Gjain Valley Travel Guide
The Gjain valley, spelled Gjáin in Icelandic, is a small valley that is home to lava caves, basalt columns, waterfalls, and rivers in the Highlands of Iceland.
Because of its wide variety of beautiful natural features, it’s a great place to visit during a self-drive tour. This 8-Day Summer Self Drive Tour and 13-Day Northern Lights Winter Self Drive Tour are examples of itineraries that provide opportunities to visit Gjain valley when you are in the Highlands. It can also be explored by those who choose to rent a car during their trip to Iceland.
Gjain valley is an undiscovered area that is off the beaten track of the tourist trail in Iceland. It is an oasis that is home to stunning views and breathtaking beauty and offers opportunities for some unforgettable hikes. Because of this, it is often referred to as “one of the pearls of Icelandic nature”.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Qaswed No edits made.
Natural Features in Gjain valley
Located on the very edge of the Thjorsardalur valley, the lush green Gjain valley is surrounded by more barren landscapes which provide an interesting contrast.
It has a large waterfall called Gjarfoss and another, smaller waterfall that drops down beside it. You can walk right up to this one and feel the spray on your face. Another water feature here is the Rauda river, or Red river, which runs through the valley.
Continuing upriver several hidden waterfalls are waiting to be discovered. Gjain’s water features are surrounded by lava fields created during volcanic eruptions and the valley has a calm, tranquil atmosphere.
From the Gjain valley, you are treated to some spectacular views of the Hekla volcano, the most active volcano in Iceland.
The area is thought to have a magical feel about it and is associated with fairies and elves in Icelandic folklore. In summer, the area is home to varied birdlife and lush green vegetation.
Gjain Valley in Game of Thrones
Iceland provided many filming locations for the popular HBO TV show Game of Thrones, thanks to its epic natural landscapes. The Gjain valley is the backdrop for one of the scenes where the Hound and Arya Stark are traveling together, the Water Dance (season 4, episode 5).
If you’re a fan of the show then it’s a fantastic place for you to visit and visitor numbers to the area have increased since its release.
Getting to Gjain Valley
Located in the middle of the Icelandic Highlands, it can be a difficult journey to get to the Gjain valley. Its remote location is why it remains an unspoiled area of beauty in Iceland.
It is around 83.9 miles (135 kilometers) away from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. You’ll need a 4x4 vehicle for the drive as some of the terrain on the journey is inaccessible to other vehicles. As you get closer to the valley, the road becomes a bumpy dirt track.
Ideally, you should try to visit the Gjain valley during the summer season as travel during this time will be easier.
From Reykjavik, take Route 1 until you reach Skeida-og Hrunamannavegur (30). From here, turn left and continue along this road for around 11.2 miles (18 kilometers). Turn right onto Thjorsardalsvegur (32) and stay on this road for the rest of the way.
You can park your car at Stong, a nearby Viking settlement manor. From here it is around a 1.3 mile (2.1 kilometers) hike to the northern part of the Gjain valley. The hike is easy and suitable for all fitness levels.
Alternatively, you can park on the south side of Gjain and walk down the steps there into the valley. Here you’ll find the lava caves and the smaller of the two waterfalls.
Other Attractions near the Gjain valley
Near the Gjain valley, you’ll find the medieval farm of Stong which has been reconstructed. The settlement was destroyed in 1104 when the Hekla volcano erupted. The area has been deemed unsuitable to live in as Hekla has erupted at least once in every century since, aside from 1400.
Haifoss waterfall is around 6.6 miles (10.6 kilometers) away from Gjain and is one of the most incredible waterfalls in Iceland. It’s the fourth tallest waterfall in the country and has breathtaking views over the surrounding canyon.
Another waterfall that is close by is Hjalparfoss, or the Help’s Falls as they are also known. Just north of Hekla, in Thjorsardalur valley, this waterfall runs from the river Fossa.
Landmannalaugar nature reserve is approximately 41 miles (66 kilometers) from the Gjain valley. It’s an area of unique beauty and is one of the most popular places for hiking in Iceland.
After a busy day of exploring, it’s time to relax and there’s no better place than a natural hot spring. The Secret Lagoon in Fludir is around 32.5 miles (52.3 kilometers) away and has a 38-39 degrees Celsius hot water pool as well as showers, changing rooms, an outside deck, bar, and a restaurant.