LivingTravelIceland's Dettifoss Waterfall: The Complete Guide

Iceland's Dettifoss Waterfall: The Complete Guide

Iceland has no shortage of waterfalls, but each one has something special that warrants a trip to see in person. Dettifoss is no exception. Located in the north of Iceland, not far from the second largest city in the country, Akureyri, Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

Its falls are fed by water from Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a glacial river originating from Vatnajökull (coincidentally, the largest glacier in Europe). According to the Iceland Guide, more than 96,500 gallons of water falls 150 feet into the surrounding canyon every second.

Dettifoss is easily accessible from the famous Ring Road and is not to be missed. You can even see the mist from the waterfall floating off the falls miles away when you get close, if you catch it in the right weather.

How to get there

If you drive to the waterfall during the summer (late May to early September), highway 864 off highway 85 will take you directly to Dettifoss. You can get to the waterfall during the winter, but you will need a four-wheel drive vehicle. Highway 862 will take you along the west side of the Jökulsá River. Be careful: it is gravel and the weather can be important. There is also a paved road from Dettifoss south to Highway 1, which is suitable for all cars. 

What to expect at Dettifoss

Unlike Skogafoss or Seljalandsfoss, Dettifoss is located inside an impressive canyon and is not as visible from the road. Where you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss and climb into the pool at Skogafoss, the power of this waterfall means you have to keep a safe distance. There are also two other waterfalls located within the canyon: Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss.

What to wear

If you go hiking, don’t forget your layers. The weather can be incredibly unpredictable and winding trails can take you away from your car. There is a good chance that you will get wet on Dettifoss as it sends its water into a canyon, any wind can pick up that mist and blow it towards you, especially if you are viewing Dettifoss from the top. Make sure you have a waterproof outer layer and you are good to go. There is a trail on the east bank of the falls, but it is often slippery, so bring your hiking boots.


Since Dettifoss is known as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, it’s safe to say that you don’t want to find yourself underneath its falls – enjoy its majesty from a safe distance.

The best time to visit

Getting to the waterfall is certainly easier during the summer months, given the road conditions. If you are looking for a scenic and easy trip, be sure to visit from June to August.

Like any natural attraction in Iceland, there will be crowds at various points during the day. You can count on seeing other people at any time. Avoid the late afternoon if you are really looking to get away from the crowds.

Nearby walks

Dettifoss is located in the Vatnajökull National Park, which is home to a wealth of sights and hikes. There is a 34 kilometer trail that will take you to Dettifoss along Asbyrgi (the canyon that houses the falls). There are two other smaller waterfalls within walking distance: Selfoss, which is about two and a half miles upriver, and Hafragilsfoss, which you can find about half a mile down the road (there is a turning point that will take you directly to the waterfall) . Watch out for Hafragilsfoss, there are steep slopes and rocky terrain awaiting you on the western side, which is also the most accessible entrance for adventurous people looking to take in the views.

Jökulsa Canyon is also a hiking destination known around the world for its impressive basalt rock formations. Don’t miss Rauðhollar, a red and black hillside, or the region’s two petrified ‘trolls’, Karl and Kerling. You’ll also be fairly close to Lake Mývatn, if you’re looking for a relaxing hot spring to soak in after chasing waterfalls.

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