Ásbyrgi Canyon: Where Odin Sat Foot in Iceland

Ásbyrgi Canyon

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

There are many spots in Iceland with amazing scenery and rich folklore. However, few are of the same magnitude and importance as Ásbyrgi Canyon. This spectacular canyon is the perfect nature getaway for all members of the family with intricate stories and an interesting history.

The Impressive Ásbyrgi Canyon

In the vast Vatnajökull National Park, you can find all things related to the stunning Icelandic nature. One of these things is the Ásbyrgi Canyon, a horseshoe-shaped canyon with breathtaking nature and otherworldly tales. This canyon is 3.5 kilometers long and 1.1 kilometers wide at its widest part. Ásbyrgi Canyon has sides up to 100 meters high in the inner parts, and a rock formation in the middle that is 250 meters wide.

Inside the Ásbyrgi Canyon, you’ll find a lush, healthy forest and a C-shaped lake snug against the southern canyon wall. The area is teeming with small wildlife and is the perfect place for a forest hike.

Asbyrgi canyon

The Less Scientific Explanation for Ásbyrgi Canyon

Icelandic folklore is an integral part of the culture in the country and can be found everywhere. You are bound to run into folktales and stories almost as old as the mountains in Iceland. Ásbyrgi Canyon is no exception to this.

Asbyrgi Canyon is shaped like a horseshoe. The shape has been there for 8-10 thousand years and can be seen clearly from multiple spots around the canyon. This means that it was here when the Icelandic Vikings came here roughly a thousand years ago. In true Viking fashion, they immediately came up with an explanation for the form. They recognized this horseshoe canyon as a place where Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, set down one of his hooves when Odin was riding past the island.

Another old folk tale talks about the Ásbyrgi Canyon being the capital city of Iceland’s elves. These are not ordinary elves, though. They are known as the Huldufólk, or “the Hidden People”, and they have an entire city, complete with churches, homes, and concert halls, hidden in the canyon walls. These tales are so deeply rooted in Iceland that infrastructure projects have been abandoned or changed to not disturb hidden folk and elves in Iceland.

Elves in Iceland

The Intricate Geology of Ásbyrgi Canyon

The rocky foundation of the Ásbyrgi Canyon lies right on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is one of the younger rock types on the island. The shape of the canyon is believed to have been formed after the last Ice Age with a massive glacial flood, or jökulhlaup as it is called, from Vatnajökull Glacier. The vast amounts of water carved out the canyon. The river from the glacier also no longer runs through Ásbyrgi Canyon.

The Jökulsá á Fjöllum river that once shaped Ásbyrgi Canyon now runs roughly 2 kilometers east. The only remnants we can see of the once mighty river through the canyon are the multiple small lakes connected by thin streams of water.

asbyrgi canyon iceland

Where is Ásbyrgi Canyon?

You find Ásbyrgi Canyon in the northernmost part of Iceland along Road 85, roughly 140 kilometers east of Akureyri in Vatnajökull National Park. The site is one of the stops along the Diamond Circle, just like Dettifoss, Godafoss, and Mývatn.

How to Reach Ásbyrgi Canyon?

Depending on how you prefer to travel, you can either go on one of the tours with Ásbyrgi Canyon as a stop or drive yourself.

Driving From Akureyri

The shy distance from Akureyri makes it an easy day trip from town. From Akureyri, drive Ring Road 1 east until you’ve just passed Lake Ljósvatn. After that, take Road 85 going north and follow that road until you reach Ásbyrgi Canyon. This route will take roughly 1 hour and 50 minutes.

asbyrgi iceland

Driving From Egilsstadir

There are two routes you can take from Egilsstadir to Ásbyrgi Canyon. The shortest route is driving Ring Road 1, going north until you reach Reykjahlid. From there, drive Road 87 and continue on Road 85 until you reach Ásbyrgi Canyon. This will cover 281 kilometers and take 3 hours and 30 minutes.

The other route is the scenic route along the coast, taking 3 hours and 40 minutes and covering 295 kilometers. For this route, go north on Ring Road 1 from Egilsstadir, jump on Road 85 after about 80 kilometers, and follow that road until you reach Ásbyrgi Canyon.

On a Tour

If you would rather take the backseat and enjoy the view instead of driving, there are tours of the area that will have Ásbyrgi Canyon on their itinerary. These tours are mostly Diamond Circle tours that start in Akureyri and will take an entire day (8-10 hours).

Asbyrgi canyon

Hiking Trails Around Ásbyrgi Canyon

When it comes to hiking in Iceland, Ásbyrgi Canyon is a visitor’s dream. The area has plenty of hiking trails that range between 0.5 and 32 kilometers long. See below for a comprehensive list of hiking trails with length and rough time estimates:

  • The Flowers – 0.5 kilometers, 30 minutes.

  • Botnstjörn – 1 kilometer, 30 minutes.

  • Underneath Eyjan – 3.5 kilometers, 1-1.5 hours.

  • Skógarstígur – 4 kilometers, 1-2 hours.

  • Eyjan in Ásbyrgi – 4.5 kilometers, 1.5–2 hours.

  • Áshöfði – 7 kilometers, 2–3 hours.

  • Áshöfði Hill – 7.5 kilometers, 2–3 hours.

  • Klappir – 9 kilometers, 2.5–3 hours.

  • Kúahvammur Circle – 12 kilometers, 4–5 hours.

  • Kvíar – 17 kilometers, 6–7 hours.

  • Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss – 32 kilometers, 2 days.

Asbyrgi trail

Accommodations near Ásbyrgi

You can spend an afternoon or a week in Ásbyrgi Canyon; it all depends on what you do and how much you want to see around the canyon and the surrounding area. Below are three different types of accommodations that you can use as a base for adventures in the area:

The Horseshoe Valley – Your Iceland Adventure

Carved out by the geological forces unleashed by the end of the Ice Age, Ásbyrgi Canyon is a geologic marvel that can keep the avid hiker busy for several days. All that is left now is to rent a car in Reykjavik to explore Iceland on your own terms!

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