Chasing Iceland Waterfalls: Revealing 10 Secret Gems
Are you ready to embark on a visual journey into the hidden waterfalls of Iceland? Get ready to chase something other than the aurora borealis, because here I will reveal some of Iceland's best kept secrets - ten hidden waterfalls that are easy to reach, just off the tourist trails.
While everyone is flocking to the iconic natural wonders like Kirkjufellsfoss and Skógafoss, there are countless other jaw-dropping waterfalls tucked away in the Icelandic countryside waiting to be discovered.
The beauty of each waterfall on my list is that each of them are close to roads and none are in the highlands, so a 4x4 vehicle is not necessary. Yet even with their stunning beauty, they are scarcely visited by the usual throngs of tourists.
From multiple cascades plunging into pristine rivers to delicate streams trickling through lush greenery, these hidden gems offer a unique and intimate experience in the land of fire and ice.
Join me as I take you on a photographic tour of ten lesser-known Iceland waterfalls worth chasing.
The Allure of Iceland's Hidden Waterfalls
Iceland's overlooked waterfalls hold a certain fascination that is hard to resist. Unlike their famous counterparts, these secret cascades offer a sense of exclusivity and a chance to connect with nature on a deeper level.
They are also appealing because they provide a welcome respite from the crowds. While the highly publicized waterfalls in Iceland attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, the lesser-known falls offer a more intimate setting, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty without the distraction of hordes of tourists.
Imagine breathing the cool mist, surrounded by untouched beauty, and feeling like you have stumbled upon a well-kept secret. It's a magical experience that can't be replicated.
Whether you are a sightseer or a photographer, this is your chance to have a personal encounter with Iceland's untamed wilderness.
My Top Ten Secret Waterfalls in Iceland
As a fine art photographer travelling to Iceland in search of lesser-known locations, a lot of research was necessary before I visited this amazing country. In the spirit of keeping these areas pristine, I will not be giving away their pinpoint locations.
Remember, the key takeaway here is that all of the information you need to find them is readily available. If you truly want to experience these places in person, it is not difficult if you are willing to do the research, put in some effort, and go the extra mile. I did, and so can you.
To compile this list, my criteria was simple. Each location had to be drivable without a 4x4 or a long hike, have no crowds of tourists, and be worthy of a beautiful photograph. In no particular order, here they are.
The surrounding landscape of Bugsfoss is characterized by dramatic cliffs and rugged moss-covered terrain which adds to the stunning scenic beauty of this extremely tall waterfall.
With multiple tiers there are endless compositional opportunities for photography, especially on summer evenings when the north-facing cascades receive dramatic front light. This image was captured in the dead of night and I didn't see a single person around.
Pro Tip: The rocks here are very slippery so explore with care and safety in mind.
Also known as Sheep's Falls, this one hides in plain sight as it is not visible from the road. A small parking lot and short walk down a hill is all it takes to get there. Seeing as you may be in the area visiting another Icelandic icon, this one is definitely worth a visit.
Pro Tip: Follow the trail to walk under the falls for an extra thrill if you wish.
With a number of vantage points for different compositions, Reykjafoss is nothing short of incredible. This image was captured at 1:30am without a soul around, with meadow buttercup wildflowers in full bloom and breathtaking sunrise light.
The view as you approach from the other side of the bank yields a completely different view as the falls plunge over a huge 65 foot drop into the river below. A textbook example of why exploring Iceland during summer nights is the best time to be out there.
Pro Tip: Bring your swimsuit as there is a tiny hidden hot spring right beside the river that can hold 5-8 people.
Although this otherworldly waterfall valley has a name, it is the most coveted of all that I visited. It is important to understand that many beautiful places around the world are being trampled and destroyed by those who have no respect for nature. Subsequently, many locations like this are eventually roped off or closed down completely.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon on the south coast of Iceland is one such example. A famous pop star filmed a music video there in 2016, and now hundreds of thousands of people flock to see it every year, sometimes just for a selfie. Before that, hardly anyone had even heard of it. Today, large swaths of the canyon are roped off because so much vegetation has been destroyed. The once pristine views are now largely gone or diminished.
With this reality in mind, I am not keeping this location to myself by not revealing its name; I am simply trying to be a responsible photographer and good steward of the land.
Remember, you can find it with a little research just as I did.
This seven-tier waterfall set amongst towering cliffs on a mountainside is like something from a fairy tale. Although you can follow a walking trail to get up close, the line of sight will hide the upper tiers so it is best to view the whole cascade from a distance if you wish to see them all at once. On clear days, an impressive mountain peak looms over the falls for a beautiful photograph.
At nearly 300 feet tall, this incredible set of falls is among the highest in Iceland. The road to get here is a steep unpaved switchback that is rather sketchy, especially in fog, so drive with caution and watch for oncoming traffic.
Pro Tip: The road is only open from April to September.
Folaldafoss is a beautiful 65 foot waterfall that is set against a rugged and mountainous backdrop. It can be seen from the parking area for a wide angle view (as above), or a short trail can take you down to the water's edge to get up close, where it is even more impressive.
The road to reach Folaldafoss is unpaved and not for the faint-hearted in bad weather. Heavy fog is common in the area so driving with care is essential. Haenubrekkufoss waterfall is also nearby, but the fog was so thick when I visited, we couldn't even see it.
Pro Tip: Wear rubber boots so you can cross the creek easily to access the trail down to the water.
Stjórnarfoss is a breathtaking double-tiered waterfall known for its unique dome shape, which is surrounded by rugged volcanic cliffs alive with vibrant green moss. The upper tier of the falls lays just out of sight in the shadows of the hills, only visible when viewing from a distance.
The unique character and calming sound of the cascade makes it a true gem, contributing to Iceland's reputation as a land of unrivaled natural wonders.
Pro Tip: Wear rubber boots here so you can stand in the shallow river for different compositions. I photographed in the early hours and had the whole place to myself, while campers slept across the road.
The Fossálar waterfall in South Iceland captivates with its ethereal beauty, as crystal-clear waters cascade beneath rugged cliffs, framed by lush greenery that seems to breathe with the rhythm of nature.
Its serene surroundings and mesmerizing play of warm sunrise light on the rushing water creates a peaceful energy that is pure Iceland.
The double-tiered Gluggafoss is unique with a 'window' through the rocks on the upper portion, formed by water erosion over thousands of years. A trail up to the lower portion allows many compositional opportunities up close.
Pro Tip: If you have some extra energy, climb the side trail on the right side up over the hill, where there are even more waterfalls that are out of sight from the bottom.
Pronounced 'YOW-in', this valley is unusually lush for Iceland, with flowering vegetation and moss-covered rocks which create a serene and magical atmosphere. The walking trails take you to a variety of vantage points around both sides of the riverbed with much larger waterfalls upstream.
It should be noted that although flying insects are not usually a problem in most parts of Iceland, this valley is home to swarms of midges. Although they don't bite, these incredibly annoying flies will crawl over every part of exposed skin on your body, including in your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
Pro Tip: I highly recommend wearing an insect net for your head, and keeping the windows and doors closed on your vehicle.
Capturing the beauty: Photography tips for waterfall chasing
Photographing waterfalls can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you capture the beauty of Iceland's waterfalls:
1. Go during the summer solstice and photograph at night. Iceland doesn't get dark in the middle of summer, so photograph late at night or in the early hours of morning while all of the other tourists are sleeping. This is also the best time for soft light and colourful skies, and you will have most locations to yourself.
2. Use a tripod. To capture the silky smooth look of flowing water, use a tripod to keep your camera steady. This will eliminate any camera shake and ensure sharp images.
3. Experiment with shutter speed. Adjusting the shutter speed can create different effects. For a smooth look while retaining some texture in the water, use a slow shutter speed (around 1/4 second). For a more dynamic shot, especially on larger falls, use a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of the water.
4. Use a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter can help reduce glare and reflections on the water surface, allowing you to capture the vibrant colors and details of the waterfall.
5. Experiment with composition. Play around with different angles and viewpoints to create unique compositions. Include elements such as rocks, trees, or people to add scale and depth to your photos.
6. Bring your rubber boots. Iceland experiences a lot of rain, so you can expect wet conditions. Knee-high boots not only keep your feet dry, they allow you to get in to shallow rivers to try new compositions.
Remember, photography is subjective, so don't be afraid to experiment and find your own style. Let your creativity guide you and capture the hidden beauty of Iceland's waterfalls.
In Summary: Embrace the adventure
Iceland's hidden waterfalls offer a unique and intimate experience for the adventurous traveler and photographer. From the powerful cascades to the delicate streams, each waterfall has its own charm and beauty.
By driving a little further and venturing off the beaten path to explore these hidden treasures, you will discover a side of Iceland that is often overlooked by tourists. Let the beauty of the landscapes, the sound of rushing water, and the sense of exclusivity transport you to a place of wonder and awe.
Embrace the adventure and chase the hidden treasures, because Iceland will captivate you like no other place on Earth.