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

About Gullfoss

Hiking Distance: almost roadside
Suggested Time: 15-30 minutes

Date first visited: 2007-06-22
Date last visited: 2007-07-09

Waterfall Latitude: 64.32666
Waterfall Longitude: -20.12033

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Gullfoss (translated as “Golden Falls”) may be Iceland‘s most popular waterfall.

We can certainly testify to that statement given how it was always busy during our visits.

Gullfoss_181_06222007 - Gullfoss and rainbow
Gullfoss and rainbow

This was in part because it was one of three major attractions on the 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.

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 visit 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 source has glacial origins) 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
Looking in the distance towards a glacier near the Gullfoss Waterfall

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 at the falls commemorating Sigríður Tómasdottir.

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.

We don’t know if the midges persist at other times of the year, but they were definitely a nuissance during our visits.

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

They certainly conspired to hasten our time spent at Gullfoss.


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_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
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. 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 go off!
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.
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
Thingvellir_016_06222007 - After our Gullfoss visit, we then drove to Thingvellir to complete our Golden Circle Circuit.  This is a shot looking towards a lake within the great rift valley at Þingvellir, which was some 68km west of Gullfoss
Thingvellir_018_06222007 - During our visit to Þingvellir in late June 2007, there were many wildflowers growing within the foliage by the volcanic faults
Thingvellir_038_06222007 - Looking across the great rift valley at Þingvellir in late June 2007

To access Gullfoss from Reykjavik, we drove about 54km east along the Ring Road to the turnoff with route 35 on the left (near the town of Selfoss).

We then followed route 35 for over another 68km or so to the waterfall, passing by Geysir (another Golden Circle main attraction) along the way as well as some other towns like Reykholt and Bláskógabyggð among others.

There are actually two car parks for the falls – a lower one off route 334 and a much larger upper one next to a visitor centre off route 35.

Gullfoss_126_06222007 - On the road leading to Gullfoss
On the road leading to Gullfoss

The turnoff for route 334 is about 700m before the larger car park off the route 35.

Although it’s a little bit of a longer walk from the larger car park to get close to the falls, I personally don’t think it matters much where you park unless you’re elderly or disabled in which case the lower car park would be the desired option.

We noticed that most of the tour buses tended to stop at that car park.

Overall, the drive from Reykjavik in the manner described above (which would equate to doing half of the Golden Circle counterclockwise) was said to be a total of 118km or 90 minutes drive.

We could have driven in the opposite direction of the Golden Circle from Reykjavik passing through Þingvellir along the way.

Driving in this direction would take 109km or about 90 minutes as well.

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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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