Öxarárfoss is a waterfall situated within Þingvellir National Park in southwest Iceland.
The waterfall flows out the river Öxará, cascading in two drops over the cliffs of Almannagjá gorge, which marks the eastern boundary of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
The waterfall has a height of 13 metres (44 feet) and an average width of six metres (20 feet). The pool of water at the waterfall’s base is dotted with large, smooth rocks, which get especially icy in winter. The waterfall can be visited year round, but expect large crowds during the peak season of the summer.
During the depths of winter, the waterfall is entirely frozen over. Ice climbers have been known to scale it, but this should only be done with and by experts.
Surroundings and History
Öxarárfoss is one of the most popular attractions of Þingvellir Natural Park, which in turn, is one of the most popular attractions of Iceland. The National Park is one of the three famous sites of the Golden Circle along with Gullfoss waterfall and the Geyser Geothermal Area, for both geological and historical reasons.
The geological reason is that, as mentioned, Þingvellir lies between the tectonic plates. As they pull apart, the land is torn, and thus there are many beautiful ravines and lava fields to be found.
The most famous of these ravines is Silfra. Like the others, it is filled with crystal clear glacial water, which emerges from a spring, but unlike the others, it is possible to take snorkelling and diving tours here.
The water from the crevasses such as Silfra feed into the lake Þingvellavatn; in fact, the river Öxará, which feeds Öxarárfoss, is the only source of the lake that does not come from a spring.
The historical reason that makes Þingvellir so famous is that it was the original site of the Alþing, the Icelandic parliament founded in 930 AD. This parliament continues to exist in Reykjavík but for nine centuries flourished here.
Icelanders would meet annually to pass laws, settle disputes, and share news. It was both incredibly progressive, giving a voice to all people and granting women divorces long before many other nations were considering it, and barbaric, hosting many battles and the prosecution of dozens of witches.
It is thus featured in many sagas, and though not always mentioned in them, Öxarárfoss was a witness to this long history.
One notable piece of folklore about the waterfall was that it was said to have prophetic powers for the year ahead. At midnight on New Years Eve, it would run red with either wine or blood, with the former promising prosperity ahead, and the latter warning of war.