Svartifoss waterfall

Svartifoss Waterfall – East Iceland

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Svartifoss waterfall is one of many Icelandic waterfalls that falls through a basalt column amphitheatre. The dark basalt is what gives Svartifoss its name. Translated, ‘Svartifoss’ means ‘Black Falls’, or ‘Dark Falls’. The basalt is actually dark brown with flashes of red (due to its high iron content), but when it is wet and at night, it does appear to be black.

Skaftafell hiking photo locations
The black appearance of basalt columns at Svartifoss waterfall on a rainy day.

Skaftafell National Park

Skaftafell National Park is Iceland’s smallest national park and does include several waterfalls. Technically, the park is now part of the much larger Vatnajökull National Park. However, Svartifoss waterfall is the most visited and is probably the main reason to hike up Skaftafell.


Bad Weather Ideas


During the tourist years, the waterfall would host 5,000 visitors per year. The toll of so many yearly visitors on the landscape has led to several construction projects, including a bridge and steel viewing platform recently erected. When these photos were taken, there was a simple plank of wood across the river.

Icicles at Svartifoss waterfall
Icicles surround Svartifoss waterfall on a cold winter day.

Hexagonal Columns

The amphitheatre of basalt columns is 20 meters high. The basalt would have been part of an active lava flow, and the slow cooling of the basalt formed the famous hexagonal shapes. The waterfall at Svartifoss flows from an insignificant stream called Bærjargil.

The basalt columns at Svartifoss waterfall are some of the best examples of columnar formation in the world. The basalt columns have inspired some Icelandic architecture such as the Hallgrim’s Church in Reykjavik.


Svartifoss Photo Guide

Most of my photos in this post were taken with a 24mm prime lens. This is an ideal focal length to include most of the Basalt columns, waterfall and stream.

Because the basalt is so dark, it can be a challenge to expose the sky properly as well. My preference was to compose without the sky or take an HDR sequence of exposures if the sky had something to offer.

Long exposure kills the rainbow.

It is natural for the landscape photographer to experiment with slow shutter speeds to get the silky water effect. I would recommend a tripod and ND filter for this, but be careful because rainbows can fade if the exposure is too long.


The viewing platform was constructed after these photos were taken, but it is well thought out and placed so that it doesn’t affect the view from the stream and actually gives you a good opportunity for photographing Svartifoss. The following photo could be achieved from the viewing platform.

Svartifoss waterfall
Get close with a telephoto lens (135mm).

Vertical Photos

Many waterfalls work well with a vertical orientation. Although a vertical frame can limit the amount of basalt included at Svartifoss, including the rocks in the river can make a vertical photo worthwhile.

Svartifoss vertical photo

Finding Svartifoss

Skaftafell Park is fairly easy to find because it is just a small diversion from the #1 Icelandic ring road which runs directly from Reykjavik. A left turn and reduced speed limit will take you to the visitor center. Here you can use their facilities, have something to eat or meet glacier guides.


The hiking path from the Skaftafell visitor center up to Svartifoss waterfall is a couple of kilometers and takes a bit more than half an hour. It is possible to see several smaller waterfalls on the hiking route.

Svartifoss Hiking trail
Hiking route from the Skaftafell visitor center.

The skaftafell visitor center displays daily notices about conditions of the hiking path. In winter it is important to check at the visitor center before heading uphill. In most cases, crampons (micro-spikes) are recommended for winter trips.

Many of the shorter South Iceland tours wont include Svartifoss waterfall because of the time it takes to hike, but it is a worthwhile stop on a Self-Drive tour of South Iceland.

Where to Stay

Staying in the local area will allow you the time to take in the beauty of the glaciers and hiking routes near Skaftafell.


Skaftafell Hotels

These hotels and guesthouses are a short drive from Skaftafell National Park. The hotel closest to the national park is Hotel Skaftafell.


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