Picture from Pierre-Axel Cotteret
Stuðlagil Canyon can be found in East Iceland in the Glacier Valley called Jökuldalur. With the largest number of basalt rock columns in Iceland and a stunning blue glacier river to contrast, Stuðlagil is one of Iceland's hidden gems.
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Stuðlagil Canyon was created when the force of a river so powerful they named it thrice (Jökla, Jökulsá á Brú and Jökulsá á Dal) forced its way from the Highlands to the North of the island.
The force of this glacial river, which is 150km long, and the water level was such that the area was considered dangerous for a long time. As a result, the area around the canyon was inhabited only by sheep.
With the introduction of a nearby hydroelectric plant called Kárahnjúkavirkjun in 2009, the landscape of the area drastically changed. Hálslón was created in Eastern Iceland as a vast reservoir for water.
The water level decreased and with the hydroelectric plant harvesting the force of the water, the river was less fierce. This was a huge scale project at the time to provide the aluminium plant in Reyðarfjörður with electrical power.
Now, that the water has calmed and the level reduced, this natural beauty is receiving a lot more attention from travellers and locals alike.
Picture from Thomas Bennie
The basalt rock columns that you can see at Stuðlagil are the same type as can be seen at the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach. But it’s Stuðlagil that claims to host the largest number of these basalt structures.
There is a beautiful waterfall called Stuðlafoss (which translates as Basalt Column Waterfall) in Upper Jökuldalur. This is worth a visit if you have the time.
The terrain around the canyon is still relatively untouched and like most of Iceland, the facilities are not in place. The terrain is loose underfoot in places, so hiking boots are advised. Be mindful of nesting birds, particularly in the Spring and Summer. Pink-footed geese, for example, lay their eggs along the gorge in May and June so be extra cautious around this time.
Picture from Serafin Lichtenhahn
Incorporating a visit to Stuðlagil into your Iceland road trip is worthwhile. While you might want to visit Iceland hot spots; Blue Lagoon, Seljalandsfoss and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon along the way, it is worth exploring Iceland off the beaten track, too.
You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours here, taking in nature and marvelling at its beauty.
In winter you may be able to see the Northern Lights from remote areas like this, and in summer you can take advantage of the midnight sun.
There’s another reason that Stuðlagil has remained relatively unknown: it’s not easily accessible. There are virtually no signs or markings for the Iceland canyon on the route.
The best way to get there is to head North on the Ring Road (Road Number 1) from Egilsstaðir, a small town in the East of Iceland. Head towards Guesthouse Skjöldólfsstadir. Continue past it until you reach the turnoff for road 923.
After a short journey on road 923, you will begin to see the opening to the lower part of Jökuldalur and the turn off for Jökuldalsvegur. Here you can see a beautiful basalt column waterfall called Stuðlafoss. If you have a 4x4, you may be able to drive further down Jökuldalsvegur but we would recommend parking your car in the parking lot and taking the walk. This way you can enjoy more of the scenery, plus there is a white bridge which is only suitable for pedestrians.
This area is ideal if you enjoy walking, and there are plenty of nice hiking trails around the canyon. Indeed, the walk to the canyon is estimated to be around 4km and so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
If you plan to hike in the area, make sure to log your travel plans to ensure that you stay safe while in Iceland.