Gullfoss waterfall is one of the highlights along the Golden Circle in Iceland. The waterfall is located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. Gullfoss means Golden Falls and this is exactly what gave the Golden Circle its name. The falls often have a golden hue because of their glacial waters. Another reason might be that the naming of the fall was inspired by the rainbow you often see at Gullfoss.
Exploring the Waterfall Gullfoss
Gullfoss is an enormous waterfall and has 3 different drops. The first drop is an 11 meters (or 36 feet) fall. The second drop is 21 meters (or 69 feet) high and the third and last drop is a 32 meters plunge. Wherever you’re standing on the hiking trail, the Gullfoss will always look slightly different. That’s what makes it a great place for taking many many pictures.
Gullfoss attracts many visitors every year. I find it very surprising that so many tourists visit this place, but the entrance remains free of charge. There’s no parking fee or anything! Of course, if you do want to support the park or the local economy, there is a cafe/restaurant and a shop on site.
Legend of Gullfoss: Sigriður
If you plan to visit Gullfoss, you should definitely know about Sigríður Tómasdóttir. The waterfall Gullfoss might not have been what it is today if it wasn’t for Sigríður. In 1907 the existence of Gullfoss as we know it today was threatened.
Sigríður was the daughter of the farmer Tómas Tómasson and Margrét Þórðardóttir. She had 1 brother and 11 sisters in total and Sigriður was the second eldest child. She lived on the farm Brattholt all her life. This farm even still exists today. Sigriður was born in February 1871 and the Gullfoss waterfall belonged to her family.
After her parents passed, Sigriður became the leader of the family because her elder sister and her brother had left the farm at an early age. She always helped tourists see the beauty of the waterfall. Even when its access was difficult. She and her sisters would guide the visitors to the waterfall. They built the first trail that led to the waterfall.
When Gullfoss was going to be rented by foreign investors to generate electricity, Sigriður took these investors to court and even allegedly threatened to throw herself in the river if they would proceed with their plans. The legal battle lasted for years. Luckily, the investors couldn’t pay the lease anymore and the property was sold to the Icelandic Government.
She passed away in 1957. You can find a plaque in remembrance of Sigriður actions at the waterfall. This is also why Sigriður is often seen as one of the first environmentalists of Iceland.
💡 Fun fact about this story: the man who stood by Sigriður as her lawyer, Sveinn Björnsson, became the first president of an independent Iceland in 1944.
Gullfoss Itinerary: Upper and Lower Viewpoint
From the parking lot, you can go to an upper and a lower viewpoint (Sigríður-path) for a magnificent view of the waterfalls. We recommend doing both viewpoints, as both have a different angle of view on the waterfall. From the lower viewpoint, you see the last drop up close and from the upper viewpoint, you see the first drop.
The trails are well marked and you can’t miss the viewpoints. The trails are also marked on Google Maps, and for your reference on the map below. Close to the parking lot, there is a viewing platform (green dot on the map) from where you have your first great view of Gullfoss! But don’t stop here though, there are more great views on the trails!
If you parked your car in the parking lot at the top, you have to go down some stairs to go to the lower viewpoint (red dot on the map). From the trail to the lower viewpoint you can see the drop of Gullfoss into the canyon.
After going to the lower viewpoint, retrace your steps and hike to the upper viewpoint. From there you’ll see the Hvítá river flowing down over rocks creating a spectacle of cascades.
How Long do you Need to Visit Gullfoss Waterfall?
We spent about half an hour at Gullfoss. So I think an hour should be enough to take in all of Gullfoss’ beauty. We mostly don’t spend too much time in one place because we always want our agenda to be filled completely! We think our day has been a success when we arrive in our hotel or apartment and feel our feet ache and are dying to get some rest.
At least then you know you’ve done everything you could, see all you could’ve seen. Now don’t worry, many fellow travelers have told us already that we’re a tad crazy, so we always try to rethink the timelines when we suggest an itinerary to other people. 😉
After our visit, we drove to our final stop, Geysir Geothermal Area in the Haukadalur valley. This is also the place where we will be spending the night.
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