Kjelfossen (I believe it’s pronounced like “SHELL-foss-un”) was considered to be one of the tallest waterfalls in Norway, which was something that was impressed upon us during our pre-trip research prior to our first trip to Norway in 2005.
It turned out that upon seeing this falls in person, we started to appreciate its full height only after seeing its uppermost tiers from the terrace of the Stalheim Hotel.
When we went into the Nærøydal Valley and saw the falls from its base, it seemed like the uppermost tiers weren’t as visible.
This was due to cliff obstructions as the falls appeared to be smaller than what the literature had us believe (though it was still very tall even from this perspective).
So it was one of those cases where we had to appreciate the falls from two different perspectives to get the whole picture.
Based on my interpretation of Norgeskart, I’m measuring the cumulative height of Kjelfossen can be between 700m and 810m over the steepest run of the falls (but admittedly, it’s hard to tell where the exact start and end is to the falls from the map).
Some sources in the literature have said that the falls had a 755m cumulative height.
The drop that we noticed from the Stalheim Hotel could have a 200m height.
However, we were a bit confused about whether this was one of the segmented drops we’d see at the bottom (like the topmost image on this page), or if it had its own drop possibly above the more visible segments visible within the valley.
As for the waterfall’s longevity, based on our pair of visits to the waterfall (once in late June 2005 and again in late July 2019) the falls seemed to have similar appearance, which suggested to us that it had a surprisingly permanent flow.
I found this surprising because of how thin the falls appeared, but from looking at the maps, the falls was fed by a series of lakes called the Kjelfossvotni (literally the Kjelfoss Lakes), which ultimately drained over the falls.
Distant Perspective of Kjelfossen
As mentioned above, viewing the uppermost drop of Kjelfossen required us to get a distant view from the terrace of the Stalheim Hotel.
From this vantage point, we couldn’t see (or at least make out) the lower segmented drops that you see in the photo at the top of this page.
So apart from signs letting us know that was Kjelfossen, we otherwise would have never figured out that it was the same waterfall that we would see from the bottom (which we’ll get into in the next section below).
In any case, the Stalheim Hotel was originally in Voss before the owner moved it nearby its current location in 1885.
The hotel featured this “backyard” with picnic tables, a little bunker with “Lorelei” written above it, and of course, sweeping views into the Nærøydal Valley.
The panoramas from here had been well-known, but apparently, it also attracted the likes of Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.
By the way, the bunker with “Lorelei” on it reminded me of something we noticed in Germany’s Romantic Rhine, and we wondered if there was tie in with that, especially during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway in World War II.
The Base of Kjelfossen
The bottom of Kjelfossen pretty much sat towards the mouth of the Nærøydal by the junction to the town of Gudvangen as well as near one end of the 11.5km-long Gudvanga Tunnel (Gudvangatunnelen).
Once we were at the bottom of Kjelfossen and looked up from it (see directions below), we witnessed what appeared to be a series of at least three main segments or strands of the waterfall.
These segments tumbled side-by-side before converging at the base of the waterfall.
It was a fairly neck-cranking view to say the least, which kind of further attested to the lofty height measurements that had been touted in the literature.
At least two of the strands appeared to have names – Store Kjelfoss (Big Kjel Falls; the one on the left in the photo above) and Vetle Kjelfoss (the one in the middle).
The strand on the far right didn’t appear to have a formal name.
By the way, the uppermost (or leftmost?) drop seen from the Stalheim Hotel was apparently named just Kjelfoss, which further confirmed our suspicions that it was the main part of the waterfall.
For both of these views, there was a minimal amount of walking so we tended to think of this waterfall as a roadside attraction.
In addition to the roadside views from the E16, we also viewed parts of this waterfall both from the Viking Town in Gudvangen as well as from the Nærøyfjord Cruise.
In this write-up, we’ve identified two main ways of experiencing Kjelfossen.
One was from the Stalheim Hotel‘s Terrace.
The other was from the bottom of the waterfall within the Nærøydal Valley.
The other ways of experiencing Kjelfossen can be experienced easily from the landmarks noted in these driving directions.
From Flåm to Gudvangen, and then to the Stalheim Hotel
From Flåm, it was merely a matter of going onto the E16 road, then driving west into the tunnels.
After about 18km, the E16 exited the Gudvangatunnelen, and we parked the car at the car park within the aptly-named (if you get the Norwegian pronunciation of the falls) Shell Gas Station on the right.
The bus stops with the most direct views of Kjelfossen was another 400m further to the west on the E16, just past the turnoff for Gudvangen.
It was possible to briefly stop the car at the bus stops to take pictures, but you can’t remain parked here long term since buses do use these pullouts to pick-up or drop-off passengers.
Overall, this drive would take about 20-30 minutes depending on traffic.
For the Viking Town experience, the entrance to the village was adjacent to the Shell Gas Station.
For the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord Cruise, you have options (e.g. cruise one way and take the bus the other way) to start and end in Flåm or to start and end in Gudvangen.
Continuing on, we would continue on the E16 for another 11km or so before turning right onto the signposted Stalheimsvegen, which led to the Stalheim Hotel in another 1.2km.
This added another 15 minutes to the drive.
From Voss to the Stalheim Hotel, and then to Gudvangen
Going in the other direction from Voss, we would drive north on the E16 for about 34km to the Stalheimsvegen before the Stalheimtunnelen.
Once on the Stalheimsvegen, we then drove the remaining 1.2km to the Stalheim Hotel.
After the Stalheim Hotel, we could take the Stalheimskleiva serpentine road (described in the Stalheimsfossen page) or backtrack to the E16 and then drive the remaining 13km to either the bus stops or the Shell station by Gudvangen.
This entire drive would typically take about 45 minutes without stops, but I’d imagine there would be stops (like at the Stalheim Hotel, or the Gudvangen area) so you’ll probably want to budget more time.
For geographical context, Flåm was about 15km (about 15 minutes drive) south of Aurland, 20km (under 30 minutes drive) east of Gudvangen, 41km (over 30 minutes drive) south of Lærdal, 66km (an hour drive) northeast of Voss, about 72km (an hour drive) southwest of Årdalstangen, 284km (over 3.5 hours drive with a ferry crossing) northeast of Bergen, and 312km (over 5 hours drive) northwest of Oslo.
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