Aldeyjarfoss is a 20-meter-high waterfall in the river Skjálfandafljót. Although 20 meters hardly sounds high and mighty, the waterfall enhances its appeal and makes up for its lack of stature with its impressive surroundings and flow of water. Located in a middle of a small but beautiful cliff of ancient rocks, it forms part of a powerful stream of glacial water forcing its way from deep in the Icelandic Highlands through a narrow path between stunning stacks of basalt columns. Standing close to the waterfall, it is easy to feel intimidated by its force, and the muddy color of the river can seem almost threatening.
The river carries tons of soil, ash, mud, and dirt from under the glacier Vatnajökull, determined to deliver it to the northern shore where, about 180 kilometers later, the river meets the open sea. Like all the mighty rivers in Iceland, Skjálfandafljót also gathers water from many other sources such as spring-fed creeks and direct runoff streams. Conducted by mother nature, this natural enterprise of beautiful basalt column cliffs and the mighty stream of dirt and water is a breathtaking combination, more closely resembling a striking beast sitting atop a throne of spectacular rocks than a muddy glacial river.
The value of a natural wonder
When you stand in front of a natural wonder like Aldeyjarfoss, you are most likely moved by its breathtaking beauty. It is, first and foremost, a stunning waterfall, but as such it can also be viewed as a form of power and energy. At the turn of the twentieth century, the optimism regarding enterprises creating wealth and new technology blinded many people, but a waterfall like Aldeyjarfoss, situated deep in the valley Bárðardalur, was of no use to anyone. On the other hand, it was a stream and fall of water that (in the terminology of that time) could produce 45 horsepower of electricity. For the people in the company Fossafélagið (The Waterfall Company), who purchased the waterfall in the second decade of the twentieth century, it was neither a beauty nor a beast, but a source of wealth floating from Vatnajökull glacier all the way to the shoreline towards prosperity. Had they succeeded in their venture, today Aldeyjarfoss would not be an attraction for tourists but hidden under a reservoir feeding a power plant that would have probably been named Aldeyjarvirkjun.
Very photogenic but quite difficult to capture
Those of us who consider the waterfall to be a natural and photographic gem are glad that the company Fossafélagið was not successful, mainly because of the stunning basalt columns surrounding it. In addition, you can enjoy the so-called “skessukatlar", a formation that is also characteristic of the cliffs around the waterfall. Skessukatlar, which translates to “Giantess' Kettles”, are potholes in the surrounding walls formed by small stones caught in the whirlpools of the mighty stream. You rarely see a photo of the waterfall that is as stunning as actually standing in front of the beast; it is simply difficult to capture. Nevertheless, it is a significant natural wonder and a joy to visit and photograph.
Access to Aldeyjarfoss waterfall
The waterfall Aldeyjarfoss is not easy to visit as it is located at the end of a long valley called Bárðardalur in northern Iceland. On Road Nr. 1, by Goðafoss, another famous waterfall in the river Skjálfandafljót, you turn south on Road Nr. 842. The drive to Aldeyjarfoss is 40 kilometers, and at the end, you turn onto Road F26, Sprengisandsleið, and drive about 3 kilometers. The F Road is a mountain road accessible only by 4WD vehicles. The 3 kilometers are, on the other hand, relatively easy to drive for any car, but if you decide to go farther on F26, you need a 4WD. Then, after viewing the waterfall, you need to drive the same 40 kilometers back. If you are driving the Ring Road, you need to account for at least three hours to visit this magnificent natural wonder, and it is certainly worth it.