Located in the eastern region of Iceland just outside of Egilsstaðir sits an incredible set of waterfalls known as Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss. Each displays unique and incredible geological formations that thousands of tourists travel to see each year. A there-and-back trek begins near a bridge across the Lagarfljót River and climbs approximately 250 meters (820 feet) over 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) along the Hengifossá River to one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland.
There is a parking lot at the trailhead, which is typically crowded in the summer months. There is a water closet with flush toilets and a large information sign about the Fljótsdalshreppur region. Begin your ascent through a gate and up a wooden staircase. At the top, you can see Hengifoss in the distance with its striking bright red-orange horizontal rock bands. Continue up the path through a second gate and along Jónsfoss, a minor waterfall on the river. The dirt path is well worn, and some arrows on wooden posts will guide your way.
Litlanesfoss will appear before you with magnificent vertical basalt columns, which stretch for several meters. Following an eruption, hardened lava rock takes a considerable amount of time to cool. As a result, these hexagonal structures form perpendicular to the cooling surface. In the case of Litlanesfoss, the tops of some columns are slightly curved, which suggests that the lava was still moving while the rock was hardening. These structures are a common geological theme throughout Iceland and have become a polygonal icon incorporated into Icelandic art and culture. The wider the columns, the longer the lava took to harden.
Before you continue, take a moment to look back down to the parking lot and across Lagarfljót, one of the main rivers in east Iceland. The upper portion is a lake approximately 112 meters (367 feet) deep, which is about 90 meters (295 feet) below sea level. The old folk believe that a monster called Lagarfljótsormurinn lives here, which would bring bad luck if it were seen. Clear photographs are rumored to have been taken in recent times...
The path follows the gorge upstream, getting ever closer to Hengifoss. Some of the track has been widened by machinery to accommodate traffic and safety. The obvious path comes to an end upon intersecting the stream (river) where the sandy canyon narrows. The waterfall in front of you drops 128 meters (420 feet) from a high plateau. The red-orange layers are of clay separating hardened basalt from various volcanic eruptions that took place during the Tertiary Period, when the island of Iceland was first being formed.
Fossilized trunks of coniferous trees have been found here that correspond to warmer climates during that time. You will notice signs of people crossing the stream and making their way farther into this rocky amphitheater. It’s about another kilometer (0.5 mile) to the base of the falls, and the route can be a difficult and slippery scramble. When the sun is bright and to the east, a beautiful double rainbow will appear over a bright blue pool at the bottom. Enjoy the magnificent power of the water and tread carefully over the delicate landscape. Return to the trailhead on the same path.