Falls to Fall For: Öxarárfoss in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

I could hear the roar of the water smashing down onto the smooth and large rocks below long before I saw what is known as Öxarárfoss as I was strolling in Þingvellir National Park that morning of my visit, where I was greeted with spectacular — and relatively warm — weather.

Falls to Fall For: Öxarárfoss in Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Visitors are treated to a breathtaking view during the walk to Öxarárfoss.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Much of the walk to Öxarárfoss is via a curving boardwalk, with the remainder of it as a path of asphalt.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Öxarárfoss is actually located in a fissure which is situated between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate — the land is torn as the plates are pulled apart, which resulted in the creation of many ravines and lava fields — so if you are unable to visit the bridge between the North American and Eurasian continental plates at Miðlína, you can walk between the two continental plates here instead.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Although Öxarárfoss is a mere height of 20 meters — or approximately 44 feet — when compared to other waterfalls in Iceland, it is one of the most popular landmarks within Þingvellir National Park.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

The waterfall flows out from the Öxará river — which is the only source of the lake that does not originate from a spring — and cascades in two distinct drops over the cliffs of the Almannagjá gorge, which marks the eastern boundary of the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

As slippery as they may be at all times, the rocks found in the pool of frigid blue water at the base of the waterfall can be especially icy during the winter months.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Visit Öxarárfoss in the morning — ensuring that the sun is behind you when facing the waterfall — if you want to be treated to a stunning rainbow.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

The width of Öxarárfoss is approximately six meters wide; and it can be witnessed from a wide wooden platform at the end of the boardwalk.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

“Interestingly the waterfall Öxarárfoss is actually a human-made waterfall”, according to this article posted at Hit Iceland. “As strange as this may sound geologists and historians have discovered that the river Öxará was moved hundreds of years ago, to channel the water into the ravine Almannagjá in the ninth century. The purpose was to provide water for the members and visitors of the Icelandic parliament Althingi in the 9th century. This was documented in the saga Sturlunga written in the 12th and the 13th century. The name, according to folklore, came from an Ax that killed a notorious and a very unstable female troll famous for killing and terrorizing visitors, inhabitants and travelers in the Hengill area not far from Þingvellir. Long after the blade was put into her back, between her shoulder blades, it surfaced near the place where Öxarárfoss is now.”

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

A different tale of folklore supposedly acknowledges that Öxarárfoss had prophetic powers of prognostication for the year ahead: at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the color of the river would change to red, which either was wine and promised prosperity in the coming year — or blood, which warned of war.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Look closely to find the water fowl on small ledges along the otherwise sheer rocky face of the cliffs on either side of Öxarárfoss.

After leaving Öxarárfoss, I then visited Langistígur, from which I was treated to incredible views — even of parts of Öxarárfoss from a distance.

Öxaráfoss Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Summary

Öxarárfoss is located in Þingvellir National Park off of highway 36 — which is also known as Þingvallavegur — approximately 47 kilometers northeast of the city center of Reykjavík. Driving time is approximately 47 minutes each way.

Facilities are located at the visitor center at the main entrance to Þingvellir National Park to enjoy Öxarárfoss. You can technically stay as long as you like, as it is technically open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year; but expect large crowds of people during the peak season of the summer months. Give yourself a minimum of 20 minutes to enjoy the natural beauty of Öxarárfoss, which includes the walk in and out. The boardwalk is very easy to negotiate for most visitors.

Þingvellir National Park is one of the most popular attractions of Iceland because it is one of the three famous sites of which the Golden Circle is comprised — along with Gullfoss waterfall and the Geyser Geothermal Area, which will be covered in future articles here at The Gate.

Entrance to Þingvellir National Park — of which Öxarárfoss is a part — is actually free of charge; but if you arrive by motor vehicle and park in the following parking lots…

P1 Hakid: By the visitor centre at Hakid next to the viewpoint at the upper end of Almannagjá.
P2 Fossplan: At two parking lots near the assembly fields and Öxarárfoss.
P5 Valhöll: To the south of the assembly site.

…then the charge for a daypass on all the parking lots — at which the ticket is valid for the day at all parking lots; and the parking pay machines accept all major credit card and debit cards — is as follows:

  1. Passenger car, 5 seats or less — 750 Icelandic Króna or $6.35 United States Dollars
  2. Passenger car, 6-8 seats — 1,000 Icelandic Króna or $8.47 United States Dollars
  3. Bus,  9-19 seats — 1,800 Icelandic Króna or $15.25 United States Dollars
  4. Bus, 20 seats or more — 3,500 Icelandic Króna or $29.65 United States Dollars

All photographs ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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