Gullfoss

Golden Circle / Hvita River, South Region (Suðurland), Iceland

About Gullfoss


Hiking Distance: about 1.5km round trip for full experience
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

Date first visited: 2007-06-22
Date last visited: 2021-08-06

Waterfall Latitude: 64.32666
Waterfall Longitude: -20.12033

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Gullfoss (translated as “Golden Falls”) may be Iceland‘s most popular waterfall and perhaps the key reason behind the Golden Circle Tourist Route getting its name.

We can certainly testify to that statement given how it was always busy during our visits whether it was twice in 2007 or another time in 2021.

Gullfoss_181_06222007 - Gullfoss and rainbow
Gullfoss and rainbow

As you can imagine, its notoriety was due to being one of the major attractions on the aforementioned Golden Circle Route (or Tour) that included Geysir and Þingvellir as a very doable day trip out of Reykjavík.

Nonetheless, the waterfall’s popularity was well-deserved because it was one of the more unique ones we’ve seen, especially for its size.

In fact, we thought it was both spectacular and memorable enough to earn a spot on our World’s Top 10 Waterfalls List.

What made Gullfoss stand out to us was that it featured two distinct drops in succession at right angles to each other while spanning the entire width of the Hvítá River.

Gullfoss_209_07092007 - Looking across the context of the upper drop of Gullfoss with many onlookers at an outcrop
Looking across the context of the upper drop of Gullfoss with many onlookers at an outcrop

Adding to the scenic allure was that the river flowed wildly and freely so it could be experienced in all seasons as each season would yield very different moods and appearances.

Our visits happened to be during the Summer so it produced beautiful rainbows in its wafting mist when the afternoon sun came out.

The glacial coloring of the river (since its primary source was the melting of the Langjökull glacier) also became very apparent when the sun came out as well.

The upper drop was said to have a height of 11m while the lower drop was said to have a drop of 21m for a total cumulative drop of 32m high.

Gullfoss_227_07092007 - At the brink of the lower waterfall of Gullfoss
At the brink of the lower waterfall of Gullfoss

However, when we viewed the falls from the main overlooks near the visitor facilities, the lower drop’s fall into a narrow gorge created the illusion that the waterfall plunged into an abyss.

So that effect made the falls appear higher than its modest height would suggest.

Preservation of Gullfoss

It’s hard to believe that Gullfoss almost disappeared due to the desire for hydroelectricity by various interests.

In some fortuitous bit of misfortune (at least for those with development aspirations) resulting in lack of sufficient funds, attempts to harness the falls had been unsuccessful.

Gullfoss_123_06222007 - Looking in the distance towards a glacier near the Gullfoss Waterfall. This photo was taken in June 2007, but you can get a sense of how much recession has taken place by looking at the photo gallery showing August 2021 photos below
Looking in the distance towards a glacier near the Gullfoss Waterfall. This photo was taken in June 2007, but you can get a sense of how much recession has taken place by looking at the photo gallery showing August 2021 photos below

Ultimately, the waterfall was sold to the state of Iceland, and despite further interest to utilize the river by the state, it was eventually conserved.

A more romantic saga depicted Sigríður Tómasdottir (the daughter of the landowner who was about to sell his land which included the falls) threatening to throw herself into the falls if the land was sold.

As a result, the father pulled out of the deal, the falls was made a reserve, and the rest was history.

It’s said that this saga wasn’t true, but nonetheless we saw there was a memorial commemorating Sigríður Tómasdottir on our first visit to Iceland back in 2007 (we didn’t see it on our 2021 visit though COVID-19 might have complicated that).

Experiencing Gullfoss

Gullfoss_170_06222007 - View of Gullfoss from along the short trail leading to the brink of both the upper and lower waterfalls
View of Gullfoss from along the short trail leading to the brink of both the upper and lower waterfalls

As for experiencing the waterfall, we parked at the car park closest to the visitor facilities (see directions below), then we walked past the facilities onto a boardwalk that took us to an overlook of the falls.

This was the view you see at the top of this page.

Then, we followed a trail that descended steps towards the lower car park where there was a trail that led alongside the gorge carved out by the falls as it led to brinks of both the lower and upper tiers of Gullfoss.

To our knowledge, there wasn’t a way to experience the falls from the other side of the river, but it wasn’t necessary in our minds.

Gullfoss_208_07092007 - Context of the walking trail and the Gullfoss waterfall itself
Context of the walking trail and the Gullfoss waterfall itself

In any case, the walking would probably comprise no more than 15 minutes or so total.

We needed a few more minutes to walk all the way to the brink of the falls.

In addition to the hordes of tourists who were both self driving as well as on various tours, we also shared this waterfall with hordes of midges, which seemed to be abundant in the early Summer (especially on both of our June 2007 visits).

They certainly conspired to hasten our time spent at Gullfoss.

Gullfoss_193_07092007 - Looking into Gullfoss from near the edge of its narrow gorge
Looking into Gullfoss from near the edge of its narrow gorge

That said, the midges didn’t seem to be as bad on our August 2021 visit so perhaps there was a seasonal nuisance factor associated with a visit to this falls.

Authorities

Gullfoss resides in the Southern Region of Iceland near Reykjavik, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Bláskógabyggð. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website.

Gullfoss_019_08062021 - Upon arriving at the upper car park for Gullfoss, the first thing that jumped out at us was the presence of the Langjökull Glacier. This was the appearance of the glacier when we came back to Gullfoss in August 2021. This and the next several shots were taken from that trip
Gullfoss_telephoto_001_08062021 - This is a telephoto look at the rapidly receding Langjökull Glacier when we came back to Gullfoss in August 2021, where it seemed to have more extensive dirty ice sections that were once white and blue when we first came here 14 years ago
Gullfoss_telephoto_004_08062021 - Another look towards the Langjökull Glacier with a line of 4wd vehicles continuing on the Kjölur Road further into the highlands, which gives you a sense of the size of this glacier
Gullfoss_016_08062021 - The family going past the visitor facilities by the upper car park for Gullfoss towards the lookouts. Notice the mist rising from the falls up ahead
Gullfoss_025_08062021 - Approaching the upper lookout of Gullfoss
Gullfoss_032_08062021 - This was the view of Gullfoss from the upper lookout when it was still overcast
Gullfoss_043_08062021 - Looking back at the visitor facilities at Gullfoss as seen from the upper lookout, which gives you an idea of how far of a walk it is to start experiencing the waterfall from the upper car park
Gullfoss_044_08062021 - Looking down at the steps connecting the upper and lower car parks at Gullfoss
Gullfoss_047_08062021 - Context of Gullfoss and the bottom of the steps connecting the upper and lower car parks
Gullfoss_059_08062021 - Zoomed in look at a faint rainbow trying to show itself in the wafting mist of Gullfoss during our August 2021 visit
Gullfoss_062_08062021 - Context of the short walk leading to the brinks of Gullfoss
Gullfoss_067_08062021 - Looking into the narrow canyon below the lower drop of Gullfoss, where the Hvítá River seemed to have greater flow in 2021 than when we saw it in 2007
Gullfoss_072_08062021 - Looking towards the upper brink of Gullfoss from the little peninsula jutting out between the right-angled drops of the waterfall
Gullfoss_074_08062021 - Like in 2007, it was definitely busy at Gullfoss in 2021
Gullfoss_075_08062021 - When I saw that the sun was starting to break through, I left the brink of Gullfoss to see if I could catch a rainbow across it
Gullfoss_084_08062021 - Turns out that I was correct in realizing that a rainbow was spanning across Gullfoss, and this was from the lower lookout
Gullfoss_091_08062021 - View of the rainbow across Gullfoss from a slightly different position at its lower lookout area
Gullfoss_076_08062021 - Then I had to go back up the steps to get to the upper lookout of Gullfoss
Gullfoss_096_08062021 - When I returned to the upper lookout for Gullfoss, I got this look at a rainbow arcing before the waterfall
Gullfoss_109_08062021 - I managed to catch the rainbow just in time before dark clouds came back for good and blocked the sun thereby preventing any more rainbows from appearing
Gullfoss_110_08062021 - Heading back to the visitor facility by the upper car park just as the area was about to get pelted by rain
Gullfoss_telephoto_013_08062021 - The dark clouds made for some very moody pictures of the Langjökull Glacier as the sun was rapidly being overtaken by the weather
Gullfoss_199_07092007 - Towards the end of our Iceland Trip in 2007, we made a second visit to Gullfoss in early July, where we were richly rewarded with nice lighting and beautiful weather. Note that this photo and the rest of the photos in this gallery were taken on that 2007 trip
Gullfoss_207_07092007 - Another look at the Gullfoss Waterfall with walkway context, but the waterfall seemed to throw up more mist in this early July 2007 shot
Gullfoss_225_07092007 - Looking into the turbulent and misty gorge from the brink of the lower tier of Gullfoss when we came back towards the end of our Iceland trip in July 2007
Gullfoss_229_07092007 - Zoomed in on the turbulence and spray covering the ravine at the bottom of Gullfoss as seen in early July 2007
Gullfoss_051_jx_07092007 - This was our last look at Gullfoss in good weather when we returned here in the late morning towards the end of our 2007 Iceland trip in early July (about three weeks after our first visit to the waterfall in late June)
Gullfoss_005_06222007 - Our first look at Gullfoss, which occurred pretty early in the morning so it was quite overcast when we first showed up in late June 2007
Gullfoss_018_06222007 - Long exposure look at Gullfoss in the morning as we took advantage of the even lighting as seen from the lower car park in June 2007
Gullfoss_025_06222007 - Context of some wildflowers fronting the Gullfoss Waterfall in the background as seen during our late June 2007 visit
Gullfoss_050_06222007 - Contextual morning look at Gullfoss in long exposure on our first go at it in late June 2007
Gullfoss_056_06222007 - Looking into the ravine at the lower drop of Gullfoss as we took the short walking trail alongside its run
Gullfoss_058_06222007 - Direct look at part of the wide upper drop of Gullfoss, which doesn't look that impressive from this close
Gullfoss_063_06222007 - Long-exposed wide view of part of the upper tier of Gullfoss from near the end of the trail to its brink as seen in late June 2007
Gullfoss_068_06222007 - Similar focused look at the context of both of the drops of Gullfoss in the morning of our late June 2007 visit
Gullfoss_075_06222007 - Hazy long exposure look at the upper drop of Gullfoss with Julie standing near the end of the lookout to provide a sense of scale as seen during our visit in late June 2007
Gullfoss_077_06222007 - Another look at the context of Julie standing over the brink of Gullfoss as seen during our visit in late June 2007
Gullfoss_095_06222007 - Context of the Gullfoss Waterfall with walkway that was starting to see more visitors during the morning of our late June 2007 visit
Gullfoss_097_06222007 - All zoomed in on some people checking out the brink of Gullfoss, which gives another sense of how big the falls is
Gullfoss_101_06222007 - Long exposure top down view of Gullfoss from the upper overlook as we returned to the car park. We decided to check out Geysir then come back to Gullfoss later in the day when the lighting would improve
Gullfoss_026_jx_06222007 - Another contextual look upstream above the brink of Gullfoss with many onlookers to provide a sense of scale during our June 2007 visit
Geysir_003_jx_06222007 - So we killed some time at the Geysir Thermal Area before going back to Gullfoss a second time (hoping for an improvement in the weather). This was the Strokkur Geyser doing one of its many eruptions in the Geysir geothermal area. Of course, most of us want to see the great Geysir go off, but you'd have to be real lucky to see that one perform!
Geysir_043_06222007 - Geysir is more than just Strokkur and the great Geysir.  There's also colorful hot springs like this one
Geysir_012_jx_06222007 - Given Geysir's close proximity to Gullfoss, we took advantage of its position to wait for better weather before going back to the waterfall as the lighting continued to improve
Gullfoss_132_06222007 - Back at Gullfoss after our time spent checking out Geysir. This time, we saw numerous people hopping the barricade to get closer to the edge (something that people didn't do in 2021).
Gullfoss_138_06222007 - More zoomed in look at the context of some people getting very close to the edge of the gorge for that unobstructed look at Gullfoss as seen in late June 2007
Gullfoss_143_06222007 - It turned out that our gamble stared to pay off because we lingered long enough for the sun to start breaking through the clouds, which yielded a rainbow over Gullfoss during our late June 2007
Gullfoss_160_06222007 - Unusual view of Gullfoss, which required hopping the barricade and getting towards the edge of the gorge to get this shot


To access Gullfoss from Reykjavík, we drove east on the Route 49 for about 7km as we kept left to stay on the Ring Road (Route 1).

After passing through several roundabouts, the Route 1 will eventually junction with the Route 36 on the right (about 15km from downtown Reykjavík).

Gullfoss_006_08062021 - The visitor facilities at the upper car park for Gullfoss
The visitor facilities at the upper car park for Gullfoss

We’d then follow Route 36 (Þingvallavegur) east for 45km before leaving the 36 (the 36 went south towards Selfoss) to continue straight on the Route 365 (Gjábakkavegur) towards Geysir and Gullfoss.

After over 14km on the Route 365, we then continued straight onto the Laugarvatnsvegur (Route 37) east for another 24km before continuing on Route 35 for the last 14km to the Gullfoss car parks.

There’s a fork in the road near the waterfall, where the fork on the left (Kjalvegur) goes to the upper car park, which has all the tourist facilities.

The fork on the right goes to the lower car park, which gets you right up to the front of Gullfoss, but it requires going up steps to reach the same tourist facilities at the upper car park.

Gullfoss_037_08062021 - Looking down at the context of the lower car park for Gullfoss, and the steps leading up from there to the visitor facilities to the right of this picture
Looking down at the context of the lower car park for Gullfoss, and the steps leading up from there to the visitor facilities to the right of this picture

Overall, the drive from Reykjavik in the manner described above (which equates to driving half the Golden Circle clockwise) is 116km and would take over 90 minutes.

Of course with the Golden Circle being a circular route, it’s also possible to drive counterclockwise via Selfoss and Fluðir.

This approach would be a 139km drive taking about 2 hours.

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Sweep from the corner of the upper lookout checking out Gullfoss with a rainbow just before the clouds started to close in on the sun


Long video starting with a sweep along the upper drop of the falls and then checking out the lower drop of the falls


Sweep of the falls beginning from the brink of the upper waterfall and ending at the backside of the lower waterfall


Sweep of the falls from the familiar lookout


At the brink of the lower falls with wildflowers swaying in the mist

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Tagged with: gullfoss, golden circle, top 10 iceland, top 10 world, haukadalur, hvita, south region, iceland, waterfall, geysir, reykjavik, thingvellir, sigridur, tomasdottar, selfoss, reykholt, blaskogabyggd



Visitor Comments:

Gullfoss October 26, 2008 7:45 pm by Jack Metcalf - Gullfoss was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever experienced in my life. This shows that nature is a very powerful source. I would consider the waterfalls in Iceland to be one of the greatest things to witness in the world today. NOT only the waterfalls but the country of Iceland itself. ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Winter Gullfoss May 13, 2010 8:54 pm by Julie Edwards - I love your Gullfoss pictures, they look so different from when I visited this waterfall in November. An immense icy waterfall surrounded by snow and more ice. Absolutely stunning. ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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