Thingvellir National Park, South Region (Suðurland), Iceland

About Oxararfoss

Hiking Distance: 2km round trip
Suggested Time: 1 hour

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

Waterfall Latitude: 64.2661
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”).

Moreover, I believe this was actually an artificially created (man-made, if you will) waterfall due to water diversion that took place several centuries ago to provide better access to drinking water for the assemblies or Þing (pronounced “THING”).

Thingvellir_070_06222007 - Öxarárfoss

I’m still a little fuzzy about the validity of the statement about water diversion, but apparently it’s said that there is geological evidence of an old riverbed west of the river’s current location.

Water Diversion and the Assemblies

The assemblies were important for Iceland’s eventual independence because this was where consensus decisions were made.

The water diversion might have also created a drowning pool (Drekkingarhylur), which we were able to see while touring the area.

It’s said that the pool was used to drown women accused of infanticide, adultery, or other crimes.

Thingvellir_034_jx_06222007 - A pool near Öxarárfoss that I believe might be a possible location of a drowning pool
A pool near Öxarárfoss that I believe might be a possible location of a drowning pool

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.

Apparently 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.

The word öxi means “axe” in Icelandic.

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

Regardless of its origins, we found this to be an attractive waterfall (said to be 20m tall), and it gave us the waterfaller’s excuse to visit Þingvellir.

Experiencing Oxararfoss and the Mid-Atlantic Rift

As if that wasn’t enough, this area also happened to be in a rift valley where Iceland was getting pulled apart by the Mid-Atlantic rift between the European Plate and the North American Plate.

The volcanic cliffs attesting to the fiery past of this region provided some interesting geology as well as atmosphere to our visit.

The falls was located on the western end of the rocky fault line.

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

Although an out-and-back visit to the falls would probably take an hour or so, we spent nearly two hours here just so we could visit the other sights like the Law Rock or Lögberg, the drowning pool, and the vistas.

Since we happened to show up late in the afternoon, 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.


Oxararfoss 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_001_06222007 - The drowning pool (Drekkingarhylur)
Thingvellir_006_06222007 - Looking upstream from the drowning pool towards some intermediate cascades well downstream of Oxararfoss
Thingvellir_008_06222007 - Julie walking on the developed walkway within the fault showing clear evidence of volcanism
Thingvellir_014_06222007 - Looking towards the east at the vast rift valley
Thingvellir_016_06222007 - Looking towards the lake Þingvallavatn
Thingvellir_018_06222007 - Wildflowers blooming besides the walkway
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
Thingvellir_062_06222007 - Closer look at Julie checking out Oxararfoss
Thingvellir_063_06222007 - Direct contextual look at Oxararfoss
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

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).

We parked at a car park for the Law Rock, but there was a separate car park at the trailhead for Oxararfoss just a few minutes of walking further to the northeast.

If you’re coming from Geysir (or Gullfoss), you can take the road 35 west to road 37 at Bláskógabyggð.

Then follow the 37 to the 365, then turn right onto the 36 before taking the 361 towards its junction to the 362.

Since we made our visit from Faxi (near Skálholt), we followed the route 35 west to the route 36.

Then, we took the 36 north to the 361 and ultimately the 362 (a total of about 61km of driving).

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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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