Dettifoss Waterfall is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, especially lately thanks to its appearance in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. However, everything that Prometheus lacks in impressiveness (yeah I said it!!), Dettifoss has in abundance.
Not only is it the largest waterfall in all of Europe by volume, but it’s also one of the most awe-inspiring waterfalls in the world that you can walk right up to and dip your toe in, just feet from the edge. Standing right at the edge of Dettifoss and feeling the rumble of its rushing waters vibrate your body is a truly breathtaking travel experience.
What’s So Great About Dettifoss Waterfall?
It’s no secret that Iceland is absolutely swimming (ha, get it??) in waterfalls, many of which you’ve probably seen in photos. Some of the most picturesque ones include Kirkjufellsfoss in the west, Goðafoss in the same area as Dettifoss, Seljalandsfoss near Reykjavik and, my personal favorite, Háifoss. So why go out of your way for Dettifoss?
Because waterfalls are awesome and you’d be a crazy person to not see as many as you can while you’re in Iceland. Also, more importantly, there’s no other waterfall in Iceland that is quite as amazing to see up close. It genuinely blew my mind that there weren’t any fences or other barriers surrounding Dettifoss, because it is ludicrously powerful and there is nothing stopping you from just sauntering right up and jumping in the river (don’t do that, by the way). Every waterfall in Iceland has its own unique attributes, but there’s really nothing quite like the power that Dettifoss has on display. It’s truly something special to behold.
Getting To Dettifoss
Located in the northeast of Iceland, Dettifoss is about as far away from Reykjavik as you can get and still be in the country. For that reason, it’s not well suited as a day trip from the capital, but it’s a fantastic stop if you are taking a road trip along Iceland’s Ring Road!
Dettifoss sits between two roads that both branch off of Iceland’s Ring Road, the eastern gravel road 864 and the newer, paved western road 862. Although you may be tempted at the shiny, newer road that you may read more about, don’t do it if you want the full Dettifoss experience! Did you notice the plateau in the upper center portion of the first photo in this post? That’s the western viewpoint. The western side of Dettifoss does provide a decent photo opportunity of the waterfall, but it is also:
- More crowded
- Significantly farther away from the actual waterfall
- Constantly the recipient of every droplet of spray kicked up by Detiffoss
The full, awe-inspiring experience of feeling the earth shake beneath you while making contact with the most powerful waterfall in Europe is on the east side off road 864. Be sure to budget a bit more travel time than you expect, since the road is quite rough and you will most likely be driving slower than on other roads. It’s also important to note that route 864 is closed during winter months due to snow and mud, so this is strictly a summer activity. Eventually you will reach a marked parking lot for the waterfall, approximately 32 kilometers from the point where you exited the Ring Road.
Dipping Your Toes In Dettifoss
Do you remember the opening scene of Prometheus, where the engineer is standing right at the edge of the waterfall? That wasn’t some special spot that only the filmmakers had permission to access; you can stand right there yourself!
Once you reach the parking lot for the falls, it’s abundantly obvious how to get to Dettifoss: just follow the distant rumbling until it’s not so distant anymore! There is a dirt path from the parking lot that is marked and easy to follow just in case the waterfall in front of you isn’t enough guidance.
Once you arrive at the rocks surrounding Dettifoss, it’s time to explore the area! Don’t be afraid to approach the falls, but obviously exercise caution if you stand near the edge, and you will want to stand near the edge. Dettifoss is like a siren calling to travelers to test the limits of their bravery. One thing that really stood out to me as unusual about this waterfall is that the water around the edges is so calm compared to the monstrous flow that is occurring in the center of the falls. It’s possible to quite literally sit on a rock on the edge with your feet dipped in the water, but I wouldn’t recommend wading in the river for obvious reasons.
While you’re visiting Dettifoss, be sure to look around and see what else is there. The area surrounding Dettifoss is quite beautiful in its own right, with a gorgeous canyon surrounding the river that the falls briefly interrupt. There are many viewpoints to explore and photo opportunities to seek out. I spent about an hour and a half there, although an hour would probably suffice for most people.
If you finish your time on the east side of the falls and feel like you’re still missing out on the full Dettifoss experience, you can also drive to the paved western side of the waterfall that I discussed earlier. It will add around 45 minutes to an hour of driving to your day (it’s roughly 25 minutes each way off the Ring Road), but you can see some perspectives that the east doesn’t offer.
Since visiting Dettifoss will only take a few hours of your day, you’ll still have plenty of other time to enjoy the area! Dettifoss is located near the Mývatn area of Iceland, which is host to a myriad of activities. Some of the great options in the area are:
- Pay a visit to the Mývatn Nature Baths, the north’s answer to the Blue Lagoon.
- Head to Húsavík and take a whale watching tour
- Go horseback riding with Hestasport
- Drive around Lake Mývatn, see the sights and swat away the flies (Mývatn literally means fly lake, and it lives up to that name thoroughly!)
- See more falling water at Goðafoss
Iceland is a country that just can’t stop giving, and that goes for the area around Dettifoss as well as the rest of the country.
Tim is the writer and photographer behind Annual Adventure, an adventure travel and photography blog dedicated to seeing amazing destinations in all 7 continents while still holding down a full time job. Feel free to stop by and read about incredible trips, ask travel questions or just say hello!