Glymur (sounds like “glimmer”; my Icelandic dictionary says it means “clash or ringing”) was once said to be the tallest waterfall in Iceland at 196m (198m according to a sign on my latest visit).
Situated within Botnsdalur, which is a valley at the head of Hvalfjörður (the Whale Fjord; I think is pronounced “KHVAHL-feeur-thur”), I had read that it was once a very popular attraction.
That was because the Ring Road used to go around the fjord until an underwater tunnel bypassed the old route to become the new route for the Ring Road.
As a result of the reduced traffic compared to the Ring Road sites, experiencing the Glymur Waterfall involved a bit of an adventure.
That said, I have noticed some improvement in the infrastructure (e.g. better trail markers and signage) as well as the trail conditions between my visits.
As for the waterfall itself, it had been given proper attention as Iceland’s tallest for many years because its flow on the Botnsá River was perennial.
The flow was the result of draining the lake Hvalvatn, which was said to be Iceland’s second deepest lake at 160m.
Botnsá carved a deep and narrow canyon called Glymsgljúfur (“GLIMS-glew-vur”), which in my mind resulted in the rather adventurous and rugged feel of the hike while also making it difficult to view the whole waterfall from any one spot.
Nevertheless, in our visits to Glymur (spanning 14 years so far), the hike to experience it came with added benefits like experiencing the cave and double arch of Þvottahellir (“THVOT-uh-het-lir”), sweeping vistas towards the fjord, and bonus waterfalls.
Why Did Glymur Lose Its Status?
When it comes to the issue of determining what the highest waterfall is, this is a fluid argument largely because there’s no consensus definition on how you measure waterfall height.
Even if by one method of measure a waterfall is deemed to be the highest, is it worth visiting?
This is precisely the case with the waterfall that has apparently dethroned Glymur as Iceland’s tallest – Morsárfoss.
That waterfall (as of the latest update to this write-up) is still mostly covered in ice, but due to the acceleration of Global Warming, it’s revealing more of itself.
I guess it’s subjective whether one waterfall is more worth visiting than the other, and to me, it’s not unlike the debate around visiting Angel Falls versus Tugela Falls.
Really, I think trying to associate a title like “the tallest” or “the bluest” or “the widest”, etc. is nothing more than click bait (or “headlines” before social media was a thing).
That’s why I’m pretty ambivalent about what’s taller though the one thing I do know was that Glymur was known to be the tallest on our first visit in June 2007.
Of course, one could argue that maybe the authorities or proponents of that claim had gotten it wrong all this time.
Regardless, in my mind, that’s all pure speculation and really superfluous to one’s enjoyment of the waterfalling experience.
Different Ways to Hike to Glymur
We managed to experience the Glymur Waterfall a couple of different ways, which we’ll get into in the rest of this write-up.
When we first did the Glymur hike back in 2007, we did a rugged out-and-back hike to a handful of unsigned views of the waterfall (so you’ll definitely want to wear legitimate hiking boots).
Eventually, when we felt that we had gotten the best views of Glymur and proceeding further would have worsened the view, that was when we turned back.
Of course, the problem with that way of thinking is how do you know if you’re turning back prematurely or not?
Thus, when I came back with Mom to do this hike in 2021, we did a longer counterclockwise loop hike up the same (or similar) route like the first time, but then we went back down on the other side of the Botnsá.
From looking at my GPS logs, we wound up hiking about 5km round-trip on our first go at Glymur.
However, on our second visit, the GPS told me that we had hiked about 7.8km though there were a few options of doing a shorter but steeper return hike versus the more gentle one that we ended up doing.
My trip logs indicated that we spent about 4 hours to do the longer loop hike, and it’s worth noting that in hindsight, we should have brought a pair of water shoes or sandals because the second crossing of the Botnsá was unbridged.
By the way, it was also worth mentioning that it was far easier to follow the Glymur Trail on our second visit, because back in 2007, we had plenty of head-scratching moments trying to find yellow spray-painted dots on rocks and walls to navigate.
Moreover, what few signs there were back then, they were all in Icelandic, which certainly isn’t the case now as we’ve noticed a greater effort to have at least English accompanying Icelandic on the signs.
In any case, even though we had a shorter hike on our first visit, it still took us nearly 4 hours to complete given the conditions back then.
Hiking Along The East Side of Botnsá and Glymsgljúfur
From the Botnsdalur Trailhead (see directions below), we went through a gate and then proceeded to hike about 250m.
In this 250m stretch, there was signage and a fork on the right leading to the Stóri Botn Farm, but thankfully, there was signage keeping us on track as of our 2021 visit.
Back in 2007, Julie and I had a bit of a hard time following the yellow dots as we had somehow lost the trail, and I suspect that somehow we managed to have taken the Stóri Botn track instead of the more direct route described earlier.
At the trail junction 250m beyond the trailhead, we kept right to continue east deeper into the Botnsdalur Valley for about 1km before reaching a sign leading us to the Þvottahellir Cave.
Although the trail seemed like it would disappear over a cliff as we went past the sign, it actually veered into a hole in that cliff eventually emerging out the other end through a large double arch.
The size of this arch would probably rival some of the more modest-sized arches in Arches National Park in Utah, which certainly made this hike more varied and alluring.
Anyways, while the cave itself might seem dark, it was short enough to never get completely dark both times I’ve done this hike.
Roughly 150m beyond Þvottahellir, the trail briefly followed the northern banks of the Botnsá River before reaching a crossing of the river itself.
Each time we’ve done this hike, there was a primitive log bridge that we had to balance on to get across without getting wet.
There was also a bit of rock hopping necessary to even get to one end of the log so we found having trekking poles helped a lot with the balance.
Beyond the river crossing, the trail then reached perhaps the most challenging part yet, which involved a rather steep and sketchy ascent climbing about 50m in a 150m stretch.
When we first did this hike back in 2007, we actually had to ascend directly on loose rocks with plenty of hand-over-feet scrambling.
However, in 2021, the trail was more established with some wires and railings to hold onto, but I noticed the path did suffer from a good deal of erosion in the steepest sections due to frequent use, which made some parts quite slippery.
After the steep climb, we then walked another 200m towards the first of many spots to see the Glymur Waterfall.
The trail continued through a couple of gullies and side waterfalls for the next 400m when we reached the so-called Steðjasnös View.
From this vantage point, there was a nice angled view of Glymur and the canyon bottom as well as a phallic-looking rock.
By the way, that rock is how I remembered this view even before there was the sign identifying this spot was put up after our 2007 visit.
Another 160m further from the Steðjasnös View was the Hellupallur View, which yielded a more direct look at the upper section of Glymur.
There was some signage at a fork indicating that there was this somewhat hidden lookout around a knob near the next set of steps and slopes.
This lookout (or the knob above it) might have been our turnaround point on our 2007 hike.
Heck, I didn’t even know this spot had a name since we never saw any identifying signage on either of my visits.
However, in 2021, I did notice stacks of loose rocks arranged like makeshift railings, which further indicated to me that this was an official lookout.
Returning to the car park from this viewpoint was about 2.5km according to my GPS logs (the signage said it was 2.4km or 4.8km round-trip from here).
Hiking Beyond Glymur to Finish the Loop
The hit parade of viewpoints of Glymur kept coming as we continued hiking further along the southern rim of the Glymsgljúfur Canyon for about the next kilometer.
However, with each successive vantage point, it yielded more direct views of the upper parts of Glymur while concealing the waterfall’s base.
Ultimately, we’d reach the brink of Glymur, which revealed a smaller hidden waterfall in the river just around a corner.
From there, the trail finally flattened out and started to descend alongside a calmer and wider part of the Botnsá River.
After another 200m beyond the brink of Glymur (or 1.2km beyond the Hellapallur View), we then had to wade across the river to start the return hike on the other side.
Given the combination of cold water with slippery yet sharp rocks, I really wished I had come better prepared with a change into water sandals (we did it barefoot) though the trekking poles helped us against the current and slippery footing.
Once we dried off our feet and put back on our hiking socks and hiking boots, we then had to find our way back to the main trail in the downstream direction.
Even though I was tempted to keep hiking 3km further upstream to reach the Hvalvatn Lake as well as to see Breiðifoss along the way, we stuck to the plan (though the threatening weather further aided this decision).
At about 500m from where we crossed Botnsá, we encountered a signed trail junction as well as a short access trail going to a large cairn with an unusual partial look at Glymur.
That lookout represented our last look at the waterfall before descending the final 3km stretch of trail or so down the fairly gentle Svartihryggur Ridge.
We did have the option of doing a much more adventurous and steeper descent within the north side of Glymsgljúfur Canyon, but by this point, we were ready to finish the hike.
We found this section of the trail to go by pretty quickly given the downhill trajectory though there were some loose rock sections conspiring to bust our ankles while at the same time yielding views of Hvalfjörður to slow us down and savor the scenery.
I noticed there were far fewer people willing to complete this hike as a loop (probably due to the unbridged river crossing above Glymur) so that certainly helped with the social distancing aspect of this hike.
Glymur resides in the Southern Region of Iceland near Akranes, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Hvalfjarðarsveit. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.
To reach the Glymur Trailhead from Reykjavik, we drove about 9km east to the Ring Road (Route 1).
Then, we went north on it for about 24km to a fork with the Route 47 right before the tunnel going beneath the Hvalfjörður.
We turned right (to avoid the tunnel) and went onto Route 47, which continued alongside the fjord for about another 35km.
Just past a bridge at the head of the fjord, there was a signposted turnoff leading 3km further inland to the Glymur car park and trailhead.
This drive took us a little over an hour in each direction.
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