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The sheer force of nature is demonstrated at Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall by volume, where meltwater from the Vatnajökull ice cap roils and tumbles over a precipice into the gorge below. The cloud of spray produced by the thundering water can be seen from far across the gray basalt landscape, and as you approach, the sound of the plummeting water greets you well before the falls come into view. So dramatic are the falls, that they have featured in many Hollywood productions, including Thor, Oblivion, and in the opening sequence of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

The drama of the falls comes partly from the stark rocky landscape that surrounds it and the scale of the canyon into which it falls. The Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, a huge gash in the Earth, is the largest in Iceland, dropping 45 m (148 ft) at the point of the falls. Most striking, however, is the sheer force of the falls. Roughly 100 m (328 ft) wide, at the height of their flow over 1000 liters (219 gallons) of water plunge over the edge every second. It’s hard to comprehend the figures, but in person, it’s an arresting sight and sound. And, the spray produced means you should be prepared to get wet even from the safety of the marked trails around the falls.

DettifossYou can view the falls from both banks of the Jökulslá River, though most visitors arrive on the west bank where a paved road and walking paths offer easy access. The east side of the falls is accessed by a rough track but offers better views, particularly when the spray is high enough to obscure views from the west bank.

Flow is at its strongest in the summer months, when meltwater from the Vatnajökull glacier thrusts through the landscape. The mineral-rich water from the glacier is a milky gray from the silt it carries, lending an unusual monochrome effect to the scene. But, on clear days, the views are often brightened by double rainbows as the spray is illuminated by the sun.

In winter, although the rate of water passing through the falls drops considerably, you’ll see icicles hanging from the rocks around the falls and the surroundings are covered in snow. At this time of year, the road can be closed due to bad weather and dangerous driving conditions, but you can still join a tour to make the journey here.

The region around Dettifoss and the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon offers dramatic scenery and rewarding hiking. About 1.5 km (1 mile) upstream from Dettifoss is Selfoss, another impressive waterfall. Although it’s neither as tall nor as powerful as Dettifoss, its broad ribbon of cascading water dropping over a low horseshoe of cliffs is well worth the effort to get to.

Downstream from Dettifoss, though difficult to access on foot, is Hafragilsfoss, a powerful waterfall that drops into one of the deepest parts of the canyon. Here, the river has cut through a crater row revealing a lava pipe in the cliff wall.

A short drive from Dettifoss by 4x4 is the Ásbyrgi Canyon, a dramatic terrace of cliffs that overlook a lush valley. The cliffs rise up to 100 m (328 ft) and extend over 3.5 km (2 miles) in length along a canyon so wide it can be difficult to make out the other side.

Best time to visit Dettifoss

Dettifoss is impressive year-round, but the falls are at their most powerful between June and August. This is also the peak time for visitors, however, and it can get busy. In winter, the low light, frozen landscape and fewer visitors make it a rewarding time to visit, but you’ll need to join a tour as the road can be closed.

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