- Distance: 7.5 km round trip
- Time: 3-4.5 hours depending on stops
- Elevation: 345 meters
Have you ever seen something so beautiful that wonder and joy bubbled up inside of you and burst out in a shout of amazement? Maybe that sounds cheesy but that’s exactly what happened to me, multiple times, as I trekked along the trail to the Glymur Waterfall in Iceland last Friday.
I was so excited to get the opportunity to fulfill one of my longtime dreams by traveling to Iceland, for a week that promised to be chock-full of hiking and wondrous natural sights. But Glymur was not on my radar. Indeed, I had never even heard the name until chatting with a couple of strangers while soaking in a naturally heated small river in the mountains above Selfoss. (Such is the nature of Iceland).
They recommended the hike with such enthusiasm that I realized I would have to give it a try if at all possible. Luckily I had an extra day alone in Reykjavik after my travel buddy said goodbye and caught a flight to Spain in the morning. So I called the rental car company, agreed to pay an extra $95 big ones to extend the rental for an extra day, and set off for Glymur hoping that the money would be worth it. I’m not exactly rolling in the dough at the moment, and Iceland is an expensive country, so it was a difficult decision to make. But I’m beyond glad that I made the choice to go.
What is Glymur?
Glymur is the 2nd tallest waterfall in Iceland. A newly measured waterfall on Morsarjokull glacier was recently discovered to beat out Glymur for the top spot.
However, the signs along the trail have not been changed and many people will still tell you that Glymur is the tallest waterfall. Either way, Glymur is definitely the tallest waterfall that can be easily accessed by foot.
Legend has it that a man was turned into a whale as punishment for betraying a fairy. The angry whale destroyed boats in the bay and killed the sons of a priest who were sailing through the fjord. The blind old priest walked to the seashore and somehow lured the whale up the river by placing his walking stick in the water. The passage through the river valley was so narrow that the earth trembled and clanged. This is why the waterfall was called Glymur, which means ‘clang’ in English. The whale traversed all the way up to the lake of Hvalvatn where he exploded from exhaustion.
After experiencing something such as the Glymur waterfall hike, I have a tendency to wax poetic. I hope you will enjoy my account of the journey as I attempt to explain what the hike did to me and how it made me feel.
I have included a few photos that I took along the trail, however, the beauty of the landscape was quite impossible to capture with a manmade lens. I encourage you to go check it out for yourself and not set too much stock in the photos within this article.
A lonely winding road
As I left the city, my fellow cars on the road took various turns that diverged my path from theirs and soon I shared the road with no others. The melancholic melodies of the indie folk music I played over the car stereo merged with the moody skies and made me feel as if perhaps I was the only human left in a world of hidden folk or the elves and dwarfs of Icelandic lore.
I drank in the landscape, as I had been doing all week. The sights I saw during the drive alone were nearly enough to make the rental money worth it already. But the best sights to behold were still to come.
The trail begins
The parking lot was easy to find. There were a few cars already there which meant I would not be completely alone on the trail. A large sign with a trail map marked points of interest and had descriptions of distances in kilometers with estimated hiking times. I took a quick picture of both, for my own reference, donned a few layers and a blue poncho as the mist had turned to rain, and set off through a swinging gate, onto the trail.
There was no one around me but the birch and the willow, their tiny, newborn, golden-green leaves somehow gleaming despite the overcast sky and the sprinkling rain. The path at the start, was well-marked and easy to follow, as I walked through the wide, U-shaped valley so typical of glacier-carved landscapes.
Soon small canyons and gorges carved by eager streams rose and fell around me. The stone walls were streaked with emerald green mosses, glistening with diamond droplets as they caught the rain in their lush carpets. As the trail forked, I kept to the right, hopping gingerly across slick stepping stones to ford a couple of small streams.
Rather, suddenly, the path dropped down through a small opening into a two-windowed lava cave with views looking in opposite directions, up and down a large river canyon. A small sign told stories of laundry and fish being dried in the cave during the rainy season, as well as an amusing folktale of how the waterfall Glymur was named
At the lava cave, the trail split to travel along both sides of the canyon edge. The trail on the west side kept to the high ground instead of descending through the cave but the trail to the east dropped down to the valley floor to a helpfully placed log and cable that allow travellers to more easily cross the river.
Take the East side if you want to see the waterfall as you hike along the canyon, and trust me, you will want to see the waterfall as much as possible.
The log was slippery but easy to cross while holding to the cable, however, it only spanned about half the river. Luckily I was able to pick out a path over wobbly stones and cling to the cable to keep from getting too wet the rest of the way over.
A steep ascent
Soon the trail rose steeply out of the canyon. The ground became somewhat treacherous, covered with both slick mud and loose talus. There are ropes attached to rebar posts driven into the ground on some of the most difficult parts and I used the ropes to haul myself up with my arms as much as my legs.
Breathing hard, I found myself on the edge of the canyon. Through the narrow walls, my first glimpse of Glymur became visible. At this point, I could see the waterfall as it crashed down over the sheer stone cliffs to fuel the rushing river below. The waterfall was already stunning but as I continued my trek, it would only become more and more breathtaking than before.
The trail became somewhat difficult to follow. I lost it on more than one occasion but it more or less paralleled the sharp dropoff of the canyon wall. With each new glimpse of Glymur and its brilliant, winding river valley I felt something bubbling up inside me that I knew I wouldn’t be able to contain for much longer.
I continued to pick my way along the rim of the canyon, trying to stay on the trail wherever possible by searching for the footprints of previous hikers. There were some designated lookout points to stop and view the waterfall and some areas where the erosion of the canyon had created natural peninsulas where I could carefully step to the edge and stare down at the dizzying drop-off to both sides. (I would not recommend this to somebody with vertigo or balance issues.)
Some strange force inside me often pulled me to the edge of these cliffs to gaze in sheer wonder at the natural beauty before me. I had to figuratively pinch myself to break the spell and avoid straying too close to the edge. Now without the sirens call of the canyon plunging beneath me. I contemplate the depths with a touch of dread as I think what could have happened, had the slippery ground caused me to misstep.
But as I finally reached the head of Glymur I couldn’t resist poking my head over the canyon lip to watch the powerful force of water plunge 650 feet to join the tumult carving out the canyon below. To put that into perspective, Niagra falls, though much wider than Glymur, is only 167 feet high.
Awe overtook me and my jaw literally dropped, a shout of wonder escaped from my lips and then another, and another. I couldn’t suppress it, nor did I want to. There is something akin to a spiritual experience that happens when one views indescribably natural beauty.
At least for me, I feel all at once tiny and insignificant yet filled and inflated with joy and gratitude for the chance to behold something so magnificent with my natural eyes. Dwarfed in the shadow of a great force of nature, I feel connected to a supreme creator who has organized this world for those of us who live upon it. I feel a sense of oneness with the earth and I feel a reciprocal obligation to nurture and be nurtured by it.
In that land, unspoiled by the selfishness of the callous or uncaring, those of us who were fortunate enough to reach that point, communed with the waterfall. We left our mark upon the land only in our footprints on the muddy ground, knowing that they would soon be washed away by the rain.
But the waterfall left a mark upon us that would last much longer.
Important Trail Information
The entire Glymur waterfall hike is on private property. However, the owners have been gracious enough to give access to the public. DO NOT GIVE THEM A REASON TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS. Please treat the land with respect. Pack out all your trash and avoid making unnecessary trails.
The trailhead is about an hours drive from Reykjavik.
Good hiking boots, water, snacks and waterproof/windproof layers are absolutely necessary for this hike.
The total maximum distance is about 7km or 4 miles if you hike to the top of the waterfall and back.
Estimated hiking time is about 3 hours, however, I am generally a fast hiker and it took me over four hours because of frequent stops to gaze at the waterfall and take pictures.
Don’t attempt this hike if you are on a tight schedule or your time is limited.
The trail, though not overly long is quite strenuous in some places with steep ascents over muddy and loose ground assisted by a rebar and rope railing.
I recommend this hike to moderately experienced hikers who are not afraid of heights. Beginners, those with balance issues, or groups with children should consider choosing something different.
There are several small stream crossings and one or two larger river crossings.
To begin the hike, go through the metal gate and keep to the right when the trail forks.
When you reach the lava cave, descend down the log steps cut into the trail and cross the river to the East side of the canyon. There is a log to assist with river crossings, however, it does not extend the entire way across the river. You will have to pick a path out over stones to cross after you reach the end of the log. There is a cable that extends across the river that you can hold on for support. The log is not always there, however, so you may have to ford the entire crossing. The river is fast-flowing but not particularly deep.
After you ascend to the top of the canyon the trail can get difficult to follow. It more-or-less parallels the rim of the canyon. Try to keep to areas where you can see footprints. Try to avoid stepping on vegetation. The closer you get to the edge of the canyon, the higher your risk of falling.
Remember the ground can be quite slick and there is loose rock and gravel. You are hiking at your own risk.
Once you reach the top of the waterfall, the trail should be easy to spot once again heading further up the river. You can continue to follow the river where you will reach a point where you can cross the river to the West side of the canyon about 300 meters above the waterfall.
The water is swift, cold, and rocky so take extra care if you choose to go this route.
You cannot see the waterfall from the west side of the canyon so if you would like extra viewing opportunities of Glymur like I did, don’t cross the river. Simply return back the way you came and enjoy each viewpoint for the second time as you descend the trail.