These two waterfalls are on the standard South Coast or Ring Road/Route 1 itinerary. If you take a bus tour, you’ll be able to see them up close and damp/personal. But if you’re adventurous and have your own vehicle, plan to stay and really explore – and get soaked. For that reason, I recommend these falls be at the end of your day’s exploration, and in this order: Skógafoss first, and then Seljalandsfoss.
Located just about 25-30 minutes drive apart (assuming you don’t stop off to gaze at Eyjafjallajökull (volcano of 2010 fame) and the small but interesting exhibit about the eruption and the recovery of the farm that sits at its base (Þorvaldseyri, worth a stop), Seljalandsfoss is the more western of the two, located near the turn to the south coast and the port that serves the ferry to the Westmann Islands (Vestmannaeyjar, go if at all possible, I promise to write about it!). This means that if you are coming down from Reykjavik, or have stopped for a day in Hvolsvöllur, you’ll come across this one first if you’re headed east. If at the end of the day you’re headed back toward the west/capital region, drive past Seljalandsfoss and do it as your last stop on the way back. If you’re returning to the west/capital region, please heed my advice to make Seljalandsfoss your last stop if possible (or, have a plan).
Both falls have parking, though in peak season it could overflow. Self-pay stations are being added to help support the damage from tourism, and the police may ticket vehicles that park on the road (witnessed in 2017), especially at Seljalandsfoss. Be a responsible tourist, and make the donation via parking fee that is well worth the visit to make sure others can enjoy these places in the future!
Skógafoss is a beautiful place, rainbows abound on sunny days or when skies begin to clear quickly. I’ve been here a few times, and it’s amazing even on a rainy day. You’re already damp, so go as close as you dare to the bottom! Be sure to wear everything waterproof, and to leave cameras and sensitive gadgets in your car. Photography enthusiasts will want to use the waterproof housings, a worthwhile investment for a trip to Iceland. This 200-foot-tall, 50-plus-foot wide waterfall is where the Skógá River drops off the cliff edge and flows to the nearby ocean. This drop-off used to be the coastline, until geologic changes pushed it up. You can see this along much of the south coast, meaning the flat, low lands right by the water used to the the ocean floor!
For the moderately adventurous, exploring the base and catching rainbows makes for plenty of sublime fun. Birds swoop around the top and perch along the damp, rich green mosses fed by the spray from this powerful fall. Feeling a little more energetic? There are rough stairs on the right of the falls that will treat the climber to a good sweat and great views. Extremely keen? This trail connects to larger trail systems based slightly inland, and takes you to the Laugavegur trail to Landmannalaugar–the key route for dedicated hikers to explore the Highlands.
For the culturally/historically curious, less adventurous, or physically limited, hidden nearby to the right as you drive into the falls is the Skógar Museum. It’s located in a tiny hamlet by the same name, and has a collection of regional historical artifacts. Guides give great information to illuminate the collection’s description of life, and some preserved buildings remain behind the museum itself. There is also a “technical” (mechanical/engineering) museum building. The key room inside the main museum focuses around a preserved wooden fishing boat and other artifacts that describe its time as a fishing town, like many along the south coast. If you’re opting to spend not much time in the capital area, this is a great museum complex to visit as you’ll get many aspects in one admission.
I promise, this place actually exists! And I promise, you will get soaked. Dropping the same 200 feet as Skógafoss, there’s less water coming down, which lets the wind have a big effect on these falls. These falls are fairly easy to hike behind, but keep in mind it’s slippery, uneven, and includes a few types of steps (some of which are large). Kids, short folks, or those with slightly creaky joints will be ok with a strong hand on the biggest steps. As always, if it’s waterproof, WEAR IT! But also, getting soaked is part of the fun.
The soaking, and the fun, doesn’t end here. After being stunned by the hike behind the falls, don’t head back to the parking lot yet. Instead, head west (to the right, after going around the falls) and follow the gravel path. Soak in the silence and check out additional little falls along the cliff, listen to the babbling brook.
At the end of the path is a hidden gem, Gljúfrabúi (meaning cave dweller). I recommend going in small groups of 3-5 at the most. Make your way along the right hand wall, walking in the river. Keep an eye on your footing, even though everything is amazing! Once you’re in, there’s a shelf of rock you can sit or stand on, and stare up in awe at the canyon opening above you, water streaming in. By the end of this, you will be soaked, and maybe cold, but it’s SO worth it.
Now that you’re soaked and amazed…
Enjoy a slow, quiet walk back to the car. If you are continuing on to the Westmann Islands, there are good, warm bathrooms inside the ferry office where you can change into dry clothes. The bathrooms on site (at last visit, summer 2018) aren’t quite as suited. At minimum, bring some towels, plastic bags, and dry socks and shoes for after these visits. Final tip: when you’re back at your lodging, pull the insoles out of your shoes, loosen the laces, open them up as much possible, place them upside down on the radiator, and turn it up a few notches (crack a window) to dry out your boots. Hang those wet socks next to them!