Our Fascination with Waterfalls
If there is something Icelanders have in abundance it is water. Water everywhere, in nearly every form and motion. Frozen in various shapes in all shades of the color blue. As liquid, flowing, trickling, cascading, swirling, gushing and of course steaming and spouting from our natural hot springs. It is amazing how something as ordinary as water can leave us bewildered and lacking superlatives.
We Icelanders are so lucky to have waterfalls in all shapes and sizes that we regard as national treasures. Therefore (and no wonder) waterfalls are a popular destination with travelers in Iceland. We are no exception, we frequent some of Iceland’s greatest waterfalls on our tours and we love it. Let me tell you about some of waterfalls we love to show off that are guaranteed to wow you.
In Botnsá river in Hvalfjörður (whale fjord) you will find the highest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur. It is 198m high and dropping down a deep and narrow canyon. This is probably the waterfall you find that we at HELO visit most often and for a good reason. Firstly it is just stunning and worth seeing. Secondly due to its height and position the best viewing-spot is from the air. Botnsá has carved a deep and a very narrow canyon and Glymur hides in the very back. It is barely visible from the road so in order to see it from the ground you will need to pull out your hiking boots.
The name Glymur means a noise, like a rumbling or tumult that takes place where it echos. A very fitting name for this particular waterfall. There is a peculiar old Icelandic folklore that tells us how this waterfall came by its name. It is not a story one might expect but it never is with folklore, is it? Which is probably why we are so fascinated by them.
The story is of a man who betrays a lady of elf-kind who in return turns him into a whale. The whale named Rauðhöfði, turned bitter and evil by his fate sinks many ships and kills many fishermen in Hvalfjörður. Two priests at nearby farms both loose their sons to Rauðhöfði and decide between themselves to rid the waters of this evil beast. The priests with their powers lured the whale into the bottom of the fjord, up Botnsá river and all the way into Hvalvatn (whale lake) where it died of exhaustion. As the whale crawled through the narrow canyon and up the waterfall the earth shook and it made a tremendous noise which resulted in the naming of Glymur as well as Skjálfandahæðir, the “Shaking Hills” situated above the waterfall. This is the short version of this extraordinary tale from where Glymur gets its name.
Gullfoss or “The Golden Falls” is without a doubt Iceland’s most visited waterfall and is with Geysir the main attraction on the famous Golden Circle route. It is a stunning two tiered waterfall that cascades down first a 11 meter drop followed by a 21 meter drop in a narrow 70m deep gorge that stretches 2.5 km. The waterfall is in Hvítá glacial river which flows from Langjökull Glacier, the second largest glacier in Iceland. When standing at the viewing platform the power of water quickly becomes apparent. It is said to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe only to be surpassed by Dettifoss waterfall.
Gullfoss is incredible to witness from all angles and in all seasons. In summertime it will be surrounded by green grass and in winter covered in snow and icicles and due to water spray it is often decorated with rainbows. Gullfoss can therefore feel like a completely different waterfall from when you visited the last time and that makes it worth visiting again and again.
In the early 20th century there was talk of harnessing Gullfoss power and building a hydroelectric plant. Luckily for us, those plans were never realized and in the mid 190o ´s the waterfall was sold to the Icelandic Government. In 1979 it became a nature reserve, a protected wonder of nature for everyone to enjoy.
In Þjórsárdalur Valley in the south of Iceland in the river Fossá there is a beautiful waterfall called Háifoss. Háifoss, quite literally means “The Tall Waterfall” is very tall as you might imagine, 122m to be exact. Making it the second highest waterfall in Iceland. A spectacular waterfall with a straight drop from high cliffs in the Icelandic highlands.
Since Háifoss is in the highlands makes it hard to reach. If you are travelling by car you have to be prepared for a bumpy ride. We love to visit this wonder of nature not just because of its beauty but also because it is remote. It gives our passengers a chance to be alone in nature and enjoy the incredible view and the sound of rumbling water. As an added bonus there is an extra equally beautiful waterfall next to Háifoss rightly called Granni or “Neighbor”.
Waterfall Sightseeing on a Helicopter Tour
You can find all of these waterfalls on our planned route in some of our open tours. Gullfoss in our Golden Circle Experience tour as well as Glymur, more info on that here. Glymur can also be seen on our shorter tours like the Geothermal Wilderness and Glacier Express. Háifoss is a part of the itinerary in the Natures Highlights and Jökulsárlón Exotic Palette tour which you can find out more information about here and here.