About Gjarfoss and the Gjain Waterfalls
Gjarfoss and the Gjain Waterfalls (or Gjárfoss and the Gjáin Waterfalls; I think is pronounced “GYAU-in”) pertained to the handful of waterfalls that we experienced while exploring the lush garden paradise of Gjáin.
It was hard for me to put a finger on what exactly Gjáin was, but I sense that the unusually lush setting full of wildflowers, greenery, caves, and waterfalls in the desolate landscape near the Upper Þjórsárdalur Valley made this place seem like an oasis.
The word gjá means “chasm”, “ravine”, or even “fissure” according to my Icelandic dictionary, so in my mind Gjáin means nothing more than “the chasm”.
Nevertheless, aside from the unremarkable name of this place, the aforementioned Garden of Eden-like feel to this place coupled with alcoves and at least three or four waterfalls all kind of added to Gjáin’s chillaxed vibe.
As far as the waterfalls here, the main one had a two-tiered drop with a formal name called Gjárfoss (or “Chasm Falls”).
This falls featured a large scenic plunge pool while flanked by pronounced basalt columns, and I found it to be the embodiment of the paradise-like feel of Gjáin itself.
It was possible to scramble along a ledge beneath the basalt columns to reach a precarious shelf separating the waterfall’s two tiers.
In addition to Gjárfoss, there was a second lighter-flowing waterfall that came down a similar cliff of about 10m or so.
That waterfall featured an even lusher scene with lots of wildflowers and greenery fronting its drop while we were able to get even closer to its base.
Further downstream of both waterfalls was a convergence of minor cascades on the Rauðá Stream as they faced caves or deep alcoves.
Nearby this oasis of waterfalls, greenery, and the Rauðá Stream, was the Stöng Farm, which was excavated after being buried by ash and pumice for centuries.
In fact, I suspect that Stöng’s close proximity to Gjáin might have suggested that it could have been utilized at one point before the farm was abandoned.
The Stöng Farm was apparently the only archaeologically excavated structure in Iceland left from the Settlement Era that still stands above ground.
The Significance of Stöng
According to a sign here, Stöng was a farm that was originally desserted and subsequently buried by the Mt Hekla eruption in 1104.
It wasn’t until 1939 when Danish, Icelandic, and Norwegian archaeologists excavated the farm, which was the first such effort by trained professionals in Iceland.
Apparently, this discovery eventually brought about new ways of dating the artifacts through analysis of pollen and skeletal remains.
Thus, it provided some science behind the hypothetical reconstructions of what Settlement Age life was like.
This, in turn, allowed historians and scientists to further refine the incorporation of anecdotal information provided in sagas as well as classic forensics work in the field of archaeology.
In fact, Mt Hekla remains notorious for being one of the most active volcanos in Iceland as it has erupted at least once in every century except in the 1400s.
So the information gleaned from these excavations were not only helping to fill in the blanks about Icelandic heritage, but it’s also instrumental in learning about the geologic activity from the past.
Such data can then help with preparing or even predicting the next eruption that undoubtedly will leave their mark like how Eyjafjallajökull did in 2010 or even the more recent eruption on Fagradalsfjall in 2021.
There were two ways that we managed to experience Gjáin – one from a car park reached by 4wd and another by the Stöng Farm (see directions below).
When we first visited Gjáin in July 2007, we tested our 4wd vehicle by driving to the 4wd car park.
From there, it was a mere 100m jaunt down the slope into the depths of the lush area with the option to veer to the left to scramble to the large basalt alcoves (or “caves”) for an unusual perspective.
The remaining features like the main waterfalls were all within a 600m round-trip stretch so we wound up spending around 30 minutes or so to take it all in.
When we came back in August 2021, we actually started from a car park before the Rauðá Stream though some tour vehicles and ATVs were able to drive through the stream and shave off 100m or so.
From there, we walked about 400m going past a footbridge over the Rauðá Stream before reaching a trail junction, and then keeping left to go the remaining 100m or so to the Stöng Farm itself.
The farm remained somewhat half-buried so the roof (which was restored) looked like it hugged the ground, but inside the preserved farm, there were rooms flanking a main hall area.
The rooms were believed to be a living room, a pantry, and a toilet while the main area was said to be the hall.
However, the turf layers that we noticed were placed inside were not a part of the original structure.
In fact, it appeared that they were just being put here to show how many layers you have to make in order to realize turf-roofed buildings.
Examples of such turf-roofed buildings as they pertained to Stöng were on display at an exhibit called Þjóðveldisbærinn, which was situated by the base of Mt Burfell further down in Þjórsárdalur Valley.
Anyways, after having our fill of Stöng, we then returned to the main trail junction where we next followed that trail another 700m towards Gjáin along the north side of the Rauðá Stream.
From there, we descended a somewhat hidden path towards the foot of Gjárfoss and its pretty large plunge pool.
Exploring further, it was possible to scramble closer to the Rauðá Stream as we rock-hopped our way past the outflow of Gjárfoss before encountering the next familiar waterfall.
A bridge spanned the outflow stream of the sister waterfall to Gjárfoss, and we then explored a bit further on the 4wd side of the path revealing a convergence of waterfalls facing the caves and alcoves in the basalt further downstream.
Anyways, this was our turnaround point of our August 2021 visit, and we wound up hiking about 2.6km round-trip while taking around 2.5 hours to take in both the farm and the lush area before the waterfalls.
Indeed, it was worth noting that we didn’t need a 4wd to exercise the Stöng approach to Gjáin, and I’d personally recommend visiting in that manner as opposed to putting your car rental at risk on the other approach.
The Gjain Waterfalls reside in the South Region near Selfoss, Iceland. They are administered by the municipality of Rangárþing ytra. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.
There were two main ways of starting an excursion at Gjáin.
I’ll start with the easier approach using the town of Selfoss as the starting point.
From the roundabout just south of the bridge over the Ölfusá River in Selfoss, we’d continue east on the Ring Road (Austurvegur) for about 15km.
Then, we’d leave the Ring Road by turning left onto the Route 30 and follow it for about 18km before turning right onto Route 32 (Þjórsárdsvegur), where we’d follow this road for about 32km.
Next, right after the bridge over the Fossá River, we’d turn left onto Stangarvegur (there’s a sign pointing this way to Stöng), where we’d then drive the remaining 6km to the car park.
The Stöng car park was right before a footbridge, and had we kept going past it, the road would have deteriorated into a really rough and rocky 4wd road (at which point we would have known that we’ve gone too far).
Overall, this 71km drive would have taken about an hour.
Now if the desire would be to reach the 4wd car park for Stöng, then we could have continued past the car park mentioned above for another 1km where the car park would be on the left.
Alternatively, instead of driving 32km from the Route 30/32 junction to Stangarvegur, we could have continued another 10km or so before turning left onto the unpaved Road 332.
Then, after 550m, we’d turn left onto the F327 Road where we’d drive the remaining 3.5km or so to the 4wd car park for Gjáin on the right.
For geographical context, Selfoss was 37km (30 minutes drive) west of Hella, 50km (about 45 minutes drive) west of Hvolsvöllur, and 59km (about an hour drive) southeast of Reykjavík.
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