Waterfall in Iceland
Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland.
Number of drops: 2
Location: Southwest Iceland
Average flow rate: 140 m3/s
Watercourse: Hvítá, Árnessýsla
Longest drop: 21 m
About Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is an iconic waterfall of Iceland offering a spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature. Gullfoss is part of the Golden Circle tour, located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) River which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. On a sunny day, shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.
Gullfoss is more than just a pretty waterfall, it has a story to tell. In the early 20th century foreign investors wanted to harness the power of Gullfoss to produce electricity. In 1907 Howells, an Englishman wanted to buy Gullfoss from Tómas Tómasson, a farmer who owned Gullfoss at this time. Tómas declined Howells´ offer to buy the waterfall but later he leased it to him. The farmer´s daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir who grew up on his father´s sheep farm sought to have the rental contract voided. Sigriður using her own saving hired a lawyer in Reykjavik to defend her case.
The trial lasted years and Sigriður went several times barefoot on traitorous terrain to Reykjavik to follow up on her case. She even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if the construction would begin. Her attempts failed in court but before any damage was done to the waterfall the contract was disposed of due to the lack of payments of the rent fee. The struggles of Sigriður to preserve the waterfall brought to people´s attention the importance of preserving nature and therefore she is often called Iceland´s first environmentalist.
In 1940 the adopted son of Sigriður acquired the waterfall from Sigriður´s father and later sold it to the Icelandic government. Gullfoss and its environs were designated as the nature reserve in 1979 to permanently protect the waterfall and allow the public to enjoy this unique area.
Gullfoss’s origin is in the glacier lake Hvítávatn at Lángjökull glacier. Due to the sediment from glaciers, the water has a brownish color. Gullfoss is sometimes called the “Golden Falls” because when the sun shines on the water, it can take on a golden hue. Sadly, the day I visited, the sun was nowhere to be seen.
Gullfoss has actually contained two waterfalls, the upper fall drops about 11 meters (26 feet) and the second drops 21 meters (68 feet). You can see both of the falls from several different viewpoints at different levels.Just make sure you are ready to get wet from the mist and be careful on the slippery rocks. I saw plenty of people have some pretty terrifying slips while standing precariously close to the edge.
How to get to Gullfoss Waterfall?
Gullfoss Waterfall is a part of the famous Golden Circle Route in Iceland. Gullfoss Waterfall is in the Haukadalur Valley, on the river Hvita (e. White River). Since Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most popular waterfall the route is well marked.
Its distance from Reykjavik is about 113km (70 miles) from Reykjavík. From Reykjavik, follow the ring road east for about 54km (33 miles), then turn off for Route 35. Follow that route until you reach a big parking lot next to a visitor center.
When to Get There
On sunny days, the mist from the falls creates rainbows that make for spectacular photos. Visit in winter to see the falls sparkle with ice.
Discovering an Icelandic Legend
In the first half of the 20th century, the then-owners of the waterfall and surrounding land leased the site to foreign investors who were keen to build a hydroelectric plant. Legend has it that local Sigridur Tomasdottir loved Gullfoss so much that she walked to Reykjavik barefoot in protest of the plant, thus making her point heard and stopping the construction. She is credited with saving the falls, and you can find a memorial stone placed in her honor at Gullfoss. She and her sisters built the first set of steps to give visitors access to the falls.
Gullfoss – The Golden Falls
Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 meters and the lower one 21 meters. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period.
Water flows over Gullfoss at an average rate of 109 cubic meters per second. The heaviest floods jökulhlaup (glacial outbursts) have recorded a flow of 2000 cubic meters per second. During the summer the flow is 130 cubic meters per second, which would take only 3 seconds to fill the building nearby showing tourists the history around Gullfoss.
Facts Gullfoss Waterfall
- Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the southwest corner of Iceland.
- It is situated on the Canyon of Hvita River or the White River.
- Gullfoss means “Golden Waterfall” in Icelandic.
- On a sunny day, the water takes a golden-brown color. This is due to the fact that it is glacial water, and carries lots of sediments that glacial ice has carved off the Earth over the years.
- The total cumulative height of the waterfall is 32 meters (105 feet) – this is actually split into two waterfalls. The upper waterfall has a drop of 11 meters (36 feet), while the lower waterfall has a drop of 21 meters (69 feet).
- The flow of the river from the regular rains and the glacial runoff, particularly in summer, makes Gullfoss the largest volume falls in Europe.
- Its water can flow at an approximate 80 cubic meters (2,825 cubic feet) per second during winter to about 140 cubic meters (4,944 cubic feet) per second during summer. The highest flood measured was 2,000 cubic meters (70,629 cubic feet) per second.
- The hard rock on top is lava rock which comes from the volcanoes in Iceland because it is situated on the edge of the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. In fact, Iceland is the only place in the world where you can see the plates on the earth’s surface.
- The lower rock is made of Moraine which is a type of multi-layered sediment rock which has been collected by the glacier and then deposited as the glacier moved along.
- Gullfoss is an example of a waterfall forming where the water has followed a fissure in the lava rock and carved a passageway through it.
- As one first approach the falls, the crevice is obscured from view, so that it appears that a mighty river simply vanishes into the earth.
- The land surrounding Gullfoss is about 200 meters above sea level.
- The area is blessed with lush vegetation beginning from lichens on rocks to small blueberry shrubs, and ending in wooly Willows as its finale.
- Rainbows often crown the majestic sight of the Gullfoss falls.