Goðafoss, Iceland

Goðafoss has an interesting history associated with it, but I’ll leave that for you to discover elsewhere.  Let’s just say that it’s an impressive waterfall, so it’s understandable that it has an importance in such a mystical place.

I had stayed the night in Akureyri (a charming city), and then started heading east.  One of the first very easy waterfalls to visit is Goðafoss!  It is just a short distance from the Ring Road.  There are two separate parking areas.  The parking lot further to the west is closer to the falls, while the eastern parking lot is closer to Geitafoss.

There are also multiple different viewpoints of the falls.  The right side of the falls (in this picture) is very easily accessed from the western parking lot.  I would include a photo from that viewpoint if I hadn’t accidentally deleted nearly every photo I took that day.  The photo below is taken on the left side of the falls.  It might actually allow for a more complete view, but it does require slightly more effort.  If you find the right spot, you can also descend to the edge of the river.  It’s definitely worth the time to explore all around the falls.

Directions:

  1. Head east on Ring Road 1 from Akureyri.
  2. Pass Road 842, and after a short distance, you will come to the parking area for Goðafoss.  If you pass Road 844.  You have gone too far.  (A roadside store is directly near 844, and is a good place to stop before continuing on the barren stretch of Ring Road 1.)

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy, hikes to other viewpoints are still relatively easy)
Height: 39′
Length of Hike: negligible

Goðafoss in June 2012

Where in the World is Goðafoss?

Magnúsarfoss, Iceland

Magnúsarfoss in June 2012

Vatnajökull National Park contains a number of beautiful waterfalls and glaciers.  Three waterfalls are found along the same river.  Hundafoss is the furthest downstream, and Svartifoss is the furthest upstream.  Magnúsarfoss is found in between (nearer Hundafoss).  (I believe there is another smaller waterfall even further downstream, but I didn’t see any clear signage.)

Magnúsarfoss isn’t anything wildly spectacular.  You aren’t extremely close to the falls, and during the summer the flies might drive you a little bit nuts.  But if you’re in the area to view the glacier and the other falls, stop by Magnúsarfoss.  It’s really a relatively easy hike, and the whole detour is definitely worth it.

Directions:

  1. The entrance to the park is at Skaftafell, which is found directly off of the ring road.  It is found east of Vík and west of Höfn.  There are scheduled buses that will take you to the park directly from Reykjavík.
  2. If you’re heading east along the Ring Road, the entrance will be found on your left.  Turn into road leading to the visitor’s center.
  3. Head to the visitor’s center, park, and get your bearings for a bit.  To your right is the glacier.  To your left is a path that leads to the set of falls.
  4. Head left on the trail.  Signs will indicate the trail to Svartifoss, which is the most popular of the three falls.
  5. Head uphill for a bit, and after passing Hundafoss (which isn’t as obvious), you’ll arrive at Magnúsarfoss.

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderate, There are some uphill, rocky portions)
Height: 32′
Length of Hike: 1.2 miles round-trip (though further to get to Svartifoss)

Where in the World is Magnúsarfoss?

Hengifoss, Iceland

A smaller waterfall near Hengifoss

Iceland has some pretty spectacular waterfalls, so it is difficult to choose one or two that really stand out as truly impressive. Hengifoss might just be at the top of the list. At just under 400′ or so, it’s a really impressive waterfall, and there are a number of other beautiful waterfalls downstream (including Litlanesfoss). It’s a truly spectacular view that has to be at the top of your list if you travel around Iceland.

I’ll have to be careful with my choice of words here. I guess the hike to the falls is simple. Once you start along the Hengifoss Track, there’s no real doubt about where to keep walking. The hike is not really easy though. On the way to Hengifoss, you’re almost constantly hiking uphill, and at points you may be right near steep drop-offs. To get close to the main attraction, you will have to traverse a short but slippery slope that is very near the roaring river…and you’re just far enough above the river that it may cause some doubts. It’s definitely possible though, and that’s coming from someone that is rather cautious in these situations. Heading back, you’ve got that same obstacle. After clearing that, it’s all downhill, and you’ll see numerous sheep along the way too.

Once you reach the falls, though, you’ll be rewarded with the amazing Hengifoss! Its height is impressive. Even at a significant distance away, the falls stand out against the landscape. I spent a significant amount of time at the falls, though, taking photographs at every possible angle. The intense red layers sandwiched between the black basalt truly made for some cool shots. While there were some other hikers, Hengifoss was also just isolated enough that I was the only one near the falls, at least for a significant amount of time.

Note: If you wonder about clothing in Iceland, dress in layers. I visited in early June, and the weather was by no means terrible. As I was hiking up the hill toward the falls, though, the wind was intense and chilly. I was glad I had more than one layer on. Near the falls, the temperature actually begins to noticeably increase as you become sheltered by the cliffs around you.

Directions:

  1. I started out at Egilsstaðir. Head south along Ring Road 1 for a few kilometers.
  2. Veer right onto Road 931, and drive for something like 17 km.
  3. At this point, I got slightly confused. You will reach a junction.  Keep going on Road 931 across the bridge spanning the very wide river.
  4. A short distance after crossing the river, veer left onto Road 933. (It gets confusing, as Road 933 is also on the other side of the river, and they are connected, though it’s a rough, rough road.)
  5. Go just a kilometer or so to the parking area for Hengifoss. It’s pretty hard to miss, and will be on your right.
  6. From the parking area, follow the Hengifoss Track.

Accessibility: 4/10
Height: 420′
Length of Hike: 3.1 miles round-trip

Hengifoss in June 2012

Where in the World is Hengifoss?

Gullfoss, Iceland

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!

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Once parked, follow the other people!

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 105′
Length of Hike: 0.4 miles round-trip

Gullfoss in June 2012

Where in the World is Gulfoss?

Stjórnarfoss, Iceland

If you’re driving west along the southern portion of the Ring Road, you might see this waterfall off in the distance.  In this case, you can easily get a more up-close view of the falls without much effort, and it’s worth it.

I particularly like the geological surroundings of Stjórnarfoss.  Iceland is a land of significant volcanic activity, and this waterfall clearly shows the products of it.  The full view is difficult to capture, but you might be able to get a sense of the intriguing volcanic rocks surrounding the falls.  Those volcanic outcroppings just suddenly cease, and the river becomes very flat, revealing the power erosion has.  While it is not the largest or the most popular falls, it is one that does have character.

Directions:

  1. The falls are easily accessible off of the Ring Road.  If I remember correctly, the system of roads right near the falls becomes just a little bit confusing for a bit, especially for such an isolated place.
  2. I was headed east on the Ring Road, and you will notice a sign on your right indicating the road to Geirland (Road 203).  Turn right on 203.  If you pass this, I believe you will end up at a gas station near a roundabout.
  3. Head a short distance, about 0.5 miles, down Road 203.  You will cross the bridge over the river, and then directly after that is a parking area for the falls.  The falls are very easy to see.
  4. Park, and decide how you would like to approach getting a closer view.  There seems to be a camping area somewhat adjacent to the falls, and you might be able to cross through that area.  I veered to the left from the parking area, and then “hiked” near the riverbed to the base of the falls.  At the base of the falls, you may not have the best views of the complete falls, so take a number of shots at intervals as you head toward the falls.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 20′
Length of Hike: 0.25 miles round-trip (to get closer to the falls)

Stjórnarfoss in June 2012

Where in the World is Stjórnarfoss?

Hundafoss, Iceland

Hundafoss in June 2012

If you’re looking for waterfalls in Iceland, the Ring Road is the best place to start.  The Ring Road encircles the island, and many waterfalls are located only a short distance from the road.  A significant number of these falls require little effort to visit.

Hundafoss does require a little more effort to visit, but not that much.  It is found in Vatnajökull National Park, which is an expansive national park covering a significant portion of Eastern Iceland. In the southern portion of the park, you will come across Skaftafell, which is right off of the Ring Road. From the visitor’s center at Skaftafell, you can take the right path to Skaftafelljökull, an impressive glacier.  If you take the left path (which is not very obvious), you’ll be heading toward a set of waterfalls.

There are at least three easily visible waterfalls along this trail, though I believe I’ve seen a fourth falls on other sites.  I’m just not sure where exactly it was, and I really didn’t spend any time searching.  The first falls you come across along the trail is Hundafoss.  It’s more impressive than one might imagine.  There is an “official” viewpoint for the falls near the crest, and that view is not particularly impressive.  But if you pay attention as you’re hiking uphill, you’ll suddenly hear water flowing, and if you look to your left, you might notice a rather well-worn detour trail that very quickly leads to a pretty impressive view of the falls.  You do have to duck down under a few trees, but it’s well worth it.  Two other falls are upstream Magnúsarfoss and Svartifoss.

Directions:

  1. The entrance to the park is at Skaftafell, which is found directly off of the ring road.  It is found east of Vík and west of Höfn.  There are scheduled buses that will take you to the park directly from Reykjavík.
  2. If you’re heading east along the Ring Road, the entrance will be found on your left.  Turn into road leading to the visitor’s center.
  3. Head to the visitor’s center, park, and get your bearings for a bit.  To your right is the glacier.  To your left is a path that leads to the set of falls.
  4. Head left on the trail.  Signs will indicate the trail to Svartifoss, which is the most popular of the three falls.
  5. Head uphill for a bit, and you may begin to hear water flowing.  Look for the unofficial trail to your left, and try and find the falls.  (If you head a little further up the trail, and you see the sign indicating Hundafoss near its crest, you can backtrack a short distance to find this other short trail.)

Accessibility: 6/10 (moderate, There are some uphill, rocky portions)
Height: 82′
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip (though it’s more to Svartifoss)

Where in the World is Hundafoss?

Glymur, Iceland

Glymur in June 2012

It’s taken me a while to get to writing about the waterfalls I’ve visited in Iceland, considering that I visited this falls, for example, almost two weeks ago.  But I’m finally getting around to it…

I’m starting with Glymur for a number of reasons.  First of all, it is a really impressive waterfall, and at about 640′, it is likely the tallest waterfall in Iceland.  Second, though, is that things seem to have changed very recently, at least in terms of the hike to the falls.  In Iceland, roads that are unpaved can only a short time later be paved, and signs can appear where none were before.

You’ll have to go out of your way to get to Glymur.  The drive around Hvalfjörður (instead of under it) is rather enjoyable, though it wasn’t very warm the day I visited the area.  Once you find the sign indicating the road to the falls, you have a journey down a rather bumpy, unpaved road, but it’s not terribly long, and only about 1 mile of it is very bumpy. (It can be done in a 2-WD car without any problem.)

I arrived at the parking area, and I was the only one there at that point, though it was relatively early.  It was amazingly peaceful, and you’re unlikely to find many other attractions in Iceland with so few people.  Previous guides have indicated that there are no signs indicating the direction to the falls, but that has now changed.  There are at least two signs indicating the correct trail to follow to the falls, and they’re not rinky-dinky little signs.  This helps greatly, and cuts down on the confusion.  If you’re unsure, though, looking for rocks with yellow paint on them. That indicates where the trail is, and further reduces the confusion.

After some ways, you’ll climb down through a cave, which is pretty cool, and not nearly as freaky as it sounds.  You’ll then hike a short distance, and cross the river Botnsá.  There is a log, along with a sturdy metal wire, to help you cross the river.  Again, it’s nowhere near as difficult as it sounds, though you will feel like an acrobat for a bit.

Then you start an upward climb.  How far up you climb depends on what you want to see and how daring you are.  Ropes and/or metal wire is present in many places to assist you along the sometimes slippery slopes.  At some point along the journey, you’ll begin to see the “whole” falls, though even that depends on where you stand.  I’ve seen pictures that people have obtained by hiking/climbing much higher, but this requires a love of heights that I don’t possess.  At least at some point along this upward journey, you can see a “glimmer” of the whole falls, which are really impressive.

There do seem to be paths that lead further up, and I did not explore those.  One of those might lead to better views, but be careful.  There also seems to be a trail that does not require going through the cave or crossing the river, but it is not clearly marked if it exists, and the views are apparently not as good.

Directions:

  1. If you’re headed from Reykjavik, head north on the Ring Road (Route 1).  Just before the Hvalfjörður tunnel, you’ll see a sign indicating Road 47.  Take a right onto Road 47.
  2. Drive along Road 47 for a ways.  Along the road, you’ll pass another waterfall, Sjávarfoss.
  3. After driving about 34 km and crossing a paved bridge, you should almost immediately see a blue sign indicating the road to Glymur.  Turn right.
  4. Drive for about 3 km to the end of the parking area.  It can be a bumpy ride, so drive slowly.
  5. Start the hike to the trail.  Follow the signs and the yellow rocks to guide you.  If you pass through the cave and cross the river, you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction.

Accessibility: 3/10 (moderate/difficult…it’s by no means terrible, but this hike does require some agility)
Height: 640′
Legnth of Hike: 3.1 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Glymur?