The majestic Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss Waterfalls in East Iceland
Now, this is my 100th travel-blog here on Guide to Iceland, and I wanted to write about something very close to my heart - Hengifoss waterfall - the Hanging Falls.
Hengifoss waterfall is located next to Lagarfljót lake and faces Hallormsstaðarskógur forest, about which I have written another travel-blog. It is a beautiful waterfall, around 128 meters tall, making it the 2nd highest waterfall in Iceland if we don't count the waterfall in the Morsárjökull glacier.
Top photo: Hengifoss waterfall in East Iceland
The spectacular waterfall drops into the gorge Hengifossárgljúfur in Fljótsdalur valley. The hike to the waterfall is a gradual climb uphill for an hour or so.
I had tried to visit this waterfall on the 12th of July 2008, but as I was hiking up to it my father died in Reykjavík. So midway up to the waterfall, I had to go back and rush to Reykjavík, where I live. It actually took me 1.5 days to drive back as Hengifoss waterfall is in East Iceland some 700 km away from Reykjavík.
With my husband and father-in-law at Eiðar
It wasn't until 7 years later that I was again able to hike up to Hengifoss waterfall, this time in the company of my husband and my father-in-law. The experience I had during my first hike to the waterfall had left a bitter taste in my mouth and I never felt emotionally ready to go on this hike again.
But hiking up there in September 2015 in the company of these wonderful men was a lovely experience and an accomplishment, which left me so happy and elated :)
We were staying at Eiðar just north of Egilsstaðir for a couple of days, where my father-in-law and my husband were measuring for a view-dial (hringsjá), but my father-in-law is the designer of view-dials in Iceland.
Hiking to Hengifoss
We had been waiting for sunshine and good visibility all summer long, but the summer of 2015 was not favourable for East Iceland, so it wasn't until the 19th of September that my father-in-law got the call from East Iceland that it was going to be sunny for a couple of days.
We immediately drove the 700 km from Reykjavík to Eiðar in one go and the weather was awesome, still and sunny for 2 days. They were able to finish their measurements for the view-dial on the first day, so on the second day, they took me on the hike to Hengifoss in beautiful weather.
The waterfall is in a gorge and to get the best light for photos it is best to go on this hike in the morning. We arrived there in the evening so my photos are a bit dark.
Hiking to Hengifoss waterfall
The return hike, which is 2.5 km long each way and about 2 hour's long, starts from the parking lot where you enter a gated trail. Then you will reach a flight of stairs and from there it is an upward climb, a bit difficult, so benches have been put up so people can rest and enjoy the view.
The path is adjacent to the gorge and at times very close to the edge of the gorge. But most of the time I would have to walk towards the edge of the gorge to see the smaller waterfalls in the gorge. Be careful while doing so especially when taking photos.
There is one story about elves in the gorge, which I found in the Collection of Folklore of Jón Árnason: "Hengifossárgil gorge is the name of a gorge in Fljótsdalur. For many years it has been believed that there were many elves in the gorge. A couple of years ago on New Year's Day, two men were travelling below the gorge.
They heard a hymn being sung in the rock from Grallarinn: "Heiður sé Guði himnum á" which means "Honour to God in heaven". (This hymn is found in Grallarinn, which is the mass book published by Bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson at Hólar in 1594).
The men stopped and listened to the singing. When the singing of this psalm had ended the men heard the chime of a small bell. The men then went on their way".
After about 1.2 km along the trail, you will reach Litlanesfoss waterfall where you have to walk to the very rim of the gorge to get a close look at it. Litlanesfoss is not visible from the road like Hengifoss is.
Litlanesfoss is flanked by basalt columns much like Aldeyjarfoss waterfall and Svartifoss waterfall. These waterfalls, which cascade into columnar basalt settings, are in my opinion true gems of nature.
Litlanesfoss is also called Stuðlabergsfoss, which means the Basalt Column Falls. The waterfall is framed by the most beautiful basalt columns, some of which are standing straight and some of which are curved, creating a 30-meter long flap in the narrow gorge.
This waterfall is 30 meters high in two steps and cascades into a small pond.
This beautiful scenery is a feast for the eyes and one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have seen here. The basalt columns are up to 15-20 meters high here, making them amongst the tallest basalt columns in the country.
Litlanesfoss is such a pretty waterfall, but seeing that one is actually hiking up to Hengifoss waterfall it kind of falls in the shadow of that bigger waterfall. I would gladly have hiked for a while only to see Litlanesfoss, but getting to see 2 extraordinary waterfalls in one hike is a perk.
Later on, I got a letter from a traveller who had only hiked up to Litlanesfoss waterfall and was so amazed by its beauty that she thought it was Hengifoss and didn't go any further. She was devastated to hear that only a short hike further up the gorge would have taken her to the real Hengifoss.
Inside the basalt column canyon by Litlanesfoss waterfall from the other side of the river
In the summer of 2020, I hiked into the basalt column canyon from the other side of the river to see Litlanesfoss up close.
It was amazing standing inside this canyon almost surrounded by tall basalt columns.
Háifoss and Litlanesfoss waterfalls
The view of Litlanesfoss is better though on the other side. But on the way, you will encounter a couple of small waterfalls, amongst them Jónsfoss - the Fall of Jón.
I took a short video inside the canyon to show you, notice how thin and tall the basalt columns are:
Another beautiful location in East Iceland with extraordinary basalt columns is the Spectacular Stuðlagil Canyon - the Gem of East Iceland.
Now, back to my hike up to Hengifoss waterfall on the other side of the river.
Some 40 minutes into the hike I could finally get a total view of Hengifoss in the gorge, but by then there was still half a kilometer left to the base of the waterfall.
This half a kilometer of the hike is very beautiful, taxing in some parts though, but being so close to the waterfall gave me additional strength.
Hengifoss waterfall is characterized by the rock layers of red clay sandwiched between layers of basalt creating red strata patterns - here you can see 5-6 million-year-old basalt layers from volcanic eruptions in the Tertiary Period.
The multiple red stripes, as I call them, are sediments and old soil and the red colour stems from the oxidation of the iron in the clay. Very distinctive surroundings for a waterfall.
Can you see my father-in-law in the gorge behind me?
These strata in the gorge along with these 2 beautiful waterfalls make the hike up to Hengifoss so worth it. In the gorge there is wood coal and fossilization and here are remnants of trunks from a large forest sticking out of the wood coal sediments.
The waterfall was said to be 118 meters high, but later measurements claimed that it is 128 meters high, which makes Hengifoss the second highest waterfall in Iceland. Not counting the waterfall in Mosárjökull glacier.
I took a video of Hengifoss waterfall:
It is possible to walk behind the waterfall, where there is a small cave, but as it was getting late and dark, then I stopped on this spot in front of the waterfall, where I took the above photo.
You can hear my husband and my father-in-law talking while I was recording, they are talking about the man dressed in blue, who was trying to get as close to Hengifoss waterfall as possible, saying that this is as far as he could get on this path.
My father-in-law stepped on the rocks in the river and managed to get closer than I did, to the hill in front of the waterfall.
You can see my father-in-law in the distance as a black spot behind me in the photo above the video :)
In the gorge by Hengifoss, you will see a lot of collapsed sandstone. I have seen such collapsed sandstone at Hrossaborgir in North-Iceland. This scenery gives me the feeling of being in a fairytale world.
The gorge by Hengifoss
I stood in front of the waterfall for the longest time, feeling so emotional and happy that I had finally accomplished to visit Hengifoss waterfall. The sun was setting so we had to return back as I did not want to hike by the gorge in darkness.
After this long uphill climb, it was a breeze going back downhill and the view of the Fljótsdalur valley was breathtaking. We visited Litlanesfoss waterfall again on our way back and by now the September sun had coloured it pink. Ever so beautiful.
The return hike
You can hire a car in Reykjavík to reach Egilsstaðir with many many stops on the way, so don't do like we did and drive all the 700 km in one day.
Allow for at least 4 days to reach Egilsstaðir as there is so much to see and do in the Eastfjords of Iceland. I have written a couple of travel-blogs about what there is to see and do on the way:
East Iceland is dotted with beautiful little villages and hidden secrets
The Beautiful Fjords in Fjarðabyggð in the Eastfjords of Iceland
Egilsstaðir in East Iceland and the Pearls of Fljótsdalur Valley
Hallormsstaðaskógur Forest in East Iceland - Iceland's largest Forest
Lagarfljótsormurinn Serpent in Lagarfljót Lake in East Iceland
If you choose to drive to Hengifoss waterfall from Egilsstaðir town there are 2 routes. I recommend driving on road 1 towards Hallormsstaðaskógur forest by road 931. Then cross the bridge over Lagarfljót lake and the parking lot for Hengifoss waterfall will be on your left by the T-junction.
I prefer driving around the lake, but there are some 35 km on both sides of the lake, so all in all the drive to Hengifoss waterfall is 70 km. There is a gravel road on part of the route on the west side, but the east side is paved.
Don't forget to drop by at the historic site Skriðuklaustur as well.
This is my travel-blog about my visits to this area, but I refer you to the website of Hengifoss for more information about Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss waterfalls.
Have a lovely time at Hengifoss waterfall :)
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