The Svartifoss hike or “hike of the waterfall” is one of the most popular trails for tourists going to Skaftafell as it is not too challenging and has many variants to see other points of interest in the park.
You can start this trail from the car park or the campsite, which is about 200 m away.
Svartifoss is one of the gems of the beautiful Skaftafell Park, a natural wonderland you'll find along Road number 1 in the south of the country. It is very easy to get to and a tourist hotspot (along with many others, as listed in our article on the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland).
Also known as the “black waterfall,” the name is easily explained once you see the beautiful black basalt columns that surround it like a 30 m-wide arena. These geometric pillars, known as basaltic organs, were formed as a lava flow cooled slowly.
Architect Guðjón Samúelsson was famously inspired by the basalt organ pipes of Svartifoss when he designed the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík.
Svartifoss is 12 m tall, its waters flowing from the Stórilækur River which finds its source a little further north in the Skaftafell Glacier.
The waterfall is particularly appreciated by photographers, and there are several very effective viewpoints to capture it. For example, positioned at water level with the rocks in the foreground.
The top photo spot is without a doubt the small bridge just opposite Svartifoss about 20 m away. From here, you to have enough distance to capture the fall and the whole row of organ pipes, and the pontoon is a stable place to put your tripod for those long exposure shots.
And another excellent viewpoint before you get up close is the top of the plateau, a little further back than the pontoon, to capture all the lush vegetation in the frame.
It takes 1.5 hours (1.5 km) to hike from the car park to Svartifoss and back. The trail is easygoing with an elevation of about 150 m. Everything is indicated with clear signs so you won't get lost.
Unlike some other hikes in Skaftafell Park, Svartifoss is entirely accessible to children, but as you can see on the map, the Svartifoss hike can connect to other hikes in the park so be sure those are kid-friendly too if you decide to keep going.
Just follow the map, specifically the S2, which can be nice to follow up with the S3 trail which features a few other waterfalls most visitors haven't heard about but still worth seeing: Hundafoss and Þjófafoss.
30 minutes of hiking will get you to a plateau with a crossroads where you choose either to go down to the Svartifoss waterfall on the left, or go right to keep climbing along the ice strip of Skaftafellsjökull to Sjónarnípa.
From the plateau you'll clearly see Svartifoss, a striking landscape framed in the surprising lush vegetation of Skaftafell.
The water in the Stórilækur River cascades down about 12 m and there is a small bridge about twenty meters away opposite the fall. There, you can cross to the other side and see the waterfall up close.
Photo enthusiasts will quickly realize just how photogenic this place is. Many people use the small footbridge to set up their tripod and try a long exposure photo of the waterfall, often to stunningly beautiful effect with the basalt columns in the background.
Go back the way you came to return to the car park, but if you feel up for it, continue in the direction of Sjonarsker.
The way back to the car park has an alternative route so you have 2 options: return directly via the trail past the Hundafoss and Þjófafoss waterfalls, or take a detour (+20m) via Sel (“sheepfold”) to visit traditional farms in Iceland with their characteristic peat roof. And further on you'll see pass Lambhagi, a surprising place as it has something rare on the island: trees! Local farmers in Bolti planted fir and other poplars there at the end of the Second World War. Interestingly, these are probably the tallest trees in the country and explains why there are so many birds in the park.
You can hike to Svartifoss in winter (of course everything depends on the conditions!) and it has another kind of charm. This is one of the most popular hikes in Skaftafell National Park, but there are many others worthy of interest.
In addition to the hikes in the park, excursions organized in winter and summer by local specialists offer, for example, flying over the largest Sandur in the world, visiting an ice cave or even a hike on the glacier.