#basaltcolumn

 

Basalt column is a captivating formation of rocks.  It is one of many creations of nature that visitors in Iceland are interested in as the structure is often quite beautiful and unique.  Although Staðarbjörg small basalt column cliffs by the Staðarbjargarvík cove in the tiny village of Hofsós are rather accessible, the place has not drawn much attention.  It is probably still a kind of hidden gem as it is a good place with easy access to see the basalt column formation.  The small cliffs are pretty impressive as they rise from the sore in their regular formation.  It is also relatively easy to step onto part of the rocks although caution is required when climbing on rocks and cliffs.  The formation with the magnificent fjord Skagafjörður in the background is a great place to take interesting photos.  Compared to many other basalt column formations in Iceland Staðarbjörg is an impressive sight.

The cliffs are actually a small trading post or hamlet inhabited by elves

A story of a poor farmer whose wool was declined by the local merchant at Hofsós some centuries ago has been preserved and gives a deeper sight into the cliffs.  As he was heading back from the store with his wool in desperation, a stranger approached him. He invited him into the cliffs at Staðarbjörg, and to the farmer’s disbelief, it was actually a small beautiful village full of life and elves.  The stranger told him that he was also a merchant and traded with a ship that arrived each year the first week of summer.  He offered to trade with him and told him that his wool was much better than the merchant at the Hofsós store had suggested.  He also gave him a beautiful scarf as a gift to his wife.  They agreed to do a wool trade each year, and their arrangement would be a secret.  The farmer upheld that agreement but told the story on his deathbed.  Fortunately for us, we can now see how a beautiful small elf village looks.

Finding your way to Hofsós and Staðarbjörg

When you are driving the Ring Road in Iceland in the Northern Region in Skagafjörður, you need to take a turn on Road Nr. 76 Siglufjarðarvegur.  The distance to Hofsós is 42 kilometers.  By the shore below the fantastic swimming pool in Hofsós, there are a few steps down on a staircase.  When you are down by the coast, you have a great view of this beautiful basalt column formation and apparently a small elf village.

Below is the location of Staðarbjörg on the map of Iceland

The cliffs are actually a small trading post or hamlet inhabited by elves

Iceland is truly a geological wonderland.  For geologists, the island is a significant source for research offering more variety of places to study than most places on the planet.  Some of the geological wonders are also one of our most popular attractions, like basalt column stacks and all kinds of basalt column formations. Although this beautiful structure, originating in basalt lava, is found in many places in the world, Iceland is probably the best place to find many beautiful basalt columns. At least where the distance between them is relatively short.

Basalt column places that you will enjoy

 

Reynisfjara Beach has in recent years become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. To Icelanders, it is not a surprise as the beach, and the surrounding area has a lot to offer in terms of natural wonders and spectacular experience. It is not only a display of magnificent and panoramic natural wonders but also a meeting place of immense natural forces.

Reynisfjara black beach and basalt column formation

Reynisfjara black beach and basalt column formation

Many natural wonders wrapped up in one

Reynisfjara is a beautiful black beach stretching on a three-kilometer reef to the west from the small mountain Reynisfjall (340 meters high), where you find the parking lot and a service center with restrooms and a small restaurant.  When you enter the beach, a view to the south towards the Atlantic Ocean opens up.  Here it is quite unique to watch the powerful waves come in and crawl the beach for their destructive intentions. The large black beach, consisting of black sand (originally volcanic ash) and softly shaped small pebbles. Here you can take a short walk to the west along the reef that separates the Atlantic Ocean and the river mouth or small lagoon Dyrhólaós.  Here you can find a peaceful spot and face the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, even when Reynisfjara is crowded with people. You can also take a walk to the eastern part of Reynisfjara beach, where you have a great view of the spectacular Reynisdrangar basalt stacks right off the shore. When the tide is low, and the wind is calm, you can easily walk the beach and view the 340-meter-high mountain Rynisfjall on one side and the stacks and the ocean on the other side. A spectacular experience as the place is also usually crowded with birds.

Hánefshellir cave is one of the few basalt column caves in the world

Hálsanefshellir cave is one of the few basalt column caves in the world

The basalt column formation

When you enter the beach, you will encounter one of the most spectacular basalt column formations in Iceland right in front of you at the foot of the mountain Reynisfjall. A place that one could almost believe was designed thousands of years ago with selfies on a phone camera in mind. From every angle, it is a beautiful photogenic landscape and a perfect background for a selfie.  One of the most exciting parts of the basalt column is the cave Hálsanefshellir. As the basalt column formation in Iceland is gaining more and more interest, it is worth noticing that Reynisfjara is one of the most impressive basalt column sites in the country. This part of the beach could easily be a stand-alone reason to visit the black beach. Here we must add that it is also a bit of a dangerous place as there have been several small landslides from the south slopes of the mountain in recent decades, small rocks sometimes fall down from the ceiling of the cave, and when the tide is high and the weather severe (most notably in winter) walking this part of the beach can be dangerous.

Reynisfjara black beach

Reynisfjara black beach

The glacier and the mighty volcano

On a good clear day, even the view from the beach to the north is impressive. From the beach, you have a great view of the mountains south of Mýrdalsjökull glacier and also towards the famous glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The ice cap Mýrdalsjökull is most famous for its dangerous volcano Katla sleeping under the nine-hundred-meter-thick ice. Katla is one of the most notorious volcanos in Iceland and has the habit of waking up at an interval of one hundred years. The last eruption was in 1918. The whole surrounding of Reynisfjara also has an abundant birdlife, and from May to late July, you will most likely see some puffins.

Everyone must remember that although the waves might look innocent, they are mighty, strong, and powerful

Everyone must remember that although the waves might look innocent, they are mighty, strong, and powerful

A place where forces of nature have fought their battles for thousands of years

Although a beautiful area of natural wonders, it is also a meeting place, or shall we say a battlefield, of natural forces. Throughout the centuries and even thousands of years, and day by day, the Atlantic Ocean attacks the land, the coastline, and bit by bit breaks part from and reshapes the beach, cliffs, and stacks. Everyone must remember that although the waves might look innocent, they are mighty, strong, and powerful, and sometimes highly dangerous. Caution is needed, especially when the tide is high, and the winds are strong. We also must remember that the waves are not equal in size. Every 14th to 20th wave from the Atlantic Ocean is considerably larger than the other waves and floods farther up on the beach. The waves are very deceiving, and everyone needs to take care, and risk-taking is not recommended.  When you look to the west to Dyrhólaey and then to the east to the Reynisdrangar stacks, you see the cliffs made of solid rocks and in between the reef consisting of volcanic ash. The geological material that the ocean so desires to demolish, but the volcanic island continues to add and fight the power of the sea.

When you enter the beach, you will encounter one of the most spectacular basalt column formations in Iceland

When you enter the beach, you will encounter one of the most spectacular basalt column formations in Iceland

Access is quite straight forward and easy

Like many natural wonders in Iceland, access is simple, and admission is free. If you are traveling the Ring Road Nr. 1. It is located on the south shore west of the small village of Vík. When traveling from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, you take a turn south on the road Reynishverfisvegur Nr. 215 and drive approximately 6 kilometers. This is the only road to Reynisfjara beach, and you cannot access this place from the village Vík. You should take notice of the farm Reynir as it has been part of Icelandic history form more than eleven hundred years and is mentioned in our book of settlement. It is also an area with many fascinating folklore stories, including an interesting story about the church and how it was built.

When is the best time to visit Reynisfjara?

Iceland is placed on planet earth up north near the arctic and has four clear and distinctive seasons. There is a clear difference between spring, summer, autumn, and winter. This also means that every place in Icelandic nature is different depending on the season. This affects everything you see and experience in an area like Reynisfjara. The beach is accessible all year round, and every season has its charm, but often in winter, the weather makes it challenging to visit as the roads are difficult, slippery, and even closed. If you want to enjoy this magnificent place in its full blossom and color, the best time is from late April until late September. If, on the other hand, you want to experience the full and mighty force of nature and see big waves and harsh environments, it is a good idea to visit Reynisfjara from October and March.

I hope you enjoy our website and information when planning a tour to Iceland, and below, you find more information about nearby places.

Article and photos by Einar Páll Svavarsson tour and photo guide

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Below is the location of Reynisfjara on the map of Iceland

When you enter the beach, you will encounter one of the most spectacular basalt column formations in Iceland right in front of you

 

The valley Jökuldalur or Glacier Valley is an impressive valley in East Iceland. Since early on, it has mostly consisted of sheep farms, and some of the farms are considered among the best in the country. The valley is also known for its forceful glacial river that has three names: Jökulsá á Brú, Jökulsá á Dal, and Jökla, which has forced its way from the highland through the bottom to the valley for centuries. When heading to Northern Iceland from Egilsstaðir in the East Region in Iceland on the Ring Road, road nr. 1, part of the road goes through the lower part of Jökuldalur. To enter Upper Jökuldalur, you need to take a turn south onto road nr 923 near the farm Skjödólfsstaðir. In Upper Jökuldalur, you will find this exceptionally beautiful waterfall, Stuðlafoss Basalt Column Waterfall, and the canyon Stuðlagil or Basalt Column Canyon.

The almost terrifying river that kept the gem hidden

Although this part of the river Jökulsá á Brú (The Glacier River by the Bridge) is exceptionally beautiful because of the rare basalt column formation, not many have visited this Natural Wonder. It is truly one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Iceland. However, there is a reason for this. For centuries, the river Jökla, which is 150 kilometers long, was one of the largest and most powerful glacial rivers in Iceland. It was so strong that it divided the valley Jökuldalur into two separate parts that didn't have much communication for centuries. It was a river that was both dangerous and difficult to cross. It was the only river in Iceland that became known by its nickname rather than either of its real names.

Studlagil canyon in Jökla river

The reservoir that swallowed the glacial river

When Icelanders built the hydroelectric plant Kárahnjúkavirkjun and created the vast reservoir Hálslón in the highlands in Hafrahvammagljúfur canyon, the sources for the river Jökla were affected. Instead of running as a glacial river through the valley of Jökuldalur, its source in the north-eastern highlands was diverted into the Hálslón reservoir. From the reservoir, its flows with its former force through 60 kilometers of underground tunnels to drive the hydro-electric turbines of the power plant. So, most of the old sources of the river Jökulsá á Brú don't reach Jökuldalur anymore.  This project was a grand-scale interference into the forces of nature, as Icelanders built a hydro-electric power plant to provide the aluminum plant in Reyðarfjörður with electricity. No wonder the whole project created a dispute.

The secret hidden gem Stuðlagil

The change for the river Jökla was huge. The source changed from being a glacial river to a spring-fed river from creeks and small rivers. Most of its current water comes from the lower part of the Highland and also from the surrounding mountains. Accordingly, the water level is much lower, and the force of the river changed dramatically. Instead of being a forceful glacial river carrying 120 tons of sand, mud, and dirt from under the glacier Vatnajokull every hour, it became a beautiful, clear river with blue water slowly finding its way to the river mouth. However, sometimes, during autumn, the river changes again to its older form when the reservoir Hálslón is full. At that point, the overflow of glacial water from the mighty glacier Vatnajökull starts to float through Jökuldalur again. Usually, this happens in late August or in September, but the volume is nowhere near the amount it was in the old days.

One of the most beautiful basalt columns formation in Iceland

Although the natural wonder Stuðlagil and the basalt columns have always been here, much of this fascinating landscape was underwater level in the forceful river Jökla only a few years ago. It is almost hard to believe when standing by the picturesque, relaxing river watching the birds swim in joy and harmony that this was a terrifying place under the forceful pressure of a dominating and angry river.  It is by any standard one of the most beautiful place in Iceland where you can see and photograph exceptional basalt columns.

How to visit the Stuðlagil Canyon?

Access to Stuðlagil is relatively straightforward, but there are two options. One where you can drive to the farm Grund and view the canyon from the west side. After turning south on Ring Road nr. 1 by Skjödólfsstaðir to road nr. 923, you drive to the farm Grund about 19 kilometers. At the farm, you will find a parking lot and a path to the riverbank (the walk is only 250 meters and takes about five minutes) and a narrow track to the bottom of the river. Here you must keep in mind that you are walking towards a high and steep slope that descends to the river, so caution is needed.  The view from this side is quite spectacular, but you need to follow the path.  During winter from September to April particular caution is required as the path and the slopes are quite slippery.
The second one requires some hiking.  An effort that only adds to the enjoyment of visiting such a place. Again after turning south on Ring Road nr. 1 by Skjödólfsstaðir to road nr. 923, you drive to the farm Klaustursel about 14 kilometers, a bit less than driving to the farm Grund.  Here you find a bridge on the river Jökla by the farm Klaustursel that is on the other side, the east side.  By the bridge, there is a parking lot on the west side, and driving over the narrow bridge is not allowed.  After walking over the bridge to the east riverbank, you take a hike on the track about four kilometers to the Stuðlagil canyon, which is very near to the farm Grund. It is recommended to stop after two kilometers by one of the most beautiful basalt column waterfalls in Iceland, Stuðlafoss. Climbing down to the river in the canyon is possible at one spot and requires careful climbing, but once down by the river, you sense that you have entered a wonder-world of basalt columns. The stones and rocks are sometimes wet and slippery, so take precaution. Since the hike, both ways is 8 kilometers and stops by the waterfall, and the canyon is probably two to three hours. For photography, it is recommended to be in the canyon in the morning. An excellent way to plan this visit is to stay at Skjödólfsstaðir accommodation or campsite and get an early morning start.

Map of stuðlagil

If you are going to visit the Stuðlagill Canyon in Iceland you might be looking for a places to stay. Here you can book from a selection of accommodationin the Stuðlagil area. Preferably at Skjöldólfsstaðir.

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Below is the location of Stuðlagil Canyon on the map of Iceland

It is almost hard to believe when standing by the picturesque, relaxing river watching the birds swim in joy and harmony

 

Sometimes the Icelander find it mind-boggling to figure out how their nature and landscape ended up the way it did. Sometimes totally chaotic and menacing, and then sometimes beautifully carved and mesmerizing. Icelandic folklore will, of course, provide you with excellent explanations concocted throughout the ages; tales of trolls, giants, and elves, as well as, the hidden people and the dwarfs.

Dverghamrar one of many basalt column formations

One of the most stunning rock formations in Iceland is Dverghamrar (The Dwarf Cliffs), some 10 km east of the Kirkjubæjarklaustur village right on the Ring Road. The cliffs are hexagonal columns of basalt, topped with cube-jointed basalt, shaped like a horseshoe. Inside the cliffs are home to both dwarfs and elves, according to folklore. But mind you, quite a number of Icelanders still believe it to be true and the rest can't prove it isn't. So, Dverghamrar is treated with great respect – just to be on the safe side. You never know what those superhuman beings are capable of doing.

Folklore vs. geological explanation

Even if the Icelanders would like to tell you superhuman beings built Dverhamrar, the geologists will tell you otherwise. This extraordinary landscape is believed to have formed during the Ice Age. At the time, the sea level was much higher, and the sea-waves are believed to be the force behind the peculiar façade of the rocks. Columnar basalt forms through the cooling of lava and a build-up of contraction forces. Today Dverghamrar are a protected natural monument.

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Below is the location of Dverghamrar cliffs on the map of Iceland

One of the most stunning rock formations in Iceland is Dverghamrar (The Dwarf Cliffs), some 10 km east of the Kirkjubæjarklaustur village.

 

Hjóðaklettar (Echo Rocks) in Jökulsárgljúfur in the Northern Region in Iceland are part of vast Vatnajökull National Park. The Rocks area distinctive cluster of columnar rock formations, unique even in Iceland. The columns lie at all angles thus reverberating sound with stunning clarity. Apart from the rock formations in Hljóðaklettar, you will find a labyrinth of caves and rock castles. You will also be amazed to see columnar basalt and basalt rosettes. Lava rosettes are developed when the lava stream forming the columns cools from all sides simultaneously. They are quite impressive.

When hiking the area, you will see columnar basalt everywhere. Further, Hljóðaklettar is possibly the only place in Iceland you will find vivid honeycomb weathering. There is a well-marked hiking trail through the area. To most people, clockwise is the right way to approach everything. In this instance, though, you should go anti-clockwise as it will give you more impressive views of the wonders of Hljóðaklettar, especially the "Church" and the "Troll." Much as your eyes will enjoy Hljóðaklettar, it is the shouting will do it for you. You'll find your voice doesn't just echo in waves into silence. It will reverberate from all directions, travel from one rock wall to another, reverberating over and over again, like a sonorous cobweb. It says a lot about nature's musical flair.

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Below is the location of Ásbyrgi on the map of Iceland

Hjóðaklettar (Echo Rocks) in Jökulsárgljúfur are part of vast Vatnajökull National Park.