Dettifoss Travel Guide
Dettifoss is a waterfall found in North Iceland, said to be the most powerful in Europe. It is regularly visited on Diamond Circle tours and should not be missed when visiting the region.
Akureyri tours will take you to explore Dettifoss waterfall and its surrounding area. This 10-Day Winter Self-Drive is just one of many road trips that will take you there; of course, you can rent a car and plan your own journey if you wish. If you'd rather not drive, guided packages such as this 10-Day Summer Adventure often include a visit.
Dettifoss is fed by the powerful glacier river Jökulsá á Fjöllum which flows from the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull. The thunderous fall has an average water flow of 193 meters cubed per second (6,186 cubic feet). It is 100 meters (330 feet) wide and plummets 45 meters (150 feet) down into Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.
This canyon is in the northern part of the greater Vatnajökull National Park, the largest national park in the country, thus Dettifoss is well protected.
Also within this canyon, fed by the river of Jökulsá á Fjöllum, are two more impressive waterfalls, Selfoss (not to be mistaken with the southern town of the same name) and Hafragilsfoss.
Dettifoss is located north of the Ring Road that encircles Iceland, bypassing only the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes Peninsula in the west. There are two routes that connect the Ring Road to Dettifoss. However, traversing those in the winter can be difficult, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The most significant settlement near Dettifoss is the town of Akureyri, or ‘the Capital of the North'. With a population of close to twenty thousand, it is the largest town outside of the Greater Reykjavík Area. It is an excellent place to stop and rest for those visiting the North or encircling Iceland.
Another town of significance in the area is Húsavík, a coastal town that claims the title of the best whale watching town in all of Europe. In summer, operators usually have 100% success rates in terms of sightings. The most common species are humpback and minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises, although blue, fin, sei, beaked, pilot, beluga, and killer whales are seen on rare occasions.
Between Akureyri and Dettifoss is the Lake Mývatn area. This beautiful expanse is renowned for its wealth of flora and fauna, particularly its birdlife; dozens of species can be found here, particularly ducks.
It is also renowned for its spectacular geology, with its pseudocraters, basalt pillars, and the lava field of Dimmuborgir which is said to be the home of Iceland’s thirteen ‘Santas’, who are traditionally vindictive trolls more than they are jolly gift-givers.
Dimmuborgir and Mývatn were both used as a set in the Game of Thrones franchise, for many scenes North of the Wall. Dettifoss, meanwhile, was used in the opening scene of the 2012 film Prometheus, where the black rocks and dramatic scenery allowed it to represent an alien landscape.
Another waterfall sits on the Ring Road between Akureyri and Mývatn: Goðafoss. Though not as great as Dettifoss, its history is deeper; it was there in 1000 AD that Iceland’s lawspeaker symbolized the country’s shift from believing in the Old Norse Gods to believing in Christianity by throwing idols into the waterfall.
North of Dettifoss, one can find the incredible canyon of Ásbyrgi. This canyon is shaped like a giant horseshoe and filled with verdant greenery. It is so perfectly formed and dramatic that it was originally believed to have been created by the stomping of one of the hoofs of the eight-legged horse of the Old Norse God Odin.