#canyon

 

In South East Iceland, right by the Ring Road, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park. The park and the surrounding area is nothing less than a natural wonder.  Skaftafell is a stunning place created throughout history by ferocious natural forces. If there is any one place in Iceland where you can see what is an island made of ice and fire means, it is the Skaftafell National Park.  Today Skaftafell is part of the Vatnajökull National Park.  For anyone traveling the Ring Road, it is a serious consideration to staying in Skaftafell for two to three days and taka advantage of the many spectacular hiking trails available.  It is also a paradise for families traveling with energetic kids on a family vacation. 

Skaftafell is an oasis of warmth beneath the glacier

The Skaftafell park covers the glacier Skaftafellsjökull (an outlet glacier of the Vatnajökull ice cap), the mountain range Kristínartindar and the Morsárdalur valley. The Skaftafell geologic history is marked by eruptions and volcanic activity under the ice cap and glacial floods bringing forth silt and sand to the mighty and dangerous Skeiðarársandur south of the National Park. It is also marked by the calm climate conditions as the great ice cap protects the area against the harsh northern winds. Strangely enough,  although surrounded by the glacier and ice, Skaftafaell has a rather pleasant weather and more sunny days than elsewhere in South Iceland.

Skaftafell hiking trails and reasons to stop

In Skaftafell some great hiking trails are leading from the Visitor's Centre. The most popular trail, a short hike, leads up the hills above to the Svartifoss waterfall.  For those more energetic a few hours more and take the path to Kristínartindar peaks, a fabulous way to get a breathtaking view of Skaftafell and surrounding area. Another exciting trail is the Skaftafellsjökull hike where you have a great view of the glacier tongue.  For those who want to take a day tour a hike to Bæjarstaðarskógur is highly recommended.  So there is no lack of activity and interesting things to do during summer in Skaftafell. It is a place for energetic and healthy outdoor families with intelligent members that like to prepare their vacations and study the places they visit.

The camping ground and visitors center

Skaftafell Visitor Center offers a lot of information about the area, hiking trails, and activities.  The campground is one of the best in Iceland although the soil is quite hard and sometimes difficult for the tent pegs. The time to visit Skaftafell is from the middle of May until the middle of August.  During summer the campground is always packed and a bit like a base camp for activity, a very exciting and excellent place to be during summer. It is also the headquarters for companies that organize exciting hiking tours with guides, like hiking up to the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur. For those who like to stay at one place, Skaftafell is also a neighbor to other interesting natural wonder only a hours drive or less away.  Natural wonders like Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón to the east and Fjaðrárgljúfur and Dverghamrar to the West. 

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Below is the location of Skaftafell on the map of Iceland

In South Iceland, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park

 

At the edge of the Icelandic Highlands at the uppermost part of Þjórsárdalur valley, you will find one of the most beautiful small oasis in Iceland. There are actually many places you label as an oasis in Iceland and Gjáin is most definitely on of the most beautiful. One of the fascinating factors is the size.  Gjáin is a tiny valley with small picturesque waterfalls, clear, tranquil ponds and amazing delicate volcanic structures it is like a sample of the Icelandic nature. For visitors, it is almost surprising as it appears like from nowhere and only visible as you approach the edge of the tiny valley.  Even the lava in this area takes on beautiful form in Gjáin. You will find lava caves and a lot of basalt column as well as volcanic tuft.

A place to visit in summer

It is a beautiful place to visit but only from the beginning of June until the beginning of October.  Outside that time of year, it is either not accessible and filled with snow or simply not interesting due to dull colors and early spring water.  In summer, on the other hand, the small valley is covered with lush green grass and vegetation.  It is believed to have been the riverbed of the river Þjórsá in earlier days. Nowadays, it is Rauðá (the Red River) running through the valley, beautifully framed by stunning rock formations, displaying its beautiful waterfall, Gjárfoss.

In popular culture

In season 4 episode 5 in the Game of Thrones Arya Stark and her traveling "companion" Sandor Clegane (The Hound) come to a resting place and continue their ongoing dispute. Their resting place was filmed here in Gjáin in Iceland.

Gjain location

Gjáin's location is a mere 10-15 minutes hike from the Saga Age Farm at Stöng. It is a great addition when traveling the south countryside and visiting the waterfalls Háifoss and Hjálparfoss.  It is such beautiful, dream-like valley you'll expect to see elves and fairies playing along with the riverbanks. You might, as these tiny figures are known to reveal themselves to humans now and then. Whether you'll be able to spot them or not, you will most certainly feel the waterfall spirit as it is very powerful.

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Below is the location of Gjáin on the map of Iceland

Gjain is a beautiful place to visit but only from the beginning of June until the beginning of October

 

Fjaðrárgljúfur int the south region in Iceland is a 100 m deep and 2 km long spectacular canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. With steep palagonite walls, the river Fjaðrá snakes its way along the canyon from Geirlandshraun Mountain to the large Skaftá River.  The bedrock is mostly palagonite from the "cold" period of the Ice Age some two million years ago. Ever since the river has pottered about carving this beautiful canyon for everyone to admire.  The water level of the river is rather a low in current times and fed by a spring fed river.

A wonder world from above as well as from the river banks

Due to the water level, hikers can safely walk inside the canyon although having to do some wading now and then. It is a highly adventures hike, and the deeper into the canyon you walk, the more exotic it becomes. The deepest part of the canyon is truly a wonder world of water, cliffs, vegetation and adventures forms.  Most visitors prefer to walk along the hiking trail along the edge of the canyon to get the best of both worlds; being able to observe the fantastic rock formations in the canyon itself while enjoying the view mountain view from the top.  To spend a bit of time and do both is the best option and the most rewarding.

A natural wonder discovered by tourists

Although Fjaðrárgljúfur is only a short distance from the Ring Road Nr 1 in Iceland, it has never been particularly popular among Icelanders.  Most of the Icelanders traveling the Ring Road before the tourist explosion began skipped this magnificent natural wonder when driving the Ring Road.  It is one of the places tourists and visitors discovered and showed much more interest in than Icelanders ever did. When traveling the ring road in a rent a car or your vehicle you take a turn on the Ring Road Nr. 1 near Kirkjubæjarklaustur north to Road Nr. 206 and you only need to drive approximately 3 kilometers to reach the parking lot at Fjaðrárgljúfur.

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Below is the location of Fjaðrárgljúfur on the map of Iceland

Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 100 m deep and 2 km long canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

 

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.

 

Dettifoss is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. You will find this beast of a fall in North Iceland; in the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which flows from the magnificent Vatnajökull glacier. The falls are 100 meters wide and have a drop of 45 meters down to advance its flow down the mighty Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. It is indeed powerful in volume, having an average water flow of 400 m3/s during summers.  The origin of the water is south of the waterfall and can be traced to the many outlet glaciers and glacier tongues on the northern side of the large icecap/glacier Vatnajökull.  Dettifoss is on many lists of most spectacular waterfalls in Europe and even in the world.  It is no. 4 on our list of most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. 

Dettifoss and the Canyon is one of the most spectacular sights in Iceland

Standing by the thundering waters cascading into the wide canyon is an experience you are not likely to forget. But, you better take care. The footpath down to the falls on the eastern bank is rough. On the western bank, the slopes are grassy and can thus be slippery in wet weather. But, like the saying goes: "Feel the fear and do it anyway."

Dettifoss is the largest of a series of waterfalls in the Jökulsá river. A little downriver you will find Hafragilsfoss, smaller indeed but just as geologically interesting. A little further upriver there is Selfoss, a nice place to sit down and contemplate after the whirling (and rather wet) experience of Dettifoss.

Dettifoss waterfall

Dettifoss is often listed as one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Europe

Dettifoss is easily accessible from the Ring Road

You will be able to spot Dettifoss a mile away, spraying its waters high up in the atmosphere, thus creating a rainbow bridge across the fall. Dettifoss is easily accessible from both the east side and the west side of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. When driving on the Ring Road in Iceland coming from the east you can thus either choose road 864 or road 862.  The main parking lot for Dettifoss in on the west side and an asphalt road.  Road 864 is a gravel road and often in a rather bad condition. 

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

Dettifoss is indeed powerful in volume discharge, having an average water flow of 400 m3/s during summers.

In Iceland, it is hard to bring the words tranquility and waterfall into one sentence. Still, amongst the hundreds of waterfalls scattered all over the country, there is one, Hraunfossar (Lava Falls), which may best be described as tranquil. By Route Nr. 518 on your way to Húsafell, the beautiful falls cascade gently from under the moss-covered lava. The turquoise water tumbles down a series of rock steps into the Hvítá River.

An unusual sight and unique waterfall

Hraunfossar Falls is a rare phenomenon, even in the vast flora of natural wonders in Iceland. Located at the edge of the Hallmundarhraun Lava Field, the clear, cold springs of subterranean water seep through the lava and run as tiny waterfalls and rapids into the Hvítá River.  It is a magnificent sight and a joy to watch all year round as the falls and the surrounding takes on a different shape in different seasons.

Hraunfossar is naturally a popular tourist attraction

The Falls are certainly among the most photographed natural wonders in Iceland. An easy trail along the river provides excellent viewpoints of the enchanting falls. It is quite usual for people to stay by the falls throughout the day to capture the lights and shadows playing their magic. Casting different hue over the riverbed, enhancing rainbows near the water, where the sparkling lava and the rich flora are always taking on new shapes, displaying a new photo-moment at every turn.

Hraunfossar is a place of ethereal beauty where time stands still.
 

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Below is the location of Hraunfossar on the map of Iceland

Hraunfossar Iceland

 

For the longest time the Glymur waterfall with a cascade of 198 m, was the tallest waterfall in Iceland. Then in 2011 it was surpassed by a new waterfall by Morsárjökull glacier due to an eruption. Glymur is part of the river Botnsá in Hvalfjörður and falls alongside the Hvalfell mountain into a steep canyon. The waterfall is accessible from a parking area by the road. For the best view, it is quite pleasant to hike to the top of the waterfall along marked trails.

You can only observe the waterfall from the east side. The trail begins by passing through a gate and a short walk along a road marked by yellow-painted rocks. A few hundred meters along the road, the trail drops over a small cliff face and descends through a cave down to the river. During summer, a small wooden pole is laid across the river with and adjacent cable for a handhold, where hikers can cross to the eastern side. Here the trail climbs steeply through muddy, rocky and loose gravel areas and at times it skirts steep drop-offs. In 1-2 km, you will reach the area most ideal for viewing the waterfall. You can, of course, hike further upwards to fully enjoy the spectacular view of the Hvalfjörður fjord, its unusual flora and fauna and, of course, the majestic mountains.
 

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Below is the location of Glymur on the map of Iceland

For the longest time the Glymur waterfall with a cascade of 198 m, was the tallest waterfall in Iceland.

 

If you feel the need for dramatics while traveling in Iceland, Dritvík on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the place to go. A place with beautiful landscape and rich history.  Today it is difficult to imagine that Dritvík was one of the largest fishing station in Iceland for centuries with up to 60 fishing boats, dozens of huts and full of life. From the middle of the 16th century up to 400 inhabitants lived here during the fishing season and this continued until the early 20th century. At that time Iceland was more or less an agricultural society with few hamlets or villages.  So from the middle of February until late May, Dritvík was a particularly active place.  Like many places that developed some kind of community by the shore at that time, there were two reasons; rich fishing grounds and good landing place for small boats. But this is a mind-boggling notion because access to this dramatic cove is by no means obvious or simple. Especially as this part of Iceland was relatively isolated at this time.

Dirtvík is mentioned in the saga, Bárðarsaga Snæfellsás

The first settler in Dritvík was the half-man / half troll Bárður Snæfellsás. On the beach, you will find several spectacular rock formations in addition to the beautiful pebble stones. One of the rocks dividing the cove is Bárðarskip (Bárður's Vessel), and another one is Tröllakirkja (The Troll's Church). Their names come from the saga as Bárður landed his ship when he came from Norway some twelve hundred years ago. One of the first things his family and friends did was to worship pagan gods in a cave that can still be found at the rock Tröllkirkja. A few years after his arrival the family had a terrible ordeal that ended in tragedy.  Another place nearby called Rayðfeldsgjá is linked to this misfortune.  At the end, Báður moved his family to a cave in the glacier Snæfellsjökull and is considered to live there still as the protector of the surrounding farms and villages. You can also see his statue in full size at Arnarstapi village.

Tröllkirkja rock at Dritvík

At Tröllkirkja, the rock in the middle, Bárður Snæfellsás and his people worhiped pagan gods

Today Dritvík is an exciting place to visit

Apart from the black beach, Dritvík holds remnants of its past. A rescue hut is the only building standing amongst ruins from times of prosperity and different methods of living off the ocean. Although only a temporary living place for centuries it was considered a desirable place to go to. A place that was different from the dull and dark live by the farm with much richer social life and exciting diversity when it came to work.  In the days of social media and wide internet connection, it is hard to imagine that singing rhymes and lifting the stones at nearby Djúpalónssandur was something young men and women considered thrilling. 

Hike to Dritvík

The hike to Dritvík cove from Djúpalónssandur cove is quite scenic with lava formation

Access to Dritvík Cove

To reach Dritvík you need to drive Útnesvegur road on Snæfellsnes Peninsula nr. 574.  You take a turn to the south when you reach the intersection nr. 572 Dritvíkkurvegur road.  There is a parking lot by Djúpalónssandur. Approximately one kilometer to the west from Djúpalónssandur is a path you need to hike over a rugged lava to reach Dritvík. The walk by the shore is spectacular with many interesting lava formations. But, once there, you are likely to enjoy inspecting the area and taking advantage of the many photos and selfie opportunities. 

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Below is the location of Dritvík on the map of Iceland

For centuries, Dritvík was the largest fishing station in Iceland with up to 60 fishing boats at any given time and 400 inhabitants

At the mention of Barnafossar, or the Children's Falls, Icelanders usually turn quiet. For centuries, the beautiful falls have been overshadowed by a tragedy that goes on dwelling on the Icelandic consciousness. The Falls derive their name from a folklore:

The folklore that gave the waterfall its name

Once, there lived a widow at the Hraunás farm. She was quite well of and independent. Come Christmas and, of course, all the grown-ups were expected to attend evensong at the nearby church at Gilsbakki. The mistress of Hraunás gathered her household to obey their Christian duty. All, except the children and amongst them her two young sons.  The children were told to stay indoors and play. But, the weather was still, with clear skies and full moon, the earth scintillating in the beautiful frosty winter night. It was too big a temptation for the two brothers who loved the marvelous nature surrounding their homestead. When the grown-ups returned from Evensong, the brothers had disappeared. A search party followed their footsteps to a natural stone bridge crossing the river a bit upriver from the falls. The brothers were believed to have slipped on the bridge and fallen into the river. Later, their mother had the bridge destroyed and cast a spell on the waterfall, claiming no man would ever cross it – and survive.

Not the usual waterfall

The Barnafoss Falls is in Hvítá in Borgarfjörður, about 100 kilometers from Reykjavík. It is not a conventional waterfall, but rather a series of rapids bursting out of the surrounding lava plains. The falls are but a one more example of the extraordinary and mesmerizing landscape created by ice and fire.

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Below is the location of Barnafossar on the map of Iceland

At the mention of Barnafossar, or the Childrens Falls, Icelanders usually turn quiet.

 

The mountain Trölladyngja (Troll Mountain) is quite curious. This dwarf of a mountain (only 275 meters high) consists of palagonite like most mountains in the area. Trölladyngja and its surroundings is part of the Krísuvík Geothermal Area, but only recently so. Until 1975, there was no geothermal activity around the mountain, but a few years later things started to shift and change. Today Trölladyngja is geothermally very active. It is quite apparent in the colorful south side of the mountain and its surroundings.

Next to Trölladyngja is another mountain, Grænadyngja (Green Mountain) that is a bit higher (393 meters). The two mountains are commonly referred to as "The Sisters." Both mountains are geothermally very active, and also very popular amongst hikers. Both mountains are easy to mound, even for the inexperienced hiker. Indeed, one of the most popular and beautiful hiking routes in the Reykjanes Peninsula is the hike from Trölladyngja onto Grænadyngja, through the beautiful valley running between them.

"The Sisters" rise high above the lava field surrounding them, and are easily discernible from a long distance away, i.e. from the Capital area. Close by, you will find some of the most popular attractions in the Reykjanes Peninsula, such as the Blue Lagoon, the Bridge Between Two Continents, Reykjanesviti Lighthouse, Seltún and Gunnuhver.
 

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Below is the location of Trölladyngja mountain on the map of Iceland

The mountain Trölladyngja and her sister Grænadyngja

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