Another one of many miracles of nature in Iceland, Jökulsárgljúfur canyon is 25 kilometers long and 500 meters wide. The height of the cliff on both sides is approximately 100-120 m in several areas. Jökulsárgljúfur transcribes literally as Glacial-Canyon River. One of the most breathtaking canyons in Iceland, Jökulsárgljúfur canyon is a product of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a glacial River in the Mountains. The powerful and cascading river that has its source in Vatnajökull, Bárðarbunga. There have been incidents of devastating floods and enormous volcanic eruptions in the canyon but they are a thing of the past as one such flood occurred about two hundred years ago.
Explore around Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon
Jökulsárgljúfur is highly known for its series of beautiful waterfalls. Hailed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss falls are 100 meters wide and have a drop of 45 meters down to advance its flow down the mighty Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. Dettifoss falls are readily accessible from both the east and west side of the canyon at Jökulsárgljúfur. Thus you can either choose road 864 or road 862 while driving on the Ring Road in Iceland coming from the east. Selfoss waterfall is located a short hiking distance from Dettifoss and it is highly recommended that you add it to your bucket list as well. Another beautiful waterfall in the canyon is Hafragilsfoss. A smaller waterfall than Dettifoss and you can not get as close to it as the other waterfalls, but it is still stunningly beautiful. Vesturdalur, from where the scale of the canyon can be sighted, has a campsite. One can immerse in the beauty of nature to the fullest. Moreover, a good view of Hljóðaklettar valleys can be enjoyed, which is a short and easy hiking trail from Vesturdalur. Tourists can undertake a three to four-hour hike from Dettifoss through Hólmatungur to Vesturdalur. Another mesmerizing sight to enjoy is Ásbyrgi canyon, which is though separate yet quite an extension of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. Ásbyrgi canyon seems to be formed like a horseshoe and surrounded by 90 to 100-meter cliffs on all sides except the northern side where the cliffs descend to the lowland. For those who crave hiking trails amidst clear skies and lush greenery, this place cannot be missed. To see yet another absolute wonder, one can visit Námaskarð, Hverarönd, which is an expanse of hot springs, fumaroles, mud pools, and mud pots.
Where to stay
The camping site at Ásbyrgi, where a visitor’s center is also located, is a highly recommended place to stay in and around Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. This is a major campground as it is fairly large and developed. A primitive campsite is located in Vesturdalur, which is midway between Dettifoss and Ásbyrgi. The destination is within easy reach too. Road 85 connects Húsavík and Ásbyrgi Visitor Centre. It takes approximately 45 minutes to drive a 60 km route. Road 85 is open throughout the year.
When to visit
Summer is the recommended season to visit Jökulsárgljúfur canyon as services might be minimal during winters, caused by the harshness of the weather. Ásbyrgi can be visited at any time of the year. Dettifoss, Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss and Vesturdalur are situated at higher altitudes and therefore are not recommended in cold weather due to excessive snow cover and road conditions.
Choosing an appropriate vehicle
A small 2 wheel-drive car is a feasible choice for most of the main roads in Iceland. A small car is also good on the gravel roads during summer, especially if you have a front-wheel drive, which is preferred in Iceland. Ensure that you plan accordingly for the car, keeping in mind the heavy luggage to be carried. The roads through Jökulsárgljúfur are tough so we recommend driving a 4×4 car, while it is still okay to drive a smaller 2wd car. In winter, weather forecasts and road conditions are to be strictly followed.