Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in all of Iceland, and possibly in all of Europe. It’s situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. This river originates from melting waters from the massive Vatnajökull glacier. Surrounded on both sides by dark basalt columns, this waterfall stretches to a width of about 100 meters and cascades down 45 meters into a deep canyon.
The power of this fall creates an enormous cloud of mist and rainbows that can be seen from miles away. The river flows from the ancient glacier and through active volcanic areas, leaving a high amount of silt in the water. This rich supply of minerals causes the river and the falls to have a milky color, which ranges from a milky white to a light brown.
The flow of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river can vary wildly depending on various factors. It varies from about 3700 cubic feet per second in the colder months to about 9,500 cubic feet per second in the hottest summer months, sometimes getting up to 20,000 cubic feet per second. The river is also prone to experience immense outbursts of glacial flooding known as Jokulhaups. These floods are often caused by local volcanic activity in the Barðarbunga caldera, which lies under the Vatnajökull glacier.
Getting to Dettifoss
You can find Dettifoss in the northeast part of Iceland between Myvatn and Egilsstaðir, north of the Ring Road. There are two roads that allow access to the falls, one on either side of the Route 1 bridge which spans the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which you can find 130 kilometers west of Egilsstaðir,or 35 kilometers east of Myvatn. Both roads offer signs leading to Dettifoss.
The east side of the river is the easiest route to the falls. To reach this side take Route 864, which branches away from the Ring Road east of the bridge, north for 32 kilometers. Turn left where the sign points to Dettifoss and you’ll find the parking area less than a kilometer down the road. From the parking area, take the trail to the first viewpoint, and continues further to the very brink of the falls.
To reach the west side of the falls take Route 862, which branches away from the Ring Road about 9.5 kilometers west of the bridge, north from Route 1 for 22 kilometers. Turn right where the sign points to Dettifoss and you’ll find the parking area just over 3 kilometers further. Here, you’ll find a trail that leads down to the edge of the gorge that sits opposite the waterfall.
Dettifoss is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It’s referred to by some of the locals as “The Beast” in relation to another waterfall, Goðafoss, known as “The Beauty.” The size and strength of the most powerful waterfall in the country, and possibly in all of Europe, makes a gorgeous photo opportunity and a great sightseeing stop for any visitor on their trip through Iceland.