Most travelers that visit Iceland know about its wild and untamed beauty. And although Iceland’s biggest tourist hub and capital city, Reykjavik, contains close to two-thirds of the country’s population, you need to wander outside its urban confines to let Iceland’s natural world take your breath away. Luckily you don’t have to go all that far to achieve this. One of Iceland’s most remarkable natural sites can be found a short two hours’ drive from the capital city—the awe-inspiring Skógafoss waterfall.
Iceland’s Skógafoss waterfall will take your breath away (in more than one way)
Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s biggest and easiest to reach waterfalls. Within sight and accessible from the country’s “ring road,” the waterfall is popular destination for tourists and locals alike. You can also easily hop on a bus from Reykjavik’s central transportation hub to get here.
The waterfall cascades along a drop of 200 feet and for a width of over 80 feet, creating an almost deafening roar and a spray radius that reinforces a sense of overwhelming power. You can remain here at the base of the waterfall and experience its natural strength and beauty or embark upon a short but strenuous Stairmaster climb to its top. Don’t be ashamed to take a little breather on the ways up—I guarantee you won’t be the only one. If the stair-laden leg workout does not take your breath away, the view will.
More than a view
Once you’ve made it to the top, take a moment to soak in your surroundings. Catch your breath with your fellow travelers and spend a moment on the perfectly situated viewing platform so you take in all that Iceland has to offer. With an eye southwards, towards the sea, you will be able to notice the stark contrast between the coastal lowlands and highlands that defines Iceland’s landscape. The coastline itself used to be situated right where you are standing, experiencing a slow recession as time has passed.
Once you have taken in the sights, you can either turn around and head back down towards another stair-related workout, or continue inland along a well-defined and stunningly beautiful trail. You are now in the Icelandic highlands—a place of haunting, isolated and yet immense beauty.
Follow the River Skógá through Iceland’s desolate highlands
The vast majority of visitors to Skógafoss tend to remain at the top of the waterfall, but the more adventurous traveler will reap the rewards of continuing along the trail, hiking beside the Skógá River that feeds the falls. Once you’ve reached the top of the waterfall, the trail itself is a fairly easy hike along a well-defined path. This is where you will get to see Iceland at its best. Maybe you’ll run into one of the (seemingly ever-present on the island) wild-roaming Icelandic sheep along the trail, but here you’ll feel alone with a serene and practically untouched environment
More beauty (and more waterfalls) await you further up the trail
You can continue along this path for as long as your heart’s desire—forty minutes or four days. This path meets up with the popular Laugavegur backpacking trail (two to four day hike) after crossing the pass Fimmvörðuháls between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. You might even witness (as I did) a solo hiker emerging from the glacial abyss after several days’ journey, looking as though they had witnessed and experienced something truly magical.
As you continue your trek, you will find more waterfalls, more sheep, and increasingly vast untamed space. The further inland the better. Whenever you feel contented with the trek just turn back around, taking in the ocean views as you retrace your steps to the waterfall. But make sure you pack for the Icelandic weather. Inland weather patterns change rapidly and a sunny day can turn freezing with hail within moments.
Drop by the local town for museums and Skógafoss legends
While you’re in the area, make sure to stop by the local museums in the town of Skógar to catch up on local history, tradition, and folklore. Allow for at least an hour to wander around the Skógar folk museum, where you can view the traditional Icelandic home, including the impressive turf roof houses (Iceland’s original settlers found sparse forests and thus lumber upon their arrival, having to turn to novel methods of housing insulation like sod and turf in order to replace scarce timber).
You can also learn about Icelandic folklore and fairytales. Legend has it that Þrasi Þórólfsson, the first Viking settler of the area, buried a chest full of treasures in a cave behind the waterfall. Many have claimed that locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. And it remains hidden under the immense power and beauty of the Skógafoss falls to this day.
Don't miss out on the powerful beauty of Skógafoss
Whether you are looking for a short detour from the urban surroundings of Reykjavik, or you’re in the search for a days-long trek through the Icelandic highlands, Skógafoss is the perfect beginning point for easy to access Icelandic natural beauty and wonder. Revel in the magical splendor of the falls, or fall in love with Skógar’s tales of local fairies and buried treasure. Either way, you’ll have an experience that it both magical and rich in its own right