There are so many things to see in Iceland that it’s practically impossible to have time to see the entire island in one holiday. Reading up on the Land of Fire and Ice is crucial to obtaining the holiday that will suit you best, which is why we introduce places like Hengifoss.
It’s no secret that Iceland has a cascade of impressive waterfalls. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to keep track of which one is highest, widest, strongest, or prettiest. Luckily, we keep track on your behalf, and with that said, we’d like to introduce a hidden gem in the Icelandic landscape: Hengifoss!
What is Hengifoss
Iceland is a land of marvels and a whole lot of waterfalls. There are a couple of waterfalls that are over 100 m high, and Hengifoss waterfall is one of them. In fact, with a whopping 128-meter-long drop, this waterfall is in third place on the list of tallest waterfalls in Iceland. The name means the “Hanging Falls”, or the “Hanging River”, which incidentally describes most waterfalls in the world.
Hengifoss waterfall sits snuggly in stunning scenery in the east Icelandic wilderness. The concave rock formation is surrounded by layered pillars that form a step-like structure, with bands of red clay at the top of each step. This is what makes Hengifoss one of the many, beautiful layer falls in Iceland.
It’s easy to understand why Hengifoss is one of the top waterfalls in Iceland, despite the long hike needed to get there.
The wonders of Hengifoss
Another good reason to go there is to explore the small cave behind the waterfall. We recommend only going in there in the summer, though. The splashing from the massive Hengifoss will get you cold and wet in the fall, spring, and winter.
In the summer, it will only get you wet, as the sun will keep you warm. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the same with the Icelandic Midnight Sun. But seeing Hengifoss waterfall in Iceland for those long summer sunsets and sunrises is worth it, though. Simply stunning.
The waterfall a little bit further down, Litlanesfoss, is even more impressive when it comes to the rock pillars. There, the pillars are more prominent, but unfortunately in a petite setting, which takes away a lot of the “wow” factor. All in all, Hengifoss is definitely the more impressive waterfall of the two of them.
Geology and History
The characteristic hexagonal structure that can be found all over Iceland is a common sight in the eastern part of Iceland. In these parts, the hexagonal basalt pillars in Iceland are well-preserved and very prominent at most water features. The structure is a result of how the lava fields cooled down and hardened many thousands of years ago.
Hengifoss is an interesting area if you look at it from a geological and historic standpoint. In the layers between the basaltic rock pillars, geologists have found fossils of trees. They tell us that there have been periods of a warmer climate in Iceland between the eruptions. This gives important insight into how Iceland used to look millions of years ago when the dinosaurs walked the earth.
The Hengifoss waterfall is fed by a collection of multiple streams that originates in the east Iceland Highlands. These parts of the Highlands consist of an intricate network of streams and small lakes. Most of them eventually end up at Hengifoss or Tófufoss further southwest.
Where is Hengifoss
If you want to get to Hengifoss, you are going to have to get to the eastern part of Iceland. This waterfall is sitting on the outskirts of the Icelandic eastern Highlands. North of the inner part of Lagarfljót, the lake next to Egilsstadir. It is the perfect side trip to take if you want to spend half a day in the Egilsstadir area and spend some time in one of the beautiful national parks in Iceland.
Hengifoss is located about 660 kilometers from Reykjavík if you go via the north route. Even though a quick look on the map might tell you that going via the southern coast will be quicker, the road to Reykjavík from Hengifoss will be almost 100 kilometers longer via the south route.
How to Get to Hengifoss
The waterfall itself is located roughly 2.5 kilometers from the nearest parking spot and will take about 1 to 2 hours to hike. As hiking trails in Iceland go, this one is on the easier side of things, even though it is a constant uphill battle. About 1.2 kilometers along the trail, you’ll reach Litlanesfoss, and about 2.3 kilometers along the trail, you’ll see Hengifoss clearly.
Getting to the Hengifoss parking lot is going to require you to go along Ring Road 1 all the way to Egilsstadir and then turn south on Road 931. That road you will have to take for about 32 kilometers until you see the sign that points you to the parking lot.
Road 931 goes around Lagarfljót and it doesn’t matter which lap you go around the lake as the distance from Egilsstadir to Hengifoss is going to be the same regardless. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the mythical sea worm Lagarfljótsormur. It’s kind of like the Icelandic version of the Loch Ness Monster.
Tips and Tricks for Hiking to Hengifoss
Even though the hike to Hengifoss isn’t a difficult one, the elevation can prove challenging if you’re not in hiking shape. Another way to see it is that this is a trail that will help you get into hiking shape.
Depending on when you decide to go to Hengifoss, you will face different challenges. If you are looking for an easy hike, late summer is best. If you’re looking for the largest waterfall, late spring or autumn will be best. If you are looking to catch a frozen waterfall with some magic Christmas feeling, then winter will be the obvious choice.
Hiking to Hengifoss in Summer
The summertime is by far the easiest time of the year to make this hike. In late summer, the track is most likely going to be dry enough for you to go along it without any problems. The dry track comes after a longer period of dry weather, which also means that Hengifoss will have less water coming through it. The impressive height and surroundings are still there, though, so you won’t miss out on any of that.
In the early summer, it will likely be a little bit muddy, but you will instead have a fuller waterfall at the end of your trip. The track will be slippery in some places, so make sure to bring sturdy hiking gear to aid you on your journey.
All throughout the summer, you will be met with larger groups of tourists compared to other times of the year. But since Hengifoss is in a remote region of the country, there won’t be overcrowding. Your only concern there will be the parking, but most often, you will only have to wait a short while for a spot to open up.
Hiking to Hengifoss in Winter
Even though you need to be extremely careful when hiking the Hengifoss trail in the winter, it’s become more and more popular in the last couple of years. The path will be icy and very slippery for most of the time, and the option of going into the gorge is completely off the table.
Still, many people enjoy the careful approach that grants them the possibility of seeing the entire concave mountain walls draped in ice.
Hiking to Hengifoss in Spring and Fall
If you want to see a mighty waterfall roar with all its might, spring and fall will be the best seasons to visit them. Regardless of where you are in Iceland, this is the time of the year that the rain and/or meltwater from the snow will push the streams to extreme volumes.
This is the time of year when Hengifoss is at its peak, but unfortunately, this is also when the road to get there will be the least pleasant to hike.
The trail will be wet, muddy, slippery, and cold, and you will likely somehow have the wind in your face both on your way there and back. But when you get to the falls (both the small one halfway there and Hengifoss at the end) it will be worth the effort. The sight of this waterfall as incredible amounts of water is plummeting 128 straight down into a large, foamy pit is something to behold. This is the epitome of force for Hengifoss in Iceland.
Hengifoss: Third in Height and an Amazing Sight
There is no time to lose when you are visiting the eastern part of Iceland. This is one impressive waterfall that you simply don’t want to miss. We always want to be at the helm of our journeys, which is why we advise everyone to rent a car in Iceland to get the most out of their journey.