Bjarnarfoss is a 262 ft (80 m) waterfall located in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula of the Western Region. Bjarnarfoss is one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland but receives little attention. What makes Bjarnarfoss a worthy waterfall to visit is its beautiful misty drop as it crashes onto the ground below. At the bottom of the waterfall is where the volcanic basalt columns line the cliffside. The columns look like man-made castle walls. This area, known as the Búðahraun lava fields, was formed by the now extinct Mælifell volcano. This is not to be confused with Maelifell in the Southern Region. The Western Region’s Mælifell is viewable from the waterfall and no longer active. The area and beautiful Bjarnarfoss are listed on the Nature Conservation Register.
Bjarnarfoss is translated to “Bear Waterfall,” but Iceland does not have native bear species. The name likely comes from a legend of a farmer named Bjarni or Björn, which also means bear. The farmer Björn lived near the waterfall and was very wealthy with abundant spices and gold. Björn also owned many cattle, which grazed on his land. During a winter blizzard, Björn was visited by a traveler seeking shelter from the cold. However, Björn was not hospitable and ultimately turned the visitor away. However, the visitor swore that Björn would regret this decision, and it would ultimately cost him more than he would imagine. During the following summer, Björn found all his cattle had died, while the other farmer’s cattle were healthy. Several other afflictions came upon Björn until he finally went crazy. The legend has it that he threw his money, gems, and spices into a hole below the waterfall. There is evidence of a farm being here in the past, and a silver coin was discovered at Bjarnarfoss. However, the coin was too weathered to determine its origin.
There is also what is known as a fjallkona in Bjarnarfoss. Fjallkona means “lady of the mountain” and is the personification of Iceland as a woman. At Bjarnarfoss, it is said you can see this fjallkona as the water creates a veil over her shoulders and bosom.
Length: 1.3 mi (2.1 km)
Elevation gain: 380 ft (116 m)
Route Type: Out & back
The hike to Bjarnarfoss is listed on AllTrails, and several of their community posted content. This hike is listed as a 1.3 mi (2.1 km) hike to Bjarnarfoss and back. There is a parking area for vehicles, and most of the hike has a well-maintained path. The path will lead you up to a bridge that offers some of the best views of Bjarnarfoss. Beyond the bridge, the trail is reported to get very muddy at times. The hike’s difficulty also increases past the bridge and closer to the waterfall.
Viewable from Road?: Yes
Nearest Major Town or City: Grundarfjörður
Distance from Reykjavík: 109 mi (175 km)
Bjarnarfoss is listed on Google Maps. From Reykjavík to the waterfall, the drive is less than 2 and half hours; easily manageable in a day trip. Bjarnarfoss is also only around 40 minutes away from the town Grundarfjörður. Many small towns and villages along the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, but Grundarfjörður is a famous stop for photographers for its proximity to the spiral-shaped mountain Kirkjufell and its waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss.
To get to Bjarnarfoss from the capital city, you want to take Route 1 (Vesturlandsvegur), generally heading toward the north on Iceland’s western border. This route will take you through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel. From here, you continue onto Route 1 until you reach Route 53 (Snæfellsnesvegur). You will follow Route 54 all the way to Bjarnarfoss. The waterfall only has a small sign pointing toward it, but Bjarnarfoss is clearly visible from the roadside.