Apr 21 2017

Iceland has hundreds of rivers and probably thousands of creeks brooks and streams.  It is a country of water and has more water recourses than most other countries, both cold and hot water.

Two rivers side by side in Jökulsárgljúfur - glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum and the smaller spring-fed Brandslækur creek

The canyon Jökulsárgljúfur is one of the most spectacular and stunning natural wonders in Iceland. The canyon is usually underrated as it is in the northeastern region of Iceland, almost as far as possible from the capital Reykjavík.  But also to being a great place to visit it is furthermore the home of many other spectacular attractions, like waterfalls and places you won't see anywhere else in Iceland or on the planet for that matter.  Although the waterfall Dettifoss is the big attraction in Jökulsárgljúfur, there is another beautiful waterfall Hafragilsfoss a short distance north of Dettifoss in Jökulsárgljúfur.  Although not in a walking distance the drive is quite short.

A great place to view Jökulsárgljúfur canyon

The waterfall Hafragilsfoss is one of the spectacular waterfalls in the mighty river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The river is one of the largest and most powerful rivers in Iceland and an inseparable part of the canyon Jökulsárgljúfur. The falls approximately 30 meters high and about 90 meters wide is surrounded by cliffs.  Proximity to the waterfall is quite steep on the west side and not so convenient on the east side either, so a telephoto lens is recommended if you want to take a closeup photo.  In addition to being a great waterfall the parking lot for Hafragilsfoss and the path to the panel, is also one of the best places to view the canyon Jökulsárgljúfur.  You can see the canyon almost all the way south to Dettifoss and also north where you have a view of part of Hólmatungur.

Access is quite easy

Like most of the Jökulsárgljúfur and the Natural wonders in the canyon, we recommend highly viewing it from the east side. Although the road is a bit more challenging and a gravel road the view to Hafragilsfoss and the parking lot on the east side is much more impressive. So if you are coming from Myvatn lake on the Ring Road Nr. 1 you must go over the bridge on the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum and take a turn left almost immediately after you pass the bridge north on Road Nr. 864 Hólsfjallavegur. The parking lot by Hafragilsfoss is about 32 kilometers drive.

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

Hafragilsfoss waterfall in Jökulsárgljúfur

Selfoss waterfall is located in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon in the Northern Region in Iceland only one kilometer south of the mighty waterfall Dettifoss. Both waterfalls are part of the natural wonders in Jökulsárgljúfur as well as the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The glacial river in the mountains. Although Selfoss has always stood in the shadow of Dettifoss it is a great construction of nature and equally as enjoying to visit. The height is only 10 meters, but the width is more than Dettifoss. And of course the visit is only half an hour hike from Dettifoss, and both waterfalls share the same parking lots, both on the east side and the west side. If you are visiting Dettifoss, be sure not to miss this beautiful waterfall.

Which side should you visit?

Not surprisingly, because there are parking lots on both sides of the river, it is common to ask the question which side is more captivating, and even which side is more beautiful. This of course is a matter of individual taste. For Selfoss, we recommend the east side of the waterfall because the amount of water and its form is more visible from that side as most of the water falls on the west side. It is also much harder to see the whole waterfall on the west side.

Access to Selfoss

Selfoss is easy to find, and it is also easy to visit although a short walk is necessary from the parking lot to the waterfall. On the Ring Road Nr. 1 in the northern region in Iceland east of Mývant we recommend that you turn on Road Nr. 864 Hólsfjallavegur.  This is a turn after you pass the bridge on the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum. The Dettifossvegur Road Nr. 862 is on the west side and leads to the west side of the river and the west side of Dettifoss waterfall and Selfoss waterfall. Our recommendation is the east side.

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

Selfoss waterfall is located in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon in the Northern Region in Iceland


The canyon Ásbyrgi is a joy to view and a pleasure to visit.  Although a separate part of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon it is considered to be geologically a part of that canyon and made by the same catastrophic floods and eruptions some thousands of years ago. It is formed like a horseshoe and guarded by 90 to 100-meter cliffs on all sides except the northern side where the cliffs descend to the lowland.  In the middle is a cliff island of the same height that helps enhance the horseshoe form of the three and a half kilometer long and one-kilometer wide canyon. 

Made by Odins horse Sleipnir

Even though there are geological explanations, the canyon was formed by Sleipnir the eight-leg horse owned by the god Óðinn (Odin) when it put one of its hooves down to earth.  This event was documented in the Nordic mythology, ages and hundreds of years before anyone started to write about geology and geography. 

A vegetation beauty that offers peace and quiet

In the bottom of the horseshoe canyon, is a small pound, Botnstjörn, surrounded by vegetation and astonishing cliffs.  The canyon has an unusual variety of vegetation and lively birdlife during summer.  It is a great place to stay for a day or two and walk some of the convenient and not so difficult hiking trails in Ásbyrgi and also up on the cliffs that give the place such a wonderful feeling of a peaceful sanctuary. Today Ásbyrgi as well as the whole area of Jökulsárgljúfur is part of the Vatnajokull National Park and is managed by the park authorities. Part of the Jökulsárlón canyon are the magnificent waterfalls Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss, and Selfoss.  From Ásbyrgi you can also visit the remote villages of Raufarhöfn and Þórshöfn in the north east as well as whale watching at Húsavík village nearby.  All interesting places to visit.  

Midnight sun near Ásbyrgi in Northern Region in Iceland

Ásbyrgi is a perfect place to stay for the midnight sun at the end of June

A great place to stay on your visit to Iceland

Ásbyrgi is easily accessible although in a considerable distance from the Ring Road or Road one in Iceland. It is located in the northeast part of Iceland and is connected to the Ring Road with Road 864, the same road that takes you to the east side of Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon and the east side of Dettifoss waterfall.  At the end of that road, you take a left turn by the bridge over the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum onto Road 85 and you can't miss it. You can also drive to Húsavík town to access the Ásbyrgi from the west side.  In Ásbyrgi is one of the best camping sites in Iceland and a great place to stay for a few days to explore and experience.

Below is the location of Ásbyrgi on the map of Iceland

The canyon was formed by Sleipnir the eight-leg horse owned by the god Óðinn (Odin)


Jökulsárgljúfur or Glacial River Canyon is a 25-kilometer canyon in the northeastern part of Iceland. The canyon is two and a half kilometer wide and in many places, the height of the cliff on both sides is about one hundred meters. The canyon is a product of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum ( The Glacial River in the Mountains), a powerful river that has its source in the unstable part of Vatnajökull, Bárðarbunga. Throughout thousands of years, the river has shaped its path with water and devastating floods from the melting glacier in times of eruption. Jökulsárgljúfur is truly a natural wonder and carries with it a load of interesting places like powerful waterfalls, fantastic basalt columns formations, cliffs, pillars, unusual rocks, beautiful spring-fed rivers and a spectrum of vegetation. With all its many beautiful hiking trails and spectacular sites, it is a place where you can stay for days, and you never stop being amazed.

Is the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon still on the drawing board?

Although most of us see the natural wonders and all the beautiful products of Mother Nature as her grown up children, this is not true about many places in Iceland. Iceland is still a geologically young child and erupts here and there unexpectedly.  Just in 2015 a large eruption occurred south of Bárðarbunga, the glacier that feeds the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum.  If the eruption had occurred under the glacier, which was expected while geologists mentored the origin of the earthquakes leading to the eruption, the outcome would have been catastrophic for the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. A flood from a melting glacier would possibly have changed forever all the natural wonders that we love to visit.  And we must remember that one such flood occurred only about two hundred years ago.  It is also a matter of interest that although we are looking at one of the largest canyons in Iceland, an even larger one lies buried under lava in the South Region. The canyon Skaftárgljúfur was once the largest canyon in Iceland approximately 30 kilometers long and 200 meters deep.  In the devastating eruption in Lakagígar in 1783 and the massive lava flow that came with it, the canyon disappeared forever as the canyon was filled with glowing lava. And this was only about 230 years ago, which is only a heartbeat in geological times.

Accessible from both sides and hiking is a great way to experience the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon first hand

There are many ways to see and experience the canyon Jökulsárgljúfur.  You can see a large part of it when you visit Dettifoss the magnificent waterfall.  You can also visit Vesturdalur, which has a campsite, and there you will get a good view of Hljóðaklettar on a short and easy hiking trail from Vesturdalur. One of the best overviews is from the parking spot by Hafragilsfoss.  Here is where you truly see the scale of the canyon.  To experience the beauty of this delightful natural wonder a three to four-hour hike from Dettifoss through Hólmatungur all the way to Vesturdalur is recommended.  For a place to stay, we can highly recommend the camping site at Ásbyrgi, which is one of the best in Iceland.

Below is the location of Ásbyrgi on the map of Iceland

Jökulsárgljúfur or Glacial River Canyon is a 25-kilometer canyon in the northeastern part of Iceland.


Hólmatungur is considered by many Icelanders to be the island's most serene place. It has an almost dreamlike quality. If you want to drive there, you need a 4WD but camping at Hólmatungur is prohibited.  The good new is though that the hiking trail from the mighty waterfall Dettifoss to Hljóðaklettar in Vesturdalur through Hólmatungur is the single most beautiful hiking trail in Iceland. It will be worth your while to take a day off from driving the Ring Road; to hike along the trail and have a picnic at Hólmatungur. It would be a day well spent.

An oasis inside the Vatnajökull National Park

Well within the Vatnajökull National Park, Hólmatungur has lush vegetation and tumbling waterfalls. Underground springs bubble up to form a series of short rivers, twisting, turning and cascading their way to the Jökulsár canyon. It is a geological wonderland.


The folklore tells us that mistress Þórunn the rich at Ási in Kelduhverfi, once escaped to Hólmatungur with all her servants. The escape was during an era when the Black Death epidemic was raging in Iceland.The mistress stayed in Hólmatungur in relative comfort until her food supply started running short. She had already had all her sheep and other domestic animals slaughtered. Þórunn was a rather beefy lady, and she worried she would be next on the menu.

Below is the location of Hólmatungur on the map of Iceland

Hólmatungur is considered by many Icelanders to be the island's most serene place

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.

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. 

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.