The thunder of tons of water endlessly falling onto the riverbed below. The spray of fine, cool mist swirling in the air. The constant power, strong enough to alter the landscape yet somehow silken soft. A waterfall is an wonderful experience!
Here in Iceland we bring you close to some of the most beautiful waterfalls, or foss, on earth. Dettifoss, or Fallling Falls, made famous in movies like Prometheus, is Europe’s strongest. Skógarfoss, or Forest Falls, is said to conceal a hidden treaure ~ a chest of gold and wealth sits behind its extreme veil. The waters of Goðafoss, or Gods Falls, are watched over by lava formations that have commanded respect for over a millennia. And of course Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, with its wide and graceful tiers poses picture perfect for visitors in all seasons. And in between these beauties, silver lining the bare mountains, are tens of thousands of smaller foss, most with titles and a story or two behind them. Some are seasonal, appearing together with the spring thaws, but others remain the year round, freezing into odd winter shapes. But all bring us drop by drop back into touch with our most precious of resources: pure mountain glacial water.
Though a natural feature of the landscape it’s somehow captured the hearts and imaginations of countless thousands of people, and has become a must-see for both visitors and locals alike. Its beautiful tiered drop has a gentle, soothing power and whatever the weather is always mesmerizing, even if suspended sculpture-still in winter.
After a scenic drive northward from the main highway, Route 1through winding hills and easy landscapes, Gullfoss is concealed from view until the very last minute, tucked as it’s down into a river gorge. For the first time visitor particularly, arriving at the edge of the gorge gives a sense of discovery – even though there may be people around you, there’s a feeling that yours are the very first eyes to witness the fall’s beauty. Close-up and enveloped in its mists, or at a distance on a viewing platform, Gullfoss is a joy to behold!
Imagine standing just feet away from the most thunderous waterfall in Europe, and one of the most complete impressive falls on earth. Peering down from the lip of the falls, the river below is not possible to see through a gigantic billow of ice-cold mist, and a sense of justified vertigo may even take hold. You see that you might also look as daredevil to them!
In the north of Iceland, it’s some km off the main highway through a barren landscape and a brief hike from the parking lot, but seeing its majesty is worth every second it takes to arrive. Choose the eastern side or western (which is an easier drive on a paved road) – you won’t be disappointed!
It’s possible that each and every individual has envisioned, at some point in their lives, walking behind a powerful waterfall. There’s a sense of deep mystery behind the endless curtain of mist and water that comprises a falls, and the knowledge that it’s practically impossible to stop the flow makes wanting to see behind it all the more compelling. The magic of Seljalandsfoss is that you can do just that! Seen from the southern main highway, the drops look like any other traditional ribbon of shining water, dropping over 200 feet down from a volcanic cliff. Just that alone makes it attractive.
But up close something amazing comes to light: there is a clear and easy, albeit muddy, path that curves up and around the falling water on a wide inset ledge many yards behind it, overhung with raw rock from which small plants and mosses grow. The photo opportunities are amazing, particularly as the summer sun sits low on the horizon, shining in past the decoration of water, but in any season or time of day there is that special sense of fantasy at listening to the thundering falls from firmly behind them.
While some few waterfalls are possible to go behindothers maintain their secrets and treasures more closely. Skógafoss is one of them. In the old days of yore, a chest of gold was hidden in a cave behind the falls by one of the original settlers, a guy named Thrasi (Þrasi). His treasure glitters bright when the sun hits it right, but nobody yet has been able to recover any of it but a curcular manage that sits today in the historical musem close by. Knowing that generations of locals have wondered about the treasure adds to the drops appeal.
For many, Skógafoss is the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. Contrary to the gorge-style falls that can not be viewed from the road, Skógafoss gleams and drops broad and gorgeous from a high cliff and on a flat and easy riverbed below. There’s a fantastic set of stairs just to the side that take you to a viewing platform on top and the beginning of a well-used hiking path, and down below again you are welcome to get as near the thundering water as you would like – though beware the continuous spray of icy glacial water!
It’s not hard to envision the Old Gods at Goðafoss, itself named in honor of the two that stand sentinal, suspended in stone, on either bank of the drops. This is one of these waterfalls that you simply don’t expect after miles of drive over high rolling heaths. That means it is not visible until you are right up near it, when it needs to be seen and experienced.
The story goes that in the year 1000 AD, when Iceland officially accepted the Christian religion, the locals pitched their pagan idols into the falls as a symbolic gesture. Considering that the almost-mythical lava formations that appear to stand sentinel over the broad and beautiful falls, and that the Old Ways were not actually forgone from the people, it appears appropriate that this waterfall was chosen for the task. Admirers can approach the drops from either side, with well-signed walking paths as guides. It’s the perfect place for a picnic along the northern principal highway, and historically important too!
Just like a fine silver veil, the Dynjandi waterfall flows softly down a rough mountainside in the West Fjords in tiers. Seemingly the only bright spot along a long barren cliff, even from a distance it beckons the traveler closer, and when attained is more beautiful than you’d ever expect. It starts out as a classic glacial river toppling off the edge of a remote heath, but widens into a spectactular occasion as it spills forth over the layers of horizontal ridges below, forming again into a river before spilling off lower ledges in more compact forms and eventually out to sea.
Getting to this spectacle of nature is not simple – the West Fjords themselves are remote, originally only accessible via boat, and still most easily traveled to with the ferry which runs into the norther edge of the wide Breiðafjörður bay. From there, it’s a mind-bending drive in and out of fjords, along some of the earliest and most scenic landscapes in Iceland. Imagine, after hours of cliffs and sea, witnessing the wonder of a 330 foot high bridal veil of water widening out over a rugged mountainside, and hiking along its banks, feeling its cool mists and hearing its secret whispers. This is the Iceland you came to find: distant and full of wonder!
At the end of a long, deep and incredibly beautiful fjord is the waterfall Glymur, the greatest falls in the nation. From a high escarpment, like a thin ribbon it falls 650 feet into the river below, which feeds into Hvalfjörður, only a short distance north from Reykjavík. It’s not something that you can see from the road that winds through the fjord – there are three paths that lead to it, but the one which provides the best view of the falls in its entirety takes a good 2 hour-long vertiginous hike. But once there, the journey is worth the effort.
Surrounded by the mystery that is Hvalfjörður, or Whale Fjord, and the silence of an area that was formerly the only road to the north (the Hvalfjörður tunnel now redirects most traffic) there is a sense of escaping to a past Iceland, at once super close to the bustle of town and very quite distant from everything. Glýmur is a natural phenomenon that’s all about the adventure you have to discover it, and the sense of achievement upon arrival. Getting there’s not for the faint of heart, but is worth every moment of the beautiful journey!