Svartifoss is a beautiful 66 ft (20 m) waterfall in south-east Iceland, known for the iconic black basalt columns that surround it. This geological amphitheater gives the waterfall the name of Svartifoss, which means “Black Falls” in Icelandic. Beneath the waterfall lies the remains of columns shards that have broken off over the years.
Svartifoss’s black basalt columns are remnants of a volcanic past. Basalt columns are formed from the rapid cooling and contracting of basalt based lava. This type of lava has high concentrations of iron and magnesium, which helps to speed up the cooling process, once exposed to air, and thus this unique geological feature is formed. Svartifoss’s columns, and others in Iceland, have an extra feature called columnar jointing. This cooling process is what gives Svartifoss’s basalt columns their distinct hexagonal shape.
Svartifoss is located in the Skaftafell nature perverse. Skaftafell previously was a National Park but is now part of the greater Vatnajökull National Park. Here you can find the Stórilækur river, which feeds Svartifoss. Stórilækur finds its water source from the Vatnajökull glacier.
While it’s not one of Iceland’s tallest or most powerful waterfalls, it is still often the favorite for many who have seen its beauty. Along with the black basalt columns, the glacial waters make Svartifoss an accurate representation of Iceland, the land of fire and ice.
History of Svartifoss
Most of Svartifoss’s history is a geological history with the formation of the black basalt columns. This unique look has served as inspiration for artists across the globe.
Guðjón Samúelsson (1887-1950), a past State Architect of Iceland, was one artist who was inspired by columns found in Svartifoss. He went on to design Hallgrímskirkja, one of Iceland’s most famous landmarks. Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran Church of Iceland sitting in the heart of Reykjavik. The church’s exterior is world-renowned for its mimicry of the basalt column formations found in the country. You can describe the basalt columns to be shaped like church organs, so it only fits that Hallgrímskirkja is equipped with two impressive organ sets as well.
Other buildings and artwork have drawn inspiration from Svartifoss, such as the National Theatre of Iceland and the “Milestones” sculpture created by the US sculptor Richard Serra.
hiking to Svartifoss
There a few different paths to get to Svartifoss. Vatnajökull National Park’s website recommends the Skaftafell, Svartifoss, Sjónarsker, and Sel Loop hike.
This trail can also be found on AllTrails and is approximately 3.8 mi with an elevation gain of 673 ft. The hike is rated as easy according to the National Park’s website but calculated as moderate according to AllTrails. This hike is estimated to take 2 hours to complete.
The trail will get an up-close and personal look at Svartifoss. Some parts are fenced off for preservation, but the view is still is close. Svartifoss is very popular, and there are quicker hikes to fall, so expect to see several snapping photos at the waterfall.
Not only will you get to see Svartifoss on the hike, but also a stunning view from the Sjónarnípa viewpoint, the Sel farm, and its grass roof. As a bonus, three other minor waterfalls can be viewed on the hike. These waterfalls are Magnúsarfoss, Hundafoss, and Þjófafoss (not to be confused with the official Þjófafoss waterfall). There used to be a fourth called Lambhagafoss, but it disappeared during Skeiðarárhlaup glacial burst.
For those wanting the quickest hike, AllTrails does offer a variety of hikes to Svartifoss.
- Located in the Skaftafell Nature Perverse / Vatnajökull National Park.
- Located near the Ring Road.
- Svartifoss is well marked and easily accessible with Google Maps.
- The drive is a little over 4 hours from Reykjavík.