Located in the river Hvítá in the south west of Iceland and about 6 km (3.7 miles) northwest of Geysir, Gullfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. The Hvítá flows south, and around 1 km above the falls, it takes a sharp right turn and flows downwards into a curved three-step stairway. From there it plunges twice, at 11 and 21 meters, into a 32m deep canyon. The canyon beneath the waterfall was formed by a catastrophic flooding at the end of the Ice Age, and the continuous erosion lengthens it by 25 cm each year.
Its fame means Gullfoss, which translates to “Golden Falls,” is also one of the most frequently visited waterfalls in Iceland. As visitors approach, they are more likely to hear the waterfall before they see it cascading wildly into the steep, dramatic crevice below. In fact, upon approach, the crevice is hidden from view, and it looks as if the majestic river just disappears mysteriously into the earth. When the sun is shining, rainbows can be seen above the canyon, giving it something of a magical appearance. Standing at Gullfoss, where the water flows at an average rate of 109 cubic meters per second, surveying the beauty, and beholding this wondrous sight of nature should uplift and energize the spirits of any visitor.
In the early part of the 1990s, and even late into the last century, there was talk of building a hydroelectric plant to generate electricity at Gullfoss. At the time these plans were being considered, the land was first leased to foreign investors, and subsequently sold to Iceland by local landowner Sigridur Tomasdottir. Ultimately, the proposals fell flat, but legend has it that Sigridur Tomasdottir threatened to throw herself into the falls and subsequently walked barefoot to Reykjavik in protest, such was her love for Gullfoss. There is now a statue of Sigridur at the waterfall site.