Iceland's Black Waterfall: Svartifoss

Close-up of Svartifoss Icelands black waterfall

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

    Svartifoss waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. While it doesn't bear the nickname “The Beauty” (that distinction belongs to Seljalandsfoss), it does have another name. The cascade located in the Skaftafell section of Vatnajökull National Park in South Iceland is known as Iceland's black waterfall. Now before you start picturing onyx-colored water careening over the top of a cliff, pause for a moment. Svartifoss’ moniker actually comes from the surrounding volcanic rock rather than the color of the water itself. The hexagonal basalt columns that make up the cliff face are dark-hued and resemble a pipe organ.

    All About Iceland’s Svartifoss Waterfall

    There are tons of natural attractions in Iceland like blackened lava fields, icy glaciers, bubbling hot springs, and spectacular waterfalls. Did you know that Iceland has over 10,000 waterfalls? Svartifoss may not be the tallest waterfall in Iceland, the most powerful waterfall, or even the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland. But its unique geological characteristics and visual appeal make it one of Iceland's best waterfalls. While smaller than the mighty Dettifoss waterfall (which measures 32 meters or 105 feet), this cascade is still relatively small and well-known. The water originates at the Vatnajökull glacier and flows from the Stórilækur river to the drop of 20 meters (around 66 feet).

    Svartifoss and Icelandic Architecture

    Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson was inspired by the look by places like Svartifoss waterfall when he designed his buildings. Unique geological formations of black basalt columns are echoed and some of his most famous works such as Hallgrímskirkja In Reykjavik . Many people mistakenly think that the façade of this well-known building and city icon reflects the fact that there's a large pipe organ inside. The reality is that the church's exterior it's meant to look like landscapes you'll find throughout Iceland in places like Svartifoss.

    Hallgrimskirkja Church

    What Makes Svartifoss Iceland’s Black Waterfall?

    The natural phenomenon that caused Svartifoss’ unique appearance is none other than volcanic activity. As you may know, Iceland is known as the land of Fire and Ice. The country's geography and landscapes were forged in the fiery lava of volcanic eruptions. Svartifoss waterfall is no exception. When heated magma comes out of a volcano, it hits the outside air as lava. After coming to contact with this air, the lava begins to quickly cool. This happens especially quickly in climates like Iceland, where temperatures hover around freezing for much of the year.

    As lava cools it crystallizes into hexagonal basalt columns. No one really knows why it takes the shape of a hexagon; it's just one of those funny things of Mother Nature. Sometimes these columns will form a mightly cliff-like Gerðuberg in Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Other times it's more of a wall, much like the basalt columns at Reynisfjara beach. At Svartifoss, the basalt columns are at the top of the cliff. Due to the sheer force of gravity, the bottom pieces have broken off and fallen to the bottom of the waterfall.

    How to Arrive at Svartifoss Waterfall

    Svartifoss is located at the southern end of Vatnajökull National Park in the Skaftafell zone. It's about two hours from the small fishing village of Vik is the perfect place to stop as you make your way from West Iceland to East Iceland along the Ring Road. While driving on Route 1, you'll see signs for Skaftafell. This is where you turn onto Road 998 which leads to the parking lot area. Once you leave the visitor center, it's a short way to arrive.

    Svartifoss Waterfall, Iceland

    Things to Do at Svartifoss Waterfall

    Once you've arrived, you can take the Svartifoss hike that leads you to this wondrous cascade. If you happen to visit during summer, you'll have the extra hours of daylight provided by Iceland's Midnight Sun. Svartifoss is also particularly beautiful when it's lit up by the Northern Lights. There are also plenty of color-coded hiking trails in the area that are sorted by difficulty. Beginners should stick to the blue trails while experienced hikers should try the routes marked in red. Only the most experienced hikers with plenty of stamina should attempt the trails marked in black. This, and much more, makes visiting Svartifoss Waterfall on of the best things to do in Iceland.

    Iceland's Black Waterfall: Svartifoss

    If you really enjoy Iceland's waterfalls, another great stop is Gullfoss waterfall on the Golden Circle route. It flows from the Hvítá river. North Iceland also has some really beautiful waterfalls. Iceland's highest waterfall, Morsárfoss in the Morsa river in Morsarjokull glacier is a staggering 240 meters (787 feet) tall. Iceland truly is the land of waterfalls; you can plan an entire vacation of things to do just around these natural wonders. Whatever you do, just make sure that Svartifoss is a part of your Iceland itinerary. Iceland's black waterfall is not to be missed and it is an unforgettable sight during your camper van rental in Iceland.

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