Gullfoss

Gullfoss from the walking trail

ABOUT Gullfoss

In volume, Gullfoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. The average water flow is around 49,441 ft³/s during its peak season of summer and only 2,825 ft³/s during the winter season. Gullfoss is fed from the wide Hvítá river as it travels from Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. During a flood of the Hvítá river, Gullfoss broke records at a water flow of 70,629.33 ft³/s.

Gullfoss has two tiers of falls, with a total of them standing together at the height of 105 ft (32 m). The upper falls measure at 36 ft, and the bottom falls at 69 ft.

Gullfoss is known for its power, but also its beauty. In Icelandic, Gullfoss translates to “Golden Waterfall.” You can see this golden fall on a sunny day. The water on Gullfoss often reflects the sunlight and gives the waterfall a golden hue. Not only that, but rainbows are often seen in the clouds of mist Gullfoss creates.

Gullfoss ravine

Another unique feature about Gullfoss is the Gullfossgjúfur canyon that the water surges down to. The canyon extends perpendicular to the upper Hvítá river and grows around  25 cm long every year due to erosion. Its walls reach upwards of 230 ft. It is believed that Gullfossgjúfur was formed from flooding at the end of the last Ice Age. The canyon

Gullfoss’s raw power and beauty combined to make this waterfall the most popular waterfall in Iceland. This waterfall is a core point of interest on the famous Golden Circle tour route.

History of Gullfoss

The history of Gullfoss wraps around the story of Sigridur Tomasdottir. In 1974, Sidridur was born in Brattholt, where she lived her whole life. She lived a quiet life on a farm with her sisters, and they loved the waterfalls that fell onto their land. Their quiet life was sometimes interrupted as visitors worldwide would come to see Gullfoss, although tourism was nowhere near the volume of today’s standards. The sisters enjoyed the visitors and acted as a guide. They were credited with making the first public trail to Gullfoss. 

Unfortunately, the waterfall also attracted those who wanted to use Gullfoss as a means for electrical productions. Sigridur’s father, Tómas Tómasson, rejected the offers of those who tried to buy the land, and it is said that he refused by saying, “I do not sell my friends.” Ultimately financiers were able to get their hands on Gullfoss, and this is where Sigridur’s mission began.

Sigríður Tómasdóttir Memorial
Photo by Luc Van Braekel

Sigridur did not have any formal education, but her opponents were wealthy and powerful men, both domestic and foreign. She marched many times, at the expense of her health, to Reykjavik to protest the plant. Eventually, hope was lost, and in a desperate measure, she threatened to through herself into the waterfall. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead, she was able to gain support from others and acquired a lawyer named Sveinn Bjornsson, who helped have the plant’s contract annulled, and Gullfoss became an official state property of  Iceland. Sveinn Bjornsson later became the first president of Iceland.

Sveinn Bjornsson passed away in 1957, and his grave can be found at the Haukadalur cemetery. She is now known as the savior of Gullfoss and Iceland’s first environmentalist. In 1979, Gullfoss was declared as a nature reserve to protect the waterfall’s natural beauty.

Gullfoss early morning

Hiking at Gullfoss

Gullfoss is made accessible with an easy walking path. AllTrails does have a hiking trail of 1.2 mi, but this is more a leisurely walking path around Gullfoss and the entirety of its facilities. Gullfoss can be viewed from many angles on the trail, but it has two main viewpoints. The lower perspective will take you along the edge of the canyon walls to a position between the two tiers of falls. The higher viewpoint right above, the lower, but on the upper ridgeline of the canyon.

This area is family-friendly and generally safe, but it is recommended to hold your children’s hand. 

Directions:

  • Gullfoss is well marked and easily accessible with Google Maps
  • The drive from Reykjavik will be around 1 hour and 42 mins.
  • The route Google Maps offers is part of the Golden Circle route that you can find on many tours.
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