Iceland has no shortage of waterfalls, but each one has something special that warrants a journey out to see it in person. Dettifoss is no exception. Located in Northern Iceland, not far from the country’s second-largest city, Akureyri, Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
Its falls are fueled by water from Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a glacial river originating from Vatnajökull (coincidentally, the largest glacier in Europe). According to Guide to Iceland, more than 96,500 gallons of water drops 150 feet down into the surrounding canyon every second.
Dettifoss is easily accessible from the famous Ring Road route and it’s not to be missed. You may even be able to spot the waterfall’s mist floating off the falls from miles away as you approach, if you catch it in the right weather.
How to Get There
If you’re driving to the waterfall during the summer (late May through early September), Road 864 off of Road 85 will bring you to straight to Dettifoss. You can reach the waterfall during the winter, but you’ll need a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Road 862 will bring you along the west side of the Jökulsá River — be warned: it is gravel and the weather can do a number on it. There is also a paved road from Dettifoss south to Road 1, which is suitable for all cars.
What to Expect at Dettifoss
Unlike Skogafoss or Seljalandsfoss, Dettifoss is nestled inside an impressive canyon and is not as visible from the road. Where you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss and up into the pool at Skogafoss, this waterfall’s power means you should keep a safe distance. There are also two other waterfalls located within the canyon: Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss.
What to Wear
If you’re hiking, don’t forget your layers. The weather can be incredibly unpredictable and the winding trails can pull you far from your car. There’s a good chance you’re going to get wet at Dettifoss — since it sends its water deep into a canyon, any bit of wind can pick up that mist and toss it your way, especially if you’re viewing Dettifoss from the top. Make sure you have a waterproof outer layer and you’ll be set. There’s a footpath on the eastern bank of the falls, but it’s often slippery, so bring your hiking boots.
Given that Dettifoss is known as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, it’s safe to say you don’t want to find yourself underneath its falls — enjoy its massive majesty from a safe distance.
The Best Time to Visit
Getting to the waterfall is certainly easier during the summer months, given the road conditions. If you’re looking for a scenic, easy drive, aim for visiting June through August.
Like any natural attraction in Iceland, there will be crowds at various points throughout the day. You can count on seeing other people at any time. Avoid late afternoon if you’re really looking to steer clear of the crowds.
Dettifoss is located in Vatnajökull National Park, which is home to an overwhelming number of sights and hikes. There’s a 34-kilometer trail that will bring you to Dettifoss along Asbyrgi (the canyon housing the falls). There are two other smaller waterfalls within walking distance: Selfoss, which is located about two-and-a-half miles upstream and Hafragilsfoss, which you can find about one-a-half-miles back on the road (there’s a turning point which will lead you right to the waterfall). Be careful with Hafragilsfoss, there are steep slopes and rocky terrain awaiting you on the western side, which is also the most accessible entry for adventurous folk looking to take in the sights.
Jökulsa Canyon is also a hiking destination known around the world for its stunning basalt rock formations. Don’t miss Rauðhollar, a black-and-red hillside or the region’s two petrified “trolls,” Karl and Kerling. You will also be pretty close to Lake Mývatn, if you’re looking for a relaxing hot spring to soak in after chasing waterfalls.