World Waterfall Database

Selfoss

Iceland

Status: Cataloged
This waterfall has been surveyed by members of the World Waterfall Database.

Detailed Info

Selfoss is the first waterfall in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum (River) as it begins its descent down the massive Jokulsargljufur. At the falls the river transitions from a broad, desolate volcanic plain to a rugged canyon carved in expansive columnar basalt. The river has carved a narrow notch in the basalt formations to form a long, narrow horseshoe shaped canyon where it plunges 44-feet in a furious roar. Because of the large volume of water involved, the river pours across a huge expanse of the bedrock, causing the crest of the falls to stretch to well over 1,200 feet in length - likely making Selfoss the widest waterfall in Iceland (or if not then certainly among the top 5).

Though the Jökulsá á Fjöllum is (apparently) on average only the third largest river by volume in Iceland, because of the width of the falls, Selfoss ranks among the most powerful waterfalls in Iceland and certainly can be compared favorably to many of the larger waterfalls in mainland Europe as well - though it is nowhere close to as powerful as Dettifoss, found just downstream. Signs at the parking area indicate that the river's discharge averages about 14,125 cubic feet per second in the summer months, but most sources we've been able to find suggest the average annual discharge for the river is closer to 6,200 cubic feet per second, which would suggest the volume during the winter is greatly reduced from that number even (however since the roads to the falls are closed in the winter, there seems to be little information to back this up).

In addition to the wildly varying volume of the river, the Jökulsá á Fjöllum has been prone to several immense Jokulhaups, or Glacial Outburst Floods, in the past. Often these floods have been instigated by volcanic activity in the Barðarbunga caldera, which lies beneath the glacier that sources the river. The Jokulsargljufur was likely formed by several such floods repeatedly scouring the bedrock. Some analysis suggests that in order to account for boulders which have been deposited in certain locations throughout the canyon that the volume of water involved in such floods would have had to have been greater than the volume of the Amazon River! Obviously such an event would be short lived however. This hypothesis has achieved recent attention due to the recent volcanic activity at Holuhraun - which in fact began the day we arrived in Iceland, and two days after we visited Dettifoss and Selfoss the roads accessing the falls were closed off in precaution (the volcano didn't begin erupting until after we had left the country). Thus far there has been no indication of an imminent flood, however should one occur as a result of the activity, there is potential for the canyon to be permanently altered.

History and Naming

Selfoss is the Official name of this waterfall.

Our Thoughts

Let's cut to the obvious first: you're coming here to see Dettifoss, there are no two ways about it. But Selfoss is so close and relatively easy to access, so as long as you find yourself mobile enough there should be no reason whatsoever to not take the extra 45 minutes (give or take, depending on your ability) to hike upstream to see Selfoss as well. This applies regardless of which side of the river you choose to access the falls from.

Photo Tips

Despite the significant volume of water, Selfoss isn't plagued with the deluge of spray that Dettifoss produces a short way downstream - though there is still some to contend with if you get closer. Because the falls are shaped by the narrow horseshoe of the canyon there are good views on either side of the river (we were only able to visit one side). The east side viewpoint allows a more comprehensive view of the whole falls, but a good portion of the most powerful portion of the falls is harder to see. Expect bright sunlight illuminating the falls for the majority of the day, as there is almost nothing to cast shade in the immediate area.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   65.80495, -16.38657
Elevation:   0 feet

Selfoss is located a kilometer upstream of Dettifoss and is accessed from the same locations as Dettifoss. There are two roads which access the falls, one on either side of the suspension bridge along Highway 1 which spans the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which itself is found 130km west of Egilsstaðir, or 35km east of Reykjahið (Myvatn). Both roads are signed for Dettifoss.

To reach the east side (easier access) of the falls, take Route 864 - which branches from Highway 1 just east of the bridge - north from Highway 1 for 32km, then turn left where a sign points to Dettifoss, the parking area will be found another 0.75km down the road. A trail then leads about one-third of a kilometer down to the first viewpoint of Dettifoss. Watch for a wooden sign pointing out the trail heading upstream to Selfoss, which will be encountered in another 1.2km of relatively easy (though somewhat rocky and sometimes muddy) walking. Note that Route 864 is gravel and as of August 2014 was in pretty rough condition (2wd vehicles are allowed on this road, it just needs to be driven slowly).

To reach the west side of the falls, take Route 862 - which branches from Highway 1 about 9.5km west of the bridge - north from Highway 1 for 22km - then turn right where a sign points to Dettifoss, the parking area will be found just over 3km further. A trail then leads down to the rim of the gorge opposite Dettifoss in another kilometer. Selfoss will be another kilometer upstream from this point. Note that Route 862 was formerly classified as an F-Road (4wd high clearance only), but that does not appear to be the case any longer.

View this location in Google Earth
Selfoss is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.

Other Nearby Waterfalls

Additional Waterfalls which occur within 5 miles of Selfoss
No additional waterfalls were found within 5 miles.

By The Numbers

The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.

Total Height

The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.

Tallest Drop

The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.

Num of Drops

The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.

Avg Width

The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.

Maximum Width

Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.

Pitch

The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.

Run

The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.

Form

The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.

Watershed

The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.

Stream

The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.

Avg Volume

The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.

Source

If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.

Flow Consistency

A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).

Best Flow

A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.

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Key

Cataloged Icon
Cataloged
Waterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
Confirmed Icon
Confirmed
Confirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
Unconfirmed Icon
Unconfirmed
Unconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
Unknown Icon
Unknown
Waterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
Inundated Icon
Inundated
Inundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
Disqualified Icon
Disqualified
Waterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
Posted Icon
Posted
Posted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.
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