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Driving Iceland’s Ring Road - Day 6: Part 3 of the Diamond Circle

Today you will see some of the best waterfalls in Iceland and more volcanic activity.  You can either end your day in the same hotel or prepare for tomorrow’s trip by booking a hotel in Húsavík.


For more detailed information incl. links to google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc., check out our Iceland Highlights Purple Guide.

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Our Iceland Travel Guide has detailed information about the individual destinations, links to their locations in google maps, reviews and websites (if available).

Please see the Backpack & Snorkel Travel Store for more information.

Iceland Travel Guide Book Cover

Here are more Iceland destinations to explore:

Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing Studlagil canyon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing icebergs at Jokulsarlon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Godafoss waterfall
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Fjadrargljufur canyon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing a puffin
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Black Fortress at Dimmuborgir
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the erupting Strokkur geyser
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Aurora Borealis


With its boiling mud pools, sulfurous steam vents, cracked mud and fumaroles which are dotted over its moon-like terrain, Hverir is one of the most active geothermal areas in Iceland. 

Unlike Yellowstone National Park in the USA, Hverir is much smaller and has no geysers or beautifully colored hot springs.  It is more comparable to El Tatio in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

You can see the steam vents from far away and the closer you get the more intense their sulfur smell gets.


Due to the high heat underground and the instable soil in some areas, it's very important that you stay on the marked paths.  Breaking through the thin crust in unsecured areas can easily kill you.


Hverir has no admission fee or parking fee and is open all year.  Prepare to spend 30min to 1h.

Hverir in Iceland
Hverir in Iceland
Hverir in Iceland
Hverir in Iceland

Leirhnjúkur Lava Field

Hverir has mostly mud pools, steam vents and fumaroles; Leirhnjúkur adds colorful thermal pools and an exciting hike over a volcanic volcanic hill with views over a desolate moon-like landscape, more steam vents and sulfur and moss covered volcanic rocks.


Leirhnjukur is part of the Krafla Caldera and the Krafla Lava fields and the hill that you see is a rhyolite (most silica-rich of volcanic rocks) formation.  The rhyolite that forms this less than 160ft (<50m) tall hill is porous (that’s why you see many steam vents) and has turned into clay in several places and that’s why it is called “clay hill”. 

The last eruption that occurred here was from 1975-1984 and now, about 40 years later, this place is still fuming hot.


As with Hverir, please stay on the marked path as the soil is unstable in many areas and the intense heat underneath can kill you.


There are 2 trails:

  • the small loop which takes about 1h and needs a bit of climbing over volcanic rocks
  • the long 2h loop which should take you about 5h and brings you through steaming lava fields.  You will need good shoes to safely walk over volcanic rocks


From the parking lot you walk about 0.7miles (1.1km) to the first volcanic feature on the small loop.  Before you get to the turquoise pool, you will see the long loop branch off to the right.

If you want to stay on the small loop, continue to the turquoise pool on the boardwalk.  Now that the boardwalk ends and the trail leads you up the hill, you will need to decide if your footwear is adequate to walk over volcanic rocks.  If it is not, then you may want to go back to your car.  If it is, then you can walk up the hill where you will see steam vents, fumaroles and sulfur and moss covered volcanic rocks.

Continue the path to two some nice lookout points over this desolate landscape.


Leirhnjukur has no admission fee or parking fee and is open all year.  Prepare to spend 1-2h.

Leirhnjukur Lava Field in Iceland
Leirhnjukur Lava Field in Iceland
Leirhnjukur Lava Field in Iceland
Leirhnjukur Lava Field in Iceland

Viti Crater at Krafla

Krafla is a volcanic caldera which is about 6 mile (10km) diameter and a 90 km long fissure zone separating the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate.  It sits atop the Iceland hotspot of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is where many of Iceland's most active volcanoes are located.


The crater Víti (=”hell”) has its name from the belief that hell is to be found under volcanoes.

Today, Víti has a lake inside of it.


The last eruptions at Krafla occurred from 1975 and 1984 and since 1977, the geothermal energy has been harvested by the Krafla 60 MWe power station.

The rectangular gate of pipes that you drove through to get here belongs to this power station.


The parking lot is only a few feet away from the path that leads around the Viti crater.  From here you have great views on the lake inside the crater.


The Viti Crater has no admission fee or parking fee and is open all year.

Viti Crater at Krafla in Iceland
Viti Crater at Krafla in Iceland

How to Visit Dettifoss and Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss

Dettifoss, Selfoss, and Hafragilsfoss are located in Vatnajökull National Park east of Lake Mývatn and they are fed by Jökulsá á Fjöllum river.  The river is formed from the melting Vatnajökull glacier and flows through the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and Ásbyrgi Canyon (which we will see tomorrow) to Öxarfjörður in the Arctic Sea.


While Dettifoss is one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls, Selfoss is a smaller but much wider and more elegant waterfall that we consider to be Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall.


Each waterfall can be accessed from the east and the west, but the drives between the parking lots for the east and west access are long and driving alone will add about 5h to your itinerary.  Depending on how much time you have, it may make sense to just visit one side.  This Backpack and Snorkel travel guide will help you make this decision.

The views you get from the east and west sides of Dettifoss and Selfoss vary considerably. 


Here are the differences:

  • the west side parking lot of Dettifoss is easier to access and has more parking sports
  • the east side parking lot of Dettifoss is accessed through a compacted dirt road; if you come late in the day during peak tourist season, then you may be out of luck
  • water spray from the falls tends to go to the west side and that means you and your camera will get wet
  • Approaching Selfoss from the west means you will get close to where some of the water goes over the cliff, but you will only see a part of the falls
  • Approaching Selfoss from the east means you will have a beautiful view of the entire majestic falls and the water goes over the cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon, making for spectacular views


All three waterfalls are open year-round and there is no admission fee and parking is free.  Summer, however, is the best time to visit them as during the winter months the road on the west may be closed.  The compacted dirt road in the east (route 864) is usually only accessible in summer.

Dettifoss waterfall in Iceland
Dettifoss waterfall in Iceland
Dettifoss waterfall in Iceland


Selfoss is our favorite waterfall in all of Iceland.  It is not as powerful, but much wider and really consists or a curtain of many individual waterfalls.  It reminded us a bit of Victoria Falls at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

There is no extra parking for Selfoss.  It can be reached from Dettifoss on the east and west side by moderately difficult trails.


Visiting Selfoss from the west

The rocky 0.6 miles (1km) long trail to Selfoss starts at the parking lot and follows the river.

From the viewpoint you will only see a small portion of Selfoss, but it is definitely worth the trip and you can get fairly close to the waterfall. 

The way back to the parking lot is the same that you came here.


Visiting Selfoss from the east

Shortly before you get to the Dettifoss viewpoints, the 0.6 mile (1km) rocky trail to Selfoss branches off to the left.  The trail is well marked, but be advised that you will climb over volcanic rocks quite a few times and it is definitely of moderate difficulty.  This trail follows the river and the last 650ft (200m) are basically one continuous fantastic viewpoint which allows you to take in the sheer size of Selfoss.

You can get fairly close to Selfoss and even walk all the way to the area behind the falls into the water.  Just be careful.

If you are anything like us, you may want to find one or two or three places to sit down and take in the majesty of Selfoss.

Selfoss waterfall in Iceland
Selfoss waterfall in Iceland


Downstream from Dettifoss lies the much smaller Hafragilsfoss where the water drops 90ft (27m) into Jokulsargljufur canyon.

You will not get close to get close to Hafragilsfoss from either viewpoint.  You will be high up on the cliffs where you will see Hafragilsfoss and will have great views of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.


Visiting Hafragilsfoss from the west

When you drive back from Dettifoss towards route 862, the compacted dirt road will branch off to the right.  From the parking lot it is a 650ft (200m) downhill walk to the canyon wall from where you can see Hafragilsfoss, but you may want to walk another 350ft (100m) to the left for better views.


Visiting Hafragilsfoss from the east

From the Dettifoss parking lot drive back to route 864 and then make a left.  The turn-off to Hafragilsfoss comes to the left after 1.3 miles (2km).  You can see Hafragilsfoss from the parking lot.

For better views, follow the path to the rock formation 500ft (150m) away.  Be careful at the rock formation as it goes steep down and there is nothing that will catch your fall.  And you may be the only people there, so there will be no help.

The views of Hafragilsfoss and the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon are wonderful and the solitude adds to the charm.

Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Iceland
Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Iceland
Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Iceland
Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Iceland


Dettifoss is often called Europe’s most powerful waterfall, but that honor belongs to Germany’s Rhine Falls which, at least during summer, have a higher flow rate.

Dettifoss is 330ft (100m) wide and the water drops 144ft (44m) into the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.


Visiting Dettifoss from the west

Accessible on paved roads, the west side parking lot has plenty of space for cars, RVs and buses.  At the parking lot are a visitor center, a gift shop, and bathrooms.  The trail to the upper viewpoint of Dettifoss is 0.5 miles (800m) mostly downhill.

At the upper viewpoint you can continue on a short trail to an elevated overlook of Dettifoss where you and your camera will get wet from the water spray of Dettifoss.

There is another steep path downhill to the lower viewpoint that gets you close to Dettifoss.


Visiting Dettifoss from the east

Access is by route 864, which is a narrow compacted dirt road.  There is a turn-off to the east side parking lot, which has space for maybe 30-40 cars.  During peak tourist season, it is best to get here early.

You can easily navigate this road with a regular sedan in dry weather in summer.


The trail to Dettifoss is about ¼ mile (400m) downhill.  There are several areas to take nice photos of Dettifoss and two main designated viewpoints where most people aggregate.

The second viewpoint gets you fairly close to the waterfall and here you can hear the powerful thundering of the falling water and feel the ground vibrating from it.  And best of it all: you can take real nice photos and don’t need to worry about water spray.

Selfoss waterfall in Iceland
Selfoss waterfall in Iceland