A short walk into the Skaftafell area of Vatnajokull National Park provides visitors with a breathtaking view of Svartifoss (Black Falls). Ice-cold meltwater from Svinafellsjokull glacier feeds the famous Svartifoss waterfall. The waterfall tumbles down 20 metres (80 ft) over a cliff, which is bordered on both sides by tall black basalt columns. It resembles pipes of a giant organ, which is where the waterfall gets its name.

This wonder of natural architecture inspired the design for both Iceland’s National Theatre and the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik. The hexagonal columns form inside a lava flow which then cools extremely slowly, giving rise to crystallization. These lava formations are similar to those at the famous Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and on the island of Staffa in Scotland.

The base of this waterfall is famous for its sharp rocks. New hexagonal column sections break off faster than the falling water can wear down the edges.

How to get to Svartifoss waterfall?

The hike to Svartifoss starts at the Visitor Centre in Skaftafell. There, you can also find all sorts of information and advice about the area.

How long is the Svartifoss hike?

The hike to Svartifoss is about 1.5 kilometres or 45 minutes (one way). On the way to Svartifoss you will come across three other waterfalls; Þjofafoss (Thieves’ Fall), Hundafoss (Dogs’ Fall) and Magnusarfoss (the Falls of Magnus). Once you get to Svartifoss, there is a small bridge close to the waterfall that allows you to get closer.

Is it a difficult hike?

The trail leads slightly uphill, so although we’d say that it is fairly easy overall, it does require a little bit of effort for those who are out of shape and/or not used to hiking.

Does it cost to see the waterfall?

No, it is free. However, there is a moderate fee for the Skafatafell area parking lot. The money helps maintain the park’s infrastructure.

How high is Svartifoss waterfall?

It is 20 meters high, or 80 feet.

How did the rock columns behind Svartifoss waterfall form?

The columns formed in a lava flow that cooled very slowly, which caused these hexagonal shapes. You can find rock columns like these all across Iceland, so keep an eye out for them.