Preikestolen in Norway (also known as the Pulpit Rock) has more than 200,000 visitors each year and it is not hard to understand why. It is an easy hike and the reward is an outstanding view over the beautiful Lysefjord.
In 2015, Lonely Planet ranked Preikestolen as number 1 on their listing of “most breathtaking viewing platforms” in the world. Every year, approximately 300,000 people from all over the world hike the 4-kilometer trail up to Preikestolen. Read about its history here.
How was Preikestolen formed?
To know the history of this famous rock formation, we must know how the fjord itself was formed. A few million years ago, the Lysefjord was just a river valley, created by creeks and rivers eroding through an old plain landscape. Through a series of ice ages, spanning over a time period of 1-2 million years, this valley was carved out by moving glaciers and transformed into its current deep U-shape.
10,000 years ago, the last ice age was at an end, its massive glaciers melting away, leaving behind a deep valley. At the end of the valley, a wall of accumulated glacial debris – a so-called moraine – reached high. However, due to all the ice melting on a global scale, sea levels were rising. The sea eventually broke through the end moraine and flooded the valley, resulting in what we call a fjord. At its deepest, the bottom reaches 457 meters below current sea level. At the Lysefjord’s mouth, where the end moraine still remains, the fjord is only 13 meters deep.
Without the ice coating the landscape, the mountains in the fjord lost their support and became unstable. Successive winters caused many mountainsides to crack under frost damage, breaking away whole sections and sending vast quantities of rock crashing into the sea. The three sides that make up Preikestolen’s rock formation were split off as three large cracks gave way. The rock avalanches sculpted the mountain, and left Preikestolen in its current form.
Fun fact – the parking lot at the trailhead is built on a glacial moraine. When you hike the first hills, notice the big boulders laying alongside the trail. Imagine the massive forces at work as glaciers pushed rocks across the landscape, like a child playing with marbles!
According to the stories, Preikestolen was discovered in 1896, when bank manager Thomas Peter Randulff from Stavanger cruised the Lysefjord as a passenger onboard the steam boat Oscar II. Randulff noticed a striking rock formation jutting from the granite mountain wall on the northern cliffs. Captain Hana recognized the formation. He explained how the cliff looked like the blade of a wood planer and was therefore called “Hyvlatånnå” in the local dialect. As an active member in the Norwegian Hiking Association, Randulff decided to become the first to hike to the top. He was accompanied by a friend, accountant Ole Hausken.
There were no roads in the area at the time, so they had to start at sea level. After climbing up along a stream and around a lake, they reached the farmhouse named Vatne, located at what is now the trailhead. (Fun fact: the farm house still exists, and you can sleep there.) The widow running the farm had not heard of any rock formation called Preikestolen, but her two sons, Elling and Guttom, were eager to help the gentlemen find it. They needed the help of another local, Fredrik Bratteli, who lived at Neverdalen Farm – now abandoned, to locate the rock formation. The views were amazing! Today, more than 120 years after its discovery, people still travel from all over the world to be impressed by the scenery and take that very same picture Randulff took of Elling, Guttorm and Ole back in 1896. The view itself has not changed much, but a lot else has…
The first tourists
In the early 1900’s, the first tourists visiting what was now called Preikestolen felt that it was a long and difficult hike. In 1920, the Stavanger Hiking Association furnished 3 rooms at Vatne Farm, so people could stay overnight. Neighboring Torsnes Farm became a ‘Tourist Station’ in 1925 and was in operation until the 1960’s. In the 1920’s, Vatne and Torsnes reported approximately 100 guests annually. In 1921, the trail between Vatne and Preikestolen was marked, further increasing the number of hikers. Accommodations for guests was a welcome source of income for the locals, as the life on a farm was harsh.
As the number of visitors further increased, better facilitation was needed. Stavanger Hiking Association appropriated Vatne Farm in 1946, and opened “Preikestolhytta” (hytte means cabin or lodge) in 1949. Construction was a true accomplishment. To get all the materials transported in, a stone quay had to be built at sea level. From this location, called Refså, a cable way was erected to hoist all the goods up 240 meters of elevation. The cable way ended at Lake Refsvatnet, on which boats were used to get all equipment to the opposite shore. A trolley track was built for the last stretch. Builders fetched timber from the surrounding forests, sawed at a makeshift sawmill near the lake. This route from sea-level to the farm closely matched the route Randulff had taken 4 decades earlier.
Preikestolhytta became the flagship of the local hiking association, with an impressive (at the time) capacity of 44 beds. In 1961, a road was constructed from Jøssang – near Jørpeland – to Preikestolhytta. Although it now became possible to hike Preikestolen in just one day, the continued increase in visitor numbers still filled up beds.
Tourist development: an increased need for visitor and nature management
From the 1960’s, visitor number grew steadily each year, up to 50,000 in the 1990’s. This development gave rise to new questions: who was responsible for safety, and how could a sustainable development in the area be assured? The idea to construct an elevator from sea-level to Preikestolen caused a heated debate. The local community saw the need for a more long-term approach. In 1992, the Rogaland County Council passed a land-use and management plan for the increasingly famous rock formation. A year later, Stiftelsen Preikestolen was established. This non-profit organization, in which the local municipalities and land-owners are represented, is still responsible for a daily management of the parking lot and trail. One of the main tasks of Stiftelsen Preikestolen is to monitor visitor numbers and behavior, as well as planning and executing measures to ensure guests will have a pleasant and safe experience, without compromising the natural resources in the area.
In the 1990’s, several investments in infrastructure were made. From 1993-1996, local entrepreneurs hardened and widened the trail with rocks from the area, to make it easier to hike, and prevent erosion. The road and parking lot were extended several times, and toilet and information facilities at the trailhead were improved.
Entering the 21st century – further improvements
In 2004, approximately 75,000 hikers visited Preikestolen. Due to an accelerating increase in digital word-of-mouth, media attention, and visitors sharing their pictures and experiences on social media, visitor numbers further increased. In 2018 approximately 300,000 hikers visited the rock.
In 2008, the new Preikestolen Mountain Lodge opened its doors. Designed by Norwegian architect company Helen & Hard, the building’s concept is based around embracing the scenic surroundings, focusing on a close interaction with nature. Preikestolen Mountain Lodge was developed as an environmentally friendly lodge, part of the local Norwegian Wood Project. It won a national architectural award in 2009. The lodge’s restaurant and its premium hotel rooms provide beautiful views of Lake Refsvatnet and surrounding mountains.
To further ensure the safety and sustainability on and around the trail, Sherpas from Nepal were called upon to improve the trail. From 2013 to 2018, large sections of the trail have been hardened. Several steeper parts have been cleared of big boulders and other obstacles. The hand-crafted granite stone steps the Sherpas put into place make for easier and safer hiking. Local carpenters were brought in to build timber bridges at exposed locations.
Stiftelsen Preikestolen also has several paid and voluntary staff monitoring safety and sanitation along the trail. There is close cooperation with the Norwegian People’s Aid (or Norsk Folkehjelpin Norwegian), who, among other things, manage volunteer ambulance services and mountain rescue teams. Their local department, Strand og Forsand, includes approximately 100 volunteers who work on a standby-basis. They are ready to respond 24/7- every day of the year.
Preikestolen – an international icon all year-round!
Preikestolen has been the scene of countless media and PR stunts. The latest and maybe most known ‘happening’ at Preikestolen has been the filming of some of the most action-filled scenes of the latest installment of Mission Impossible, starring Tom Cruise.
Fun fact – did you know 2,000 movie lovers hiked up in the dark to witness the Norwegian Premiere of ‘Mission Impossible 6 – Fallout’ at Preikestolen itself?
Read more about Mission Impossible at Preikestolen here.
Preikestolen has not only become the number 1 hike in Norway – it truly is an international icon, attracting visitors from all over the world. During the busy summer months (most notably July and August), this has led to some crowding at peak days, especially on weekends with nice weather.
Management and daily staff at Stiftelsen Preikestolen continue to develop measures to offset the negative consequences of littering and the pressure on the natural resources. Examples of current and future projects include reopening of the old Refså quay and trail to Vatne, and the establishment of a visitor center. An essential part of the strategy to cope with increased interest is to facilitate for visitors coming outside the summer season. Since 2018, the parking lot and facilities at the trail head are operated every day of the year.
While peak days in summer see up to 7,000 hikers visiting Preikestolen, most days in winter see less than 100 hikers visiting our national hiking icon.
Hiking in winter does require more research, preparation and equipment.
You can read more about it here.
What does Preikestolen mean?
The Norwegian name Preikestolen consists of two words: “Preike” and “stol”. “Preike” means ‘to preach’, and “stol” means ‘chair’. So, translated literally, Preikestolen means ‘Preacher’s Chair’. The proper English word for what Norwegians call a ‘preacher chair’ is a pulpit. A pulpit is a raised stand for Christian preachers. A traditional Christian pulpit raises well above the church floor, representing a good metaphor for Preikestolen, which towers 604 above the Lysefjord.
When doing research, you will find the English name ‘Pulpit Rock’ many places. We prefer using the correct local name: Preikestolen.
Will Preikestolen fall down?
Many visitors notice the crack crossing the plateau on top of Preikestolen, and they might worry the rock formation will fall down. Rest assured that it’s safe to walk on Preikestolen – bearing in mind you should take precautions and always pay attention when approaching the edge, as one should when approaching any steep cliff. Geologists have taken regular measurements since the 1990’s. A recent report titled ‘Stability Analysis of Preikestolen’ by Katrine Mo, published in 2018 at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), concluded that Preikestolen is safe.
The rock formation consists of the very solid rock types granite and gneiss. Measurements have shown that the crack does not travel all the way through Preikestolen, and that it’s not widening.
That being said – nothing lasts forever. In the distant future also Preikestolen will have to surrender to erosion and gravity. Legends say that Preikestolen will fall into the sea on the day 7 brothers marry 7 sisters, when the wedding party rows through the fjord on their way to church.