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Hengifoss, Iceland

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 10:00am by Lolo
70 miles and 1.5 hours from our last stop


Hike to Litlanesfoss and HengifossHike to Litlanesfoss and HengifossWe got a bit off schedule with our detour to Borgarfjörður Eystri (but it was so worth it!), so it was going to be mostly a driving day with one fun stop along the way - a hike to the beautiful Hengifoss waterfall.

We were only back on the Ring Road for 5 miles before turning south on Road 931, and driving for 20 miles along the shores of Lagarfljót Lake to the trailhead for Hengifoss. It was a bit more of an out-and-back than I previously thought.

Approaching LitlanesfossApproaching LitlanesfossAs with many places in Iceland, there is a legend associated with this lake. Rocks, mountains, lakes, etc., all seem to have magical creatures (elves, trolls, monsters) either living in them or being turned into them. In this case, it's a large heath-worm (black slug).

But before we get to the legend of the heath-worm, let’s get to the reason we were here in the first place - the hike to the lovely waterfall known as Hengifoss.

Lovely LitlanesfossLovely LitlanesfossThe hike to Hengifoss is one of the most popular hikes in East Iceland, so by the time we got to the trailhead, the parking lot was already quite full.

From the parking lot, we began walking up a steady, but gradual hill, with a peaceful bucolic view of farmland and the river Hengifossá behind us.

At a little less than a mile we came to the first waterfall, Litlanesfoss, notable for the beautiful basalt columns surrounding it, like layers of thick curtains. These basalt columns are 15 to 20 meters high, making them the highest basalt columns in Iceland.

Approaching HengifossApproaching HengifossThis waterfall alone would have been worth the hike, but it is unfortunately overshadowed by its more impressive neighbor, Hengifoss.

We continued on for about another ¾ of a mile to the beautiful and unique Hengifoss, known for its distinctive alternating layers of volcanic bedrock interlaced with beds of bright red mud and ash deposits.

As the falls have carved out the canyon, the ash deposits have become conspicuously exposed, resulting in nearly a dozen very vivid stripes of red earth running perpendicular to the falls across the darker cliff face.

HengifossHengifossAt 128 meters high, it is also the third highest waterfall in Iceland.

On the hike down, we had a choice of retracing our steps or veering off to the left when we came to a bridge. We chose to see something new and I am so glad we did.

About a third of the way down, we came to an amazing collection of basalt columns. Because of frequent volcanic activity, Iceland has more basalt column sites than any other place on the planet, and we had seen many, but none as impressive as these.

Hengifoss up closeHengifoss up closeBasaltic columns such as these have inspired architects in Iceland, as we saw in the exterior of the beautiful Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik.

Okay, now for the Legend of the giant heath-worm of Lagarfljót Lake.

As legend has, a little girl was given a gold ring by her mother, who told her to place it under a heath-worm so that the gold would multiply. She did as her mother said, but when she checked back on it a few days later, she found that the worm had grown so large that it had broken open the chest she had placed it in.

Incredible basalt columns on the hike downIncredible basalt columns on the hike downTerrified, she threw the worm and the gold into the lake, where it continued to grow, terrorizing the countryside, killing people and animals and spitting poison onto the farmlands. This was not a nice worm.

Two Finnish magicians were commissioned to destroy it and retrieve the gold. However, all they managed to do was to tie its head and tail to the bottom of the lake, only allowing it to arch its back above the lake’s surface. If the worm ever manages to get lose, not only will it cause trouble again, but it will bring about the end of the world.

Well isn't that cheery.

Hengifoss location map in "high definition"

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