Foss in Icelandic means waterfall and is derived from the old Norse word fors.
Iceland is extremely rich in waterfalls. The small island country has a north Atlantic climate that produces frequent rain and snow and a near-Arctic location that produces large glaciers, whose summer melts feed many rivers. As a result, it is home to a number of large and powerful waterfalls and many of them are spectacular so it is difficult to pick out the best ones to visit. During a 10 day trip to Iceland recently I managed to visit 6 of the more well known waterfalls.
Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland.
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The wide Hvítá rushes southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m) into a crevice 32 m (105 ft) deep. The crevice, about 20 m (66 ft) wide, and 2.5 km in length, extends perpendicular to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summer and 80 m³/s in the winter. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s.
Driving towards the location of the waterfall it is hard to imagine that there could be a large waterfall given the generally flat landscape. As one first approaches the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so that it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth where it has gouged a deep ravine into the terrain.
During the first half of the 20th century and some years into the late 20th century, there was much speculation about using Gullfoss to generate electricity. During this period, the waterfall was rented indirectly by its owners, Tómas Tómasson and Halldór Halldórsson, to foreign investors. However, the investors’ attempts were unsuccessful, partly due to lack of money. The waterfall was later sold to the state of Iceland, and is now protected.
Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, was determined to preserve the waterfall’s condition and even threatened to throw herself down. Although it is widely believed, the very popular story that Sigríður saved the waterfall from extrapolation is untrue. A stone memorial to Sigriður, located above the falls, depicts her profile.
Together with Þingvellir and the geysers of Haukadalur, Gullfoss forms part of the Golden Circle, a popular day excursion for tourists in Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland and is located between Selfoss and Skógafoss, where Route 1 (the Ring Road) meets the track going to Þórsmörk.
You can almost drive to the base of the waterfall just off Highway 1 where there is a car park with toilets and a small cafe.
This waterfall of the river Seljalandsá drops 60 metres (200 ft) over the cliffs of the former coastline. It is possible to walk behind the waterfall although you must be prepared to get a little wet. It is also a challenge to keep your camera equipment dry and your lens clear to capture shots behind the cascading water.
There are a few smaller waterfalls to the west of the main falls and you can walk along to these and if more adventurous you can climb up to the top of the cliff.
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skógar), the former sea cliffs remained, parallel to the coast over hundreds of kilometres, creating together with some mountains a clear border between the coastal lowlands and the Highlands of Iceland.
Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days. According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. The legend continues that locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again. The ring was allegedly given to the local church.
At the eastern side of the waterfall you can climb a set of steep steps up to a viewing gallery above the falls and from there can continue on to a hiking and trekking trail which leads up to the pass Fimmvörðuháls between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. It goes down to Þórsmörk on the other side and continues as the famous Laugavegur to Landmannalaugar.
Dettifoss is a waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, and is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
Dettifoss is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which flows from the Vatnajökull glacier and collects water from a large area in Northeast Iceland. The falls are 100 metres (330 ft) wide and have a drop of 45 metres (150 ft) down to the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. It is the largest waterfall in Iceland in terms of volume discharge, having an average water flow of 193 m3/s.
Dettifoss can be reached by a new tarmac road (Route 862, finished in 2011) and an older gravel road (Route 864). On the west bank there are no facilities and the view on the waterfall is somewhat hindered by the waterfall’s spray. On the east bank there is an information panel maintained by the staff of Vatnajökull National Park and a maintained track to the best viewpoints, as well as public restroom.
Dettifoss is located on the Diamond Circle, a popular tourist route around Húsavík and Lake Mývatn in North Iceland.
The musical composition ‘Dettifoss’ (Op.57) by Jón Leifs is inspired by this waterfall.
The waterfall is featured in the 2012 science-fiction film Prometheus, standing in as landscape on a primordial Earthlike planet.
The day I visited this waterfall it had been snowing and although the Route 862 road had just been cleared of snow the footpath to the falls were completely snowbound so the only way was to follow the red painted stakes in the snow which marked the path. It was a 1km walk to the falls through the deep snow but worth the effort even although the photographs were limited due to the snowy and misty conditions.
The Goðafoss (Icelandic: waterfall of the gods or waterfall of the goði) is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. It is located in the Bárðardalur district of North-Central Iceland at the beginning of the Sprengisandur highland road. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters.
Again even in the very flat valley where the falls are they have managed to gouge a deep ravine creating a spectacular set of falls.
In the year 999 or 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After his conversion it is said that upon returning from the Alþingi, Þorgeir threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Þorgeir’s story is preserved in Ari Þorgilsson’s Íslendingabók. A window in the Cathedral of Akureyri (Akureyrarkirkja) illustrates this story.
Kirkjufellsfoss (“Church Mountain Falls”) is a small, rather unassuming but very well-situated waterfall near the distinctive Kirkjufell mountain on the north side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula just outside the small town of Grundarfjörður.
By framing this small waterfall with the imposing Kirkjufell (Icelandic: Church mountain) as a backdrop creates a pleasing image. The trick here is to try and capture the image without any other tourists who are there taking their photographs. Using long exposures can help here which also manages to soften the water in the final image.
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