Iceland is renowned worldwide for its waterfalls, most of which are fed by glacial meltwater. No matter where you go on the island, you’ll find some stunning waterfalls to enjoy and photograph. In my opinion, the best waterfalls are the ones you have to work to get to. Waterfalls that are only accessible via a challenging hike make you feel like you’ve earned the right to see them. One great example of this, which is a fairly convenient drive from the capital, is Glymur waterfall.
Glymur is Iceland’s second-highest waterfall, at 198 meters (650 feet). It’s located in West Iceland and is fed by the river Botnsá, which runs from Hvalvatn lake. After dropping down the cliff face, the water continues west until it reaches the Atlantic, via the fjord Hvalfjörður. There is a mythological story surrounding the waterfall, concerning magic and a whale. The story goes that a man was transformed into a whale by his angry elf former-lover. The man-turned-whale lived in Hvalfjörður (“Whale Fjord”) and attacked ships in Faxaflói bay. A priest lured the whale up Botnsá river. It swam up Glymur and into Hvalvatn (“Whale lake”), where it died.
How to Get to Glymur Waterfall
As I mentioned, Glymur can only be reached with a hike, but a beautiful hike. The round trip is about 7.5km (4.7 miles) and is almost completely uphill on the way there. You’ll be walking along the winding, inclining path without any tree cover, so bring warm, waterproof clothing with you. You’ll complete at least two river crossings; the one on the way to Glymur has big rocks as stepping stones. The other crossing, above the waterfall, doesn’t really have stepping stones, so ideally your hiking boots will be waterproof.
When you arrive at the car park, the Glymur waterfall hike trail will be easily spottable. Signs and a gate mark the entry point; note that neither the car park nor the trail have any restrooms. Nature will be your bathroom for the next few kilometers. Follow the marked trail and you’ll soon come to a wonderful wide cave that the path passes through.
Shortly after you’ll reach your first river crossing. A thick wire provides support: hold on to that and carefully step between the rocks in the water. After the rocks is a log to walk across, and then you’re on the other side of the river. The rest of the hike is simply a case of continuing to follow the path. Make sure you have plenty of water and snacks; you can also refill your bottle in the river. It’s a journey of at least an hour and a half to two hours to the top. At the end of the Glymur falls hike, you are rewarded with the incredible spectacle of the waterfall itself. If you turn around, you’ll have a great view of the surrounding area.
This hike has some tricky spots, so pay attention and come prepared.
The Way Back Down
The Glymur waterfall hike is more than just getting there; you have to get back down too. Once you’ve taken the time to appreciate the fall, hike above it until you come to the river that feeds it. This river is fairly calm and not too deep, so fording it shouldn’t be a problem. Nevertheless, take care and pick your fording spot safely. Once you’re over to the other side, it’s a simple matter of following the path to the bottom. There is a junction at a certain point that gives you the choice between an easy or more difficult path. Either of these will take you to the car park where you started, creating a loop.
It’s a good idea to arrive at Glymur early so that you’re not walking back down in the dark. The summer months have almost 24 hours of sunlight here, so between June and August that won’t be a problem. Don’t forget your sunglasses and some sunscreen. Additionally, the hike is very popular, so if you start early in the morning you’ll avoid the crowds.
By the time of the winter solstice, there are only a few hours of sunlight a day. This hike is best left for some time between May and September; then you won’t have to contend with snow. Additionally, the weather is likely to be better. No matter the time of year, check the forecast before you leave on https://www.vedur.is/. But how do you get to Glymur in the first place?
Reykjavik to Glymur Waterfall
If you search for Glymur waterfall on an Iceland map, you’ll find it north-east of the capital. Head out of the city with your rental car and join the ring road (Route 1) going clockwise, or north. After about half an hour you’ll come to a junction; take the right turning onto Route 47. This road will take you almost all the way to Glymur, with beautiful views of the fjord along the way. After another half an hour you’ll see a turning on the right, which is the Glymur access road. Look out for the sign post and turn onto the road, following it for about 3km to the car park. The journey from Reykjavík to the car park is about 70km (43 miles) overall and takes just over an hour.
Other Hikes to Other Waterfalls
Skogafoss Waterfall Hike
This hike, found on the south coast, actually begins at a waterfall: Skógafoss. However, if you follow the path past Skógafoss you’ll come across many other waterfalls higher up the river. This is the beginning—or end— of a famous hiking trail known as Fimmvörðuháls, which leads into the highlands. This hike is 22km (14 miles) long and is fairly intense, so it requires much preparation. Of course, if you only want to explore the waterfalls along the river, you can turn around whenever you like. A good stopping point is at the footbridge crossing the river, 8km (5 miles) in. Turning back here would mean a 16km round trip, so again this hike should be started early. The Skógafoss car park is a two-hour journey from Reykjavík, a 156km (97 miles) trip mostly along Route 1.
Dynjandi is a waterfall found in the Westfjords, the north-west area of Iceland. The hike to reach these falls is short but steep, taking only about 15 minutes. You’ll see other waterfalls along the way; take care that the path and rocks may be slippery. Dynjandi is regarded as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and the Westfjords is absolutely worth a visit. The waterfall is a five-hour drive up the west coast from the capital: a journey of 366km (227 miles). The Westfjords is mostly inaccessible by road in the winter, so it’s best to visit in the summer.
Visiting Iceland in the summer? Pack some warm, waterproof clothing, and be sure to embark on some of the country’s incredible hikes. Not only do the hikes present a rewarding challenge, they offer stunning views of Iceland’s serene nature all the way. In these cases, the journey is just as important as the destination. Come and enjoy the land of ice and fire, with all of its brilliance.
Samuel Hogarth, Cars Iceland.