#canyon

Hólmsárgljúfur is a small but beautiful canyon in the river Hólmsá.  The river originates in the small glacier Torfajökull in the Highland and finds its way through a large lagoon in the Syðri Fjallabak area, Hólmsárlón, flowing through the beautiful landscape of Brytalækir all the way to the river Kúðafljót near the Ring Road.  About 20 kilometers before merging with Kúðafljót the river enters the canyon by the small mountain Atlaey or Atlis Island, an island on dry land.

A spectacular peaceful place that few visit that requires a small hike and a 4X4

Visiting Hólmsárgljúfur is a short but interesting drive from the Ring Road. The drive is about 15 kilometers north on road nr. 209 Hrífunesvegur.  You only need to drive about 5 kilometers on that road and take a turn west on the mountain road F232 to drive the ten additional kilometers.  If you like hiking, you might want to hike around the small mountains Atlaey and Háey as part of that tour. A walk that gives you a great view of the small canyon and the landscape at Syðri Fjallabak. This is a great option in Iceland for those who want to take the time to prepare, get a glimpse of the Highland and visit a place few people visit.

A river and canyon at risk because of a plan to build a dam and a power plant

One of the advantages if you climb the two small mountains Atlaey and Háey are to get a view of the Highland. To the west and north of the mountains, you see an area that the power company Landsvirkjun plans to drown to build a dam.  Another sad plan to build a hydroelectric power plant.  It is also recommended to walk by the canyon a bit to the east before circling around the two mountains.   It is fascinating for photographers to get a view of the river on the sand west of the canyon and it is also a great view to enjoy.  On the west side of the two mountains, both bearing the names of islands, there is a beautiful creek with wonderful birdlife. 
 

The Hólmsárgljúfur canyon that few have visited

Stakkholtsgjá or Stakkholts Canyon is a beautiful natural wonder, a canyon in Þórsmörk in the Icelandic Highland. From the entrance of the canyon, it is surrounded by high and straight one hundred meters high palagonite cliffs.  Hiking the two kilometers to the end of the canyon is one of the most rewarding short hiking trails in Iceland.  Inside the canyon is a small creek that runs on a bed of pebbles, enhancing the landscape within the canyon. The track is not smooth and crossing the river, that can at times be quite high in volume, takes caution. But on the other hand, it is not a particularly tough hike. The palagonite cliffs have many forms, suspicious caves, shelves with vegetation and deep and narrow ravines, to name a few.  Once inside the canyon you will experience a remarkable peace that embraces your thoughts and you simply can't avoid thinking of creatures from other dimensions. It is an exotic place as the canyon narrows, and you approach the bottom, turning into a very high cave open at the top, at the end of your track. In the cave, the water falls like a dreamlike shower with both light and drizzle falling on your face as you look up.  It is one of those phenomenon in the landscape, in nature, where your mood and feelings change while walking, viewing and experiencing.  

Stakkholtsgjá is a perfect place to take kids

Stakkholtsgjá Canyon is a natural wonder that plays with your mind and imagination.  It is not merely a beautiful place but a place that starts all kind of ideas in your head, even at the entrance.  You can't help thinking if this is one of those places where elves live and as you get deeper into the canyon if there might be creatures living there up in the cliffs, less attractive.  A picture of a troll climbing into one of those caves might pop up in your mind.  This is one reason why Stakkholtsgjá is an excellent place to take kids, especially energetic kids with lively imagination.  It is one of those places Icelanders have loved and visited for many decades and just perfect for families to hike. 

Access to Stakkholtsgjá is a bit difficult and requires a full-size 4WD vehicle

Access to Stakholtsgjá is not simple.  It requires a 4X4 vehicle of the larger kind.  From the Ring Road Nr. 1 in the south you turn north on Road Nr. 249, the same turn you take to see Seljalandsfoss and the road that takes you to Þórsmörk. When you continue on Road Nr. 249 you quickly enter the mountain road F249 that is both rough and requires river crossing. Done correctly and with caution, it is a major adventure to visit Stakkholtsgjá in Þórsmörk.  

The palagonite cliffs in Stakkholtsgjá in Þórsmörk have many forms

If you have a 4WD rent a car while traveling in Iceland, you should consider taking a drive to Elagjá.  The name Eldgjá, or Fire Canyon, refers to a 40-kilometre fissure in the Icelandic Highland stretching from Gjátindur Mountain to a southwest direction, all the way to the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, and under the glacier reaching the much-feared volcano Katla. It is a geological wonder and in its essence, a volcano and much of the surrounding lava and vast lava carpets south of the fissure came from Eldgjá centuries ago. The name was given to the fissure by Iceland's first geologist Þorvaldur Thoroddssen at the end of 19th century.  Today and for the last half a century the term Eldgjá has most often referred to a part in the middle of the fissure, the large and impressive canyon and natural wonder located at the Highland Road Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri.  

A canyon with one of our most impressive waterfalls

The canyon Eldgjá is approximately 5 kilometers long and around 600 meters wide.  The cliffs and slopes framing the magnificent natural wonder are more or less 200 meters high. In the middle of the canyon, the river Nyrðri Ófæra (The impassable northern river) falls into the canyon in one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls, Ófærufoss (The impassable waterfall). From the mouth of the canyon beginning at the parking lot is a marked hiking trail. The walk to the waterfall is about 30 to 40 minutes. You can also walk up to a viewing deck by the middle of the waterfall to get up and personal with Ófærufoss waterfall, quite spectacular if I might say so.

Access to Eldgjá requires a 4WD vehicle

Eldgjá is part of the Icelandic Highland. Like all other places in the Highland in Iceland, it is only accessible during the opening time of the Highland Roads, from early July until the middle of September. Like most Highland Roads it also requires a 4WD vehicle as the road is a bit rugged and on your way to Eldgjá you need to cross unbridged rivers. The best way to access the road is from the Ring Road some 23 kilometers west of the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  Here you take a turn north on Road nr. 208 and drive approximately 16 kilometers until you take a left turn and enter the Mountain Road F208 Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. On this road, you need to drive about 26 kilometers to reach Eldgjá.  

Below is the location of Elagjá on the map of Iceland

The walk to the waterfall is about 30 to 40 minutes

Another perfect pitstop when driving on ring-road 1 is Kolugljúfur. This powerful canyon is located deep in the valley Víðidalur in east Iceland. Falling down in to the beginning of the canyon is a wide waterfall called Kolufoss. From there on the water continues with a huge force down the canyon, creating muddy foam that adds to the scenery. Both the canyon and the waterfall are said to be named after the giant Kola. She lived close by and would choose this spot to hang out reaching all the way to the bottom of the canyon to catch a salmon for a snack.

Another perfect pitstop when driving on ring-road 1 is Kolugljúfur.

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.

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 requires some hiking.  An effort that only adds to the enjoyment of visiting such a place. After turning south on Ring Road nr. 1 by Skjödólfsstaðir to road nr. 923, you drive to the farm Klaustursel about 14 kilometers.  Here you find a bridge on the river Jökla by the farm Klaustursel that is on the other 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, this hike almost takes the day. 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.

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.

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

 

Few places have a higher place in the hearts and minds of Icelanders than Almannagjá at Þingvellir in the South Region in Iceland.  It is a place everyone should visit when traveling in Iceland.  It is not only a geological wonder and place of historical importance but also a sacred place. It is the place where our first settlers choose for their national assembly eleven hundred years ago to make law and settle disputes. It is the place where a final decision was taken to revert to Christianity and abolish paganism.  It is the place where Icelanders celebrate their sovereignty and independence.  It is probably one of the most important parts of Iceland. 

Geologically a part of the North Atlantic Rift System

Geologically Almannagjá is a part of the North Atlantic rift system that stretches to the south pole in the Atlantic ocean. The length of the Almannagjá gorge is eight kilometers and one of the interesting places where you can see tectonic plates drift apart. But you would, unfortunately, have to stay there for a few hundred years to see the movement.  The cliffs that tower over the walking path tell a long, complex and fascinating geological story.

A beautiful place with a dark history

Almannagjá also has a darker history.  In the 16th and 17th century, the beautiful calm, deep place by the bridge over the river Öxará was part of the Icelandic judicial system. Here women who were mainly convicted of adultery were drowned, and the deep pool carries the name Drowning Deep Pool, Drekkingarhylur.  Men were hanged, and women drowned by putting them in a sack and holding them under the water with a stick until they stopped moving.  So when you walk past that part, you should bow your head in respect to honor their memory as most of them were not criminals but innocent victims of rape,  incest, violence and ignorance.  Fortunately, only eighteen women were drowned here, which is eighteen too many.
 

 

Few places have a higher place in the hearts and minds of Icelanders than Almannagjá at Þingvellir

 

Rauðfeldsgjá is a deep, high and narrow ravine in the cliffs south of the glacier Snæfellsjökull with a dramatic story and family tragedy attached to its name. The location is near the tiny hamlet of Arnarstapi. Seen from the road, it looks like a small crack in the berg that slid just a bit, enough for people to enter and observe. There is a parking lot by the road and a five to ten minutes walk to the entrance of the ravine.  Rauðfeldsgjá is part of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula road trip.

A narrow path for those who dare

Although entering the ravine Rauðfeldsgjá is a bit of a clamber it is worth it when you come into the main entrance. It is almost like a small and wonderful temple. For those who dare, a further clamber into the narrow crack following the water is possible. It will lead you to a rope where you can pull yourself up a small waterfall, and even go further into the ravine. A very narrow path with cliffs all around you and a view high up to the open air. Those who take this challenge will possibly sense the spirits of the brothers Rauðfeldur and Sölvi, who met their fate in this place about twelve hundred years ago as is documented in a true story the Icelandic Sagas.

A dramatic event that had tremendous consequences

Rauðfeldur and Sölvi came with their father Þorkell, the half brother of Bárður Snæfellsás who was half man half troll to Iceland as children and lived at Arnarstapi. They often played with Bárðurs many beautiful daughters.  One day they lured one of the girls Helga out to an iceberg in an innocent game and pushed her on the iceberg out to the open Ocean. Unfortunately, high winds blew the iceberg quickly from shore and out to the open sea, and she disappeared. The news of her fate and journey on the ice never reached her father as communication were different at that time.  In everyone's mind, she was lost and deceased. Apparently, as the story in the Saga Bárðar Saga Snæfellsás, she reached Greenland seven days later and lived a good live with the family of Erik the Red, father of Leif the Lucky, for many years.  In a poem, she wrote and had been preserved in the Sagas; one can sense that she missed her father, family, and country.  

A life changing event for Bárður Snæfellsás, the half troll half man

When Bárður Snæfellsás learned of the disappearance of his daughter he completely blew up in anger, to put it mildly.  He grabbed the two brothers, one at the age of eleven and the other twelve, and climbed to the cliff above the ravine.  In his uncontrollable anger, he threw Rauðfeldur into the ravine and to enhance the madness he threw the other brother Sölvi of the cliff. Needless to say, both boys lost their lives, but their names have lived as the ravine, and the cliff bears their names; Rauðfeldsgjá and Sölvahamar. After this incident, Bárður lost his mind and eventually walked up to the glacier where he built an ice cave where he has lived for many centuries and according to popular believe, still does to this very day.

 

Although entering the ravine Rauðfeldsgjá is a bit of a clamber it is worth it when you come into the main entrance.

Bjarnarfoss waterfall is an impressive waterfall right by road 54 on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  The location is where the main road splits to Fróðaárheiði leading to Ólafsvík in the northern part and to Búðir and Arnarstapi on the south shore of the peninsula. Although the waterfall can be seen from the main road, the most enjoyable and interesting part of the waterfall is quite high in the cliffs and takes an effort to walk up the steep slope by the stream coming from the waterfall. 

A fairy woman bathing in the middle of the waterfall

Up here watching the waterfall flushing in front of the magnificent columnar basalt that stretches out on both sides is really what makes this waterfall stand out. It is beautiful from the road but stunning when you stand right in front of it. Here you can also see and almost shake hands with the fairy woman that stands on top of the columnar basalt and seems to be bathing in the middle of the waterfall.

A waterfall on Snæfellsnes Peninsula that is easy to find

The waterfall is quite easy to find, and a parking space has just recently been built and a convenient walking path leading up halfway to the waterfall.  But to go all the way up to the main waterfall you need to climb the relatively steep hill. One of the upsides of this effort is the exceptional variety of vegetation along the way on bothe sides.  It is more like a matter of taste whether you want to go up the right side or the left side, depending on how you want to photograph the waterfall when you approach the waterfall. Remember the slope is steep and you need to take caution.  This path to the waterfall is only accessible during summertime and should not be taken during late fall and winter.

Sometimes the waterfall is blown away in the wind

At times, the water source for the waterfall is limited and from a distance, it is reduced into a small stripe falling from the cliff. When this occurs, and simultaneously, strong winds blow with their immense force on the cliff, the waterfall is sometimes blown into the thin air.

 

Below is the location of Bjarnarfoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

Bjarnarfoss at Snæfellsnes Peninsula

 

Officially, settlement began in Iceland in AD 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson came to settle permanently on the island. Throughout the next century other Norwegians, as well as Celts, followed in his footsteps. District assemblies were formed and very early on the settler realized they would need a general assembly to establish laws and settle disputes.  In 930 the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, was founded at Þingvellir – and remained there until 1798. Alþingi now resides in Reykjavík. In 1930 Þingvellir National Park was organized, marking Alþingi's 1000th anniversary. Later on, it was expanded to protect the area's nature and environment and in 2004 Þingvellir became a World Heritage Site.

A reason why Þingvellir is such a sacred place for Icelanders

Þingvellir is extremely precious to all Icelanders. It is the single most important place in the history of Iceland. Across the centuries, the area is at the center of every story and every major decision. It was at the center of everybody's fate. The Alþingi assembly wasn't just Iceland's supreme legislative authority, but also the judicial authority until 1271. It was there you would learn whether you would lose a finger, hand or an arm; it was there you were told whether you would hang, burn or drown – usually for misdemeanors or relatively small crimes. But, mind you, according to the Sagas everybody was very well dressed in colorful apparel made of silk and such when attending Alþingi.

ÞIngvellir is an importnat historical place and has also appeard in popular culture

Þingvellir is a site that has more than historical importance but also cultural and geological. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The rift is clearly visible in the cracks traversing the region. The largest rift, Almannagjá, is a veritable canyon. As a result, earthquakes are quite common in the area. The Þingvallavatn Lake is Iceland's largest natural lake and enhances the combined beauty of Þingvellir. The landscape at Þingvellir is also stunning with colorful lava and beautiful mountains in the background.  It is a place many visitors like to see and view.  Like many places in Iceland, part of Þingvellir, Almannagjá, appears in Game of Thrones as the road to the Eyrie leading to the Bloody Gate.

Access to Þingvellir and Almannagjá

From Reykjavík, you drive to Mosfellsbær village on the Ring Road Nr. 1. When passed Mosfellsbær you turn east on Þingvallavegur Nr. 36 all the way to one of two to three parking lots.  Access to Þingvellir, Almannagjá, Öxarárfoss, Drekkingarhylur and some of the magnificent landscape is quite simple but requires a bit of a walk. 

 

Þingvellir in autumn 2017

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns. It falls 20 m into a beautiful ravine that is accessible along a trail starting at the Visitor's Centre. You can follow the trail to the bottom of the ravine, thus enjoying the fall and the walls up close.In the 20th century, the walls surrounding Svartifoss were an inspiration to various Icelandic architects. The impression from their extraordinary formations is quite apparent in Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, as well as, in the ceiling of the Icelandic National Theatre. Svartifoss is also where the world-renowned sculptor Richard Serra drew his inspiration from for his sculpture Milestones, located in the Viðey Island, offshore from Reykjavik.

The base of the ravine is quite remarkable. Apart from the small lake created by Svartifoss, it is strewn with sharp rocks that have broken away from the hexagonal columns, as new column sections break faster than the water wears down the edges.

The hike from the Visitor's Centre, or the Skaftafell camping site, only takes 30 minutes. But once by the fall, visitors tend to linger for quite some time, simply to admire nature's unique sense of beauty and harmony.

Below is the location of Svarifoss on the map of Iceland

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns

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