Svartifoss is a waterfall in the south of Iceland in Skaftafell/Vatnajökull National Park, a popular touristic site to visit.
A lot of people, just like us, do a roundtrip in Iceland taking the ring road 1. Driving from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Hof (in the south) you see a yellow sign for Skaftafell (2 km) where the trail to Svartifoss begins. There is a big (free) parking at the visitors centre of Skaftafell. Several boards give information about hiking trails, like the one to Svartifoss, and Skaftafell national park.
The hiking trails in the park are well signed. Walking to the Svartifoss takes about 60-90 minute walk (2 kilometer). The trail is easy and leads slightly uphill. At the Visitor centre in Skaftafell, which is open all year around, a lot of information is available. It is not necessary to get a map with the trail to Svartifoss waterfall, but it also gives a lot of information about where you are.
After 250 meter, from the visitor centre, through the campsite the trail take you slightly upwards into the mountain heath in Skaftafell (elevation is 140 meter in 1.5 kilometer). From that point the path will take you down into the ravine below the waterfall). After enjoying the waterfall and its surroundings you should walk up the basalt column steps on the other side of the ravine and follow that path all the way down to the campsite via Lambhagi. When visibility is good It is recommended to do a little extra loop to the viewpoint at Sjónarnípa on the way down.
Svartifoss means black falls because the waterfall is surrounded by dark lava columns. The hexagonal basalt columns were created when lava cooled very slowly so that the molten rock could crystallize. These columns have Icelandic architects like Guðjón Samúelsson, inspired by their designs. This can be seen in the design of the National Theatre building, the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik and the striking church in Akureyri.
Although Svartifoss only has a single drop of appr. 20 meter, it is a very special waterfall in a beautiful surrounding. There are few waterfalls that drop of a cliff with basalt rocks looking like an church organ. The source of the river Stórilækur that feeds Svartifoss lies at the edge of the glacier Vatnajökull, near the mountaintop Kristinartindar (1.1.26m). The river Stórilækur has a length of 7,38 km before it ends in the river Skaftafellsa.
Best period to visit Svartifoss and other waterfalls in Iceland is in summertime. Then all roads are open and temperatures are acceptable and also good for melting snow and ice off of the glaciers.
There are several other waterfalls, beside Svartifoss, in Skaftafell that you can visit. Not all waterfall are located on a map but near the second parking there is a small waterfall called Þjófafoss.
Then a little bit further Heygotufoss and Hundafoss. On the way to Svartifoss you certainly pass the nice Magnusarfoss, there is even a viewpoint for the waterfall. Be sure to take your time visiting Skaftafell so you won’t regret you missed things (like I did).
It also possible to do a glacier walk. At the information centre you can book a glacier walk on Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park. More information at Icelandic Mountain Guides. You also can book a tour that goes along an Ice cave called Crystal Ice Cave, looks fantastic.
We unfortunately spend not much time in the park when we visited Svartifoss July 2011. In 11 days around the Islands is actually too little time. There is so much beauty and so many things to explore that I certainly go back one day.
More information about Skaftafell national park
Skaftafell was a manor farm and a local assembly site during the Middle Ages until it was acquired by the Church. The estate subsequently became a possession of the Danish monarchy. The original farmhouse stood at the foot of the heath, at a site called Gömlutún (Old Hayfields), where ruins can still be seen.
As the course of the River Skeiðará moved closer, several fields slowly disappeared under layers of sand, and during the years 1830-50, the farm was relocated about 100 m up the hillside with the construction of three new farmhouses. Two of them are still in use although the third was abandoned in 1946.
By the middle of the twentieth century, farming methods in Iceland had changed. Even though three families shared the Skaftafell landholding, its cultivation was difficult and a change of land-use was inevitable. The weather conditions in Skaftafell are favourable and the land was considered ideal for forestry by the Iceland Forestry Service. Around 1957 the Service began discussions with the landowners on the purchase of land suitable for forestry. The purchase never took place, as the landowners ‚wanted to preserve their land and not change it into a foreign forest‘.
In 1960 the suggestion was made to declare Skaftafell a national park. The arguments were, among other things, the spectacular natural beauty of the area, including the incomparable view of Iceland’s highest mountains. Other considerations were that the area boasted the biggest valley glacier, the most extensive sand flats and more fertile and varied vegetation than most other areas in the country.
In February 1961, the Nature Conservation Council (now the Environment Agency of Iceland) decided to recommend the establishment of a National Park in Skaftafell. The recommendation was approved by the Ministry of Education in May the same year. A national park in Skaftafell was officially established on 23 August 1968 by a government regulation.
In June 2008, Skaftafell National Park was integrated with the newly established Vatnajökull National Park.
Info from vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is