We unintentionally hiked the trail we intended to hike. I know, that sounds like a riddle! We woke up in the morning with the two goals to visit Vettifossen and Nigardbessen. One is Norway’s tallest waterfall at an impressed 275m and the other is the country ‘most accessible’ glacier. We were a little tuckered and looking for an easier paced day. Should we hike Vettisfossen? Or can we just drive up and embrace the scenery? What are the hiking options?
Surprisingly, the information we found online was a little ambiguous and lacking. Which left us pretty naive regarding this adventure, thankfully still prepared enough to impressive survivalist though! So with an open schedule and adventurous spirits, we took on the trails towards Vettisfossen. Originally we thought it’d be just around the trail corner, but it ended up being several corners, bridges, waterfalls, and switchbacks later. Actually a easy/moderate hike in the end and my favourite experience of the entire trip.
The Low Down
- Address: Utladalsvegen 1, 6884 Øvre Årdal, Norway
- Directions: Once in Øvre Årdal, there is signage directing you towards Vettisfossen. You’re looking for Utladalsvegen road which follows the river. The first impressively large waterfalls you see on the right of the road is Hjellefossen. Continue past this waterfalls until you reach a small parking lot at the end of the road. Do not parking in the staff parking (like we accidentally did) or along the narrow road. To make sure you get a spot, arrive early (prior to 9am).
- Cellphone Range: You’re hiking through a valley so that’s a hard no.
- Trail Distance: Over 6.5kms to reach the base of the waterfalls.
- Elevation Gain: Mild rolling elevation gains and losses throughout the hike.
- Duration: 4-6hrs depending on fitness level and if you choose to hike to the base or the top of the waterfalls.
- Crowds: It is a popular trail and preferred to hike prior to 9am to avoid crowds or on shoulder seasons.
- Washrooms: There is a washroom at the trailhead for a small cost, otherwise follow Leave No Trace etiquette.
- Entrance Fee: Free
- Season: May to October.
- More Information: Visit Outtt or Sognefjord for more details.
In Good Company
You know how sometimes you have the best of best of friends, but then add in a little travel together and you’re both twitchy by the end? That didn’t happen. Travel, especially non scheduled follow your heart kind of travel, can test and break some people. Ha ha. Thankfully, I swear, Davianna and I are kin from another time! Both preferring to ‘go with the flow’ and adjusting continuously instead of rigid planing. Ugh, what a relief! This day was the perfect example, from the time we woke up to the time we reached Vettisfossen, I think the ‘plan’ for the day changed at least a dozen times! Ahhhhh, just the way we like it. Easy breezy lemon squeezy and let us experience whatever the world puts in our path.
What to bring
- Small Picnic: There are too many perfect spots to count for lunch (just hike out whatever you hike in)
- Money: Small change (kroners) if you’d like to use the washroom at the trailhead or donate to the mini museum on site.
The overview is that from the parking lot you’re going to continue on a clearly marked path through a ridiculously stunning valley for approximately 6.5kms to reach the base of the waterfalls. There will also be opportunities to split off to hike up to Avdalen farm and the top of Vettisfossen.
Alright, let break down this hike. Starting at the parking lot, there are two useful bits of information to take note of. The first is the length and approximate hiking time for each trail. Note that these are what I call ‘Norwegian Hiking Times’ and maybe, just maybe, you should factor in additional time. The second is the big white board that indicates how many bridges (and their names) you’ll cross on the trail to Vettifossen.
Full Trail Breakdown
The trailhead is at the first little bunch of buildings where there is the museum describing the land and culture, along with washrooms and cafe. Continuing forward, we hiked the obvious trail that followed the river at the base of the valley. The trail itself is more of a wide gravel/dirt road that is relative flat and very easy to walk. On this trail you’ll pass multiple waterfalls on the left of the valley…it’s hard not to take-all-the-pictures. The whole area is lush green and the waters are a gorgeous bright aqua. There are information placards along the way describing multiple points of interest – read them! It’s interesting. Once you pass the last listed bridge (I wish I still had that picture to share), you get to a portion of the trail that is paved. This is where we thought that the waterfalls was just around the corner, ha ha, but nope.
Continue along this path until you reach a few houses, that cluster of red buildings up above is where the trail splits but first you have to follow the switchbacks to get there. Once there, at the little guard house, the left trail running along the fence is to the base of Vettisfossen and the trail on your right is to hike up the top.
We chose the base for a full view of the waterfalls.
This is where the trail gets rocky in spots and steeper in elevation and dips. There are guide ropes along certain sections to help you along. Once you veer back into the bushes/trees, the base of the waterfalls will quickly come into view. It is magnificent in my mind. Let me know if you agreed! Pictures simply do not this place justice.
Vettisfossen is a wild amount of water free falling 275m to the rocks below. Understandably, you can hear it before you see it! The waterfalls itself was wonderful to see, but adsorbing the whole landscape together left me stunned. Majestic waterfalls and vibrant greens makes you think that darfs and giants could walk out at any second. Only later did I find out that the base of the word ‘vetti’ comes from the meaning of mystical beings like elves, dwarfs, giants and gods. Seems appropriate enough!
There is plenty of ground to explore, however it is slippery and dangerous when you close to the rushing water. There is a trail (ish) on the right side leading to the true base of the falls. Getting that close however also means getting wet and not the best for pictures.
We stopped for lunch and took in the views. Being foreigners, we found it a little surprising to see other hikers reach the base, stay 5 mins, and then turn around to hike back! Whaaaaa??? Do you not see this wonder?!? But if you live in paradise everyday or have plans to hike to the top…kinda makes it more understandable. 😉
Vettifossen Points of Interest
There is plenty to keep you occupied and intrigued along this hike! It can be a whole day affair if you choose to explore the other trails. First there is the museum at the trail head (remember to bring a few kroners to donate!), then there is the incredible story and hike up to Avdal Guard which was a farm abandoned in 1962 and then restored as a tourist cabin (accommodates up to 22 pers).
As for the smaller waterfalls along the route, there are almost too many to count! One that stands out (maybe because it was also boosting a rainbow that day) is Avdalfossen. Perfect spot to dip your feet if you’re brave enough for those ice cold waters.
Wrapping it up
This is a hike that I’d easily do again, except perhaps to the top of the falls to see that viewpoint. After getting back to the car, we packed up quickly, refueled, and made our way to Nigardsbreen for a little glacier glory. Because really, while on vacation, we were taking full advantage of those Norwegian summers with their 19 hrs of day light! #cantstopwontstop