Gjarfoss and the Gjain Waterfalls

Thjorsardalur / Interior, South Region (Suðurland), Iceland

About Gjarfoss and the Gjain Waterfalls


Hiking Distance: at least 2km round trip (from Stong); about 500m round trip (from 4wd car park)
Suggested Time: about 1-2 hours (from Stong); allow at least 30 minutes (from 4wd car park)

Date first visited: 2007-07-08
Date last visited: 2021-08-20

Waterfall Latitude: 64.15147
Waterfall Longitude: -19.73648

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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.

Gjain_015_07082007 - One of the waterfalls in Gjáin
One of the waterfalls in Gjáin

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.

Gjain_101_08202021 - Looking towards Gjárfoss from the somewhat narrow scramble before the basalt columns next to the waterfall
Looking towards Gjárfoss from the somewhat narrow scramble before the basalt columns next to the waterfall

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.

Gjain_142_08202021 - Looking down across the colorful plunge pool beneath Gjárfoss towards the neighboring basalt columns
Looking down across the colorful plunge pool beneath Gjárfoss towards the neighboring basalt columns

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.

Gjain_042_08202021 - Looking back at the partially-buried Settlement Age farm of Stöng
Looking back at the partially-buried Settlement Age farm of Stöng

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.

Stong_002_jx_07082007 - Inside the Stöng farm, which was a historical landmark in Thjorsardalur (Þjórsárdalur) Valley very close to Gjáin
Inside the Stöng farm, which was a historical landmark in Thjorsardalur (Þjórsárdalur) Valley very close to Gjáin

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.

Experiencing Gjáin

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).

Gjain_001_07082007 - Looking down from the 4wd car park at the lush rift at Gjáin before descending further into this little slice of Eden
Looking down from the 4wd car park at the lush rift at Gjáin before descending further into this little slice of Eden

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.

Gjain_037_08202021 - Closeup look at the turf layers on display inside the Stöng Farm though they weren't part of the original structure that was here during Iceland's Settlement Era
Closeup look at the turf layers on display inside the Stöng Farm though they weren’t part of the original structure that was here during Iceland’s Settlement Era

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.

Gjain_071_08202021 - Looking across the Rauðá from the north side towards the 4wd car park side with hidden cascades down below
Looking across the Rauðá from the north side towards the 4wd car park side with hidden cascades down below

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.

Gjain_150_08202021 - Looking over a convergence of cascades and waterfalls on the Rauðá towards what looks to be lava caves or alcoves
Looking over a convergence of cascades and waterfalls on the Rauðá towards what looks to be lava caves or alcoves

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.

Authorities

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.

Drive_to_Hjalparfoss_003_iPhone_08202021 - Looking back at the fairly tame unpaved road leading to Stöng from the bridge near the Fossá River on the Route 32, which made for a viable alternate to the F332 4wd road to Gjáin
Gjain_005_08202021 - Looking upstream along the Rauðá Stream from the footbridge on the way to Stöng. Notice that tour bus had already driven across the stream
Gjain_009_08202021 - Mom doing the short uphill walk leading to both Stöng and the trail junction for Gjáin during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_012_08202021 - Looking back at the bus and footbridge showing how far we had walked to get to the Stöng entrance in August 2021
Gjain_018_08202021 - Approaching the entrance to the seemingly half-buried Stöng Farm as seen in August 2021
Gjain_025_08202021 - The front of the Stöng Farm
Gjain_029_08202021 - Looking down the hall inside the farm house of Stöng
Gjain_038_08202021 - Angled look across the hall inside the Stöng Farm during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_039_08202021 - Looking down at what appeared to be a donation bin at the Stöng Farm as seen in August 2021
Gjain_043_08202021 - Looking back at the Stöng Farm after having our fill of it as we now started to pursue Gjáin during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_051_08202021 - Closeup look at some blooming wildflowers alongside the connecting trail to Gjáin from Stöng in August 2021
Gjain_057_08202021 - Context of Mom on the connector trail from Stöng to Gjáin during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_065_08202021 - Looking across the Rauðá as we were starting to enter the lush Eden of Gjáin during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_066_08202021 - Some parts of the connector trail between Stöng and Gjáin actually provided some degree of shade on our August 2021 visit
Gjain_078_08202021 - Mom descending a somewhat hidden path leading to the base of Gjárfoss as seen during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_082_08202021 - Looking across the serene plunge pool of the Gjárfoss Waterfall in August 2021
Gjain_092_08202021 - Mom and another couple looking across the emerald green plunge pool fed by Gjárfoss in August 2021
Gjain_103_08202021 - Looking alongside the basalt columns as I was doing the narrow and slippery scramble towards the shelf splitting the two tiers of Gjárfoss
Gjain_105_08202021 - Context of Gjárfoss and the basalt columns beside it as seen during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_106_08202021 - Looking across the drop of Gjárfoss from its precarious bench after doing a narrow and slippery scramble to get here during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_113_08202021 - Looking directly downstream right into the emerald green plunge pool beneath Gjárfoss as seen in August 2021 visit
Gjain_115_08202021 - Looking behind Gjárfoss from as far back as I was willing to go during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_127_08202021 - Looking across the plunge pool before Gjárfoss while another couple attempts the steep and slippery scramble to get to the precarious bench between the waterfall's two main tiers
Gjain_132_08202021 - After having our fill of Gjárfoss, we then walked beneath this wall of basalt cliffs to explore more of Gjáin
Gjain_135_08202021 - Looking back upstream past an intermediate cascade towards a partial view of Gjárfoss on our August 2021 visit
Gjain_137_08202021 - While exploring the rest of Gjáin, I noticed a bluff that I could climb onto for this elevated view of Gjárfoss. Notice how there was a couple making the precarious scramble back from the shelf beneath the basalt and back towards the near side of the large plunge pool
Gjain_139_08202021 - Looking down at Mom still checking out the colorful plunge pool before Gjárfoss from the bluff that I was standing on during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_145_08202021 - Mom going across the Rauðá downstream of Gjárfoss over a series of large rocks to hop across during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_152_08202021 - Another look back at the Rauðá towards the segment of stream coming from Gjárfoss during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_156_08202021 - Unlike the rock hop that we did to cross one segment of the Rauðá, this segment downstream of another waterfall had a bridge across its stream during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_162_08202021 - Mom checking out the other waterfall from the footbridge over its segment of the Rauðá on our August 2021 visit
Gjain_164_08202021 - Another look upstream at across a bridge towards the companion waterfall in Gjáin during our August 2021 visit
Gjain_183_08202021 - Looking downstream over some lower cascades on the Rauðá towards some caves or alcoves on our August 2021 visit
Gjain_197_08202021 - Looking upstream across a convergence of lower cascades on the Rauðá deep within Gjáin as seen in August 2021
Gjain_205_08202021 - Mom doing some exploring nearby the alcove and caves in the lower part of Gjáin on our August 2021 visit
Gjain_225_08202021 - I noticed this interesting mushroom while hiking back from Gjáin after having our fill of it in August 2021
Gjain_226_08202021 - Another pronounced umbrella mushroom seen on our way out of Gjáin towards the conclusion of our August 2021 visit
Gjain_232_08202021 - Looking downstream on the Rauðá from the footbridge nearby the car park for Stöng to end off our August 2021 visit
Gjain_007_07082007 - Julie entering Gjáin from the 4wd car park during our first time here in July 2007
Gjain_002_07082007 - Focused on the waterfall to the left, which I'd learn later was the Gjárfoss as seen in July 2007
Gjain_010_07082007 - Context of Julie continuing to descend into Gjáin during our July 2007 visit
Gjain_012_07082007 - Inside the rift zone looking downstream towards some funky formations and caves during our July 2007 visit
Gjain_014_07082007 - Closer look at one of the caves or alcoves within the rift at Gjáin during our July 2007 visit
Gjain_017_07082007 - Looking directly at one of the waterfalls at Gjáin during our July 2007 visit
Gjain_024_07082007 - Looking across an idyllic plunge pool fronting one of the waterfalls in Gjáin during our July 2007 visit
Gjain_026_07082007 - Direct look at the left Gjain Waterfall with wildflowers as seen in July 2007
Stong_002_07082007 - After visiting Gjáin, we drove to the car park closer to Stöng, where we then checked out this historic farm.  That's Julie entering Stöng during our July 2007 visit
Stong_006_jx_07082007 - Closer look at the entrance of Stöng as seen in July 2007


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.

Drive_to_Stong_016_iPhone_08202021 - Driving the unpaved Stangavegur, which was actually tame enough to even support 2wd vehicles to access Stöng and eventually Gjáin
Driving the unpaved Stangavegur, which was actually tame enough to even support 2wd vehicles to access Stöng and eventually Gjáin

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).

Gjain_001_08202021 - Although we saw this ATV drive across the Rauðá Stream, we didn't have to do it since there was a footbridge spanning the stream from the car park where this photo was taken on our August 2021 visit. By the way, if you continue past that turnoff, the Stangarvegur becomes a really rough and rocky 4wd road that 2wd vehicles definitely can't nor shouldn't bother with
Although we saw this ATV drive across the Rauðá Stream, we didn’t have to do it since there was a footbridge spanning the stream from the car park where this photo was taken on our August 2021 visit. By the way, if you continue past that turnoff, the Stangarvegur becomes a really rough and rocky 4wd road that 2wd vehicles definitely can’t nor shouldn’t bother with

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.

Gjain_002_08202021 - Mom leaving the car park and about to traverse the Rauðá over a sturdy footbridge with the red-roofed Stöng in the distance
Mom leaving the car park and about to traverse the Rauðá over a sturdy footbridge with the red-roofed Stöng in the distance

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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Brief sweep from right to left and then of the zoomed in panning of the Gjarfoss itself as seen from across the plunge pool


Multiple 360 degree sweeps showing the full context of the precarious ledge splitting Gjarfoss and the colorful plunge pool below


Elevated semicircular sweep from an outcrop overlooking the plunge pool and Gjarfoss with its basalt surroundings


Brief sweep revealing the companion waterfall in Gjain


Semicircular sweep showing caves as well as a more frontal view of the convergence of waterfalls at the bottom of Gjain


Right to left sweep from the rim of the rift


Right to left sweep starting from one of the waterfalls and ending down the river

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Tagged with: stong, gjain, rift, interior, thjorsardalur, thjorsadalur, highlands, hrauneyjar, hella, selfoss, hvolsvollur, thjorsa, south region, southern iceland, sudurland, waterfall



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