Situated as a keystone along the famous Golden Circle tour route, Gullfoss is one of Iceland's most popular tourist attractions, and considering the size of the falls that distinction is well deserved. The Hvítá, a large glacial river which itself accounts for a significant portion of Iceland's most voluminous river, the Ölfusá, forms the falls as it pours into a narrow canyon carved into the otherwise flat landscape where one would not assume waterfalls to be found at cursory glance.
The falls are composed of two distinct steps which fall at 90-degree angles to one another. The upper tier drops 41-feet, and stretches to nearly 800-feet in width when measured along the crest of the falls. The left side of the tier drops in a cascading type fall, while the right side plunges into a narrow throat in the canyon. The lower tier drops 69-feet but over a narrower reach of about 400-feet across, with a small island segregating the river into two distinct channels. The gorge below the falls is considerably narrower than upstream, and due to the angle at which the falls must be viewed, the base of the falls is just barely hidden from view from the developed viewpoints.
History and Naming
Gullfoss is the Official name of this waterfall.
The name of this waterfall translated to english is Golden Falls.
There is no denying that Gullfoss is one of Iceland's must-see attractions (of any kind, not just waterfalls). The ever present crowds of tourists will certainly be a turn off to many would-be visitors, but considering Gullfoss is not only among the best waterfalls found in Iceland, but is among the most significant waterfalls in all of Europe, this is a spot that anyone should make time to visit. Given that the falls are usually seen while doing the popular Golden Circle route, along which Þingvellir and Geysir can also be easily visited, there is plenty to see on a leisurely day outing from the Reykjavik area.
Given the considerable volume of the Hvítá, the biggest obstacle to taking good pictures of Gullfoss is the immense amount of spray. When the river is running lower, it can be more manageable, but during the warmest months of the summer the trails get completely drenched with a constant veil of mist, making shooting in several areas very difficult. Additionally, if you wish to capture the falls without people in the frame, visit either very early or very late in the day, as the falls are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Iceland, and there may be hundreds of visitors there at any given time during the middle of the day. The falls face roughly southwest, and will catch the most direct sunlight in the afternoon hours - the canyon is broad enough however that the light should be good during most of the day.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 64.3276, -20.121 Elevation: 0 feet
Gullfoss is found along Route 35 about a two-hour drive from Reykjavik or an hour from Selfoss. From Reykjavik, take Highway 1 north to Mosfelsbær, then head east on Route 36, following signs to Þingvellir (the visitor center at Þingvellir is passed after 30km). After 45km, bear left onto Route 365, following signs toward Geysir and Gullfoss. After another 14km, bear left at the roundabout in Laugervatn, following Route 37 north toward Geysir. In another 24km the main road becomes Route 35 at a junction, and 14km after the junction of Routes 37 and 35 the entrance to the parking area at Gullfoss is found on the right side of the road. Note, there are two parking area but the lower one is not marked by a sign. To reach Gullfoss from Highway 1 in Selfoss, take Highway 1 west from the roundabout in Selfoss to Route 35, and turn right (north), following signs to Geysir and Gullfoss. Follow Route 35 for 54km to where it intersects Route 37 and turn right, then continue another 14km to the falls. From the upper parking area boardwalks and stairs lead to trails which access viewpoints along both the upper and lower steps of the canyon - the best views being along the lower step of the canyon.View this location in Google Earth Gullfoss is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.
Other Nearby Waterfalls
By The Numbers
The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.
The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.
The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.
Num of Drops
The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.
The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.
Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.
The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.
The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.
The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.
The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.
The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.
The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.
If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.
A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).
A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.Close
CatalogedWaterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
ConfirmedConfirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
UnconfirmedUnconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
UnknownWaterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
InundatedInundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
DisqualifiedWaterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
PostedPosted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.