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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Háifoss the second highest waterfall in Iceland

Updated: Jan 9


Háifoss waterfall in Iceland
Háifoss waterfall in Iceland

Háifoss is one of the highest and most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. It is not only a waterfall but a natural wonder with many features. Placed in a magnificent but relatively narrow gorge leading into the Icelandic Highland from the valley Þjórsárdalur, it is one of the major waterfall attractions in Iceland. It is fed by and is part of the river Fossá or ‘Waterfall River’. The volume is relatively steady but naturally varies between seasons. The height is impressive as it falls 122 meters down a two million-year-old cliff that displays layers of geological activity dating back millions of years. It is a beautiful sight from top to bottom. It is not a lonely waterfall as it has lived in the gorge with its dear friend and companion for thousands of years, the waterfall Granni or ‘Neighbor’. When you come to the parking lot, you see the waterfall from above: a spectacular display as the river falls into the canyon in two waterfalls. You can also hike down and view the waterfall and the canyon from below.

Map of Highland in Iceland
Map of Highland in Iceland

When discovered, it was thought to be the highest waterfall in Europe

Háifoss tourist attraction in Iceland
Háifoss tourist attraction in Iceland

The waterfall wasn't discovered until the first decade of the 20th century and was believed to be not only the highest waterfall in Iceland but also the highest in Europe. A natural scientist and geologist, Dr. Helgi Pjeturss, the first Icelander to obtain a Ph.D. in geology, wrote an article about the waterfall in the local paper Ísafold in July 1910 and named the waterfall Háifoss. Since then, the name has stuck. There were not many tourists traveling to view natural wonders at that time; the local people knew about the waterfall, but it was never a big deal for them, just another waterfall among a few others close by.

Háifoss in winter

Háifoss waterfall in winter
Háifoss waterfall in winter

In the winter, the waterfall is also a sculptor changing its appearance dramatically and building icicles and extraordinary ice forms around the cliffs for decoration only. Visiting Háifoss in winter is a different experience. Both the vapor and the water contribute to forming beautiful ice sculptures that pile up from bottom to top. It isn't easy to distinguish the water from the ice, and you will see many interesting forms. Visiting the waterfall in winter can be tricky as the road is packed with snow, and a modified 4X4 vehicle is needed. If you are interested in viewing the waterfall in winter, make sure to check the conditions of the road or find a tour company that specializes in Highland winter tours and remember that traveling in winter is much more complicated than in summer.

Háifoss from below

Háifoss from belwo in the canyon
Háifoss from belwo in the canyon

A totally different viewpoint for Háifoss and Granni is from below. The gorge and both waterfalls become completely different when you see them from that angle. There is a marked trail from the parking lot to the bottom of the canyon, and if you have time during your visit in the summer, from June until the middle of September, this is highly recommended. Even though Háifoss is defined as one natural wonder and as one waterfall, it can convey a different experience based on the time of the visit, how you view it, and like always in Iceland, how the weather is during your visit.

Access is not complicated but might take some effort

Inside the Háifoss canyon
Inside the Háifoss canyon

Access to this beautiful natural wonder is relatively easy, considering the location on the edge of the Highland. If you are traveling from Reykjavík, you take the Ring Road no. 1 east. After passing the town of Selfoss, you turn left onto Road no. 30 after approximately 16 kilometers. After 17 kilometers on Road no. 30, you turn right and east onto Road no. 32 and enter the great valley Þjórsárdalur, a place that is both rich in natural wonders and history. Ahead of you is a 45-kilometer drive to the 7-kilometer gravel road that leads to Háifoss. A road that is fine for any car during summer.


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