Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Majestic Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon of Southern Iceland


While researching the beautiful country of Iceland to determine what activities and sights were within driving distance of our planned route along the southern coast of Iceland, and which were affordable or worth the cost, I came across some fantastic photographs on Pinterest of a place called Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. (Please don't ask me how it is pronounced - I truly massacred the Icelandic language when trying to sound out any word I encountered.)  Carved 100 meters deep into volcanic rock, and ranging at least 2 kilometers, this canyon is an impressive sight indeed.  I instantly added it to the itinerary.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
The beautiful Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in southern Iceland.

Then I had to figure out how to find it.  There wasn't much online, so I am now dedicating this post to helping others experience this majestic feat of nature.

Despite my troubles finding information online, visiting Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is very easy.  It is located approximately 2.5 kilometers off the southern Ring Road, just down a slightly bumpy country road, and is free to hike. There is no camping or place to stay directly nearby, but luckily the Canyon is only about 10 minutes away from the village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur (we camped there twice since their campground is very nice).  There are signs advertising the canyon, but they are not large or very obvious.  If you have a GPS system, use it!  Simply take the F206 road to Lakagigar (locals call it the Laki Road), and drive just past the Hunkubakkar guesthouse.  When you get to the canyon, you'll see a sign advertising your arrival, and a bridge that crosses the Fjaora River responsible for the canyon's creation.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
Joey stands atop one of the peaks - just a little nervous!

The canyon is cut from a type of volcanic rock called palagonite.  Its rocky walls tower over the relatively small Fjaora River, and are covered in vibrant green mosses and vegetation.  A hiking trail leads you from the tiny gravel parking lot up the hill, and then along the edge of the canyon.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
A view from Fjaorargljufur Canyon looking down.

The trails are marked, and it is obvious that Iceland is doing its best to preserve the canyon.  Trails that previously cut along the very edges of the canyon have been closed, and newer trails have been created further into the flatter and safer portions of the canyon's boundaries.  When we examined the older trails, we found they cut very deep into the land, and erosion was beginning to cause the older trails to slice the canyon into bits.  I understood why the trails near the edge were closed - with further wear and tear, collapsing canyon walls, extreme damage, and possible fatalities were inevitable.  Even so, it was hard not to venture, every now and then, to the edge of the drop-off for a few amazing photo opportunities.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
Trying to capture how deep the canyon is, and how beautiful!

We could have spent all day hiking in Fjaðrárgljúfur.  There are two possibilities for hiking - along the river's edge at the bottom of the canyon, and along the southern top portion of the canyon.  The northern edge is fenced off - the land within the fenced boundaries was dotted with grazing sheep who hopefully know better than to wander too far to the edge.  My husband and I hiked a bit at the bottom of the canyon, but knew that the better and more scenic views awaited us up top.

hiking in Iceland, things to see in Iceland, natural beauty Iceland
What the Fjaorargljufur Canyon entrance looks like from below.

If you find yourself driving the southern stretch of the Ring Road near Kirkjubaejarklaustur, wiggle some time into your schedule for a hike through Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.  You won't regret it!

21 comments:

  1. I keep reading about Iceland lately. I never realized how beautiful the landscape is. The canyon pics (I'm not even going to try and spell the name of the canyon!) are gorgeous. I would love to hike there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks - I'm glad you liked the photos! It was hard to take a bad one there, that's for sure! I have noticed Iceland is becoming a more popular destination, but it's easy to see why. I highly recommend you go if you have the chance.

      Delete
  2. Dear marti,
    Thank you for your post and information. I am traveling to Iceland next summer, and i really want to do this walk! Do you know if it possible to walk this route if you have a 4 hour bus-stop at kirkbaeleklaustar? We will be traveling by Bus, not by car. :)
    Thanks very much! Greetings, Sanne
    Thanks very much in advance

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You could definitely hike the canyon within a four-hour time frame, but I don't know if you'd be able to do it while on a bus tour. You'd need to find someone to drive you out to the canyon (it is down a country road and is a 10-15 minute drive from Kirkjubaejarklauster). I hope you can find a way to make it out there! Maybe if you convince everyone on the bus with you to explore the canyon, and then you all sweet talk the bus driver, you can make it happen! Good luck!

      Delete
  3. Can you drive those country roads to the canyon with a 2 wheel drive vehicle?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the road is fairly smooth and if I remember correctly, mostly paved. The canyon is right off the road and there is no off-roading required. Good luck to you! :)

      Delete
  4. Do you think is accessible for a gal in a wedding dress? I really love this canyon and want to get married there. Is it along the golden circle?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The canyon is NOT along the Golden Circle, and is quite a ways further along Ring Road 1. However, the canyon trails are easily hiked and are clearly delineated. You could definitely get some amazing wedding photos there! Where are you getting married? Just be aware the canyon is a long drive from Reykjavik...

      Delete
  5. Is it clear how to get to the bottom of the gorge to hike along there as well? You said the trails along the top were clear, but is it clear how to get down to the bottom as well?
    Thanks so much for these tid bits!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is pretty easy to hike the bottom of the gorge. The parking lot is basically adjacent to the bottom (if that hasn't changed since we've been there). There aren't any trails that we saw along the bottom, but you just hike along the pebbled shore of the river. It is beautiful - enjoy!

      Delete
  6. Hello ! Great article on the canyon ! We'll be going to Iceland next week and would love to go explore the canyon..

    But just one question, you mentioned that to get there it is an F road and we cannot go on it - would there be any other way to check out this beautiful place ?

    Thanks so much !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not entirely sure why you couldn't go on the F206 road: it is mostly paved and you don't need a 4-wheel drive to access it. As much as I can remember, there is no other road to the canyon, so unless you are on the F206 you won't be able to visit. Good luck!

      Delete
    2. All F roads are banned for non-4x4 vehicles and clearly marked by the car rental companies in vehicles not allowed to drive on them. There are official fines plus insurance wouldn't cover anything from the rental company :(

      Delete
    3. When we were at the canyon, there were several cars in the parking lot. The road to the canyon, as I said, doesn't necessitate a 4x4 vehicle so I guess some visitors are willing to take the risk? We happened to have a 4x4 on our trip because I'd read about a lot of waterfalls I wanted to see that DID need a 4x4 for access, so that's what we rented. But the canyon road was quite nice. I guess if you don't want a ticket or have your rental insurance questioned, you'd better get a 4x4 then! Thanks for the explanation Leanne!! :)

      Delete
  7. We will be visting the area this summer. We will have our two kids with us (8 and 5 yrs old) is the hike doable for kids? How long does it take to get to the gorge? I would love to get some shots from the upper canyon similar to yours. Thanks in advance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The hike is definitely fit for kids. I was pregnant when we visited and was still able to hike the canyon easily. It is so nice there - maybe pack a wee picnic treat or lunch so the kids can sit and rest and refuel. But it isn't strenuous by any means. To get to the gorge from the parking lot is about 45 seconds of walking: it is literally right there when you park. You will love it!!

      Delete
    2. Perfect!! I really appreciate the suggestions and information, thanks so much!

      Delete
  8. Hi there! Roughly how long is the hike/trail? I'm heading to Iceland this fall with my mother and grandparents. I know this is something they would enjoy but I don't want to wear them out within the first few days of our trip (we are stopping over for 3 days before heading to Norway)! So glad I found your site -- great info and pictures :).
    ~Danielle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The hike is very short and you can make it last as long (or as short) as you want depending on how far you decide to go, and if you decide to hike both the upper and lower canyon. (I recommend if you want to keep it short and easy, do the upper canyon - much better views.) The canyon is not huge by any means, but I recommend you don't skip it! There isn't too much of a slope either to walk to the upper canyon, so it is fine for people of all ages to enjoy. Have a great trip! I wish I was going to Norway!

      Delete
  9. Excellent article. It's a place I missed when I toured Iceland - such a marvellous country to see and I will be sure to check this place out when I go back. Safe travels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree! Iceland remains one of my favorite places in the world. I would love to return as well.

      Delete