The glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum - the Glacial River in the Mountains is the second longest river in Iceland (206 km). It is a roaring, turbulent milky white/greyish glacial river coming straight from Vatnajökull glacier, or Dyngjujökull glacier to be exact.
My first photos are taken in the highlands of Iceland in the vicinity of Askja caldera and the small, but powerful waterfall in the glacial river is called Gljúfrasmiður - the Canyon Builder. I have twice visited this area with Saga Travel on the way to Askja in the highlands, as this is such a rugged area with glacial rivers to cross that a guided tour is needed. Unless you have a super jeep, which I don't own.
Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river is bridged in 3 places and on our travels in the highlands of Iceland we crossed the glacial river on the bridge by Upptyppingar. The other two bridges are by ring-road 1 and by the end of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon by road 85.
Further north Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river runs through one of the biggest canyons in Iceland, the 25 km long ruggedly beautiful Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, with its beautiful waterfalls and extraordinary rock formations.
Selfoss as seen from the west bank
In the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, the glacial river creates the most powerful waterfall in Iceland, Dettifoss waterfall, plus several other smaller waterfalls.
Dettifoss, along with the smaller waterfalls, Selfoss and Hafragilsfoss, which are south and north of Dettifoss, create a natural monument and have been declared as protected. You will also find a very pretty horseshoe-shaped waterfall further down the canyon called Réttarfoss waterfall.
The first waterfall in the canyon is called Selfoss waterfall. It is a beautiful horseshoe-shaped waterfall, 10 meters high and very wide. I visited it from the west bank of the glacial river, but it cannot be seen very well from there.
Basalt columns as seen from the west bank
It can also be visited from the east bank, where there is a 1.4 km hike from Dettifoss waterfall. Next time I visit Dettifoss I will make sure to get a better look at Selfoss waterfall from the east bank.
There are some very beautiful basalt columns on each side of Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river by Selfoss. From the west bank of the river, there is an easy short hike to Selfoss waterfall.
Dettifoss from the west bank
Now let's visit Dettifoss waterfall. Dettifoss is Iceland's most powerful waterfall and it has got the wow factor big time. It is 44 meters high and 100 meters wide and has a flow of 193 m3/s.
Dettifoss can be visited from both the east bank and the west bank of Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river and there is a totally different experience visiting it from the east bank than visiting it from the west bank. The road to the west is paved, but the road on the east side is still a bumpy gravel road.
We first visited it from the west bank. There is a 15-minute hike down to the waterfall from the parking lot on the west bank.
Dettifoss from the east bank
It is awesome standing close to Dettifoss. When I visit it I am always in awe of how powerful it really is. I get a feeling of unreality standing so close to such forces of nature.
There is a lot of mist on the west bank so one is bound to get wet when standing so close to this powerful waterfall.
Dettifoss from the east bank
We also visited Dettifoss from the east bank. There you can stand even closer to the mammoth roaring falls. There are no guardrails here, so let's be very careful here.
Here is a short video of Dettifoss I shot from the east bank just so that you can hear it roaring and see the massive mist:
Saga Travel offers several guided tours to Dettifoss and Jökulsárgljúfur canyon:
A couple of hundred meters below Dettifoss waterfall you will find Hafragilsfoss waterfall. Hafragilsfoss is also a beautiful waterfall, less visited than Dettifoss.
Hafragilsfoss from the west bank
Hafragilsfoss waterfall is 27 meters high and 91 meters wide. It is not possible to walk down to Hafragilsfoss waterfall from the east bank, but the view of the waterfall and the canyon is breathtaking. Here the canyon is 100 meters deep. The photo above shows you the waterfall from the west side.
This part of the canyon is called Hafragilsundirlendi and it is so beautiful. There are several freshwater springs here creating lovely small waterfalls that run into the glacial river.
Hafragilsfoss from the east bank
And where the freshwater meets the ice-cold grey glacial water the most beautiful aquamarine colour appears. The photo above is from the east side.
The name Hafragilsfoss means Buck Canyon fall. According to folklore, a giantess stole 2 bucks in Öxarfjörður fjord, north of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, where Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river ends its course and joins the sea.
The giantess had to act swiftly and tied the bucks together by their horns, threw them up on her shoulder and jumped over the glacial river on this spot.
Hafragilsundirlendi from the east bank
I visited the east-bank on my own but joined a guided tour by Saga Travel with a stop on the west bank.
The tour is called Diamond Circle Tour in North Iceland from Reykjavik with Flight and I have written about it in my travel-blog the Spectacular Diamond Circle in North-Iceland.
Hafragilsundirlendi from the west bank
Hafragilsfoss waterfall has got a huge mist/spray and I sometimes refer to it as mini-Dettifoss :) From both the west-bank and the east-bank you will have a great view of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum.
From the west-bank, you have a fantastic view of what I like to call an elf-church. Don't you agree with me on this - doesn't the basalt-column rock in my photo below looks just like an elf-church should look like?
Photo shot from the west bank
We have got many stories of encounters with the elves - hidden people - of Iceland and many people have seen them enter rocks which might have been their churches. I have not been able to find any folklore on the elves for this particular rock, but would like to believe that one exists :)
Réttarfoss from the east bank
Another beautiful location in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon is Forvöð and Réttarfoss waterfall.
By Forvöð in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, there is an hour's hike down to a horseshoe-shaped waterfall called Réttarfoss waterfall. This is a very interesting hike with lots of beautiful, historical sights, f.ex. one of the Grettisbæli - the Lair of Grettir the Strong - is to be found at Forvöð.
Réttarfoss from the east bank
There are some other smaller waterfalls in Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river before the river reaches the fairytale-like part of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon called Hljóðaklettar or Echo Rocks.
Hljóðaklettar is a cluster of strange columnar rock formations creating all kinds of figures. It is like entering another world, in my opinion. These extraordinary rock formations, some of them standing in the middle of Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river, are the remains of volcanoes which have been eroded for centuries after centuries by the strong currents and floods of the river.
Hiking through this area will leave no man untouched. The volcanic plugs take on the form of so many creatures and are so big that you will feel like a small ant while exploring i. This area is both beautiful and rugged as you walk on the bank of the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum.
A little bit further north the glacial river runs its course in Öxarfjörður fjord.
In September 2014 the lava flow from Holuhraun volcanic eruption reached Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river, and the river up in the highlands retreated east away from the lava flow.
The 2 trolls were too late to reach their cave and were turned into stone
There are several guided tours to Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, as I mentioned earlier, f.ex.:
You can also rent a car and check it out on your own in the summertime.
Road 862 on the west bank is paved all the way to Dettifoss, and is a bad gravel road further on leading to Hljóðaklettar. It turns into a paved road again before it joins road 85. Road 864 on the east bank is a bad gravel road all the way to road 85.
This is a summer visit only unless you join a guided tour. The road into the canyon is only cleared of snow twice in the wintertime as you can read about here: Road to Iceland's most powerful waterfall Dettifoss is impassable. Saga Travel offers some winter tours in a super jeep to the canyon from March-June.
Have a lovely time in the magnificent Jökulsárgljúfur canyon :)