Öxarárfoss in June 2012
Þingvellir National Park is an important site to Icelanders. It’s where the first Parliament was set up (almost 1100 years ago), and Icelandic independence was later celebrated there (in 1944). Because of its importance, it’s been designated as one of the three sites on the Golden Circle, which also include Geysir and Gulfoss. Of the three main sites, it is probably the least busy of the three, and seems to have a calming effect. (And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, parts of season 4 were apparently filmed in the park.)
As you’re wandering around the main site, you might realize from the sound of rushing water that a waterfall is nearby, but it’s out of sight. There’s a wall of rock hiding the waterfall. Once you figure out how to get into the gap (which is actually a geologic fault line), you’ll be rewarded with Öxarárfoss. To get to the gap, there is a parking area designated specifically for the falls on Road 36. You might also try the main parking area near the lake and church, and then try and find the correct trail to walk up the rock “wall.” Parking at the designated stop is the more “obvious” option. It’s a fascinating walk south through the fault line to get to the falls. At about 40’+ tall, this waterfall can be impressive, though it might not be the first waterfall stop in Iceland with so many other larger waterfalls!
- Head to Þingvellir National Park. If you’re in Reykjavík, you can head northeast along Road 1, and then take a right onto Road 36, which leads directly into the park.
- The parking area for the falls is found on Road 36 before you come to the visitor’s center (assuming you’re coming from Reykjavík).
- Head south from the parking area along the trail to the falls.
Accessbility: 8/10 (easy/moderate)
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Öxarárfoss?
When you pull in the parking lot for Gullfoss, there is nothing to indicate (except for maybe the surprising number of cars in such a seemingly desolate place) that just around the bend is a truly spectacular waterfall. I have to admit I wasn’t really sold on Gullfoss. The pictures just didn’t seem to be that interesting.
Walking down the stairs, you still may not have any idea of the falls you’re about to see. At some point, it becomes fully apparent that this a massive waterfall. There are two separate drops, the bottom one being something about 65′ tall or so, and the upper portion at about 35′. The upper drop happens over some distance, and while far more visible, it just isn’t as impressive as the lower drop.
So much water is plunging over the falls, and so much spray is being produced that it’s extremely difficult to appreciate the true height of the lower falls. It’s almost impossible to tell that it’s 65′ tall. (Reading further, there’s a deep crevice that may help create this optical illusion.)
While Gullfoss is wild, massive, and powerful, it is also extremely popular. It is part of the Golden Circle Tour, and it is a must visit, but you will absolutely be surrounded by other people. At certain times of the day, I’m guessing people are likely to be in the picture no matter what. Just try and let the noise of the falls wash out all of the voices…it’s really not that hard!
- There are numerous different ways to get to the main road leading to the falls, Route 35. If you are headed from Reykjavík, follow route 36 east out of the city, connect onto the newly paved Route 365, then onto Route 37, and finally onto Route 35. All of these are very clearly signed. If headed from Selfoss, like I was, drive a short distance west on Route 1, the Ring Road, and then head northeast on Route 35, which is pretty much a “straight” shot.
- Once on Route 35. Essentially drive to the parking area. It will be marked, and you will also notice a sign indicating that most non-4×4 vehicles will not be able to continue along Route 35.
- Once parked, follow the other people!
Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip
Gullfoss in June 2012
Where in the World is Gulfoss?