Hengifoss is one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. Translated as Hanging Falls, it is a fan favorite, and a phenomenal sight to visit. Hengifoss is a majestic waterfall with falls that plummet 118 meters into a beautiful river chasm.
There is a beautiful plateau with deep red stripes behind Hengifoss, a fixture of East Iceland. The lava strata are what make this waterfall so truly picturesque. Stripes of red clay sit between layers of basalt. This the result of 5-6 million year-old volcanic eruptions! The scarlet stripes are sediments and aged soil. They are bright in color due to the oxidation of the iron in the clay. This type of oxidation, known as “lateritization,” occurred during the Tertiary Period when Iceland’s climate was tropical. Crazy, right? Regardless, these bright colors contrast the waterfall, making it a gorgeous photo opportunity.
More About Hengifoss
Many hikers find this waterfall to be very accessible. People report the hike as “relatively challenging,” but short. From the parking area, the hike is roughly 2.5 km (and 30-45 minutes long) up the trail and across a stream. The trek might be challenging to some, but it’s definitely worth the effort. This hike offers phenomenal views over the valley and another waterfall, Lítlanesfoss.
The gorge where you find Hengifoss is just as gorgeous as the waterfall itself. And on the way to Hengifoss, basalt columns stand tall around the Lítlanesfoss waterfall, which can be seen on your way to Hengifoss. Basically, you get two magnificent waterfalls in one hike.
You can also find wood coal, fossilization, and the remains of trunks from a giant forest, as they are embedded in wood coal sediments. You can step across rocks on the river to get closer to the base of the waterfall, but you do not have to get too close to enjoy the gorgeous view. Hengifoss is a fan favorite hike that provides great photo opportunities. Reaching the crag and the giant waterfall is breathtaking and rewarding.
How to Get to Hengifoss
The drive to the parking area is about 30 minutes from Egilsstaðir in East Iceland. Simply take route 931 when Highway 1 bears to the left. Continue driving this route for about 23 kilometers, until you reach a T-junction, then bear left and follow the signs that point to Snæfells. The parking lot can be found a little over half a kilometer past the signs after you cross the Hengifossá.
Part 1: Hiking to Lítlanesfoss
The hike to Hengifoss ascends the heights of Lake Lagarfljot. From the parking lot, just enter the gated trail up the stairs, and continue climbing to the base of the falls. It’s a moderately steep hike, but it isn’t terribly hard, especially if you have experience hiking steep climbs.
The first part of this hike ascends quickly. You’ll soon get a good look at the entire valley and the breathtaking Lagarfljot. On your way to this little waterfall, you’ll get your first glance at the red strata you’ll later see at Hengifoss. 1.2 km into the hike and after 160 meters of ascent, you’ll reach Lítlanesfoss.
Part 2: Reaching Hengifoss
When you’re ready to continue your hike, the path will continue across a slightly softer slope. You’ll be greeted with grassy, flowery slopes and rushing streams. The view here is definitely a pleasant one. After crossing a tiny, wooden bridge, you’ll reach grey sand. After reaching the top of the mound of sand and ashes, you’ll see Hengifoss in the distance (around 1 km away).
Even though you’re a bit far from the waterfall itself, the view is still spectacular as ever. Your hike to the falls is almost complete: continue roughly 600 meters to reach the river and a closer look at the magnificent Hengifoss. When you’re ready to head back, you return the same way you came.
Parking and Service
The parking lot for the Hengifoss waterfall sits at the beginning of the 2.5 mile hiking trail. During busy seasons, it can be packed with cars during the day, as well as summer evenings. The parking lot also has a small house with toilets. According to the plans of the municipality, the parking area and service house will be expanded to accommodate more visitors in the future.
During busy seasons, a park ranger from the Vatnajökull National Park can be found by the falls during morning times to assist hikers with advice and information.
Information on restaurants, souvenir shops, visitor centers, and other accommodations are within a 5-kilometer radius from the falls.
Tips for Hengifoss Hiking
- The busiest time of year for Hengifoss is the high season in July. In June and July, water fills the river and makes Hengifoss an even more magnificent waterfall to see and photograph.
- Additionally, melting snow in the highlands in late May and early June can make the hiking trail slippery and muddy. Autumn weather can also make the trail muddy. Make sure you’re prepared with protective gear and shoes.
- Many people opt out of hiking in the summer due to the crowds by visiting in the winter. Keep in mind that the trails get icy, so hikers are prone to slipping. Slippery paths and falling ice from cliffs in the gorge are dangerous and can be fatal to hikers.
- Other waterfalls you can visit near Hengifoss include Jónsfoss, Tófufoss, Ljósárfoss, Hallsteinsfoss, and Lambafoss.
- Many hikers find that it’s best to take short breaks during your hike than to trek the entire hike to the falls.
Other Activities Near Hengifoss
If you’ve already reached Hengifoss, or you have some time to kill before your hike, there are many restaurants and attractions to enjoy in a close proximity.
Enjoy delicious lunch and top-notch deserts in the home of Gunnar Gunnarsson Klausturkaffi. The Klausturkaffi Restaurant serves lunch and a cake buffet (yes, a cake buffet) every day during the summer.
You can also try the restaurant’s home baked bread, cake, and other foods from the locals. If you’re interested in providing dinner and refreshments for a group, arrangements can be made year-round.
Vallanes Organic Farm
The Vallanes organic farm is the home of Móðir Jörð, a renowned producer of Icelandic vegetarian food like vegetable and barley-based products. The farm features a shop and café that are both made entirely from wood of the farm. This farm provides locals and tourists alike with breakfast, lunch, and snack ingredients. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for fresh and wholesome produce.
Hótel Hallormsstaður Restaurants
Two Hótel Hallormsstaður restaurants give Icelandic food an exotic twist. These restaurants provide guests with a dinner buffet in the summer or top-quality Indian cuisine in the bistro. Both of these eateries give guests a phenomenal view of the Lagarfljót lake.
Snæfellsstofa is an information center at Skriduklaustur for the Vatnajökull National Park. With free admission, this visitor center offers multimedia and educational activities for children, exhibits on highland formation and nature’s cycles, and a souvenir shop.
This Fljótsdalsgrund Guesthouse is 4 km from Hengifoss. With a scenic and calming countryside view, the spacious rooms offer guests with a private bathroom, kitchenette, and TV. Guests can order breakfast and dinner if ordered in advance.
The guesthouse has a spacious veranda and warm common room. The property also accommodates sleeping bags in dorms and campsites, as well as caravans in special facilities. If Hengifoss and the surrounding areas are the highlight of your Iceland trip, this is a great housing option.
The Wilderness Center is a guesthouse that offers unique and delicious food made with local ingredients only. This guesthouse has different types of rooms that you can reserve: The Old Communal Room, the Sheriff’s Suite, the Enclosed Beds, and the Old Farmhouse.
Additionally, fantastic food is made at the Wilderness Center with ingredients sourced in the region. The food is handmade in the kitchen! (This includes homemade bread, cake, and cookies.) This business prides themselves in the authenticity of their food and cozy atmosphere. You are part of the family when you stay and dine here!
Laugarfell, the natural pools of the Icelandic Highlands, can be found north from Mount Snæfell. It is a 74 km drive from Egilsstadir. Keep in mind that there are only two km from the road that leads to Kárahnjúkar to Laugarfell and it’s the only part of this road that isn’t paved.
The two Laugarfell hot pools accommodate 28 people. According to folk tales, these all-natural springs have healing powers. If you’re in the area, feel free to visit, relax, and relish in the warm waters.
Hengifoss: An Icelandic Must-See
There are clearly many gorgeous places to visit during your Iceland trip, but Hengifoss provides a one-of-a-kind experience for hikers of all experience levels. With a colorful plateau built from the long-ago tropical climate of Iceland and breathtaking views of the valley and Lake Lagarfljot, the Hengifoss hike includes so many experiences in one, single hike.
You can complete your hike by the end of the morning or the end of the evening- Either way, you’re going to love the sights you see.