Dettifoss is Iceland’s greatest and most majestic waterfall. It is also rated as Europe’s most powerful waterfall, based on its magnitude. Dettifoss is 45 metres in height and 100 metres wide and its force is such that the bedrock trembles when hit by the weight of an immense column of white-foaming water. The average flow is 193 cubic metres per second but during floods it reaches up to 600 m3/s.
Dettifoss is in the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which emerges from beneath Vatnajökull glacier and runs into Öxarfjörður bay. It is part of Vatnajökull National Park. Dettifoss is the centre fall in a unique series of waterfalls; about one km up river is Selfoss, and two km down river is Hafragilsfoss.
Dettifoss cuts the river at an angle so the scenic experience is quite different depending on which side the waterfall is viewed from.
The east bank of Dettifoss
On the east side of Jökulsá river, road 864 runs between road 85 in Öxarfjörður region and main road 1 in the Mývatn area. Despite being a gravel road, it has usually been better than the road on the on the west side, so this is where most visitors come to Dettifoss.
A turn-off leads to a parking lot from were it is a 10 minute walk. The path leading from the parking lot is a fairly steep and rocky so utmost care should be taken. Down on the flat riverbank there are marked paths and a viewing platform.
The view from here is particularly beautiful in the early part of the day when the sun shining from behind lights the spray aglow in all the colours of the rainbow.
A marked trail leads from Dettifoss up to Selfoss which is also well worth seeing. While only 10m high, it is very wide. The hike back and forth takes about one hour.
From the parking lot, there is also a marked trail along the river bank down to Hafragilsfoss, although most people opt to drive down to the parking lot by Hafragilsfoss. While the fall itself is quite smaller than Dettifoss, its surrounding is magnificent for here the canyon is truly grand.
The area of Dettifoss, Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss on the east side of the river was declared a national monument in 1996.
The west bank of Dettifoss
Road F862 runs between road 85 and road 1 on the west side of Jökulsá river. Between road 85 and Dettifoss it is a gravel road, but between Dettifoss and Road 1 it is more of a mountain track and conditions can vary greatly. A new road is under construction, scheduled to be completed in 2010.
From the parking lot on the west side of the Jökulsá, there is a 15 minute walk through a desert like terrain of sand and rock to Dettifoss. This makes the view all the more breathtaking when you come to the ridge where Dettifoss appears in all its glory. Below the ridge is a bright green dell called Fosshvammur, where grass and moss are constantly watered by the spray. The path down gets very slippery when wet so care must be taken.
Standing in Fosshvammur, you are at level with the top of Dettifoss and face to face with its awesome power. It is an experience that leaves no one untouched.
From Dettifoss, you can take the marked trail up to Selfoss and from there on back to the parking lot. The circle from the parking lot to Dettifoss and Selfoss and back is about 2.5 km and takes approximately one hour.