time, as the relentless force of water eroded the softer rock beneath, the harder basalt columns remained, creating the dramatic backdrop for Svartifoss that we see today.

These dark, geometric columns juxtaposed against the clear, cascading waters give Svartifoss its distinctive appearance, setting it apart from many of the best waterfalls in Iceland. The formation of Svartifoss is not just a testament to the power of nature, but also a window into the geological processes that have shaped Iceland's unique landscapes.

What Makes Svartifoss in Iceland Unique?

Svartifoss holds a unique allure among Iceland's many waterfalls that make it a must-visit destination for travelers. Here are some fascinating Svartifoss facts contributing to its distinctiveness:

  • Basalt Columns: Svartifoss is famed for its striking black basalt columns that provide a stark contrast against the white water, giving it the nickname 'Black Falls in Iceland.' These columns, reminiscent of a pipe organ, create a dramatic backdrop to the waterfall and give it its unique allure.

  • Inspiration for Architecture: The basalt columns of Svartifoss have served as an inspiration for Icelandic architecture, most notably, the design of the renowned Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík and the National Theatre.

  • Accessibility: Unlike many of Iceland's natural wonders that are remote, Svartifoss is easily accessible, making it a popular stop for visitors exploring the southern part of the country.

  • Hiking Destination: The trail to Svartifoss is a favorite among hikers. The trail meanders through beautiful landscapes before culminating in the stunning view of the waterfall.

  • Geological Interest: Svartifoss provides a window into Iceland's geological history. The basalt columns result from rapid cooling lava - a testament to the country's volcanic past.

svartifoss iceland

How to Get to Svartifoss?

Reaching Svartifoss is a part of the adventure, offering you the chance to take in the stunning Icelandic scenery on your journey. For the ultimate freedom and flexibility, taking a campervan in Iceland is an excellent option. With a campervan, you can make your way at your own pace, stopping whenever and wherever possible.

Starting from Reykjavik, take the Ring Road (Route 1) east towards Vik and continue until you reach Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. The drive from Reykjavík to Svartifoss takes about 4 hours. Svartifoss is well-signposted, so you can't miss it. Alternatively, for a comprehensive and stress-free experience, consider booking a Svartifoss tour.

The Glacier Lagoon private tour not only takes you to this spectacular waterfall but also includes other highlights of South Iceland, such as the breathtaking Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. This tour offers a unique opportunity to witness the beauty of the Glacier Lagoon, Skaftafell national park, and the Öræfajökull Glacier. With comfortable vehicles and knowledgeable guides, it's a fantastic way to absorb the natural beauty of Iceland.

How Long Is the Hike to Svartifoss?

The Svartifoss hike time typically varies between 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on your pace. This timing accounts for both the ascent and descent. Despite being relatively short, the hike offers an impressive array of landscapes and geological features to explore, making it a must-do activity when visiting Svartifoss.

Hike to Svartifoss

A Detailed Guide To The Svartifoss Trail

The hike to Svartifoss begins at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, where you'll find a clear Svartifoss trail map and other helpful information. From here, a well-marked path leads you through a birch woodland, gradually ascending towards the waterfall. Along the trail, you'll encounter two other waterfalls - Hundafoss and Magnusarfoss, which add to the charm of the hike. Soon, the path steepens, leading to a series of wooden steps.

As you ascend these steps, the stunning Svartifoss comes into view, flanked by its striking basalt columns. The trail also offers several viewing platforms from where you can admire the waterfall. After spending time at Svartifoss, you can continue the loop trail that leads back to the visitor center, offering different scenic views.

The Svartifoss hike is moderately difficult, making it accessible for novice and seasoned trekkers. Spanning approximately 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) one way, the trail is a highlight among the best Iceland hiking trails and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, with glimpses of glaciers and vast meadows. Along the way, informative signposts provide insights into the region's geology and flora.

What Is the Best Time of Day To Visit Svartifoss?

The best time of day to visit Svartifoss is during the early morning or late afternoon when the crowds are fewer, and the lighting is optimal for photography. The Svartifoss waterfall is a popular attraction, and visiting during these off-peak hours allows for a more serene experience.

Additionally, the soft morning or evening light enhances the beauty of the basalt columns and the cascading waters, making it a photographer's dream. For those considering a visit during the Icelandic winter, the Svartifoss waterfall in winter presents a magical sight.

The surrounding landscapes are often blanketed in snow, and the waterfall itself can have icicles, adding to its ethereal charm. However, it's essential to be prepared for icy trail conditions and shorter daylight hours in winter.

svartifoss waterfall

What to Do Around Svartifoss Waterfall?

The area around Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park is a paradise for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. Here are just some of the activities you can pursue near Svartifoss:

  • Svartifoss Camping: The Skaftafell camping site, located near Svartifoss, is an ideal place to stay the night. It provides excellent facilities and a perfect base to explore the surrounding area. Waking up to the sights and sounds of nature will surely add a touch of magic to your trip.

  • Photography: As one of the most photogenic sites in Iceland, the Svartifoss Black Waterfall is a haven for photographers. Capture the spectacular views of the waterfall with its iconic black basalt columns.

  • Exploring the Skaftafell Nature Preserve: Located around Svartifoss, the Skaftafell Nature Preserve is a paradise for nature lovers with its diverse fauna, lush vegetation, and stunning landscapes.

  • Birdwatching: The area around Svartifoss is a great place for birdwatching, offering opportunities to spot various bird species.

  • Visiting other nearby attractions: The black sand beach of Reynisfjara, the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and the mighty Vatnajökull glacier are all within a short drive of Svartifoss.

Tips for Taking Pictures of Svartifoss Waterfall

Taking Svartifoss photos requires a blend of technique and creativity. Here are some tips to help you get the best shots:

  • Morning or Late Afternoon Light: As mentioned above, the soft glow of morning or late afternoon light can significantly enhance the beauty of Svartifoss. Strive to capture your images during these hours for the most striking photos.

  • Include Elements for Scale: The basalt columns surrounding Svartifoss are grand and imposing. Including an element for scale, such as a person or a tree, can help convey this majesty in your photos.

  • Use a Tripod: Due to the often cloudy and overcast conditions in Iceland, using a tripod can help maintain the sharpness of your photos.

  • Composition Is Key: Consider utilizing the rule of thirds or leading lines with the waterfall's flow to create an engaging composition.

Before your visit, check out our Iceland photography guide for inspiration and additional tips tailored to Icelandic landscapes.

svartifoss black waterfall


What does Svartifoss mean?

Svartifoss means 'Black Waterfall' in Icelandic, a name derived from the dark basalt columns that surround the waterfall and create an impression of black, crystalline structures. These unique geological features give Svartifoss its distinctive and striking appearance.

How far from Skaftafell visitor center to Svartifoss and back?

The round trip from the Skaftafell visitor center to Svartifoss and back is approximately 3 kilometers (1.9 miles), starting and ending at the Svartifoss parking area.

How much does it cost to go to Svartifoss?

Visiting Svartifoss does not incur any entry fee; it is completely free of charge. However, parking at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre can incur a small fee of ISK 750.

How much time do you need in Svartifoss?

A visit to Svartifoss typically takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, allowing time for the hike, photography, and soaking in the stunning views.

Can you swim in Svartifoss?

No, you cannot swim in Svartifoss. The waterfall is located within Vatnajökull National Park, and swimming is prohibited. Additionally, the water is cold, and the area around the waterfall can be rocky and treacherous.

How high is Svartifoss?

Svartifoss is approximately 20 metres (65 feet) in height.

best time of day to visit svartifoss

The Lasting Impact of Svartifoss

Journeying to the enchanting Svartifoss waterfall is more than just a visit; it's an unforgettable adventure. Renting a campervan in Iceland enhances this experience by allowing you to explore at your own pace.

Imagine waking up amidst the captivating landscapes, savoring the serene beauty, and reaching Svartifoss early enough to avoid the tourist rush. The convenience, comfort, and flexibility a campervan offers make it the perfect means to absorb the Icelandic charm fully. So, embark on this liberating journey, and create memories that will last a lifetime.


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