Iceland is a land full of breathtaking natural wonders and stunning landscapes. The combination of Fire and Ice has shaped are beautiful yet rugged terrain in unexpected ways. Two of the most gorgeous and dramatic sites you’ll find are the newly discovered Stuðlagil Canyon and Stuðlafoss Waterfall in Jökuldalur Valley. The basalt canyon and basalt column waterfall are hidden gems along the River Jökla in eastern Iceland.
What makes these two geological treasures so special is that up until relatively recently they were hidden from outsiders. The secluded location meant that the canyon and waterfall were a secret for a very long time. It’s still a relatively new discovery, which makes it perfect for getting off the beaten path when traveling to Iceland.
Stuðlagil Canyon Iceland
The glacial river where these two natural attractions are located was one of the most powerful in Iceland. There are three parts, Jökulsá á Brú, Jökulsá á Dal, and Jökla. For hundreds of years, the River Jökla has made its way from the Highlands down through its namesake Jökuldalur Valley.
Stuðlagil Canyon and the nearby waterfall called Stuðlafoss were discovered when the Kárahnjúkavirkjun hydroelectric plant was built in eastern Iceland. The Hálslón Reservoir in the Highlands affected the water source flowing towards Jökuldalur. As a result, the water level subsided and new land features were revealed.
Stuðlagil Canyon Iceland is also known as the basalt column canyon. A beautiful turquoise river runs through the canyon and is surrounded by hexagonal volcanic pillars on both sides. It’s a striking sight and you feel like you are entering some sort of volcanic Eden when you enter for the first time.
One of Iceland’s Most Beautiful Basalt Column Formations The 150 km (93-mile) long river that formed this zone was one of Iceland’s most powerful forces of nature. It was so strong that crossing it was impossible due to the sheer level of difficulty and danger. As it cut through the valley, it carried 120 tons of dirt, mud, and sand from Vatnajökull glacier every single hour.
The basalt columns were formed by volcanic activity, so they’ve been here for a very long time. But for much of recorded history in Iceland, they lay underwater as the river flowed above.
Now, because of the power plant, the Jökla changed from an intimidating glacial river to a smaller one fed from springs, creeks, and smaller rivers. It’s hard to picture now, with the peaceful birds and wildlife, but this was once an angry, raging rapid.
But we’re thankful for the changes because they’ve unearthed these spectacular, previously unknown basalt formations. They are one of Iceland’s most beautiful, and we’re lucky that we get to experience them in a way denied to previous generations.
Stuðlafoss Waterfall (Stuðlafoss)
Stuðlafoss or Stuðlafoss waterfall is another highlight of Studlagil Iceland. The basalt column waterfall looks much different than Svartifoss, Iceland’s most famous basalt rock cascade. As you hike through the valley, you’ll come face-to-face but this beautiful Iceland waterfall. Make sure to include time to visit Stuðlafoss during your trek.
How to Arrive to Stuðlagil (Studlagil) Canyon Iceland
It’s quite easy to get to Studlagil Canyon Iceland. When you’re coming from Egilsstaðir in East Iceland, head towards Akureyri in North Iceland. The Ring Road (Route 1) goes right through Jökuldalur. Once you get to Road 923 near Skjödólfsstaðir farm, turn south (left). You’ll be entering the upper part of the valley which is home to both the waterfall and the canyon.
After driving around 18.6 km (11.6 miles) on the Jökuldalsvegur road, you’ll reach the parking lot. It’s located at the Grund farm and there’s a short walking path to the river. It takes about 5 minutes and then, afterward, there’s a narrow path that descends to the bottom.
Please proceed with caution as the slope can be quite steep. It can also be quite slippery, especially from September to April when we experience winter. Be careful and go slowly.
This is the canyon’s west side and it offers some spectacular views. This option does not go past Stuðlafoss, the basalt waterfall.
The second option for arriving is a little bit more physically demanding as it requires an 8 km (5 mile) round trip hike. If you opt for this choice, you’ll approach the Canyon from the east side close to Klaustursel farm.
Stuðlagil Canyon Hike
Should you choose to do the Stuðlagil Canyon hike, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll often times feel like you’re walking in a Wonderland of basalt columns and this will surely be unlike any hike you’ve ever experienced.
To opt for this route, you’ll still follow Road 923 close to Skjödólfsstaðir farm. Instead of driving all the way to Grund farm, you’ll stop at a farm called Klaustursel. There’s also a parking lot here but make sure you don’t go all the way to the white bridge. It’s very narrow and you’re not allowed to cross it in a vehicle.
Park on the west side and then cross the bridge by foot towards the east riverbank. You need to follow the trail for about 4 km (2.5) miles until you reach Stuðlagil Canyon Iceland. The impressive basalt waterfall Stuðlafoss, one of Iceland’s most beautiful is about halfway along the journey as an unexpected surprise.
Stuðlagil Canyon Tour
You could hire a guide to do the Stuðlagil Canyon tour, but it’s also entirely possible to do it on your own. There’s a spot where it’s possible to climb down to the river, but you need to be extremely careful while climbing. It’s absolutely worth it though, because the view from below will be like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s like a fantasy scene of volcanic basalt columns.
Just take extra precautions as the rocks and stones are quite slippery when wet. Slow and steady is 100% the best way to proceed here. Take as much time as you need both going down and coming up.
It will probably take you around two to three hours to do the hike and look around the canyon. It’s best to go in the morning if you want to take some photos of this magnificent destination in Iceland. Get an early start and beat other explorers.
Stuðlagil Canyon: The Newly Discovered Gem in Eastern Iceland
If you’re taking a road trip around Iceland on the Ring Road, I strongly suggest you come do the Stuðlagil Canyon hike. Not only will it be an unforgettable experience, but you’ll be adventuring where not too many people have before. Stuðlagil is a unique attraction with unparalleled beauty that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
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