Thundering over two levels, Gullfoss is an impressive site and one of the main attractions on the Golden Circle in Iceland. The strength of the falls fills the air with spray and you not only get to see this stunning waterfall but experience the power as you walk up to the edge of the river. We put these Gullfoss Waterfall facts and tips together to help you plan.
We visited Gullfoss during our first day in Iceland and it was the first of many waterfalls on our journey. This waterfall is stunning and sets the bar high for the rest of your visit. Below you can find 11 Iceland Gullfoss waterfall facts and tips to help you plan a successful visit.
See more about how to plan an amazing visit to the Golden Circle or see our 7 day Iceland Itinerary: Driving the Amazing Ring Road
Looking for a printable book or downloadable ebook of this Golden Circle Itinerary. This 11 page book shares the best things to do on the Golden Circle. This Iceland travel guide will help you figure out how much time you need, where to stay and where to eat.
You can also find a complete printable Ring Road Itinerary as well.
11 Gullfoss Waterfall Facts and Tips to Know Before You Visit
Gullfoss is Actually Two Massive Waterfalls
Gullfoss is actually 2 very large waterfalls on different levels. The water thunders over the top waterfall shaped like a sideways horseshoe and continues down only to plunge off another waterfall almost directly below the falls. There are two walking trails to view the falls – the first goes to the top of the falls and looks down on both waterfalls from above. The lower walking trail goes right to the point where the water plunges over the upper waterfall.
If you have time, walk both trails, but if you only have time for one I recommend hiking the lower trail for a better view, and the fun of walking into the spray of the falls.
Gullfoss is Known as the Golden Falls
The word Gullfoss translates to Golden Falls. This gentle-sounding name is a bit at odds with the raw power of these massive falls. Named for the golden color of the mist that rises from the falls, if you visit on a sunny day, you may also see rainbows dancing in the water.
Gullfoss is Easy to Get to From Reykjavik
Gullfoss is found on the Hvítá river canyon in Southwest Iceland about 1.5 hours from Reykjavik. You can either visit the falls as part of a guided tour or rent a car and drive yourself. Gullfoss falls are at the farthest point of the Golden Circle and can be reached on well-maintained roads. It’s important to note that Gullfoss is open year round although some of the viewpoints are closed in the cold and icy months.
If you are visiting on a tour, make sure to check out this one-day tour of the Golden Circle. Almost every tour of the Golden Circle or Southern Iceland includes a visit to Gullfoss with time to explore the walking trails.
Gullfoss is Near Other Amazing Sites on the Golden Circle
As part of the Golden Circle sites, you can also visit other amazing spots near Gullfoss. Our favorite part of the Golden Circle was the variety of types of sites and activities. It is also just a short drive from Reykjavik, making it easy to visit in a day. If you are looking for other places to visit, make sure to check out:
The Secret Lagoon: This man-made hot spring pool is fed directly from geothermal features and offers and wonderful, warm soak during your day on the Golden Circle
Kerid Crater: This is a quick stop right on the way Golden Circle with a beautiful little walk around a crater lagoon
The Great Geysir and Strokkur Geysir: Located close to Gullfoss, this is another stop worth making to see the Geysirs erupt
Thingvellir National Park: The mid-Atlantic Ridge leaves the ocean floors and runs right through this National Park in Iceland.
Hike to Bruarfoss Waterfall: This relatively short hike passes 3 beautiful waterfalls along on the bluest rivers in Iceland
Walking around Gullfoss is Easy, but can get Crowded
As one of the most popular sites on the Golden Circle, Gullfoss can get crowded. We visited Gullfoss during an afternoon in late June and found it one of the most crowded sites during our visit to Iceland. Even with the parking lot mostly filled, the hiking trail provided enough room for folks to walk. When we walked the lower trail into the mist of the falls there was a steady stream of people.
To avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the off-season, or try to get to the falls early or late in the day.
Wear a Raincoat and Pants when you visit Gullfoss
If you want to stay dry, walk on the upper trail, when you visit the lower trail, you will get wet in the mist and water spraying up from the falls below you. This is absolutely part of the fun, but if it is cold you will definitely want to bring a raincoat and even rainpants – we had coats but were still a bit underdressed and got pretty soaked. It was also pretty windy between the normal Icelandic wind and the power of the waterfall.
For recent walking conditions, you can visit the trail guide on All Trails.
Gullfoss was created at the end of the Last Ice Age
As the ice receded after the last ice age, it left behind rivers and a new landscape. Gullfoss was formed as water pulses left the glacier. Today, the waterfalls is fed directly from the HV Glacier. The water flows down Gullfossgjúfur Canyon over the two falls with the canyon walls standing 70 meters high on both sides.
Gullfoss was almost Used to Generate Electricity
In addition to an interesting geological history, Gullfoss was part of an interesting and failed attempt to turn the river into a hydroelectric energy project funded by foreign investors. In 1907, a plan was put forward to create a hydroelectric facility on the river that runs through Gullfoss. The landowner, Tómas Tómasson, sold the land to the developers unaware that a loophole would allow development.
Tómas Tómasson’s daughter Sigríður Tómasdóttir started a legal battle that would last for years, and eventually, in 1929, the lease was withdrawn. Sigríður is recognized today for her perseverance and you can find a plaque with her story at Gullfoss. The lawyer who defended the case went on to become the first president of independent Iceland in 1944.
There are some Facilities Available at Gullfoss Waterfall
Located right next to the parking lot is a welcome center/building at Gullfoss. You can find toilets (you will need to pay to use the toilets), a small cafe, and a shop with Icelandic gifts. This is a nice stop on your visit and you can grab a warm or cold drink, sandwiches, and snacks.
Highlights of Our Visit to Gullfoss Waterfall
We visited Gullfoss Waterfall on our first day in Iceland as part of our visit to the Golden Circle right after visiting the Secret Lagoon in the midafternoon. The parking lot was mostly full during our visit and the walking trails were relatively crowded. After a short stop to use the bathroom and visit with the horses that were standing nearby, we walked down to the lower trail to the falls. There is a good view as you approach the falls.
As the trail winds its way on the hillside, the vegetation is noticeably lusher with wildflowers from the mist. We continued on to the end of the trail where you have a view out across the upper falls and down into the mist to the lower waterfall. The viewpoint here is big but slippery and a bit crowded.
After snapping some photos we walked the upper trail to see the falls from above. This is a nice walking trail with a very unique viewpoint and is worth exploring. After our visit to the falls, we stopped in at the shop briefly, before heading on our way to the Great Geysir.
Looking for more articles like 11 Gullfoss Waterfall Facts for your visit to Iceland? Check out our Iceland Planning page.
You can see a list of some of the other amazing sites on the Golden Circle to include in your visit.