Waterfalls of Iceland | Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss

After an amazing afternoon on our glacier walk in Iceland, we ready to head back to Reykjavik. We boarded the coach where our guides from Mountain Guides had sandwiches and beer waiting for us. I was never so ready to enjoy a can of Gull beer as I was that afternoon. Normally, I might take a sip or two of beer, but I was so hot and thirsty that the beer went down rather easily. I could have stripped off all of my clothing as I was brutally hot, but instead I vowed to write down not to overdress next time and to share this valuable information with others. On the way back, we stopped at our first waterfall, Skógafoss. One of the largest in Iceland, it is definitely worthy of a stop.

These two pictures were taken within minutes of each other. Interesting, huh? The one above was as I was approaching the falls from the parking lot and this one was as I got closer. They look like they were taken on different days, but the lighting and weather were in a constant state of flux on that particular day (4 Feb 2012).

Skógafoss is situated in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skógar), the former sea cliffs remained, parallel to the coast over hundreds of kilometres, creating together with some mountains a clear border between the coastal lowlands and the Highlands of Iceland. Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days. According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. A local boy found the chest years later, but was only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again.

Take a look at how tiny everyone appears in front of the waterfall. They look like little dots! The area around the falls is just as beautiful as the falls with lots of green land, Icelandic horses, and on that day, low lying clouds at the top of the mountains. There is also a restroom area for anyone needing a bathroom break. I will fondly remember Skógafoss as the place I lost the lens cap for my camera. I can’t travel without losing something and no, I wasn’t looking for the treasure!

We piled back onto the coach and we were on our way to our second waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. A little less than 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) from Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss is a completely different kind of waterfall. It drops 40 meters (130 feet) and it is well known because you can walk behind it. It was also the first leg of the Amazing Race 6. From this picture you might not be impressed by its size, but believe me, this is a huge waterfall. Since you can walk behind it for a different perspective, I highly recommend doing that. Since I lost my lens cap, I was unable (or maybe unwilling?) to do this, but lots of people did and loved it. It’s not only the beauty of the waterfall that you will capture, but the views out of the countryside surrounding Seljalandsfoss that is picture worthy. I was a little shocked at the people who stayed in their seats on the coach who didn’t want to get out to see the falls. Yes, it was raining by the time we arrived at Seljalandsfoss, but it’s just water people. Considering we knew we would get wet walking behind the falls, seemed a little silly to not venture out, but again — to each his (or her) own.

In this picture you can see how diminutive the woman in the purple coat appears in comparison to Seljalandsfoss. The sound of the waterfall is as loud as one might expect. From the Eyjafjoll.com web site:

Upstream the river flows through Tröllagil (Troll Gorge) to Tröllagilsmýri (Troll Gorge Marsh), a lovely hollow with flourishing vegetation, before tumbling down over a series of waterfalls, and finally off the cliff edge at Seljalandsfoss. In addition to the main cascade at Seljalandsfoss, smaller streams tumble off the cliff at its western side. Seljalandsfoss stands in a lovely location, surrounded by cliffs and green slopes. It is a landmark visible from far away as a white streak against the dark cliff face. A footpath leads behind the waterfall (don’t forget your raincoat!).

Nature has always been inspirational to writers and poets alike and Seljalandsfoss is no different. Apparently, nineteenth-century Romantic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson wrote many poems which have become classics of Icelandic literature, including one titled Dalvísa (Valley Poem), which is generally believed to refer to the Hamragarðar area.

Dalvísa (Valley Poem) by Jónas Hallgrímsson (Translation by Bernard Scudder)

Chasm-dweller, ancient falls,
My gully in the rocks’ close walls!
Torrent of white, my blessèd pass,
Chasm-dweller, adorned with grass!
Friendship we have known together,
Friends we shall remain for ever;
Chasm-dweller, ancient falls,
My gully in the rocks’ close walls!

I love that someone who lived 200 years ago was so greatly impacted by the same waterfalls that I had the opportunity to view. If you are traveling around Iceland, you’d be foolish to not visit at least one on your journey. Full of history and lore as well as natural beauty, the waterfalls are truly a perfect way to end your day after a walk on a glacier or a road trip around the South of Iceland. I suggest packing a few sandwiches, a six-pack of Gull beer, and maybe even a little Brennivin, too!