#highland

Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon is a kind of hidden gem in the Icelandic landscape. It is one of our most impressive and stunning canyons but not visited by many.  One reason is the fact that it is placed in the Icelandic Highland and not simple to visit. Although not among the largest canyons in Iceland, it is quite deep, about 200 meters where it is deepest, and the main and most interesting and most accessible part spans about 4 kilometers. The canyon is very impressive and is part of the Highland road Syðri Fjallabak when entered by Emstrur continuing from Fljótshlíð in southern Iceland. It is also part of the popular hiking track Laugavegur from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk.

Formed in a single disaster flood

The canyon is believed to be created in a single disaster flood bursting from the famous volcano Katla in Mýrdalsjökull glacier in an eruption under the glacier.  If that is correct you will be amazed when looking at the canyon of the enormous power a single flood from an eruption under glacier can create and the devastation it can leave behind. This supposedly occurred about two thousand years ago, so other geological factors have contributed to the canyon since then. Through the canyon floods the river Markarfljót which has also given it a name.  A river with a significant place in Icelandic history and geological history.

Access is not simple

Access to Markarfljótsgljúfur is either by a hiking trail from Þórsmörk or on the mountain road Emstruleið F261. This is a challenging and rough mountain road with difficult rivers to cross, so it requires a well-equipped 4WD vehicle.  Another way is to find a good tour operator. To access the mountain road you take a left turn when coming from Reykjavík on the Ring Road by the village Hvolsvöllur to the Road Nr. 261.  From Hvolsvöllur village the drive is about 50 kilometers.

Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon is a kind of hidden gem in the Icelandic landscape.

Much of the photos from Iceland are naturally stunning pictures of natural wonders during the blooming summer months. Waterfalls surrounded by colorful vegetation, gray and green moss over fields of lava, rhyolite mountains with stunning colors and stunning overview of beautiful fjords and the list can go on. In winter most of the landscape is either covered with snow or quite monotonous and colorless.

Goðafoss during winter

 

If you ask an Icelander about the most beautiful place in the country, many would reply Þórsmörk. For many Icelanders, Þórsmörk is their favorite place for camping and visiting during summer and the number one place if they had to set up a list of favorite locations in  Icelandic nature.  It is almost romantic and comparable to our sacred place Þingvellir except in the Highland. It is an oasis surrounded and protected by mighty rivers, mountains, mountain ridges, cliffs, and glaciers.  Although defined as the Highland the altitude is not as high as in most of the Highland which is why Þórsmörk has more vegetation than most places in the Highland. It is an area of magnificent landscape, mighty rivers, endless creeks and peaks, beautiful canyons, impressive hiking trails, continuously moving glacier tongues, excellent camping areas and infinitive ways to have an outdoor adventure. Not to forget proximity to active volcanos that have just recently spared glowing lava down into some of its canyons.

Þórsmörk is hiker's paradise

There are many excellent hiking trails in Þórsmörk. Two of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland end in Þórsmörk. Laugavegur hiking trail from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk and Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail from Skógar and Skógafoss waterfall to Þórsmörk.  Both hiking trails are spectacular and so is most of the places and landscape in Þórsmörk. If your trip to Iceland and travel in Iceland takes you to Þórsmörk, we recommend spending at least two to three days hiking and enjoying nature in this remarkable place.

Access is not easy and requires a good 4X4 vehicle

Although it is quite easy to find the way to Þórsmörk by taking a turn on Road Nr. 1 to the Road Nr. 249 that also leads to Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the road to Þórsmörk is a rough and challenging Highland Road. As Road Nr. 249 continuous from Seljalandsfoss it turns into F249, Mountain Road Nr. 249, within eight kilometers.  From there by the old bridge over the river Markarfljót, it is a rugged road only for a large 4X4 vehicle.  There are some streams, creeks, and rivers you need to cross and most of them can change from “small” too big in a heartbeat due to rain, warmth and all kinds of climate related matters.  Driving to Þórsmörk in a small car is simply and plainly irresponsible and can be very dangerous.  One of the best options is to take a bus if you don't want to go through the expense of hiring a good 4X4 vehicle. 

 

For many Icelanders, Þórsmörk is their favorite place

It is easy, when covering Iceland in pictures and writing, as we do here at Hit Iceland to get lost in the subject of overwhelming waterfalls, majestic mountains and other natural wonders. But what is also important to mention are the details that bind all these things together. Whether it be tiny rock formations or the vegetation, like in this photograph. These circles are called Nornabaugar directly translated to English as Witch's Rings. They are formed by a mushroom trying to grow in Iceland’s’ sensitive highland regions.

Nornabaugar directly translated to English as Witch's Rings.

Deep in the Highland of Iceland you will find a very remote and highly interesting place, Kverkfjöll, located at the northeast part of Vatnajokull ice cap, the largest glacier in Europe.  It is a combination of ice and magma lurking under the surface filling it with a warmth that melts the ice from beneath, forming melting ice caves at the edge of the glacier. In few places is it more obvious where fire meets ice. It is the home of Iceland's largest geothermal area, warm geothermal pools, ice caves, challenging hiking paths and harsh landscape between two glacier tongues, Brúaárjökull and Dyngjuökull that regularly deliver signs of possible eruptions.  Kverkfjöll is a place for people who are serious hikers seeking real life adventures and interested in visiting the most exotic places in Iceland. It is not a place to visit for a quick selfie or short visit. It is a place of proper preparation and sufficient gear. It is a place for outdoor enthusiasts who like to hike, ski and climb fascinating mountains.

Kverkfjöll is a place of many options

As part of the Icelandic highland, it is a highly sensitive place in any respect.  Mostly covered with snow a large part of the year Kverkfjöll mountains are only accessible during the months of July through September. The area is always a bit wet and lacks vegetation.  Even in those three months, it is a place where you need to take extreme care when visiting.  Because of its many attractions and natural wonders Kverkfjöll has a good service center, available accommodation, and a camping area. It is an “out of this world” place to visit but harsh and unpredictable. 

Access is not easy and requires a full-size 4X4 vehicle

For the drive to Kverkfjöll, you need a large size 4X4 vehicle, a Toyota Hilux, Toyota Landcruiser, VW Amarok, Land Rover or similar.  It is not a road for a small 4X4 as some of the roads are difficult, and there are rivers to cross.  Rivers that can change rapidly with rain or change in heat. The best route is to drive from Mývatn lake towards the east on Road Nr. 1 and take the mountain road F88 Öskjuleið. After driving approximately 75 kilometers, among other places by Herðubreið the queen of Icelandic mountains, you take a turn on the mountain road F910 Austurleið. After driving approximately 12 kilometers on F910, you take another turn on the mountain road F902 Kverkfjallaleið. After an about 40 kilometer drive, you are at Sigurðarskáli cabin and in Kverkfjöll.  It is about 130 kilometers drive into the most remote area in the Icelandic Highland, and you are now truly in a natural wonderland of landscape and geology. 

Deep in the Highland of Iceland you will find a very remote and highly interesting place, Kverkfjöll,

There are seemingly endless different ways of looking at Kerlingarfjöll and during a drive through the highland of Iceland it feels as if Kerlingarfjöll is looking at you, specially when driving by the road Kjölur. It is great to see the way this rugged cluster of mountains with their varied shapes and sizes stand as if they are protectors of their land. Which brings us to their name, Kerlingarfjöll which directly translates Old Woman's Mountains.

There are seemingly endless different ways of looking at Kerlingarfjöll.

In the heart of the Icelandic highlands is Nýidalur (New Valley). This is the perfect place to experience the true remote, but often extreme conditions of the highlands. Positioned right of the Sprengisandur Route - Highland Road Nr. F26, Nýidalur is also in between two glaciers: Tugnafellsjökull and Hofsjökull. There are a few hikes to be taken around the Valley, and The Icelandic Touring Association have two huts there, perfect as accommodation after a day out.

In the heart of the Icelandic highlands is Nýidalur (New Valley).

Often the journey towards a recommended sight seeing spot is just as interesting as the final destination. That is definitely the case for this photo. On the way from the camping area in Drekagil one can drive for about 15 minutes towards the popular Askja and Víti. In good weather conditions this drive can be quite amazing. On one hand there is a huge field of pitch black sand and rocks and on the other there are hills of layered rock formations ranging from brown to gray and black contrasting with the untouched white snow patches.

Between Drekagil and Askja

The mountain ridge Jarlhettur, “The Earls Cap" is easily visible from many places and many angles in southern Iceland. The ridge is 15 kilometers and consists of 20 mountains where each peak is similar to the next, although the height and diameter differ. It is a spectacular sight seen by most visitors driving the Golden Circle with the ice cap Langjökull glacier in the background. The direction of the ridge is the same as most geological fissures in the area, from southwest to the northeast. The visibility is on the east side, and most of the west side is attached to the glacier. It is almost odd to find the name Earl in the Icelandic landscape since Iceland hardly ever had any real Earls governing the land or the people. On the other hand, Icelandic Viking traveled a lot to Europe and was acquainted with Earls and Kings. Unfortunately not alway not always in a polite manner.

Jarlhettur mountain ridge is in contrast with many natural wonders in Iceland

The mountains are of palagonite nature and almost entirely lack vegetation. The lakes and small rivers at the bottom of the mountains are all glacial waters, so everything is gray and somewhat from another planet.  This contrast with many of the magnificent natural beauties in the Icelandic nature makes Jarlhettur ridge, also interesting. Most of the mountains are around eight hundred to nine hundred meters high but the highest one Tröllhetta or Troll Cap, little less than eleven hundred meters.  Most of the mountains are barely climbable as the surface of the steep palagonite mountains is made of small rocks and hard to climb. But those who prepare and dare will enjoy a spectacular view.

Access by car to enjoy the view to Jarlhettur requires a good 4WD car

There are mainly two roads to see Jarlhettur in proximity.  One is to drive from Þingvellir north on the Road Uxahryggjavegur Nr. 550 and take a turn on the rugged mountain road Skjaldbreiðarvegur F338.  On the second part, a few kilometers before you reach Kjalvegur you will have a good view to Jarlhettur in the north.  The second one that will bring you to a proximity of Tröllhetta is to visit Nýifoss waterfall.  

The mountain ridge Jarlhettur, “The Earls Cap" is easily visible from many places and many angles in southern Iceland.

The waterfall Nýifoss or “New waterfall” is actually quite new.  Sometimes referred to as Leynifoss or  The Confidential Waterfall. According to geologists, the waterfall was formed in 1939 when the lake Hagavatna decreased substantially due to the glacial flood coming from under the glacier Langjokull. In the period between 1929 and 1939, the lake Hagavatn changed dramatically, and a part of its eastern side collapsed, burst in the glacial flood and gave way to the water.  Consequently, the water level lowered in the lake and the waterfall Nýifoss was born.  Although Nýifoss is hardly one of our most beautiful waterfalls, it is an interesting one.  Probably because it is quite different than most waterfalls people like to visit.

Different things about Nýifoss compared to many other waterfalls

In addition to being quite, new Nýifoss is located in a sandy gray landscape. A large area around the waterfall and lake Hagavatn is almost without any vegetation.  On the northern side is the southern edge of the glacier Langjökull.  On all other sides is either sand or raw lava.  Because the water is 100% glacial water it is colored with mud, clay, dirt and all kinds of soil that the melting ice carries from under the glacier.  The whole surrounding is like being in a desert or on the moon, but with a lot of water. 

Access is not easy and requires a 4WD of the larger kind

Nýifoss is not far away from Gullfoss, sometimes referred to as Iceland's most spectacular waterfall.  If you continue north on Kjalvegur Nr. 35 from Gullfoss you drive 10 kilometers and you will come to a left turn (west) to Hagavatnsvegur Nr. F35. This road like many F roads in Iceland, mountain roads, require a well equipped 4X4 vehicle. We recommend that you stop in the parking lot in front of the waterfall and walk the last few hundred meters up the track by the waterfall.  There is no point in driving up the steep and difficult part of the track up to the lake.

The waterfall Nýifoss or “New waterfall” is actually quite new.

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