One of the coolest things to do in East Iceland is to visit the newest hype of the country: a basalt column canyon. The Stuðlagil canyon was only discovered a couple of years ago, because the Jökulsá á Dal river used to be a gushing glacial river that completely filled the basalt canyon.
Are you thinking of visiting this basalt column canyon? We will tell you all you need to know about the Stuðlagil canyon!
Good to know: you can reach the parking of the canyon with a simple 2×2 vehicle!
IN THIS ARTICLE
How The Canyon was Created
How to Get There?
Best Time to Visit
– East Iceland Weather
Hotels in East Iceland
Basalt Columns Iceland
More Things to do East Iceland
How the Basalt Column Canyon Was Created
There are many basalt columns in Iceland. Basalt is a volcanic rock that is created when lava cools off. Basalt columns are the crystals into which lava has contracted as it was cooling.
During the cooling process, the chemicals and appearance of lava changes; the rock shrinks and it ‘cracks’– often hexagonal shaped. It’s best understand if you look at the basalt canyons from the top.
The Stuðlagil canyon has both vertical and horizontal columns, but vertical columns are most common.
So the basalt canyon was created a very long time ago, so why is this basalt canyon ‘new’?
Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant
In 2004, they started building what would become the largest power plant of Iceland: Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant or officially, Fljótsdalur Power Station. This plant can generate 690 megawatts (930,000 hp) of electricity! The plant started fully operating in 2008.
Part of the construction was to make five dams in the rivers Jökulsá á Dal and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal, creating three reservoirs, to divert the water into a tunnel for energy. As a result, the total water level dropped more than 600 meters.
The Stuðlagil canyon is where the river Jökulsá á Dal flows through. Before they built the dams and diverted the water, the canyon was filled with a gushing glacial river transporting tons of sediment.
Nowadays, the Jökulsá á Dal river is normally clear and turquoise, though melting snow in the spring (until May) and spillway overflow in the late summer (from mid-August) may affect its appearance.
In 2016, It was a local guide (Einar Páll Svavarsson) who discovered this formerly hidden canyon. The Stuðlagil canyon became most famous on social media in 2019, and when we visited in the summer of 2020, there were a lot of locals visiting!
How to Get to Stuðlagil Basalt Canyon
Let’s talk about the most important thing: how to get to Stuðlagil canyon. If you simply follow Google Maps to Stuðlagil canyon, you might be disappointed. It will lead you to a viewpoint on the west side of the canyon, where you can only view the canyon from the top.
The viewpoint is nice, but you probably want to walk in the canyon! In that case, the directions are a little different and you need to be prepared for a hike.
For both the west and east side, you need to exit the Ring Road (Road 1) to road 923. In the map we have marked the route if you come from the east. From this side, you will see a clear sign pointing to Brú á Jökuldal and Stuðlagil.
For more tips and must see spots in Iceland, read our 7 Day Iceland Itinerary.
If you come from the west, you should be able to exit to road 923 on the west side. Road 923 is a paved road.
Exit 923 to Jökuldalsvegur – this is a gravel road. At this exit, you see a sign towards Grund and Stuðlagil.
Stuðlagil Canyon Viewpoint
For the viewpoint, drive all the way on Jökuldalsvegur (about 19 kilometers/12 miles) to the farm Grund, where you find the parking for the viewpoint.
There is a viewing platform build here, walk down the stairs to get here, and you can enjoy the canyon from the top. There is also a path to walk down to the canyon, but this can be dangerous and you will end up on the west side in the canyon – which is not the best spot. The glacial river is also cold and can have a strong current, so do not try to cross.
Stuðlagil Canyon Parking
If you drive on Jökuldalsvegur for about 14 kilometers (8.6 miles), you will see a sign to the farm Klaustursel. Follow the road until you see a parking lot next to two bridges. The bridge on the left is the oldest steel bridge in eastern Iceland. Driving over the bridge is not allowed.
This is where you will start the hike to the canyon!
Stuðlagil Canyon Hike
So, you need to hike if you want to stand in the Stuðlagil canyon. It’s about a 5 kilometers (3 miles) walk. You cross a bridge first, and walk to the right.
We found the walk quite boring. It’s really flat and the view does not change a lot. You will see the viewpoint on the other side of the canyon, and that’s when you know you’re nearly there!
Stuðlafoss (Stuðlagil Waterfall)
Halfway the hike, you can take a break and enjoy a lovely waterfall in between basalt columns. This is Stuðlafoss, meaning Stuðla waterfall.
And after the hike, you can enjoy the beautiful canyon! The stones and rocks can be wet and slippery, so take precaution and be safe.
You will visit probably Reykjavík too during your Iceland trip! Check our guide to seeing Reykjavík in one day!
Best Time To Visit Stuðlagil Canyon
The glacial river is normally clear and turquoise. But in spring (until May), there is more water due to melting snow, and in late summer (from mid-August) there can be spillway overflow changing the river’s appearance.
In May and June, birds breed in the area of the Grund farm and along the gorge. No one is allowed to enter the nesting grounds from 1 May – 10 June, and visitors are discouraged to come during this time.
Visiting Stuðlagil canyon is possible, but not recommended. In winter, parts of the ring road can be closed down, so you might not be able to drive to the canyon. In addition, there isn’t much daylight in winter. On the shortest day of the year, there are only 4 hours of daylight, so you need to plan well. The paths can also be a lot more slippery.
We would say mid-June until mid-August would be the absolute best time to visit the basalt canyon. This is the time with the most sunlight, the best chance for the river to be turquoise, and pick a sunny day so it’s safest to visit (and least slippery).
East Iceland Weather
The weather in Iceland is really crazy and unpredictable. When in Iceland you might hear the joke ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes’. It changes constantly!
Do not underestimate the weather. Strong wind may just unbalance you, be careful when you walk and stick to the path.
In general, North and East Iceland get more sun than the south and west, but like we said – it’s unpredictable.
Hotels in East Iceland
Laufás Guesthouse is a great option if you are doing Iceland on a budget.
Skarðás Country Cabins offer lovely wooden cottages, offering a unique (and more remote) experience.
Lyngás Guesthouse is a great hotel, located along route 1, so you won’t waste any time driving back and forth.
West of Stuðlagil, the Möðrudalur campground Camping Fjalladyrd is a lovely, remote, camping site in between Stuðlagil and Myvatn.
If you are exploring the Iceland east coast, you may want to look at hotels in Seyðisfjörður in the east fjords.
Basalt Columns Iceland
If you can’t get enough of the beautiful basal columns, you might want to visit more basalt columns in Iceland!
More Iceland Basalt Columns
- Reynisfjara (South Iceland)
- Dverghamrar (South Iceland)
- Svartifoss (East Iceland)
- Hljóðaklettar (Northeast Iceland)
- Aldeyjarfoss (Northeast Iceland)
- Staðarbjörg (Northwest Iceland)
- Gerðuberg (Snæfellsnes, West Iceland)
- Arnarstapi / Hellnar (Snæfellsnes, West Iceland)
If you want to see more canyons in Iceland, here is a list of the best Iceland canyons.
- Gullfoss Canyon (Golden Circle)
- Almannagja (Golden Circle)
- Kvernufoss canyon (South Iceland)
- Stakkholtsgja canyon (South Iceland)
- Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon (South Iceland)
- Sigödugljúfur (Highlands, South Iceland)
- Múlagljúfur canyon (East Iceland)
- Jokulsargljufur canyon (Northeast Iceland)
- Kolugljúfur canyon (northwest Iceland)
- Raudfeldsgja (Snæfellsnes, West Iceland)
More Things to do East Iceland
There are many East Iceland things to do, and you should absolutely visit East Iceland if you are in Iceland.
- Diamond beach + Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon
- Stokksnes + Viking village
- Seyðisfjarðarkirkja (rainbow street)
- Borgarfjarðarhöfn (puffin island)
- Vök Baths (geothermal spa)
- Hengifoss (waterfall with red layers)
Enjoy this beautiful basalt canyon in East Iceland! The Stuðlagil Canyon is one of our favorite spots in the country.
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