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Gaze Out Over the Glacial Glory of Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

Published by Tammy Burns, Writer

Country: Iceland

The Experience

When you first arrive at Gullfoss (translated as the “Golden Falls”), you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. You approach from the top, down river from where the falls drop off, and as you draw nearer, it looks like a small, albeit pretty, waterfall. You’ll probably think it seems a bit disappointing to be the most famous waterfall in Iceland, but then as you walk closer, you’ll suddenly realize that the falling water just… disappears. That is, until you step closer still and the ground abruptly opens in front of you, leaving you peering down at a thunderous rush of water and a very steep, very narrow, very startling drop.

Gullfoss waterfall is on the Hvítá river, and is part of the famous Golden Circle – a popular daytrip from Reykjavik that includes Þingvellir National Park and Geysir. As the furthest point from Reykjavik, it’s usually the final stop people make while touring the area, and it leaves a lasting impression.

The Gullfoss first drops over a wide cascade, weaving around and over chunks of black rock, before shifting to the opposite direction and falling a further 32 metres into a narrow canyon. While the drop is impressive, it’s the force of so much water being squeezed into such a thin ravine that gives the Golden Falls their awesome power. The rush of water is deafening, and when the sun is right, rainbows appear in the mist over the falls.

A pathway leads down to a rocky outcrop at the base of the first cascade, where visitors can get so close they could lean over and dip their fingers into the water if they so wished (not recommended!). The path is steep and slippery and the falls are hypnotizing as they gush past. A slim piece of rope is all that acts as a handrail down the path along Gullfoss waterfall, not offering much comfort in the way of protection. The viewing area is always filled with a mix of people – those daring themselves to stand on the edge of the Gullfoss, and those pressed up against the rocky walls of the canyon, too scared to move.

Amazingly, the beauty of the Golden Falls was almost destroyed in the 1920s, when the Icelandic government partnered with a private developer and planned to turn the waterfall into a hydroelectric power plant. The landowner, Tomas Tomasson, refused to sell, despite the offers he had received from numerous developers who had lusted over the falls for years. In 1907, one Englishman offered 50 times what Tomasson’s farmhouse was worth, to which Tomasson famously replied, “I won’t sell my friend.”

When the government ignored Tomasson and stepped in with their own plans for Gullfoss waterfall, Tomasson’s daughter Sigridur set out on a pilgrimage to save her father’s land. She walked all the way to Reykjavik, where she threatened to throw herself over the falls if the development went through. Despite her threat, the government refused to back down, until, in 1928, the developer failed to pay the rental fee and the project fell through. In 1975, the land was donated to the Icelandic Nature Conservation Council. Since then, Gullfoss has been preserved as a national park.

When to Go to Gullfoss Waterfall

The best time to visit Gullfoss is from May to August as Iceland's weather is at its warmest, the days are at their longest, and all tourist accommodations are up and running. Of course, it also means it's when the country is at its busiest. If you prefer less crowds, but still want the convenience of mild weather and long days, visit in late April or early September. Just be warned that many hotels and restaurants in the smaller towns only operate during peak tourist season.

For those willing to brave the cold weather, Gullfoss waterfall is stunning in the winter, when sections of the falls turn to ice crystals, and the entire area is blanketed in snow. Of course, that also means the path to the falls (slippery even in summer) is exceptionally treacherous and requires extra caution.

Gullfoss makes up part of the Golden Circle - an area that includes Þingvellir National Park and Geysir, and is a popular daytrip from Reykjavik. Give yourself a full day to take in all that the Golden Circle has to offer.

Odds n' Ends

There is no entrance fee to see Gullfoss, so your only costs will be hiring a car rental or tour group to take you. The entire Golden Circle is an easy and scenic drive from Reykjavik.

The path to the Golden Falls is steep and slippery – especially if there is a strong mist – and the only thing between you and the falls is a thin piece of rope to hold onto. Tread carefully.

Carpe Diem! Book to do this experience now!

The tour begins with a visit to the Nesjavellir power plant, a geothermal area in the picturesque landscape of Lake Thingvallavatn (this part of the ...
Starting from $72.03 per person.

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