Gullfoss waterfall is a very popular destination in Iceland. Gullfoss, or “golden falls” in Icelandic, owes its name to the rainbow that paints the sky above the water as soon as the sun comes out.
Gullfoss in winter
Gullfoss was declared a nature reserve in 1979. Iceland is after all the country of waterfalls and Gullfoss is among the most beautiful in the land so they have every reason to protect it.
Gullfoss is on the Hvítá river, the water flowing from the large Langjökull glacier, and is in fact a succession of two waterfalls, the first 11 meters and the second 21 meters tall. The Hvítá rushes into a ravine, its flanks tall basaltic organs, to form the Gullfoss waterfall for a total drop of 32 meters and a lip 70 meters wide.
The waterfall cascades over two huge shelves and any ray of sun creates a rainbow over it, which explains its charm and reputation. This eternal rainbow is simply due to the misted water that is pumped out of the gorge as the water thunders onto the stone. One can even spot Gullfoss from afar even before arriving at the car park thanks to the huge plume of mist hanging over the fall.
Gullfoss seen from above from the top car park
Although half as powerful as Dettifoss in the north, its flow is nevertheless impressive, with an average of 130 m² per second. You won't believe the deafening roar of the fall crashing below as it reverberates through the canyon like thunder.
Gullfoss is a very popular tourist attraction on site and has all amenities you could need. There are two large parking lots, an information center, a souvenir shop and a restaurant of excellent reputation.
The upper car park overviews the site and is a good first stop for photographers. The lower car park a footbridge allows you to get as close as possible to the fall. The small platform near Gullfoss is a very good place to set up a tripod as well, but make sure your gear is rain-proof as the misted water is a constant.
As it is very often the case in Iceland, Gullfoss has a fascinating history. in the early 20th century, entrepreneurs wanted to caitalize on the power of this river and build a hydroelectric dam.
The consequence would have been disastrous for the waterfall since Gullfoss would have simply disappeared. But Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, who owned the property at the time, threatened to throw herself into the waterfall in protest. Her dedication to conserving the land was as inspiring as it was dramatic and the project was mercifully cancelled.
A memorial stands proud at Gullfoss in her honor and Sigríður Tómasdóttir is considered to be the country's very first environmentalist.
Another legend about Gullfoss explains the name “Golden Falls”. While the rainbow explanation is one theory, another makes for a much better tale. It's the story of a rich farmer named Gygur who lived on a nearby farm at the time. Gygur was such a miser that he couldn't bear the idea of giving his well-earned fortune to anyone else after his death. Instead he decided to throw all his gold into the waterfall, and it would be this gold that gave the waterfall its name.
Gullfoss can be visited all year round. Even in winter the road to Gullfoss almost always open, but for more information on road conditions, it is recommended that you check http://www.road.is before heading there in the cold months.
Whatever your mode of transport, getting to Gullfoss is very easy. A traditional passenger car get you safely to Gullfoss on route 35 from Reykjavík in 1 hour and 45 minutes (Reykjavík - Gullfoss: approximately 120 km by car). The falls are located just 10 km from Geysir.
Bus line 610 will take you to Gullfoss from Reykjavík.
For visitors on foot you can, regardless of the season, find excursions to the Golden Circle and therefore to Gullfoss; here are a few suggestions:
As this is probably the most visited site in the country today, it is a busy place, especially in summer. If possible, it is strongly recommended to come there at the end of the day or before 10AM to avoid the tourist crowds.
In winter, even if the road to the site is clear, the path down to the waterfall is very slippery and sometimes even completely frozen over as the mist layers everything with water. If considered too dangerous, the site organisers will close the trail.
Different types of accommodation are very close to Gullfoss such that you can admire the fall quietly in the evening or very early in the morning.
The Gullfoss hotel has an excellent reputation and is located only 4 km from the site, and has the advantage of being the closest
Nearby, another type of accommodation for smaller budgets but with excellent value, the Gljásteinn Skálinn Hostel is a youth hostel and is only a 5-minute drive away.
Finally, a bit more secluded south of the falls but about 20 minutes away, the Jaðar Holiday House is ideal for families as it is a spacious holiday home.
Finally, you should know that the famous Geysir site, less than 10 minutes away by car, has accommodations nearby as well.
For camping enthusiasts, there are two campsites near Gullfoss: