There are places where magic, the force of nature, and solitude form a unique set. In Iceland, we have such places in abundance, but some always end up standing out over others. This is the case of Stuðlagil canyon in East Iceland.
Sometimes we may sound like a broken record, but when we say that there are unique places in Iceland, it's for a reason. Sites full of magic, singularity, or even a peculiar geological history. One of those places is Stuðlagil canyon, our topic for today, which I am sure you will love.
The history of the Stuðlagil canyon is quite curious and a surprise to many. This canyon is located in eastern Iceland and is part of another much larger canyon called Jökla's canyon. Jökla is the river that runs through the area and the main protagonist of this story.Currently, the canyon is beginning to gain certain fame, but before that, not even the Icelanders themselves knew anything about it. And no, it is not a stretch. Actually, the canyon was not even visible to any inhabitant of the region. The waters of the Jökla River completely covered the entire area. The river had strong currents and used to be quite mighty, preventing communication between neighboring regions.
All this changed radically when between 2003-2009 when the Kárahnjúkavirkjun hydroelectric plant was built. A dam was created, and that would end up affecting the flow of the Jökla river. The plant itself was built in the highlands, north of the VatnaJökull glacier on the Jökulsá á Brú and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal rivers that form the Hálslón reservoir. All these rivers ended up flowing in the Jökla River. Therefore, that change caused the water flow to radically decreased.
When this happened, the magnificent walls that make up the stuðlagil canyon came to light. Since then, they have been nicknamed the "Glacial Gates in Iceland." And no wonder why! When you look at it, you will have the chance to see some imposing walls made of basalt columns—turquoise waters from the glacial rivers running down the valley. The whole view may seem like the Valhalla is wide open and ready for you.
Stuðlagil Canyon is for sure an off the beaten path destination. Despite that, it is not difficult to access as it is close to the Ring Road. The glacial valley where the canyon is located is about an hour away from Egilsstaðir, one of the main cities in Iceland's eastern region. To get to the canyon, get your rental car in Iceland and head towards Akureyri on Route 1 until you reach the turnoff for Road 923. It's close to Grun farm.
Access to Stuðlagil Canyon is quite simple; what's more, you have a car park at your disposal nearby. Even so, you have to walk about five minutes along the river bank to reach the area. There are somewhat steeper parts with steep slopes, so try to be cautious and wear the right clothes and shoes. This official access will allow you to see the canyon from a viewpoint, at the top of the river and not from the ground. Later in this post, we will show you how to go down to the river.
GPS coordinates of Stuðlagil Canyon: 65.1635 ° N, 15.3073 °
Stuðlagil canyon is approximately 323km or 200 miles away from Höfn. It can take you four to five hours to reach the canyon. Hofn is usually a great stop for those starting their route through Eastern Iceland. Many tourists typically spend their first night here after visiting the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. If you create an itinerary through this region, do not miss either the eastern fjords or the stuðlagil canyon.
Once you get to the area, the main point is indeed Stuðlagil Canyon. You have two main options or two views of this site. One from the lookout point and the other right from the river's level. The most common option is the one we mentioned earlier. The second option is on the east side of the canyon, and it gives you the possibility to go down and see the views directly from the river's water level. To enjoy the opposite side's views, you will have to do some walking and vary the route done by car.
When you turn on the 923 road, after about 14 kilometers or 8,6 miles, you will find the Klaustursel farm. Nearby you will find a bridge that you only have to cross on foot, and you will start the hiking route to Stuðlagil, which is approximately 10 kilometers or 6,20 miles long.
You should pay close attention to Stuðlagil Canyon since, fun fact, the canyon has straight pillars and curved and sinuous ones, which gives it an even more unique and unrepeatable touch. The waters of the river are usually turquoise. However, the water can also have a greyish tone depending on the day or season. This applies mostly in the fall. Sometimes snow darkens the water's color or when water is released from the Hálslón reservoir, which muddies the river's course a bit. Regardless of the color of the water, the views are equally impressive. During your hiking trip, you can also stop at Stuðlafoss, a majestic waterfall whose walls are also basalt columns.
If you end up exhausted from so much walking, you can always make a stop at the Vök baths on the way back. They are about an hour's drive from the canyon. They are floating pools of geothermal water located in the impressive Urriðavatn lake. What better way to end the day than by relaxing in these warm waters?
Every time I see these basalt columns, I can't help but think of Game of Thrones. The color of the rock, the aesthetics of these formations always lead me to think about the series. But why is the stuðlagil canyon so strangely shaped?
Basalt is a volcanic rock that forms from boiling magma that emerges as lava during an eruption. Lava rich in iron and magnesium cools and contracts very quickly once it comes into contact with the air on the surface, hardens and solidifies. Icelandic basalt columns result from this rapid process that changes the chemical composition and appearance of the lava. Basalt volcanic rocks have a rather unusual geometric shape as a result of the change in their composition.
These hexagonal basalt pillars are examples of how nature's forces show themselves in such a forceful and fierce way in a country like Iceland. A Nation forged by fire and ice.