Dettifoss, Iceland

The Dettifoss waterfall
A man in front of Dettifoss
A rainbow over Dettifoss
Dettifoss waterfall
Cascading waterfall

Dettifoss at a Glance

Reputedly the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss is located on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier into Öxarfjörður bay, and is part of the Jökulsárgjufur National Park in northern Iceland. The spectacular waterfall has a 45 meter (150 ft) drop, is 100 meters (330 ft) wide, and cascades 500 cubic meters (17, 657 cubic feet) of water over its edge every second. This makes it Iceland’s largest waterfall in terms of the volume of water it discharges, and its cloud of spray can be seen from a distance of 1 km (0.6 miles) away. Very often, a double rainbow can be seen above the canyon on sunny days.

Visitors are drawn to Dettifoss because of its sheer power and size, and because it seems to fit so well in an area that is entirely raw and natural. It is located on the popular tourist route – the Diamond Circle – around Húsavík and Lake Mývatn. While many of the roads around Dettifoss are gravel, there is one new tarmac road that provides access to the canyon. There is an information panel, provided and maintained by the Vatnajökull National Park, on the east side and viewing facilities are better on this side than on the west bank. Although the ten-minute walk from the parking lot to this viewing platform is quite steep and rocky, the views from this side are especially stunning early on in the day when the sun is shining from behind and causes the spray to light up in a riot of rainbow colors. There is a fifteen-minute walk from the west side through territory that is rocky, sandy, and generally desert-like. However, when Dettifoss comes into view from this side it takes the breath away. From here, one is level with the top of the waterfall and fully facing its awesome power – a most memorable and amazing experience!

Dettifoss was the inspiration behind Jón Leifs’ musical composition of the same name, and the waterfall also features in the 2012 sci-fi film Prometheus.