The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

Iceland has got some spectacular canyons, one of which is Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in South-Iceland. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a canyon with quite a unique serpent-like shape and it was not well-known to visitors to Iceland until a few years ago. Don't worry if you cannot pronounce it, it is even difficult for Icelanders to pronounce ;)

There are speculations that Justin Bieber was influential in introducing Fjaðrárgljúfur to other travellers, as he shot parts of his video "I'll show you" in the canyon, and in other beautiful locations in South-Iceland during his Iceland visit back in 2015. 

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

Photo from my 2014 visit. The serpent-shaped limb in Justin Bieber's video

You can see Justin Bieber going out on a limb in Fjaðrárgljúfur in the video below and even floating in his boxer briefs in the cold river. I have seen that Fjaðrá river has been called a glacial river in some articles about Justin Bieber's swim in it, but it is not a glacial river.

There is no swimming in the glacial rivers of Iceland, as they are too cold and too forceful. You can see the difference in my travel-blog between the small river in Fjarðárgljúfur canyon and the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum:

Fjaðrá is a small and cold river though. It would have been much more comfortable to take a dip in a hot river like the hot river in Reykjadalur:

But on this trip, Justin Bieber also took a dip in Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, which for sure is ice-cold and should not be repeated, as there are icebergs floating around in the lagoon.  The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

Now, only a few years after the release of the music video tourists are flocking to Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. The increase in visitors to the canyon is a whopping 80% between 2016-2017! And in 2018 around 300,000 people visited the canyon! That is almost the whole population of Iceland.

See also the Guide to Iceland Now article on the matter:

The canyon cannot withstand this much traffic, especially in late winter, beginning of spring, so in March 2019 it was closed for traffic and will remain closed until June 1st 2019, so nature can recover. This is due to thawing conditions. The fragile vegetation cannot withstand all this traffic and needs time to heal.

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

This is the second year in a row that Fjaðrárgljúfur has been closed from March until June and it made a big difference last year. Unfortunately, last year the ranger repeatedly had to herd people away, who had disrespected the closure. The same is happening now and the ranger has to turn around some 200 cars every day.

The sign says that entering this area is strictly forbidden and is punishable by law. It is of utmost importance that we respect this closure so that nature will get enough time to heal.

I have visited Fjarðárgljúfur in late May and in late July and you can see the difference in the colours of nature in my set of photos. In May the light was pretty bad for taking photos and in July it rained buckets with a very short period of some sunshine, as you can see in my first photo. I have to visit it again next summer to get better photos.

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

I have gone out on a limb in Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, not the really narrow ones though, which are now fenced off, but a wider one, where there is a sign telling you that you enter at your own risk. I would not do this now that I have seen how downtrodden the area has become.

I used to have such fear of heights and would never go close to the edge, but got cured with hypnosis. So my husband told me to go out on the limb in my photo above and below, and he would stay behind and take my photos.

There was a man already taking photos on the limb so I waited for him to finish and then approached him. He called me by name and welcomed me with open arms an told me that he had read my travel-blogs :)

It warmed my heart; I am always so happy when people greet me and tell me that they have read some of my travel-blogs.

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-IcelandThe first time I saw Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was in an Icelandic travel program on RÚV, our state TV, and I have visited it a couple of time since then, both before and after the "Bieber effect". By the time I visited in 2016 ropes had been put up in several places to prevent people from going out on a limb, and to protect nature.

Fjaðrá river originates in Mt. Geirlandshraun lava field and runs its course southeast into Skaftá glacial river. From what I can see on the map of the National Land Survey of Iceland then Mógá river creates the waterfall in my photos.

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

Fjaðrárgljúfur is around 2 km long and 100 metres deep where it is deepest, and the canyon might be some 2 million years old. Fjaðrá river, which runs through the canyon, is not a massive river so the canyon can also be visited from the river bank, where you have to wade the river in some places.

I saw that done on the travel program, but I have only visited Fjaðrárgljúfur from the ridges above.

How Fjaðrárgljúfur was created  The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

Some 9-10,000 years ago a forceful glacial river ran from the glacier edge through Fjaðrárgljúfur, creating this majestic canyon through progressive erosion of the palagonite, leaving only the harder rock behind.

From what I understand when reading a geological explanation of the creation of Fjarðárgljúfur is that a glacial lagoon was created when the hard rock obstructed the glacial river. It then started digging out, as it were, this beautiful canyon and at last clearing the obstruction.

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

People were standing and sitting on all the edges, as from there you get the best view of the canyon. You do this at your own risk though as it is dangerous

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon looks like it belongs to the world of the Game of Thrones TV-series, and many of the scenes of GOT have been shot in Iceland. Recent scenes were shot here in Fjaðrárgljúfur, where you will see dragons flying in the canyon (minute 1:08).

Fjaðrárgljúfur is a national heritage site but has not yet been protected. Such a gem of nature should be protected, don't you agree?

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

The serpent-shaped edge - it is closed now

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur village and the distance to the canyon from Reykjavík is some 255 km. You can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive along ring-road 1 in South-Iceland. To reach the canyon you turn left on road 206 for Lakagígar.

The canyon cannot be seen from the ring road, but it takes only a few minute's drive to reach it.  After a couple of minutes, the road to Lakagígar will turn to your right and turn into F-206, only suitable for well equipped 4x4 vehicles. But we continue driving on a gravel road until we reach Fjaðrárgljúfur.

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

The lower parking lot

The road leading to Fjaðrárgljúfur is suitable for all cars in the summertime. There can be potholes after heavy rain, so drive slowly.

I found 2 guided tours which include Fjaðrárgljúfur in their tour:

The Picturesque Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland

I have written other travel-blogs on Kirkjubæjarklaustur and the Elf City & Elf Church in the vicinity of Fjarðárgljúfur, which you might want to include in your visit to South-Iceland:

There are many other beautiful canyons in Iceland and I have written travel-blogs about some of them:

Have a lovely time visiting Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, but remember that it is closed to visitors until June 1st 2019.

Sources: Vegvísir um jarðfræði Íslands by Snæbjörn Guðmundsson

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