Hjalparfoss (“HYAL-par-foss”; meaning the “help falls”) was pretty unique in that separate segments of the Fossá River rejoined at its base giving the appearance of a convergence of two waterfalls.
Further adding to the scenic allure of this unusual waterfall was a very large plunge pool surrounded by some rugged lava formations showing pronounced signs of basalt in its composition.
This was one of several waterfalls in the Þjórsárdalur Valley that we visited within the vicinity of the active Mt Hekla and the southern end of the Sprengisandur Route.
But unlike many of the falls that we’ve visited in the Interior Highlands of Iceland, this one was actually quite easy to access.
From the car park (see directions below), we were already able to see Hjalparfoss and its large plunge pool surrounded by lava formations.
However, there were also a pair of walking paths that we could take to descend closer to the action (though I swore there was only one path that went all the way to the shore of the plunge pool when we were first here in July 2007).
One of the paths was a direct walkway with long steps to a lower lookout while the other path did a less direct route going by a picnic table before getting to the same lower lookout.
Beneath the lower lookout, it appeared that a re-routed trail finished the descent to the shore of the very large plunge pool.
There were quite a few wildflowers sprouting or blooming during our first time here, and they provided us with nice photo subjects to contrast the rugged scenery.
When we came back 14 years later in August 2021, there weren’t as many wildflowers blooming in the area, but that made us pay more attention to the contrasting tints of red hills against the greenery in this lush area.
Speaking of the oasis-like greenery around Hjalparfoss as well as how easy it was to visit, these things shed some light on how the waterfall got its name in the first place.
What Does Hjalparfoss Have to Do With Helping?
Back in the days when there was no Ring Road to get around Iceland because of difficult glacier river crossings, the only other way to get from the north to the south or vice versa was by horseback through the desolate black-sanded highlands.
In particular, the Sprengisandur Route (now the F26 Road) was that arduous horseback journey that had to be taken to make this traverse by way of the Þjórsárdalur Valley.
However, for those who would take on the desert-like crossing where there was little vegetation let alone water for the horses to drink and graze, it was a dangerous proposition.
To make matters worse, the desolation of the route played mind tricks, especially since people still believed in ghosts, trolls, elves, and other superstitious entities.
So the intrepid travelers would try to get their horses to sprint or “explode” through this region to the point of exhaustion.
By the way, according to my Icelandic dictionary, að sprengja (my Icelandic Language book also said að springa) means “to explode”, which was how the Sprengisandur Route got its name.
In any case, for those that did make the southbound traverse of the highlands, they’d find that the lush area around Hjalparfoss would be the first area that the exhausted horses would be able to both graze and drink.
Therefore, the area was a great help to the horses to recover and ultimately complete the 250km journey through the highlands.
Heck, we’ve even had a taste of the highlands and their infamous F roads (of which the Sprengisandur Route was one of them), and there’s a reason why only 4wd vehicles should even bother attempting such roads.
After all, we’ve done part of the Sprengisandur Route to Aldeyjarfoss in the northern end, and even that was relatively tame for an F road despite its bumpiness.
We’ve also gone the opposite extreme and had a real crazy time trying to white-knuckle our way to the Dynkur Waterfall further up the Þjórsárdalur Valley near the Hrauneyjar Highland Center.
That just underscores how difficult such journeys must have been to do it on horseback (so imagine going through the highlands in bad weather!).
Haifoss resides in the South Region near Selfoss, Iceland. It is 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.
The largest town on the Ring Road leading up into Þjórsárdalur Valley was Selfoss so I’ll use that as the starting point.
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 31km.
The signed turnoff for Hjalparfoss was on the right just before the bridge over the Fossá River.
The access road goes nearly 1km to the fairly large car park.
Overall, this 66km drive would take about an hour.
Alternatively, you can also take the Road 26 from Hella, which involves driving a little over 7km west on the Ring Road then turning right onto the Road 26 (Landvegur).
From there, we’d drive 62km until reaching the Road 32 (the last 10-15km of this stretch was unpaved), where we’d turn left.
Finally, we’d drive west on the Road 32 for about 20km to the Hjalparfoss turnoff on the left just after the bridge over the Fossá River.
And then once on the Hjalparfoss turnoff, we’d drive the remaining 1km to the large car park.
Overall, this 90km drive would take over an hour.
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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