Møre Og Romsdal County, Norway
Mardalsfossen is a waterfall of global significance found in the northern part of western Norway. The falls consist of two main drops separated by a short stretch of bedrock cascades. The initial plunge, a free-fall of 974 feet is frequently claimed to be the tallest sheer leap in Europe (which it is not, continue reading below for more). Following the initial plunge the river cascades through talus for a short distance, not losing much more than about 100 feet in elevation in the process. The river then splits in to two channels, both of which chute down narrow gullies in parallel form before they merge and explode outwards and into a free-fall for the second drop, which totals about 1,050 feet in height.
Because of the prominence and global significance of the falls, the exact height of Mardalsfossen has been in dispute for quite some time. The falls are often claimed to be the tallest in Norway, or featuring the tallest free-falling drop in Norway – both claims are wholly incorrect. The Norwegian statistics bureau SSB cites the falls as dropping 2,312 feet (704m), however the figures which have been compiled by SSB often reflect the measurement of head available in waterfalls which are tied in to a hydroelectric system, which Mardalsfossen is. More frequently the falls have been cited to stand 2,165 feet (659m) tall, which corresponds more accurately with topographic data available. When we surveyed the falls in June 2011, we were not able to accurately measure the entire waterfall, but we were able to accurately achieve an elevation at the bottom of the waterfall. Given our measurements and the elevation of the lake at the top of the falls, we came up with a figure of 2,116 feet (645m). We were not able to verify how the total height breaks down into the two main drops, but assuming the upper tier to be fairly accurately measured at 974 feet (296m) the lower tier would then actually be the tallest drop at somewhere not far over 1,000 feet in total height.
Since 1977 the Inste Mardøla River has been harnessed and diverted into the Grytten hydro power plant in Romsdalen for the majority of the year. Part of the licensing agreement however stipulated that the falls would see a minimum release of 88 cubic feet per second from June 20 to August 20 every year. When the falls are “turned off” by the system the river is diverted above the lake at the top of the falls. This results in any rain or snowmelt which would naturally drain into the lake flowing over the falls when the majority of the river is otherwise diverted, ensuring the falls actually do flow for more than two months out of the year. Unfortunately this only ensures the falls flow while there is snow on the ground or prolonged periods of heavy rain. During the spring and early summer months before the falls are allowed to flow naturally, the extra water from melting snow in the Inste Mardøla appears to be discharged into the Ytste Mardøla, which allows neighboring Nordre Mardalsfossen to flow heavily while Mardalsfossen may be significantly reduced in volume.
History and Naming
Mardalsfossen is the Official name of this waterfall.
Has also been known as:
- Østre Mardalsfossen
- Søndre Mardalsfossen
Let’s just cut to the obvious: Mardalsfossen is a big, impressive waterfall. But the kicker in any debate about exactly how impressive is that even though the falls are effectively “turned off” for over half of the year, this is still legitimately the best waterfall in Europe. When we surveyed the falls in early June 2011, the release schedule had not yet begun so the falls were just a fraction of its unregulated self. But the small volume of water was not nearly as detracting as one might suspect. The falls are still really, really tall and feature one of the tallest free-falling drops in the world and the scenery is still top notch. Yes, this is a better waterfall when it’s not parched, but even if you can’t see it flowing at peak levels, this is still a feature which should land at the very top of any waterfall hunter’s bucket list.
When the falls are allowed to flow at their maximum volume, the falls will kick up an absurd amount of spray which will without a doubt be problematic. At lower flows as we observed, it isn't a problem at all. The falls face north and will see direct sunlight from morning until mid afternoon, at which point the sheer cliffs of the valley will start to cast shadows on the lower tier of the falls.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 62.4718943, 8.119833472 Elevation: 2975 feet
Mardalsfossen is found in Eikesdalen in the municipality of Nesset. From the junction of Routes 62 and 660 in the town of Nesset, follow Route 660 south for almost 17km to the small town of Eresfjord and turn left onto Route 192, which is signed for Eikesdalen and Mardalsfossen. Follow Route 192 for 6km then bear left onto Route 191, still watching for signs for Eikesdalen and Mardalsfossen. Follow Route 191 along the shore of Eikesdalsvatnet for another 21km and turn right onto a gravel road (for which there is a toll of NOK 30) just after crossing the river, again following signs pointing to Mardalsfossen. Follow the gravel road for another 2.5km to the large parking area about 130 meters beyond the bridge over the Mardøla. Do not park at or along the gravel road which branches left before the bridge where signs point to the trail for the falls. From the parking area, walk back along the road, crossing the river and up the aforementioned gravel road where the signs mark the trail. About 1/2km up the road the trail heads off to the right and begins climbing steadily to reach the base of the falls after about 2km of walking.View this location in Google Earth Mardalsfossen 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.
SubterraneanThough not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
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.