Oxararfoss

Thingvellir National Park, South Region (Suðurland), Iceland

About Oxararfoss


Hiking Distance: about 800m round trip
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

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

Waterfall Latitude: 64.26609
Waterfall Longitude: -21.11869

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Oxararfoss (or more accurately Öxarárfoss; I think is pronounced “UEWX-ar-our-foss”; meaning “Axe Falls”) was a waterfall that seemed to be more of a side attraction in the historically important UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir (“THING-vet-lur”).

That said, this was more of our waterfaller’s excuse to check out the site of what was perhaps Europe’s earliest form of a parliament.

Thingvellir_070_06222007 - Öxarárfoss
Öxarárfoss

In addition to its historical importance, it also sat right on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift, where the valley continues to be pulled apart as North America and Europe continue to drift away from each other.

The result of this geological quirk were interesting cliff formations and chasms as well as the country’s largest lake – Þingvallavatn.

In fact, such geology might have made the conditions to even host the assemblies (or Þing; pronounced “THING”) possible in the first place!

But all these factors eventually resulted in the realization of Öxarárfoss, which people can now visit and enjoy.

Water Diversion and the Assemblies

Thingvellir_124_08062021 - Looking down across a cascade that was the eventual destination of the re-routed Öxará River, where the attendees of the assembly could use the water at Þingvellir
Looking down across a cascade that was the eventual destination of the re-routed Öxará River, where the attendees of the assembly could use the water at Þingvellir

A sign within the park suggested that according to the Sturlunga Saga, the Öxará River had been diverted to the plains of what would become Þingvellir to ensure there was adequate water for the assembly’s attendees.

While details concerning this ancient water diversion remain sketchy, apparently there’s geological evidence of an old riverbed west of the river’s current location.

The assemblies were important for Iceland’s eventual independence because this was where consensus decisions were made (so it could even be construed as an early form of democracy).

While the water diversion supported the assembly’s attendees, we also noticed the presence of additional cascades as well as a drowning pool (Drekkingarhylur) during our exploration of the park.

Thingvellir_034_jx_06222007 - A pool downstream from Öxarárfoss that was the site of one of the drowning pools (Drekkingarhylur) at Þingvellir
A pool downstream from Öxarárfoss that was the site of one of the drowning pools (Drekkingarhylur) at Þingvellir

Apparently, the drowning pool was used to drown women accused of infanticide, adultery, or other crimes.

Given the historically significant nature of Þingvellir, it was fitting that we also learned there was a saga related to how the waterfall and river (Öxará) got their names.

It was said that during the settlement period in Iceland’s early human history, some settlers encountered a frozen river.

They then dug a hole in the ice and put an axe in it to claim the land, and thus the falls was so named since the word öxi means “axe” in Icelandic.

Thingvellir_042_08062021 - Context of the boardwalk leading from the top of the steps at this trail junction towards the base of Öxarárfoss
Context of the boardwalk leading from the top of the steps at this trail junction towards the base of Öxarárfoss

Regardless of its origins, we found that the diverted river over the cliffs resulting in the 20m Öxarárfoss to be quite attractive, which we could access on a pretty easy trail and boardwalk leading to a platform right at its base.

Experiencing Öxarárfoss

We started our visits from the P2 car park (see directions below), and from there, we walked 100m to approach a signed trail junction.

The path on the right ascended briefly before reaching another junction, where we then ascended steps to another well-developed boardwalk and trail (about 200m from the first junction).

Once at the top of the steps, we then kept left and walked the remaining 150m to the viewing platform area in front of Öxarárfoss.

Thingvellir_040_08062021 - Steps leading up to an upper boardwalk area leading to the lookout platform for Öxarárfoss
Steps leading up to an upper boardwalk area leading to the lookout platform for Öxarárfoss

If the goal was to just visit the waterfall and come back, then this out-and-back walk would be less than a kilometer and maybe take no more than 30-45 minutes.

By the way, on our June 2007 visit, we happened to show up late in the afternoon under clearing skies, where we learned that this east-facing waterfall was against the sun.

We actually waited for the sun to sink behind the cliff containing the falls to get the photos you see on this page, but I’d imagine that the best color and light would probably be in the morning.

Experiencing the Mid-Atlantic Rift and the Rest of Þingvellir

To really understand how Iceland came to be, especially in the context of the national identity and its system of government, you really have to visit the key Þingvellir sites here and imagine yourself being in this place over a thousand years ago.

Thingvellir_040_06222007 - Julie walking through the Almannagjá (The People's Chasm) while exploring Þingvellir on our first time here in June 2007
Julie walking through the Almannagjá (The People’s Chasm) while exploring Þingvellir on our first time here in June 2007

Going to just the waterfall and missing out on the rest of this historically important place is a lot like going to a Sigur Rós concert without hearing any of their music – you’d be missing out on the place’s soul.

So we’ve found it worthwhile to explore not only the Öxarárfoss but also the places that gave rise to this UNESCO World Heritage site in the first place!

Going back at the first junction by the P2 car park, we’d then take the other path, which brought us towards a WC as well as the rest of the key Þingvellir sites.

The WC and main car park (which was closed during our visit) was roughly 150-200m along this mostly flat walk.

Thingvellir_033_jx_06222007 - Looking up towards the Law Rock area, where I'd imagine assemblies were gathered below and issues to agree upon were spoken from atop the bluff
Looking up towards the Law Rock area, where I’d imagine assemblies were gathered below and issues to agree upon were spoken from atop the bluff

Beyond the WC and neighboring car park, the walk then started to ascend into the Almannagjá (The People’s Chasm) where the pleasant walkway continued between cliffs that hinted at the geological legacy of the Mid-Ocean Rift here.

At a little over 300m from the WC, we reached the Drowning Pool (Drekkingarhylur), which sat between a pair of minor cascades.

At around 200m from the Drowning Pool, we then reached a small loop encompassing the Law Rock (Lögberg), which was where the Law Speaker would address the assembly below and recite the laws before the assembly would make decisions about them.

I found the cliffs around this section to be particularly interesting, which included some peep-hole arches that I hadn’t noticed before on our first visit here back in June 2007.

Thingvellir_038_06222007 - Here is a vista of the rift valley caused by the Mid-Atlantic rift between the North American and European tectonic plates at Þingvellir
Here is a vista of the rift valley caused by the Mid-Atlantic rift between the North American and European tectonic plates at Þingvellir

Beyond the Lögberg, the trail kept going through the Almannagjá, which would eventually get to a lookout with a view towards the head of the lake as well as a cathedral in the distance.

The rest of the visit can be as long as you want or as little as you want, but this was the extent of our combined explorations in both June 2007 and August 2021.

I’d allow at least a couple hours or more to take it all in.

Authorities

Oxararfoss (Öxarárfoss) 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.

Thingvellir_004_08062021 - At the nearest trail junction where we kept to the right to go up towards Öxarárfoss
Thingvellir_036_08062021 - Looking back at the P2 car park on the way up to Öxarárfoss
Thingvellir_046_08062021 - Approaching the lookout for Öxarárfoss that was definitely something new as of our August 2021 visit as it wasn't there on our June 2007 visit when we first came here
Thingvellir_055_08062021 - More frontal look at Öxarárfoss from that new lookout deck during our August 2021 visit
Thingvellir_062_08062021 - Another frontal look at Öxarárfoss from the far end of the new lookout deck as seen during our August 2021 visit
Thingvellir_067_08062021 - More angled look at Öxarárfoss as seen from the new lookout deck
Thingvellir_084_08062021 - Looking towards some kind of cliff formation near the junction between the top of the steps and the final stretch to Öxarárfoss
Thingvellir_006_08062021 - After having our fill of Öxarárfoss, we then made our way further into the park to see how much had changed in the 14 years since we were first at Þingvellir. That building next to the trail was the lone WC in the park that we encountered during our 2021 visit
Thingvellir_026_08062021 - On the way to the WC, we noticed these geese or ducks pecking into the lawn at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_095_08062021 - After having our fill of Öxarárfoss, we then made our way further into the park to see how much had changed in the 14 years since we were first at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_111_08062021 - Looking towards some interesting cliff formations and rocks behind Lögberg at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_117_08062021 - Context of Mom checking out the short loop around Lögberg at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_119_08062021 - After having our fill of Lögberg we then ended our 2021 Þingvellir visit and started heading back to the car park
Thingvellir_122_08062021 - Zoomed in look at some kind of cascade feeding the Drowning Pool at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_016_iPhone_08062021 - Looking across a bridge above a lower cascade draining the Drowning Pool at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_017_iPhone_08062021 - Context of the Drowning Pool and neighboring cascades with the walkway through the Almannagjá at Þingvellir
Thingvellir_022_iPhone_08062021 - Focused look at the infamous Drowning Pool (Drekkingarhylur) at Þingvellir as we were concluding our August 2021 visit
Thingvellir_001_06222007 - The drowning pool (Drekkingarhylur) as of June 2007. This photo and the rest of the photos in this gallery were taken on that visit
Thingvellir_006_06222007 - Looking upstream from the drowning pool towards some intermediate cascades well downstream of Oxararfoss in 2007
Thingvellir_008_06222007 - Julie walking on the developed walkway within the fault (Almannagjá) showing clear evidence of volcanism
Thingvellir_014_06222007 - Looking towards the east at the vast rift valley as of our first visit here in June 2007
Thingvellir_016_06222007 - Looking towards the lake Þingvallavatn, which was the largest lake in Iceland
Thingvellir_018_06222007 - Wildflowers blooming besides the walkway during our June 2007 visit
Thingvellir_022_06222007 - Walking further within the fault while surrounded by volcanic cliffs
Thingvellir_031_06222007 - Context of the walkway along the fringes of the rift valley at Thingvellir
Thingvellir_040_06222007 - Walking back in the other direction between the cliffs and ultimately towards Oxararfoss
Thingvellir_048_06222007 - Other colorful wildflowers in bloom alongside the walkway at Thingvellir
Thingvellir_054_06222007 - Context of Julie checking out the drowning pool at Thingvellir
Thingvellir_059_06222007 - Julie checking out Oxararfoss during our first visit in June 2007
Thingvellir_062_06222007 - Closer look at Julie checking out Oxararfoss on our first visit in June 2007
Thingvellir_063_06222007 - Direct contextual look at Oxararfoss as of June 2007
Thingvellir_083_06222007 - A different view of Öxarárfoss, which I'd imagine would have had quite a history given how it was pretty much within the historically important Þingvellir
Thingvellir_079_06222007 - Another look at Oxararfoss viewed from a different angle on our June 2007 visit


Þingvellir is one of the major attractions on the Golden Circle and is about 54km east of Reykjavik via the shortest approach from the west (along Route 1 to Route 36 to Route 361 and finally Route 362).

Back in June 2007, we parked at a car park for the Law Rock, but there was a separate car park at the trailhead for Öxarárfoss just a few minutes of walking further to the northeast.

Thingvellir_001_08062021 - Looking across the P2 car park closest to Öxarárfoss
Looking across the P2 car park closest to Öxarárfoss

It’s that latter car park that was as far as we could drive to when we came back in August 2021, and that’s the destination we’ll use in this section.

Coming from Reykjavik, we’d drive 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).

We’d then follow Route 36 (Þingvallavegur) east for 33km before leaving the 36 at Route 361 (Þingvallavegur).

Thingvellir_002_08062021 - As of our August 2021 visit to Þingvellir, a modest parking fee was charged, and I was able to use a machine in these booths to pay on the spot (though you could also do it via a phone app)
As of our August 2021 visit to Þingvellir, a modest parking fee was charged, and I was able to use a machine in these booths to pay on the spot (though you could also do it via a phone app)

Then, we’d drive on Route 361 for about 1.2km before veering right and driving the remaining 750m to the P2 car park, which was the nearest one to Öxarárfoss.

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Another long video but this time starting from downstream view before checking out the falls from various positions as I worked my way to an elbow in the new lookout area


Checking out Oxararfoss from various positions as I descended the new viewing area


Fixated on the falls from the approach we took


More frontal look at the falls


Left to right sweep of the rift valley from an elevated spot

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Tagged with: oxararfoss, south region, thingvellir, pingvellir, golden circle, assembly, thing, ping, rift valley, drowning pool, iceland, waterfall



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