Dettifoss - Iceland Waterfall
Travel Update Summer 2020: Most destinations, sites and parks reopened with limitations. Check the official websites and read our crucial ‘BEST TIME TO GO' and ‘AVOIDING THE CROWDS’ tips:
The best time to visit Dettifoss waterfall, depends on what you’re looking for: Total solitude and a fascinating landscape in winter or intense flow and pleasant temperatures in peak season during summer? Read on for the best tips:
Winter (mid-November – April): Less powerful flow but stunning snow and ice covered area. Also virtually no other tourists most of the time, especially in deep winter. Except maybe the small group you are travelling with. You definitely won’t have to fight for the best spots. Check out the amazing winter photos below. You'll also get a chance to see Northern Lights during this time. Please consider, that in winter a tour might be cancelled due to heavy snow storms. This might happen even in April.
Summer (June - August): More powerful waterfall with a really intense flow and mild climate. Also the most daylight. However, it can get crowded. In the peak months from June to August it's often busy during the day. Particularly on the west bank.
Shoulder Months (May, September-October): Less crowded than in the peak summer month and less busy than other popular waterfalls in Iceland. However, Dettifoss attracts more tourists noow and you'll still be there with some others.
Avoiding the Crowds
Just Chillin at Dettifoss by Vinnie Cartabiano, CC BY
Dettifoss is much less crowded than Gullfoss for example. However, especially in the summer there are still lots of tourists visiting Dettifoss. To enjoy the falls with less others go either earlier in the morning or later in the evening when most groups left already. If you only want to visit one side: The east side is quieter nowadays and less popular. The west side is more 'touristy'.
There is less daylight in winter. Only 5 hours in December (5-7 hours in Nov and Jan). However, some photographers love to go then, since the light is magnificent during that time. As if you've got almost 5 golden hours every day.
Dettifoss is an amazing and intense lifetime experience. Not the highest waterfall in Iceland but it is said, that it's the most powerful waterfall in whole Europe, creating an impressive mist. It's located in North Iceland and you can spot it from a mile away. The waterfall with its amazing flow is fed by Vatnajökull glacier via the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The falls are 100m (330 ft) wide and the massive amount of water plunges 44m (144 ft) deep, down the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. One difference between Dettifoss and other popular waterfalls besides its power: At Dettifoss there are no built viewing platforms or other constructions. It's just that massive waterfall and a natural environment.
How to Visit (West Road/East Road)
Generally there are 2 sides you can visit and both are easily accessible. While driving on the well-known Ring Road approaching from the east you can choose road 862 or 864, both leading to different sides (about 30 km on each road from the main road: Google Maps Dettifoss Area):
West Side (Bigger, More Tourists)
Dettifoss - West Side
Road 862 approaches Dettifoss from the west side. It's an asphalt road and leads to the parking lot. This road is also the only way to the falls in winter. However, sometimes it’s closed as well during heavy snowy periods. In winter you should book with a tour guide / operator. They can get you there safe with a big 4WD jeep and know when the roads are closed. Often you can travel with groups as small as 3-4 people. In summer it's the green and 'bigger' tourist side these days. You can see the full height of the waterfall from the highest level.
East Side (Less Visited)
Brute Force (East Side) by Marco Nürnberger, CC-BY cropped
Road 864 gets you to Dettifoss from the east side. This road is closed in winter and opens in May again. This side is a little less popular nowadays. You are on a lower level but closer to the waterfall. Get close to the edge and the feeling is quite intense. The VIDEO below is shot from east side: The green west side can be spotted also quite easily. If you have a rental car, you can visit both sides on the same day. From both sides it's also possible to walk to Selfoss Waterfall on marked trails.
Must-Know Tips and Facts
- East Side vs West Side: While some visitors say the west side is more impressive, both sides offer an amazing experience (read our detailed text above). On the east side you can get closer and are level with the mouth of the falls. Visiting the west side means you are higher above. The west side is still more touristy. However, the east side also got a little busier recently (2018).
- Visiting Both Sides: Unfortunately, you can't just walk to the other side. It's only possible to visit both sides on one day if you got a (rental) car. However, we highly recommend to stay the night at a close hotel anyway and visit Dettifoss twice (see below).
- Parking Lot: Each side has a parking lot and both are free. The one on the west side is bigger. That's also where the tour buses park.
- Facilities: There are simple toilets on both sides. And when we say simple, we mean really simple. Bring a tissue. The toilets are also free to use. There are no other facilities, no shop etc.
- Walking: Unlike at other waterfalls in Iceland, you are not right at the waterfall when you get out of your car in the parking lot. Both sides require a bit of walking until you get to Dettifoss. However, the walks are quite easy. On the east side you hike for about 10 minutes along rocks until you get to the viewing point. On the west side, it takes about 15 minutes on mostly flat terrain. At the the top of the falls you can head upstream or downstream on different paths (check the photos) for some gorgeous views.
- Fill up Gas: Before driving there, make sure to fill up with gas. There is no petrol station in close proximity.
- Stay 2 Days (Visit Twice): If you got a rental car, we highly suggest to stay the night at a nearby hotel (see below). This is an excellent way to dodge the tourist crowds, especially if you visit in peak season. First, you visit the east side after 5 p.m. or even much later on day one, when the visitors are already gone. The next day, you get up early and visit the west side (or vice versa) first thing in the morning. That way you'll see both impressive sides, can take more awesome photos and enjoy Dettifoss almost in solitude. However, regardless of the season visit this natural beauty twice.
- Rainbows: The power of this falls causes a massive spray. This means you'll also spot beautiful rainbows. Of course, it has to be sunny on the day you visit or at least at the moment you are there. By the way: The rainbows at Dettifoss are really stunning!
- Check for road closures: Road Status
- East vs west bank: Dettifoss - Edge of the Arctic
- World of Waterfalls: Dettifoss - World of Waterfalls
- Wikipedia: Dettifoss
- Epic Video: Dettifoss by Visit North Iceland
Where to Stay (bookmark the links)
Fosshótel Mývatn: This hotel is brand new and just opened (July 2017). The view on Lake Mývatn is beautiful. Very friendly staff and superb breakfast. Very stylish design. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. Tech details: Wifi and USB connections in the room. We loved it and highly recommend this hotel! Other nearby hotels are also great to stay the night and visit twice as we suggest above: Dettifoss - Hotels