After the discovery of Preikestolen in 1896, the rock formation eventually became one of Norway’s most popular tourist destinations, with a fantastic view of the Lysefjord. While many visitors come to admire the scenic landscape, few are aware of the geological and tourism history behind Preikestolen.
Preikestolen, Norway’s top hiking destination, attracts over 350,000 visitors annually, thanks to its well-maintained four-kilometer trail and stunning views of the Lysefjord. In 2015, Lonely Planet ranked Preikestolen number one on its list of the world’s most scenic overlooks.
But while many visitors come to marvel at the beauty of Preikestolen, few may know about the fascinating geologic history behind its formation. Over 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the melting glaciers flooded the river valley, creating the Lysefjord. The mountains in the fjord became unstable without the ice support, and Preikestolen’s three sides were split off in three large cracks caused by rock avalanches.
The discovery of Preikestolen occurred in 1896 when Thomas Peter Randulff noticed the striking rock formation while cruising the Lysefjord onboard the steamboat Oscar II. Captain Hana explained how the cliff looked like the blade of a wood planer and was therefore called “Hyvlatånnå” in the local dialect.
Randulff became the first to hike to the top with his friend, Ole Hausken, helped by locals Elling and Guttom from Vatne Farm and Fredrik Bratteli. Preikestolen soon became a popular tourist destination, and in the early 1900s, the Stavanger Hiking Association furnished three rooms at Vatne Farm for guests to stay overnight. Neighboring Torsnes Farm became a ‘Tourist Station’ in 1925 and was in operation until the 1960s. The association appropriated Vatne Farm in 1946 and opened Preikestolhytta in 1949, a cabin with a capacity of 44 beds.
In the 1960s, a road was constructed to Preikestolhytta, making it easier to undertake Preikestolen as a day hike. As the number of visitors increased, the need for better facilitation became apparent. In 2008, the new Preikestolen Mountain Lodge opened its doors, offering beautiful views of Lake Revsvatnet and surrounding mountains.
The Preikestolen Foundation, a non-profit organization representing local municipalities and landowners, manages the trail and ensures visitors’ safety and sanitation. Sherpas from Nepal were called in to improve the trail, and several steeper parts were cleared of big boulders and other obstacles to make hiking easier and safer.
Despite its increasing popularity, Preikestolen remains safe, and geologists have regularly measured the rock formation’s stability since the 1990s. While the crack crossing the plateau on top of Preikestolen may concern some visitors, it does not travel all the way through the formation and is not widening. The name Preikestolen, which translates to “Preacher’s Chair” or “Pulpit Rock,” reflects the resemblance of the towering rock formation to the raised stand for Christian preachers in traditional pulpits, highlighting the natural wonder and spiritual significance of this iconic site.