The Svartifoss Waterfall Hike, Iceland
Honestly, the first time you hike up to Svartifoss and see it from afar, you may think…is that it? A little underwhelmed, that’s how I approached the waterfall the first time I visited. From afar, Svartifoss really appears like a landscape feature you would easily pass on. The Beauty of this waterfall though, is closeup.
Svartifoss, with a Rainbow
While it is a relatively small one at just 20m tall, it probably is one of the most unique waterfalls in Iceland. The name Svarti- (black) and -Foss (waterfall) literally means the black waterfall, due to the back basaltic columns that frame the waterfall so nicely.
Also, this is a relatively short hike. Don’t let the very steep first part of the hike deter you from reaching it. You can visit it in less than an hour so you can easily include a stop at the Skaftafell national part in any Ring Road or south coast itinerary. if you were to stay in the area, the Skaftafell campsite is a great place to stop at.
Entrance to the Camping Area beyond the Visitors Center.
Table of Contents
How to get to Svartifoss and Parking
- Driving Directions: Svartifoss is within the Skaftafell National Park, which is on a side road of Road 1, the ring road. Unless you are camping there for the night, you would need to pay for parking. If you camp, you get free parking until midnight the day after. At least, this was the case in 2022). If you are looking for car rental options, I can definitely recommend Blue Car Rental for cars and CampEasy for Camper Vans.
- Parking: there is ample, paid parking available at Skaftafell.
- Public Transport: the Straeto Bus 51 stops at the Skaftafell National Park, but I can see it as a viable option only if you are spending an extended amount of time in Iceland.
Signposts along the trail will advise you on the various intersections.
The Svartifoss Trail
Actually, there are a few possible trails you can take. You can also combine a visit to Svartifoss with other points of Interest, which I’d recommend you do. You could either include the Skaftafellsjökull or the viewpoint above it. Both are totally worth the detour, Skaftafellsjökull is one beautiful and impressive glacier.
The map I have added below refers to the most direct way you can reach Svartifoss, the one that passes by another waterfall, Magnusarfoss. You can then take any detour from this as you see fit. Since it is a look hike, you also have multiple options to explore the area without having to go on very long hikes.
Map of the Hiking trails around Svartifoss in the Skaftafell national park.
Anyway, if you approach Svartifoss from the east, you will first see it from afar, from the top of a small lookout area. As I mentioned in the intro, It will look small and unimpressive. You will then have to follow the trail down the other side of the small hill to get to the viewing platform.
If you approach the waterfall from the west, you will pretty much see it once you reach the viewing platform. This location may get very crowded in the middle of the day, so if you can it’s best to plan to visit in the morning or late in the afternoon/evening. Svartifoss never closes, so if you are still jet lagged and visiting in summer, visit at night :)!
Part of the well-maintained trail
The Svartifoss Hike Photos and Photography tips
Let me start by saying compositional options are somewhat limited. There is a viewing platform that delimits access to the area. This is a National Park and the fence is there to protect the vegetation and the environment. Please do not step over the fenced boardwalk around the waterfall.
However, the viewing platform provides more than enough compositional choices. In terms of light, this location does not get good light for either Sunrise or sunset, but usually around mid-day or early afternoon in summer it is directly lit by the sun. This can create a small rainbow in the water vapor around the waterfall, which is a great touch. This is also a location that works great if it is overcast.
Definitely have a polarizer or a Neutral density filter if you want to try long exposures.
Lastly, drones are not allowed here without permission from the Park or Park’s rangers. Even then, some Areas, like Svartifoss, are completely off-limits. To get permission for other areas, you can either talk to park rangers on-site or contact the Park.
View of Svartifoss from the bridge across the river
Svartifoss, with a Rainbow.
Map of the Svartifoss Hike
While this is a short hike, it can also be a bit of a maze. This is especially true if you decide to take a detour. So I’d recommend having one tracking app and a GPS track. You won’t get lost here, but it may save you some wandering around.
Where to stay
The Skaftafell Park camping is the closest option if you are in a tent or camper/campervan. I stayed at the Skaftafell camping and can recommend it. Definitely, good facilities and plenty of space, though there may be relatively long queues for the showers at the end of the day. There’s a bonus, though. You get free parking included until midnight of the day after if you stay overnight (this was in 2022).
Car or Camper Van Rentals
I can definitely recommend two companies here:
- Cars: Blue Car Rental, which is the largest Car rental company in Iceland, and for good reasons. Free Cancellation, Unlimited mileage, 24-hour breakdown assistance, SCDW, CDW, TP, and GP insurance are included in the price. Blue Car Rental is also located within walking distance of the Keflavik Airport, so you can be on your way to explore Iceland right away. I’ve always been happy with my rentals there, which is why I’m happy to recommend their services here on my blog.
- Camper Vans: CampEasy. With CampEasy, you can rent 2WD or 4×4 campers alike. With a raised Chassis, larger tires, and extra insurance with reduced liability for river crossing, their 4X4 campers are the best choice for your trip into the Highlands. Their Website also provides extensive information about roads you can take and instructions on river crossings. Perfect choice for a hiking holiday in the highlands!
These are my two favorite companies in each respective rental area, which I why I am happy to recommend both here. If you also like this blog, booking through them is a great way to support it. I’ll get a small commission fee at no additional cost, so you can essentially support the running costs of this blog for free too.