Top 6 Breathtaking Facts About Gullfoss Falls

One of the most astounding natural features in the world can be found in the southwest of Iceland and has become one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions.

Let’s take a closer look at some fun and interesting facts about Gullfoss Falls, easily one of the most breathtaking waterfalls on the planet!

1. It’s located on a famous river in southwest Iceland

The somewhat desolate and gloomy landscape of the southwestern part of Iceland features one of the most fascinating natural landmarks in the world in the form of an incredible waterfall.

This waterfall is located in the Hvítá River, which translates from Icelandic to English as the “White River.” It’s one of the most prominent rivers in this part of the country and originates in an equally astounding glacier lake called the “Hvítárvatn Glacier” in the Highlands of Iceland.

The source of the river is only located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north of the famous waterfall. It eventually meets 3 other rivers before coming together with the Sog River to form the Ölfusá River which eventually flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

Gullfoss Falls Hvítá river
The falls on the Hvítá river in southwest Iceland / Pixabay

2. The waterfall is located inside a canyon

One of the most remarkable facts about Gullfoss Falls is that the Hvítá River turns sharply to the right before dropping into an amazing canyon. This crescent has a length of about 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) and is an amazing natural landmark by itself.

This enormous gorge was formed by millions of years of flash floods deepening the existing cracks in the basalt lava. This has resulted in a gorge with a width of about 20 meters (66 feet) and a depth of 32 meters (105 feet).

The enormous pressure of the water of the river dropping down into the canyon is on average about 140 cubic meters per second. This rises to about 2,000 cubic meters per second during flash floods. This kind of explains how the water managed to cut through the Icelandic landscape!

Gulfoss Falls canyon
The waterfalls inside th canyon / Pixabay

3. It’s a stepped waterfall that consists of 2 drops

One of the most fascinating facts about Gullfoss Falls is that it’s actually a tiered waterfall that consists of 2 drops. Shortly after the river abruptly turns to the right, it plunges about 11 meters (36 feet) deep into the canyon.

It then plunges another 21 meters (69 feet), resulting in the total drop of the waterfall being 32 meters (105 feet).

This type of waterfall is also referred to as a “cataract,” which means a waterfall created by a large amount of water dropping over the edge of a cliff.

Gullfoss Falls 2 drops
Detail of the two drops / Pixabay

4. Its name refers to some of its astounding features

The name of the waterfall, “Gullfoss,” literally translates from Icelandic to English as “Golden Falls.” There are two theories as to why the waterfall was named as such, both referring to its amazing features:

  • The glacial water sometimes produces a golden hue, an incredible shiny natural phenomenon.
  • In case the sun manages to penetrate the packed clouds covering the Iceland sky, the water produces a fascinating rainbow.

Another theory refers to a legend once written down by Icelandic naturalist Sveinn Pálsson (1762-1840) who wrote a story mentioning:

Once upon a time, a farmer named Gýgur lived at Gýgjarhóll. He had plenty of gold and could not bear the thought of someone else possessing it after his lifetime. To prevent this, he placed the gold in a coffer and threw it into the waterfall.

Presumed origin of the waterfall’s name.

After that, the name of this magnificent waterfall permanently became the “Golden Waterfall” or “Gullfoss.”

Gulfoss Falls rainbow
Rainbow appearing above the waterfall / Pixabay

5. It almost had a different purpose if not for one brave woman

The incredible amount of water running down the edge of the cliff of the canyon didn’t go unnoticed in the early 20th century as it was deemed perfectly suitable to generate a lot of electricity.

One woman’s constant struggle to prevent the waterfall from becoming industrialized partially helped to avoid this fate. This woman was named Sigríður Tómasdóttir (1874-1957) and she had rather radical means of trying to convince local politicians to prevent the waterfalls from being replaced with an enormous dam.

She reportedly made trips to Reykjavik by horse, about 120 kilometers (80 miles) away, just to make her point, and even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if a dam was to be built.

She’s considered to be the first environmentalist in Iceland and is eternally memorized with a plaque that is located just near the incredible feat of nature that she helped to protect.

Sigríður Tómasdóttir monument
Sigríður Tómasdóttir Monument / Pixabay

6. It’s one of the 3 attractions in the “Golden Circle”

If you ever plan to visit Iceland, then you will most certainly go on a trip referred to as the “Golden Circle” (yes, it was named as such in reference to the Golden Waterfalls).

This tour of the country consists of a roundtrip with visits to the 3 most famous tourist attractions in the country, including Gullfoss Falls!

The other two attractions of the Golden Circle capital Reykjavik are the Þingvellir National Park and the Geysir geothermal area, and the entire trip takes about 230 kilometers (140 miles) to complete!

Gulfoss tourists
Tourists at Gullfoss Falls / Pixabay