Stuðlagil Canyon: A Hidden Gem of Iceland

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Basic Information

  • Located in East Iceland
  • Until recently, Stuðlagil canyon remained hidden from the outside world.
  • One of the most popular travel destination in Iceland today. 
  • Parking lot available. 
  • Two hiking routs available.
    • 250 meters downhill
    • 4 kilometers – will get you to the other side of the canyon
  • Summer is the best season to visit Stuðlagil. 

One of the breathtaking picturesque art of nature’s work, Stuðlagil Canyon, is located in the upper part of Jökuldalur Valley in east Iceland. The moment visitors see this marvelous basaltic rock canyon, they feel like they have been exported to a different planet. Until recently, Stuðlagil canyon remained hidden from the outside world, even the local population had no idea about this submerged canyon. Just a few years ago, when the water level of the river Jökla receded only then the canyon came in all its glory. With hundreds of basalt rock columns and the vibrant turquoise water of Jökla River that flows through it, makes it an irresistible subject for photographers.

Stuðlagil Canyon, basalt column canyon in East Iceland

Stuðlagil History

Once mighty and still the longest river of eastern Iceland, Jokla flew through the Jökuldalur Valley dividing it into two: east valley and west valley. However, once the Karahnjukar hydroelectric plant opened in 2009, the water level of the Jokla in Stuolagil ravine receded by approximately 7-8 meters. Although the dam was considered controversial, still without it, the canyon couldn’t have come into view for further centuries.

Stuðlagil Canyon, basalt column canyon in East Iceland

Hexagonal Columns

Hexagonal columns are mostly formed by a process called columnar jointing. The symmetrical pattern of the columns is the result of geological processes and volcanic factors when basaltic lavas started to cool down. What we see today is a geological process that started long before anyone set foot in Iceland. The beautiful landscape around the canyon is a feast for the eyes. Photographers, travelers, and adventure-enthusiasts from all over the world come to see this natural wonder.

Stuðlagil Canyon, basalt column canyon in East Iceland

How to get there? The Two Hiking Routes to Stuðlagil

Situated between Egilsstaðir in the east and Mývatn in the north, there are only two ways to reach Stuðlagil canyon. The first way is quite simple to follow. Take a south turn on Ring Road No.1 by Skjödólfsstaðir to road No. 923, after driving about 19 kilometers, you will reach the farm Grund. Here, you can park your vehicle and take a walk on the path to the riverbank. Although the 250 meters walk is shorter in length, it is a high and steep slope that descends to the river. So it’s better to have a pair of boots to walk on the slopes that are quite slippery especially during winters.

The second route may test your hiking skills. An effort that is worth making to reach this wonderful canyon from the other side.  Similar to the first route, after taking a south-turn on the Ring Road No.1 by Skjödólfsstaðir to road No. 923, drive about 14 kilometers till you reach the farm Klaustursel. A connecting bridge on the river Jokla connects the eastern and western sides of the canyon. You should park your vehicle on the west side, as driving is prohibited on the narrow bridge. Once you cross the bridge, take out your boots and hike on the track about 4 kilometers to reach Stuðlagil canyon. While making your journey, don’t forget to visit one of the best basalt column waterfalls in Iceland, Stuðlafoss. The waterfall along the canyon is one of the best-kept secrets of Iceland. Once you reach Stuðlagil, you can climb down to the riverbank in the canyon, but it requires some hiking skills. However, once down the river, you will witness something magical here like no place on earth. 

Best Time to Visit

Arguably, the best time to visit the Stuðlagil canyon is between the middle of July to August, especially for photographers. Although travelers flock around here in all the summer months, July and August are considered the best time because it is when the sun shines for at least 20 hours. Overall, except winter all the seasons (summer, winter, and autumn) are an ideal time to visit Stuðlagil canyon.

Stuðlagil Canyon, basalt column canyon in East Iceland

Stuðlagil Canyon on a map

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