Iceland's Gullfoss waterfall is Europe's most powerful.
In this land of surprising beauty, the waterfalls of Iceland are as exceptional as the rest of the landscape.
And Gullfoss is the most breathtaking of them all.
There are several waterfalls in Iceland, but the most popular for tourists is the Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls. It is one of the places that the Golden Circle tour visits. If you are traveling on your own, plan a few hours to get to see it.
All about Gollfoss
As you near it, the roar of the falls fills the air with anticipation, but that is the only hint of what awaits as you stand on the top of Gullfossgjúfur - the canyon carved by glacial outbursts centuries earlier.
Fire and ice often battle on the Icelandic landscape. Glaciers sit on top of volcanic openings. When a volcano erupts beneath a glacier, the melting ice is trapped and the volcanic mountain that is formed remains flat on top. Many of these strange glacial mountains can be seen in Iceland. The confined water eventually makes its way out of the prison of ice and pours in flooding torrents across the country side. This eternal, elemental conflict is the source of Iceland's waterways. The results are often beautiful but stunningly improbable landscapes.
The river Hvítá rushed from its glacial birth place and found the weak spots in the lava that cradled it. Over the course of many years, the water forced a path through the yielding rock. That path includes the 105 foot (32 meters) drop of the Gullfoss and the 70 meters deep, 2.5 kilometers long Gullfoss Canyon.
With its double-cascade drop and canyon channel, Gullfoss is Europe's most powerful waterfall.
In the 20th century it narrowly escaped becoming a hydro-electric plant. Our tour guide told the story of how Sigríður Tómasdóttir of Brattholt saved the falls from the clutches of an English power company.
Sigríður was born in 1874 and lived on her father's farm near the Gullfoss. It was Sigríður's family who created the pathways that lead to the falls and loved to guide visitors to see the beauty of the falls and the surrounding area. As the story goes, Sigríður's father, Tómas, was offered 50.000 kronur to sell Gullfoss. His answer was, "I will not sell my friend."
When Sigríður found out about a plan to lease the powerful water she took action. This simple farm girl walked to Reykjavik on a pilgrimage to save the Gullfoss for the Icelandic people. In desperation, she threatened to throw herself into the falls if the power plant was built!
In winter, Gollfoss is suspended in space and time.
With the help of her lawyer, Sveinn Björnsson (later the first president of Iceland), she created enough public outcry that the British investor abandoned the project and stopped making payments on the lease. Gullfoss reverted back to the people.
Today, look for this Icelandic heroine's memorial by sculptor Ríkharður Jónsson at the waterfall she helped to save.
After the brief history lesson, the tour descended down a long stone stairway for the first direct view of the immense Golden Falls. From the parking area the group could see the water cascading down the double falls of Gullfoss and moving forward through the canyon.
The well worn paths for visitors drew the group closer to the falls. On warm sunny days, the mist surrounding the double cascades of the waterfall is lit with dozens of rainbows, filling the air and the valley below the falls with a spectacle of color and motion.
In the depths of winter. the water hangs suspended in sheets of ice as it waits for the sun to bring it back to life in the spring. If you plan a cold weather trip to the falls, be sure to dress for it. The winds and mist make a very cold combination.
As the group walked the path back from the falls to the waiting bus, there were many last pictures to take and moments of drinking in the beauty of the falls. The light playing on the mists of Gullfoss was a beautiful farewell salute as the tour took off for the Geysir Hot Springs area, the next stop in the Golden Circle.
More about the Gullfoss waterfall around the Web:
Our Beautiful World - Gullfoss, Iceland - The story of the falls including the surrounding countryside. There is information on Gullfossgjúfur - the canyon, Hvítá - the river and the Heiðarland - Heathland that surrounds the falls. Along with the many pictures, this site has a good rendition of the story of how Sigríður Tómasdóttir of Brattholt saved the falls for posterity...
Gullfoss, Iceland - Nothing here but an amazing 45 picture slide show of Gullfoss. Good quality pictures almost capture the very real majesty of this waterfall.