The thundering majesty of Skógafoss: Adventures on the South Coast

By Taylor van Biljon

Next door to Seljalandsfoss, lay the massive falls of Skógafoss and the winding staircase to the top.

The thundering majesty of Skógafoss: Adventures on the South Coast

By Taylor van Biljon

Next door to Seljalandsfoss, lay the massive falls of Skógafoss and the winding staircase to the top.

Only two hours from the capital, is the breathtaking Skógafoss. At a staggering 25 m. across and 60 m. high, Skógafoss is one of the main jewels on a South Coast tour.

Skógafoss’ wild backyard

Skogafoss Iceland
Skogafoss - Photo by Kevin Pages

Skógafoss is one of many notable waterfalls in the municipality of Rangárþing eystra, on the south coast side of the Ring Road. This massive curtain fall is 60 m. high like it’s nearby cousin Seljalandsfoss, but is much wider at 25 m. across.

(After learning about the changes that Seljalandsfoss went through in the 60’s, one can only wonder if they looked more similar back then!)

Fed by the river Skógá, Skógafoss is also the grand finale in a series of gorgeous waterfalls. Nearly 25+ waterfalls are located in the river above Skógafoss in the Skógargil ravine, marking the first piece of the Fimmvörðuháls trail.

The waterfall portion of that hike is about 8 km. to and from, but the greater hike is a 25 km. trek across some of the newest mountains in the world, between the subglacial volcanic giants Eyjafjallajökull and Katla.

Fimmvörðuháls can be attempted from either end, at Thórsmörk or by ascending the winding staircase at Skógafoss.

If you begin on the Skógafoss side, the 25+ waterfall path is only the very first part of the lengthy trail, and you will soon find yourself passing mountain huts, wild Icelandic sheep, volcanic snowfields and plateaus, moraines, pumice fields, and, the young Magni and Móði mountains; before descending into the lush valley that is Thórsmörk.

(You can really add to your trek and take the Laugavegur Trail in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, which will cost you an entire 55 kilometers through colorful Rhyolite mountains and fresh volcanic landscapes. This is mountain highland country however, and it takes even the best trekkers around 4 days to complete.

If you’d like to visit without hiking the entire stretch, you can drive a 4×4 via F roads into this area. Be warned, though, there are not petrol stations out this way, and the terrain is only recommended for experienced drivers with the correct vehicle.

River crossing in the highlands can be treacherous, and the conditions are very quickly changing even during the best part of the year. The Highlands are magnificent, but they are very much their own planet, and they follow their own set of rules.)


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Visiting Skógafoss

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tim Trad)

Skógafoss, or “Forest Waterfall” as the name translates, is of course the biggest waterfall in the Skógá chain.  

The shelf that Skógafoss careens over marks the former coastline of the country. The coast has since receded nearly 5 kilometers, exposing a vast lowland (sandur) shaped by glacial outpour and time.

These massive sand deserts are ever changing, and are home to braided rivers, fields of rare mosses, and the residual memory of the more fearsome volcanic activity of the past.

The wrath of subglacial eruptions have shaped this place, and the history of them has left this area with a fairly low population despite its fertile ground.

(These great stretches of black ground also happen to be home to a very popular abandoned plane wreck, who is silently standing sentinel on the shores of Sólheimasandur) 

Despite the growth of its surroundings, Skógafoss remains one of the most spectacular residents of the area. 

Skógafoss creates a massive amount of mist, which can create icy conditions in the area in the colder months. If you plan on getting close to the water, it can be a good idea to bring a walking aid with you while you find your “ice legs”.

In good sunlight, this impressive cloud of mist is known for producing incredible rainbows, which have been the dream of photographers world over for generations.

Skógafoss has also been outfitted with a staircase and observation platform that takes you all the way up to the top of the waterfall- with the most incredible view of the southern lowlands. There are nearly 530 steps though, so get ready for a climb!

The waterfall is served by a parking lot where one can use the restroom, and has at different times in its history hosted a fee for parking. At this time of this writing, that is no longer the case, but it can be good to be aware that parking, national park and attraction entry, and restroom use can at times require a small fee for usage.

These fees help support maintenance of the place, and can often be paid by card, but it is never a bad idea to have some small currency on hand for these types of expenses. (If you don’t use it, you can always spend it on Icelandic pylsur and chocolate at the petrol station! Or at least that is what ends up happening to all of my money.)

Little town of Skógar

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Roma Ryabchenko)

Skógafoss lies directly off of Route 1 in the village of Skógar. The settlements of the village are split into two parts known commonly as: Ytri-Skógar (Outer or Western Skogar/Primary Skógar), and Eystri-Skógar (East Skógar).

Ytri-Skógar, or Skógar proper, is nestled between the Skógá and Kverná rivers and is home to Skógasafn, a cultural heritage museum that boasts a collection of over 18,000 regional artifacts.

This collection is spread out over a campus of 6 historical buildings (the open air museum) and 3 exhibition buildings, which includes the Technical Museum.

The church and farmstead in the village date back to 1890, and the museum parking lot is a popular place to start your hike to the nearby Kvernufoss waterfall- a canyon gem known for the mossy cavern behind it. This is certainly waterfall country!

Like something out of a story

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Rolands Varsbergs)

After witnessing the grandeur of Skógafoss, it isn’t hard to imagine how many people have been moved to create art. Included in many paintings, photographs, and even in the spirit of a tradition of Icelandic literature and prose- Skógafoss was born of story, and lives on in story, through the work of both domestic and international film.

Mentioned in the old Saga tale of Þrasi Þórólfsson, the first Viking settler at Eystri-Skógar in the 900s, it is said that he hid a chest full of gold in the depths of the pool of Skógafoss. The verse says that the first to find this chest will find great treasure, but it is unclear whether the treasure remains- or if it was already recovered by one of the sons of Ámundi Þormóðsson.

The story says that one could just see the edge of the chest beneath the falls (though some interpret that it may be in the inaccessible cave behind the falls)- and that these sons went to retrieve it.

A few difficulties befell them on this quest, including the farm nearby catching fire and various other delusions, but they were eventually able to grip the chest by one of its golden handle rings.

After a great struggle the chest detached and fell deeper into the pool, evading capture. If this story is indeed true, then the ring on the church door of Skógar was that very ring that they made away with. Back in those days, it was not unusual to display such treasures at the local holy places, but imagine having such a thing right out there on the front door!

(But I suppose when your village has a population of approximately 20 people, it’s a bit easier to do.)

After many years and a few changes to the original church, the fabled ring was donated to the Skógasafn. You can now go to view that ring in the nearby cultural museum where it is protected and on display. 

It does make you wonder, what else may lie beneath the thundering falls.. Perhaps a one ringed treasure chest still awaits? (I wouldn’t suggest having a look. The temperature and power of the falls are deterrent enough for me! You can hear Skógafoss’ booming voice from far enough away to know that a swim would not end well.)

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Alin Rusu)

There are other stories of Þrasi in the Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar (The Folklore of Jón Árnason), including a tale about Þrasi and his neighbor Loðmundur, and about how their quarrel over land shaped the very river that runs through it.

They were both said to be in possession of magical ability, (which was not unheard of back in the settlement times.), and like many agrarian settlers, they fought over the border between their lands.

They changed this border and its features many times, which eroded the area and caused the great sand wastes. They eventually quelled their argument upon realizing the damaged they had caused to their surroundings, and agreed upon a final path for the river.

To this day it runs through that area, but the strange currents in it can be blamed on the two neighbors and their meddling. 

So be careful about the fights that you foster with your village mates- you may end up putting an unnatural current in your local waterway!

These are among the older stories that we have about Skógafoss, and it is incredible to see its name in that archaic print. Despite the changing face of nature here, it is fascinating to imagine the Viking setters that once admired these falls, much like we do today.

But the admiration continues on, as Skógafoss continues to appear in new stories, even now. Skógafoss appears in many television programs, including popular hits like “Vikings” and “Game of Thrones”. You can also find it in films like “Dilwale”, “Thor: The Dark World”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and music videos from artists like Sólstafir and Justin Bieber. 

Immortalized in the historic poetry of the Sagas, and continually captured and recaptured today, it is safe to say that our admiration of the treasures of nature have not ceased over the generations. It would be near impossible not to marvel at the majesty of such a thing. 

How to get to Skógafoss: 

Skógafoss waterfall aurora borealis
Skógafoss Aurora Image by Rebecca Douglas Photography

Fortunately, this wonder is only 25 minutes drive down Route 1 from Seljalandsfoss. Sitting a mere 2 hr (155.6 km) southeast from Reykjavik, Skógafoss is visible from the main road and is a similarly easy stop to make on a South Coast adventure.

This is a great day trip option, and a fun stop to make before heading off to the black sand beaches of nearby village Vík, which is only another 30 minutes away. And it’s just in the area of our southern Bubbles, which make a great respite if you attempted Skógafoss’ winding vertical stairs!

Skógafoss waterfall in Iceland


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
See Guided Tours

*Starting from ISK 74.900 per person