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Iceland’s Vesturland is home to extraordinary lava waterfalls: Hraunfossar. You hardly come across this type of waterfall in other places in Iceland, at least not of this size. If you are in the west of Iceland, for example on your way to the Westfjords, towards Snaefellsnes or are you driving on the ring road to the north? Then it’s worth taking road 518 to visit the Hraunfossar waterfalls in the Borgarfjörður region.
The white river Hvítá
The waterfalls of Hraunfossar are located on the banks of the Hvítá River, on the edge of the lava field Hallmundarhraun. There are several rivers of the same name in Iceland, but the source of this Hvítá River lies beneath the lava field Hallmundarhraun. Via Barnafoss, the water flows past Hraunfossar through the Hvítárdalur valley toward the Borgarfjörður fjord. The meltwater in the river contains sediment that can make it look milky. Not surprisingly, this river was given the name Hvítá River, which means “white river.”
How the lava field Hallmundarhraun was created
The more than 200 km² lava field Hallmundarhraun is located northwest of the Eiríksjökull glacier. It was formed in the 10th century, when a volcano beneath the Eiríksjökull glacier erupted. The eruption lasted an estimated number of years, eventually allowing the length of the lava field to grow to a length of over 52 kilometers.
Lava caves (lava tubes) in Hallmundarhraun
In the Hallmundarhraun lava field are several caves, or actually lava tubes. These tunnels formed when the top layer of lava solidified but hot lava still flowed underneath. As the amount of flowing lava decreased, more and more lava solidified at the top and sides of the tunnel. In this way, the lava tubes were formed. Beneath the Hallmundarhraun lies an entire corridor system of such tubes. Some are connected to each other, while others are not. Because some tubes are close to the surface, the upper layer has collapsed there, allowing one to enter the lava tubes.
There are a number of these lava caves in Hallmundarhraun that you can visit. Surtshellir, discovered in 1679, is the most famous lava cave in Hallmundarhraun. With a total length of 1970 meters, Surtshellir is the longest accessible lava cave (lava tube) in Iceland. Two other lava caves in this area are Stefánshellir and Vidgelmir. Vidgelmir is shorter than Surtshellir but a lot wider, allowing this cave to call itself the largest lava cave in Iceland.
Hraunfossar lava waterfalls
Hraunfossar is the literal translation of lava waterfalls. When you see the waterfalls of Hraunfossar, it is immediately clear why people once started calling the place that. Spread over a length of over 900 meters, hundreds of streams and waterfalls emerge from under the moss-covered lava field. This happens as meltwater and rainwater seeps through the porous upper layer. However, the subsoil does not allow water to pass through, so the water finds a way to the lowest point. And so that is along the banks of the Hvítá River.
Barnafoss, Children’s Falls
A short distance upstream is a narrow gorge with a rapids: Barnafoss. The literal translation of Barnafoss is “children’s waterfalls.” The story goes that this rapids gets its name from two children who once perished here. The children lived nearby with their mother. One day the mother went to church with others; the two boys stayed behind. The boys got bored and decided to walk to church on their own. To do this, they had to cross the rapids. They could do this over a natural, stone bridge formed by the water here. They fell off the bridge and drowned. The mother was so sad that she uttered a curse. No one was ever allowed to cross the falls again. She then destroyed most of the stone bridge, leaving only a small natural bridge.
Visit Hraunfossar and Barnafoss
There are plenty of parking spots at Hraunfossar. It is only a few minutes walk from the parking lot to the first viewpoints at Hraunfossar. There is a hiking trail along the river toward Barnafoss, overlooking Hraunfossar. A bridge has been built between Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, so you can also get to the other side of the river. There are several vantage points, be sure to grab them all!
What to do near Hraunfossar?
Of course, in this part of Iceland, Borgarfjörður, you can visit even more beautiful places and undertake activities. For example, you will pass Deildartunguhver Hot Spring along the way. If you look purely at the production of hot water, this is the largest hot spring in Europe. Deildartunguhver produces as much as 180 liters of water per second of nearly 100°C. Through pipelines, the hot water is transported to Borgarnes and Akranes, where it is used to heat homes, among other things.
Another fun stop is Snorralaug, aka Snorri’s pool in Reykholt. Snorralaug is said to be the oldest hot pool in Iceland. The hot pool is named after the 13th-century poet Snorri Sturluson who wrote sagas about Iceland in Reykholt. He could often be found in the hot pool and even built a tunnel from his home to Snorralaug. The hot spring is not open to the public, but you can walk around freely and see the tunnel.
Do you want to enjoy geothermal water? That is possible in Krauma geothermal baths & spa, a beautifully landscaped complex with hot water from the Deildartunguhver Hot Spring mentioned above. There are several hot baths with temperatures between 37 and 42 degrees. The water in cold baths has a temperature between 5 and 10 degrees.
Exploring Iceland on horseback? Then you can book a horseback ride at Sturlureykir Visiting Horse Farm. And don’t forget the lava caves mentioned above. I haven’t visited them myself but I hear from others who have that it’s worth it. On the glacier? On and around the Langjökull glacier you can do crazy activities.
Accommodation near Hraunfossar
In the vicinity of Hraunfossar, you can stay overnight in several beautiful places. For example Fosshotel Reykholt is a favorite with many people. Want to stay closer to Húsafell? Then Hótel Húsafell comes highly recommended.
Discover Iceland with a rental car
A rental car is the best way to discover Iceland. You have the time to yourself, you can stay longer in one place if you want or drive back to that beautiful sight. Personally, I always rent a car from Sunny Cars. Sunny Cars has an all-in formula which means you are always insured for everything. No hassle with extra insurance on the spot, everything is taken care of right away. Moreover, in case of damage caused by your own fault, your excess is simply refunded. Ideal right?