As the most powerful waterfall in Europe and most voluminous waterfall in Iceland, Dettifoss has a reputation to uphold. Measuring 144 ft or 45 meters high and 100 meters wide, Dettifoss draws huge crowds each year and is one of the sites which make up the famous Diamond Circle of North Iceland - Húsavík, Ábyrgi Canyon, Lake Mývatn, and Dettifoss waterfall.
Referred to by some as ´The Beast' in comparison to 'The Beauty' of Goðafoss, Dettifoss is known for its power rather than it’s appearance. That said, the waterfall is stunning; it’s extremely large and the mist from the falls is visible from several miles away, as well as the rainbows which form in it. The roar of the fall, however, cannot be heard until you get a lot closer than you might expect! There’s a great observational view platform, suitable for a small group, which overlooks the fall and the countryside. But be prepared to get wet! With the amount of mist that carries in the area around the waterfall, you’re going to need to bring waterfalls!
How was Dettifoss Formed?
It is true that the name ‘Dettifoss’ could be loosely translated as 'The Collapsing Waterfall' but don't let that put you off! So long as you keep to the paths it is completely safe!
Dettifoss is fed from the mighty glacier river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which comes from the biggest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull glacier. Meltwater flows off the glacier and travels through Jökulsá until it finally reaches the Dettifoss waterfall. Jökulsá á fjöllum is the second largest river in Iceland and eventually flows out to the Greenland Sea.
Where is Dettifoss?
GPS POINTS N65° 48' 53.801" W16° 22' 59.766"
Dettifoss is located in North Iceland, North of the Ring Road on the Diamond Circle route. Roughly 330 miles from Reykjavik, visitors are likely to spend at least a weekends road trip in the North Iceland region to maximize their time in this action-packed, remote side of the island. As a base, you may want to look into staying in the large, Northern town of Akureyri, 150 km (95 miles) from the waterfall.
How to get to Dettifoss Waterfall
If you drive to Dettifoss from Reykjavík in one hit, the journey will take over 7 hours! We don’t recommend this - you’ll omit so many landmarks worth stopping for! From Akureyri - the largest town in the north of Iceland, the waterfall is just 2 hours away - following the Þjóðvegur road to Hólsfjallavegur.
Passing the sign for Mývatn, you need to turn onto road 862. This short stretch will lead you to the West bank of the waterfall and is a gravel road, however, in bad conditions it is closed off. The conditions of gravel roads in Iceland can vary, so travelers are prewarned to be aware of road conditions at all times and adjust driving speed to the conditions most appropriate.
As a general rule, if the road is closed off it is probably not worth the risk of finding another way in (Road 864) as the fall itself will be dangerous and slippery. The East side of the waterfall can also be reached via Road 864, but the roads are less safe and part of the route is a simple dirt track, which is potentially hazardous during the winter. Road 864 closes due to snow or wet conditions and is often out of access from November - end of May.
What else can I do near Dettifoss?
- A 34km hiking trail goes along from Dettifoss to the canyon at Asbyrgi - a well-forested horse-shoe shaped canyon in Oxarfjordur
- Akureyri or ‘the Capital of the North’ is the biggest settlement in North Iceland. With a population of over ten thousand people, it is the largest town outside of Greater Reykjavík.
- Upstream, only a quick 1 km (0.6 miles) hike away you will find Selfoss Waterfall
- Jökulsárgljúfur canyon is North of Dettifoss and makes up a small part of Vatnajökull National Park
When is the best time to visit Dettifoss?
Most visitors tend to spend up to 3 hours at Dettifoss and we would suggest 2.
During the summer the fall is at it's mightiest, with an average water flow of 400 m3/s and is more accessible in the way that during winter the fall cannot be accessed without the aid of yak-trax or crampons because of the risk of slipping on ice. During the winter, icicles hang from the rocks and snow paints the hills, but you can only see this for a few hours before the sun completely sets, and the waterfall is not illuminated at night or during the darkness.
As mentioned, Road 864 can be closed during the entire winter season, due to heavy snow or wet and muddy conditions. The road does not open until late May or early June. There is a new, paved road which is passable for all vehicles from Dettifoss, South to Road 1, from the West side river bank but this road is out of service from January until the beginning of April.
Visiting Dettifoss for the first time
- When driving the potential icy, gravel roads you will find studded winter tires to be a life saver!
- Get reliable reports on road conditions prior to driving there in the winter
- Even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, driving in winter can be challenging, if you’re not comfortable driving in harsh conditions, be sure to go with an organized tour
- The waterfall will be less busy in between buses of tourists and at later times of the day
- The footpath is eroding away in places and the drop is quite something, so take care.
- Parking in the parking lot is free
- Climbing the steps could be icy so be careful!
- The walk down the path that leads to the falls has a reputation of being increasingly windy
Dettifoss and Hollywood
Dettifoss is no stranger to the big screen, making it’s Hollywood debut in the Ridley Scott, science fiction, blockbuster Prometheus in 2012, in the opening scene none the less! Set in the later years of the 21st century, the story focuses on the crew of the spaceship, Prometheus.
In 2013, Dettifoss returned to the screen in the movie ‘Oblivion’ starring Tom Cruise.
Icelandic backdrops feature heavily in the background throughout the film, helping to create a unique post-apocalyptic future. Filming took place at the Hrossaborg Crater in North-East Iceland, with multiple other scenes taking place near the mighty waterfall.
Given the distinct size and power of Dettifoss, I wonder if we’ll see it return to Hollywood some time again, in the future!
Overnight Stays at Dettifoss
Due to the spread out, vast nature of Northern Iceland, there are no hotels or accommodation within close proximity to Dettifoss and the nearest town is almost 30 km (20 miles) away.
Within this radius there are a few options for guesthouses:
- Bjarnastaðir Guest house
- Grímsstaðir Guesthouse
- Nordic Natura
- Fosshotel Mývatn
There are a few campsites within the same radius near to Dettifoss
- Camping Hljóðaklettar
- Lifsmotun camping
- Camping Myvatn