Updated: Feb 3
Iceland has one of the most unique landscapes in the world. The fiery wrath of volcanoes mixes with the land-shaping movement of icy glaciers to create dramatic, breathtaking scenery. It really is every geology lover’s dream. The unique Svartifoss Waterfall in Iceland is one such geological delight.
With its striking basalt columns, Svartifoss is an Icelandic natural wonder that is absolutely unmissable. In this article, we’ll be covering the following:
What to expect on your visit to the sublime Svartifoss Waterfall
Geological insights into Iceland’s unique basalt rock formations
Other incredible places to see basalt columns in Iceland
Svartifoss: Iceland's black waterfall
Iceland is known for the breathtaking beauty of its waterfalls, boasting in over 10,000 different cascades. Svartifoss waterfall is on this list, located in the Skaftafell section of Vatnajökull National Park. It is known as Iceland's black waterfall, not because of the color of its water but rather the dark basalt pillars that make up the cliff face.
The columns look as though they are precariously hanging like some large, natural pipe organ that could drop at any moment. You'll notice that some of the basalt column formations have broken off and fallen to the ground below. Standing at an impressive 20 m tall, it is known as none other than the ‘Black Fall’.
Visiting Svartifoss Waterfall
No tour around South Iceland is complete without getting the opportunity to gaze upon Svartifoss, so if you’re renting a camper van or motorhome for an Iceland road trip, put it on your itinerary. The waterfall is located in southeast Iceland, just a short distance from the famous Iceland Ring Road. This area is a real show-off in terms of natural beauty, and fortunately can be visited year-round.
Be aware that the Svartifoss trail is a little steep and the journey takes 40 minutes each way to complete. If the weather in Iceland and close to Svartifoss is rough, then you may need to reschedule your visit. After all, hiking in bad weather conditions is potentially dangerous and won’t be as enjoyable as on a clear day.
If you’re wondering where to stay near Svartifoss, there are several great campsites. We particularly recommend the campsite in the nearby town of Vik. This charming little seaside spot has a lot to offer both locals and visitors. There are shopping facilities and restaurants to enjoy, and guests will be in close proximity to many incredible natural wonders.
The geology of Iceland
Iceland is known as the Land of Fire and Ice due to the contrasting elements present on the island. The Nordic island is located far up in the North Atlantic Ocean, close to the Arctic Circle, so the country has several glaciers.
At the same time, Iceland rests on the plate boundary of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, meaning volcanic activity is common. This intense combination makes for a mix of natural forces that you won't find anywhere else on the planet. Iceland truly is a one-off!
Iceland’s basalt columns
Basalt is a volcanic rock formed from superheated magma that emerges as lava during an eruption. The iron and magnesium-rich basalt lava cools and contracts very quickly once exposed to the surface air, hardening as it solidifies.
Iceland's basalt columns are the result of this rapid cooling process that changes the chemical makeup and appearance of the lava. Due to this process of altered composition, Basalt volcanic rock has a special geometrical shape.
These basalt pillars and hexagonal rock formations you see have a unique feature called columnar jointing. This is what gives each basalt column their unmistakable hexagonal shape and makes them so visually stunning to the eye. Curiously enough, this is the same natural process that gives the Giant's Causeway in Ireland its rugged appearance.
The geological wonder of basalt rocks has even inspired Icelandic architecture. You can see Mother Nature’s influence in the facades of buildings like Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík and Akureyrarkirkja in Akureyri.
While some think they’re meant to look like a pipe organ, they’re actually supposed to be reminiscent of a rock formation. The architect’s goal was to recreate the look of Iceland basalt columns on the front sides of these imposing buildings.
Where else can you see basalt columns in Iceland?
You'll find basalt rock formations all over Iceland due to the island's frequent volcanic activity. Here are some of the very best places we know to spot them in their diverse and various forms.
While many countries are famed for their tropical beaches, that's not the case with Iceland. Instead, it is known for its black beaches filled with dark volcanic sand. Reynisfjara Beach is perhaps one of the most popular attractions, and for good reason.
It not only has the black sand beaches that Iceland is so famous for, but It also features basalt rock formations with some pretty spectacular terrain and sweeping panoramic views. It is probably one of the best basalt column destinations in Iceland, so it's no wonder Game of Thrones producers chose it as a filming location.
The sea stacks and basalt columns here are probably some of the most photographed rock formations in the world. They are a beautiful, highly unusual geological phenomenon that you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. The unique combination of hexagonal basalt columns set against the backdrop of black volcanic sand makes for an unusual and equally compelling sight.
Gerðuberg basalt column cliff
Along Snaefellsvegur road in the Snaefellsness Peninsula, you'll pass one of the largest examples of basalt columns in Iceland. In fact, it is so massive that you can actually see the basalt column cliff from the roadside as you drive towards Snaefellsjökull. The Gerðuberg basalt column cliff is made up of hundreds of basalt column stacks.
Be careful not to be distracted by this fascinating sight while driving. Instead, find a place to pull over so that you can snap some photos up close. Spend as long as you want here, taking in this magnificent geographical wonder slowly before going on your way.
Stuðlagil canyon in Jökuldalu
This is definitely one of the most picturesque places you'll encounter in Iceland. Its turquoise blue river surrounded by a fortress of basalt pillars on both sides manages to hypnotize every visitor that draws near. This newly discovered treasure of Iceland geology is a feast for the eyes and will undoubtedly leave you speechless.
The walking trail between Arnarstapi and Hellnar
Another great place to see this naturally occurring geological formation is along the hiking trail from Arnarstapi to Hellnar. These two quaint fishing villages on the Snaefellsnes peninsula are a common overnight stop-off point for travelers exploring the area.
Many visitors walk the path between the two villages in order to observe the seaside column formations. There are also many seabirds along the cliffs which make for a charming, non-strenuous hike in the evening.
Stuðlafoss is yet another Icelandic waterfall that features basalt column stacks similar to Svartifoss. This is a recently discovered highlight and therefore, a lesser-known waterfall close to the hidden Stuðlagil canyon in Jökuldalur valley.
The waterfall, canyon, and valley are all close to the Ring Road, so visiting the unparalleled rugged beauty of Stuðlafoss is simple and straightforward. Be one of the first to explore this geological gem in East Iceland.
The mighty Aldeyjarfoss waterfall is another cascade featuring basalt rock, but its visual appearance is completely different from both Svartifoss and Stuðlafoss. The former falls feature a cliff face made entirely of hexagonal rocks. Aldeyjarfoss, by contrast, has two types of Icelandic rocks along its craggy surface.
Additionally, the strong, gushing flows of the glacial river that feeds this waterfall add to its power and majesty.
Hljóðaklettar - Echo Cliffs
Hljóðaklettar, much like Gerðuberg, is another basalt-rock boasting cliff. This particular one shares the same characteristics as Aldeyjarfoss in that it has columns topped by an uneven surface of more rock.
Something distinctive about this geological attraction is that much of the basalt has broken off. This gives it the interesting appearance of a rock quarry, with stones just waiting to be hauled away.
While the majority of Iceland's hexagonal basalt columns are vertical, there are a few horizontal specimens. At Kálfshamarsvík bay in North Iceland, you'll find a cove with long, hexagonal basalt columns that you can walk on.
Much like on the path between Arnarstapi and Hellnar, these horizontal rocks jut out into the water, creating a sort of volcanic, naturally-occurring cobblestone.
Svartifoss & basalt columns in Iceland
Iceland is a geological wonderland and its abundance of natural beauty will leave you awe-struck. Be sure to check out some of these famous hexagonal rock formations and take plenty of pictures of Iceland's geology at its finest.
Rent your campervan today for the easiest access to these spectacular sights during your upcoming road trip!