Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are waterfalls located in the town of Húsafell in the western region of Iceland. They are part of the Hvitá River, which navigates the Hallmundarhraun lava field and eventually leads out to Borgarfjörður, a western fjord near the town of Borgarnes. This popular tourist attraction is northwest of the Golden Circle and about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Reykjavik, the capital city. On-site, there is a large parking lot with a small café, gift shop, and restrooms. Walkways, constructed footpaths, and observation decks allow you to safely explore this magnificent stretch of water flow that has been a national monument since 1987.
Hraunfossar is a beautifully unique series of waterfalls that spans over a kilometer (0.6 mile) in width and pours down over rocks and birch-scrub vegetation into the Hvitá River all year long. The name Hraunfossar derives from "hraun," the Icelandic word for lava. The water here doesn’t flow over the earth’s surface; rather, it emerges out from under the Hallmundarhraun lava field, which dates back to an eruption that took place around A.D. 800, shortly before the first arrival of settlers. The source of the water is the Langjökull, and the volcano this produced this lava field lies beneath its ice.
A short distance upstream there is another waterfall called Barnafoss, which flows down a narrow channel. Its name, which means "waterfall of the children," comes from an unfortunate accident that is said to have taken place many years earlier. At the time, there was a naturally formed rock arch that bridged the falls. The story goes that on a Christmas morning, a mother left her two children at their nearby house to attend church. Upon her return, the children were nowhere to be found. Their tracks were followed and led to the arch crossing where they had fallen and drowned. Following the incident, the mother had the arch destroyed to prevent to the awful accident from ever happening again. The average flow-rate here is about 80 cubic meters per second, but the volume has reached up to 500 cubic meters per second during floods, causing floods over the surrounding area.
These waterfalls are on Highway 518 about 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of Reykholt, one of Iceland’s most notable historical sites. Also nearby is the Viðgelmir lava tube, which is the largest cave in Iceland and once contained archaeological remains from the Viking age (guided cave tours are available).