Hjellefossen (I think is pronounced “YELL-eh-foss-un”) was the first of the major unregulated waterfalls we saw in Utladalen Valley, and we didn’t have to do any hiking to see it.
It had a conspicuously forceful flow as the Hjelledøla made its 120m drop (though I’ve seen it reported to be 240m, which I thought was rather generous) into the Utladal Valley.
This stream fed the River Utla right before a turf-roofed building besides the nearest car park (see directions below), which also acted as a car park for the longer hike to Vettisfossen and the Utladal Valley.
As of our first trip here in 2005, it turned out that this turf-roofed building was a very clean restroom (one of the cleanest we had ever seen especially considering that most restrooms in Nature tended to be dingy and grungy).
Julie and I managed to get a few views of the falls both from the restroom area as well as from a misty bridge over the Hjelledøla Stream.
There were power lines running alongside the road which kind of took away from the viewing experience.
That said, we felt the best views were probably from further away (say the restroom and car park area), which provided us with the waterfall’s context.
It proved to us that sometimes the closest view of the falls wasn’t necessarily the best.
When I came back here in 2019, I didn’t get a chance to better experience Hjellefossen because of a thunderstorm dumping pouring rain.
So the best I could do at that time was to roll down the window, take photos from the car, and then roll the window back up to prevent any more chances of water damage.
By the way, the turf-roofed building that we saw at Hjellefossen was the first time that Julie and I had ever seen such a building in person.
Apparently, it was a practice that went on for centuries in Scandinavia as it required about seven layers of wood with soil layered between them.
When plants or even trees would grow on them, their root system would actually reinforce the roof and make them waterproof!
Of course, turf roofs do require maintenance as the root system can outgrow the roofing and seek out more moisture within the walls.
Nevertheless, I wonder how these buildings would rate in a LEED certification considering it made use of local resources, grew carbon sinks, and seemed to blend in well with the landscape.
Jotunheimen National Park and its consequences to waterfalls
The Utladalen Valley was our introduction into Jotunheimen National Park (even though it was technically not in the main highlands that the park was most known for).
Jotunheimen (pronounced “YOOT-un-hai-mun”), which I believe translated as the “Home of the Giants,” was probably in reference to the tall mountains in the reserve.
We definitely appreciated the heights of these mountains while driving the Sognefjellet Mountain Road.
But as you can see from this waterfall, the mountains weren’t the only things that were tall!
Another thing about Utladalen was that it apparently was said to have the highest concentration of unregulated (and protected) waterfalls in Norway.
This was something we came to appreciate later during our visit as we went deeper into the Utladal Valley.
We talk a little more about how this came to be in the Vettisfossen write-up.
In order to access Hjellefossen, we first had to drive to drive to the town of Øvre Årdal (or Upper Årdal).
From Skjolden, we drove east on the Fv55 for about 15km to the turnoff for the Tindevegen at Turtagrø (sign pointing the way to Årdal).
We then took the mountain road (toll required to lift the automatic toll boom) for about 31km as the single-lane road eventually switchbacked into the town of Øvre Årdal.
Then, we followed a combination of Flotavegen and Storevegen east for about 1.2km before turning left onto the signposted Utladalsvegen (just before the bridge over the Utla River).
We then followed this road for about 6km to the Hjellefossen car park.
Overall, this drive has taken me around 90 minutes.
From Lærdal (or Lærdalsøyri), we drove north on the Rv5 for over 7km (passing through the Fodnestunnelen) before turning right onto the Fv53.
We then followed the Fv53 for just under 35km before turning left towards the Øvre Årdal sentrum.
In just over 300m (crossing over the bridge traversing the Utla River), we then turned right to go onto the Utladalsvegen, where we then followed the rest of the road to its end as described above.
This drive took us on the order of about an hour.
For geographical context, Øvre Årdal was about 12km (under 15 minutes drive) northeast of Årdal (or Årdalstangen), about 43km (over 30 minutes drive) northeast of Lærdal (or Lærdalsøyri), about 48km (over an hour drive) southeast of Skjolden, 85km (under 90 minutes drive) northeast of Flåm, 250km (under 4 hours drive) northeast from Bergen, and 299km (4.5 hours drive) northwest of Oslo.
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