Iceland boasts 10 000 waterfalls, but there is just one that reigns supreme as the most powerful waterfall in Europe: Dettifoss. But this is not the only reason why you should have this waterfall on your Iceland bucket list.
In this article, we discuss everything that makes Dettifoss waterfall such a spectacular sigh. We will tell you everything you need to know for your upcoming trip!
Dettifoss Waterfall: “The Beast”
Dettifoss Waterfall is one of the gems of the popular Diamond Circle Route in Iceland. There is no denying the brute force of this waterfall that’s spouting out over 11.581.225 liters per minute.
Many who ask “is Dettifoss the most powerful fall in Iceland?” are surprised to learn that it’s actually top of the waterfall charts in all of Europe. That’s why it is referred to as “the beast” as opposed to its fellow Diamond Circle waterfall, Godafoss, referred to as “the beauty”.
When it comes to a waterfall, it’s no surprise that most want to know Dettifoss fall’s height, and ask “how high is Dettifoss Waterfall?” The answer to “how high is Dettifoss” may surprise some, as this fall’s more wide than long.
It boasts a staggering width of 100 meters, whilst standing semi-tall at only 45 meters. It is then overshadowed by many of its other waterfall counterparts on the island, which measure 190 m+ in height.
The name “Dettifoss” loosely translates to "collapsing waterfall". And when one is standing in its mist and spray, listening to its thundering roar, it’s easy to understand why. But Dettifoss’s claim to fame is not just its impressive and powerful aesthetics. This fall has had its Hollywood debut! Dettifoss waterfall was featured in the popular sci-fi movie, Prometheus.
How was Dettifoss Waterfall Formed?
Dettifoss waterfall begins at the biggest glacier in Europe: Vatnajökull glacier. Vatnajökull glacier is the central feature of Vatnajökull National Park, one of the biggest national parks in Iceland.
Meltwater flows via the glacier river, Jökulsa a Fjöllum, ‘till it finally makes its big plunge over the cliffs as Dettifoss waterfall. Even though this might be the fall’s journey today, its origin story started over 9000 years ago.
Geologists believe that the canyon and the waterfall were formed by massive volcanic activity. This activity was directly associated with the Vatnajökull glacier. In the Land of Fire and Ice and at a site that sits on 8 subglacial volcanoes, this is a theory that can easily be believed.
Studies indicate that major volcanic eruptions may have caused catastrophic glacial floods. The water carved a canyon in its wake ‘till where the floodwaters were released in the form of the falls.
How do You Get to Dettifoss Waterfall?
As we already mentioned, Dettifoss is one of the stops on the Diamond Circle route that goes around the northeastern part of the island. But if you’re not road-tripping that way and have it as a day outing on your Iceland itinerary, you can start your drive by taking Iceland's Ring Road. Then you have the option of going either west or east of the waterfall.
By taking exit 864 you will end up on the east side of the waterfall. This is a gravel road and highly sensitive to the seasons and Iceland weather conditions. This road is closed during the winter and only opens in late May.
By taking exit 862 you will end up on the west side of the waterfall. This is a paved road, but is still not immune to the harsh Iceland weather and is closed between January and April.
Local tip: the views from the west side are not quite as impressive as those on the east side. Except for not offering the best photo angle opps, the west side is usually shrouded in mist (which means no photo opps).
You can see how critical it is to plan your trip properly. If you visit the island at the wrong time or in the wrong season, you will have to settle for viewing Dettifoss on a postcard at one of the souvenir shops.
We also suggest that you have a chat with your rental agency when you rent a car in Reykjavik. That way, they can advise you on which vehicle will be best for the road you’ve chosen. When the 864 gets muddy, a 4x4 vehicle in Iceland might be your best bet.
If you’ve opted for the east side of Dettifoss, you can park your car in the parking lot. Then, either opt for the views from afar or get up close and personal to the falls.
Those who find out there’s a short walk involved in reaching the falls usually ask, “how long is the hike to Dettifoss fall?” Luckily, this walk is just 1 km, so even amateur hikers can take it on. But that still means that you should dress accordingly.
When is the Best Time to Visit Dettifoss Waterfall?
Firstly, the best time to visit Dettifoss is not in the winter. Mostly because the roads are closed and the only way you’ll be getting there is by growing wings. The summer times offer great weather and plenty of daylight hours to explore the area.
But because summer is such a popular time to visit the island, you’ll be contending with overcrowding and those steep peak season prices. When you intend to stop by the falls during the summertime, it’s highly recommended that you do this early in the morning. You'll get to avoid the masses flocking to the sight.
Visiting the island during the shoulder months of winter and summer have plenty of advantages. Among them: fewer tourists, no disappointments when finding activities, sights, and accommodation fully booked. And, let's not forget, it’s generally more budget-friendly. But you’ll need to get your timing just right; otherwise you might catch Dettifoss shortly after roads have closed or just before it opens.
Dettifoss offers visitors basic amenities. And when we say basic amenities, we mean toilets. But it’s so basic that we even advise taking some toilet paper or tissue along with you if you do have to visit the loo.
Helpful Tips for Visiting Dettifoss Waterfall
Here are a few helpful tips if you’re planning on visiting the falls:
Waterproofing is Essential!
Remember to wear your waterproof pants and jacket, and take along a raincoat for extra protection. This is a mistake we see visitors often make on the island when stopping at the waterfalls.
The waterfalls are breathtaking, but wherever that kind of mass amount of water is plummeting to the earth, you can expect a lot of spray and mist. So be prepared before you end up being just another visitor that looks like a drenched cat on their Instagram pics.
Be Ready to Capture the Moment
It’s this exact mist and spray that guarantees a magical experience when visiting on a sunny day: beautiful rainbows! So if you intend to go on an Icelandic photo tour, remember to pack your camera ‘coz you’ll have the opportunity to take plenty of pics!
Stay on Top of the Weather
Keep an eye on the Iceland weather and the Iceland road conditions. As we already mentioned, the roads to the waterfall and this region are particularly sensitive to weather conditions. And with Iceland weather being pretty fickle at the best of times, you don’t want to have your excitement smashed by sudden road closures. The locals don’t say you experience all seasons in one day for no reason!
Keep a Close Eye on the Gas Tank
Fill up! There are no gas stations in close vicinity to Dettifoss, and you don’t want to be left stranded next to the road.
Where to Stay at Dettifoss Waterfall
We strongly believe that the best way of exploring the island is by making a road trip out of your visit. If Dettifoss is on your Iceland to-do list, we suggest you take on the Diamond Circle Route. With its myriad of attractions and activities along the way, you'll not be dissapointed. If you go this route (pun intended), here are a few places you can sleep over that are close to the falls:
- Holssel Road 864 (15.6 km away from Dettifoss)
- Nordic Natura (24.3 km away from Dettifoss)
- Grimstunga Guesthouse (22.5 km away from Dettifoss)
- Fosshotel Myvatn (31.3 km away from Dettifoss)
- Icelandair Hotel Myvatn (30.7 km away from Dettifoss)
Heaven on Earth
As one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, Dettifoss is definitely not to be missed. And whether a day trip or a Diamond Circle road trip, Dettifoss, and its surroundings offer visitors much beyond beautiful cascading waters.
Legend has it that Asbyrgi canyon was formed by the footstep of Odin’s great steed on its way to heaven. However, when you look around the breathtaking landscape of Dettifoss, we think the steed might’ve gotten it wrong – he left heaven behind. And we can’t wait to share it with you on your next trip to Iceland