About Gljufrafoss (Gljufrabui)
Gljufrafoss (Gljúfrafoss or Gljúfrabúi; I think is pronounced “GLYOO-fra-foss” or “GLYOO-fra-boo-ih”) was often referred to as the “spooky” waterfall though it literally translates as just “Canyon Falls” or “Canyon Dweller”, respectively.
I’d imagine it got its spooky reputation in the past from the somewhat hidden nature of this falls as it concealed most of itself behind a slot canyon.
The only way to see the rest of this waterfall was to brave the turbulence of the waterfall’s swirling mist within its claustrophic confines while being surrounded on three sides by tall cliffs.
I suspect this kind of experience is unique among Iceland’s waterfalls, and it’s why it has gained in notoriety over the years.
That said, its close proximity to Seljalandsfoss certainly helped in this regard.
When I first visited this waterfall in July 2007, I had to be content with obstructed views because the depth of the stream through its narrow slot canyon forced me to be at least knee-deep in icy cold water.
Admittedly, I only went so deep into the canyon before both the drenching spray from above and the numbing cold from the icy stream made the pain too unbearable to proceed any further.
It wasn’t until I returned 14 years later in August 2021 did I finally get to see what it was like inside the “spooky” confines of Gljúfrabúi.
On that visit, I was shocked at how much easier it was to get into the slot canyon without even needing to wade in the stream!
Heck, my Mom didn’t even have to change out of her shoes to get right up to the base of the Gljúfrafoss, and ever since this realization, I was perplexed why this sudden change in conditions.
Did the stream diminish over the years such that it didn’t span the entire width of the slot canyon anymore?
Or was there a landslide that filled in part of the slot thereby channeling the stream more to its left side and creating a little walkway to get through without getting wet?
Or was it merely just a seasonal behavior of the stream where early Summer runs higher than later in the Summer?
Whatever the case may be, I say it’s better to come more prepared than not so I’d recommend water sandals in case the stream runs high, and wearing something waterproof in case you get intense spray from above.
It might be risky to bring an expensive camera in there (which doesn’t do well in too much water nor do the lenses do well at not being ruined by waterspots), but here’s a case where the smart phone might be better suited for the conditions.
When we first came to the Gljúfrafoss Waterfall in July 2007 (back then I never knew it was also called Gljúfrabúi since there was a lack of signage at the time), we parked at a pullout near a campground right in front of the falls.
Reaching the spooky confines of its slot canyon and base of the falls was just a short jaunt along the stream.
Therefore, it was the primary reason why I composed this page as a separate waterfalling excursion.
However, over the years, I came to appreciate that perhaps this waterfall was best experienced together with Seljalandsfoss as a combined excursion.
After all, there was a 560m footpath along the base of the cliffs supporting both waterfalls while also exposing two or three other thinner waterfalls along the way.
While my topo map on Gaia GPS also said that one of these intermediate waterfalls was called Gljúfrabúi, I wasn’t sure if that’s really the case.
The other two waterfalls didn’t seem to have a name attached to them, and one of them even seemed to have been tapped for a small-scale hydroelectric scheme that I swore was not there on my first visit back in 2007.
Anyways, right before reaching the familiar narrow slot canyon before the Gljúfrafoss Waterfall, we noticed there were a couple of deviations from the trail.
One deviation led up a steep (and slippery) slope to a cave or alcove opening that seemed to have had some prior human habitation at some point.
The other path led into a steep-walled dead-end that didn’t seem to have a purpose, but perhaps this too also had some kind of utilization.
Since this waterfall was also referred to as Gljúfrabúi, which means “Canyon Dweller”, perhaps this interpretation made a lot of sense.
However, it’s really speculation until there’s some archaeological evidence shedding more light to these features.
Anyways, we only spent about 30 minutes or so on our first visit to this waterfall in 2007, but we spent about 2 hours on the combined excursion with the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall starting from its car park (see directions below).
Gljufrafoss (Gljúfrafoss or Gljúfrabúi) resides in the South Region near Vik, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Rangárþing eystra. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.
To reach the Gljúfrafoss (or Gljúfrabúi) Waterfall, we can just follow the same directions to Seljalandsfoss.
However, once we reached Road 249 and turned off to leave the Ring Road, we then continued about 800m north to a turnoff connecting to another side road.
On that side road, we could turn right to get to the Seljalandsfoss car park or turn left to get to the Hamragarðar Campsite, where there’s another car park.
Obviously from the Hamragarðar Campsite, the excursion to Gljúfrafoss is short, but from the Seljalandsfoss car park, you’re looking at around 3km total.
For context, the city of Reykjavík was 121km (90 minutes drive) northwest of Seljalandsfoss, about 59km (45 minutes drive) northwest of Selfoss, and 248km (3 hours drive) west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
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