Ásbyrgi - the Shelter of the Gods is located in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon way up in North-Iceland. It is one of the most magical places in Iceland, and definitely my most favourite place here in in my country. It is like out of this world and when it opens up and I can see it from the road I feel like a kid, I am so excited about seeing it again.
I usually camp here for a couple of nights in summer time and you will notice by my hair-colour that my photos are from my many, many trips to Ásbyrgi through the years ;)
Ásbyrgi belongs to the former Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, which is now the northernmost part of Vatnajökull National Park. It is 3.5 km in length and 1.1 km across with the walls being up to 100 meters high! According to Norse mythology the god Óðinn was once riding his 8-legged horse, Sleipnir, and it put one of its hoofs down and created Ásbyrgi, which is in the shape of a very big horse-shoe.
The geological explanation varies to a great extent from what the Vikings believed, but I will stick to this explanation :)
By the way, Ásbyrgi is the capital city of the Hidden people "Huldufólk" of Iceland and psychic people have seen many homes, public buildings and concert halls belonging to the Hidden people in the cliffs. There are many stories in our folklore about human encounters with the Hidden people, so you never know what might happen when you visit Ásbyrgi!
Ásbyrgi is divided in the middle by a 250 meters wide cliff, which is called the Island or "Eyjan" in Icelandic. From the camping site a hiking trail leads to the top of the Island and all the way to the end where you can have a fantastic view of Ásbyrgi. To get an idea of how big this rock is, then if you look closely you can see in the photo how small I am waving my hands beneath the rock :)
The hike starts by a sign which reads "Eyjan". The first part of the hike you have to climb up onto the top of the rock, just a small climb. When you are on top the hike is easy, as you go gradually higher up and don't feel it.
The hike is all in all 5 km back and forth. In some places one has to follow narrow trails, we call them "kindastígar", or sheep trails. You will find these trails all over Iceland, made by sheep which walk in a row.
This is such a lovely hike as the view from here is breathtaking, to say the least. Well, I am so much in love with Àsbyrgi, that I find everything beautiful here.
To me a whole magical world opens up when I look down into Àsbyrgi from the Island.
You will find several hiking trails in Ásbyrgi, one leading to the beautiful Botnstjörn pond. It is called Skógarstígur trail and is 3,6 km long one way, but a very lovely easy hike by the cliff face, where you can see various formations, some of them looking like faces. The hike also takes you through a small forest. It is indeed a very lovely hike.
It starts opposite the road from the campsite and takes you by the cliffs on the eastern side of Àsbyrgi. It is also possible to climb up the cliffs and walk on the edge. There is a path up the cliffs with chains to make it easier to ascend.
Botnstjörn pond and the surrounding cliffs are in my eyes out of this world and I could stay there for hours, which I have done many times. If you want to drive there then you drive to the inner parking lot and the easy walk to and from the pond is 0,8 km.
This beautiful pond is what is left of a big waterfall, which once fell from the cliffs and it is extremely peaceful there.
It is very well marked and the first sign says: "Útsýnisstaður - Botnstjörn" - "útsýnisstaður" is the Icelandic word for view-spot. You walk down a few steps to get to the pond and then up to the view-spot which gives you an excellent view of the pond and Ásbyrgi.
You can even go up more steps and to a higher point, but that is more risky - but the view from there is breathtaking.
I love the presence of the fulmar here, but not everybody shares my opinion and some people want to shoot it down and drive it away. To me it just adds to the magic of Botnstjörn pond.
On the pond there are some types of ducks, the most common being the wigeon. Let's not feed it as Ásbyrgi is a national park and the ducks need to be able to survive in nature by itself. I can understand people wanting to feed them though as then you can see them up close.
While staying at the pond I have seen quite a few people feed the ducks, as when group-leaders lead groups to the pond sometimes they have their lunch here while sitting on the benches by the pond.
I know people want to try out the echo here, but to me this is kind of a holy place and I prefer the sound of nature echoing in the cliffs - I get the same feeling as when inside a church, so man-made sounds bother me here.
That is why I choose to camp in Ásbyrgi during the bright summer nights. Then I walk to the pond in the middle of the night from the campsite and to the pond and stay there alone, surrounded only by the sounds of nature. It is heaven on earth, my absolute favourite place here in Iceland - too bad that it is so far away from Reykjavík, where I live.
Did I mention that Ásbyrgi is believed to be the capital city of the Hidden People (elves)? There are many stories about encounters with the Hidden People in Ásbyrgi and by Botnstjörn pond, so you never know what might happen during your walks there. Just enjoy what ever might happen.
A folktale tells us a story which took place at Botnstjörn pond - the Hidden People and a Beast. You can read up on the folktale by Botnstjörn:
On the way back to the parking lot and closing the ring from the upper view platform by the pond, take a left turn and walk ca 50 m. This path takes you to a small man-made platform, which is called "Danspallurinn" or the Dance platform.
Danspallurinn was made in 1950 and used for dancing by the youth during the Ásbyrgi festivals. It is kind of hidden from view, but it is off the parking lot, on the west side of the parking lot. It is not more than a molten floor, but there can be a lot of fun here during concerts.
At the Visitor Centre at Ásbyrgi, Gljúfrastofa, you can get detailed information from the park ranger on Ásbyrgi and the National park, the wildlife, vegetation and landscape, including maps on hiking trails and camping in Ásbyrgi. It is only open during the summer time from June-September.
At the Visitor Centre one can see Falcon puke and Ptarmigan poo on display, amongst other things ;) You will also find a shop and a fast-food restaurant by the road, which has got a surprisingly varied selection of food - and good cheap coffee.
You can rent a car in Reykjavík and plan your trip around Iceland yourself. I would recommend staying at the camping site for the night. Also check out all the self-drive tours available, with a detailed itinerary, a car and accommodation included.
Ásbyrgi is located by roads 85 and 861 in North-Iceland and here you can see the exact location of Ásbyrgi on the map.
There are also several guided tours to Ásbyrgi and the surrounding areas f.ex. Dettifoss Waterfall and the Glacial Canyon Tour, Highlights of the North | Sightseeing Tour with Flight and it is included in the 7 Day Self Drive Tour | North Iceland & Mývatn and the 14 Day Self Drive Tour | Circle of Iceland & the Westfjords and the 4x4 Tour from Akureyri: Diamond circle, waterfalls and amazing landscapes.