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Jökulsárgljúfur; the Longest River Canyon in Iceland

Jökulsárgljúfur is the longest river canyon in Iceland, clocking in at an incredible 25 kilometers long, 500 meters wide, and 120 meters deep in places. It is also the home of Dettifoss the second-most powerful waterfall in Europe), Selfoss, and a few other impressive sites here in Iceland. With these types of credentials, it’s no wonder that Jökulsárgljúfur National Park was named after this breathtaking natural wonder. 


In this article, we take a deep dive into the canyon, how to get there, what you can expect from a visit, and where to stay if you want to explore everything the area has to offer. So, if you’ve got an upcoming trip to the island, or you’re just curious to learn more about Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon – read on. 



Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon


How was Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon Formed?


The Canyon is the result of the clash of elements and the reason why Iceland is called the Land of Fire and Ice. Thousands of years’ worth of volcanic activity caused massive glacial floods during which the powerful waters carved a path across the land. 


The biggest and most powerful floods that contributed the most towards what we know as Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, occurred 10,000 and 3000 years ago. The area was finally made an official national park in 1973 and was expanded in 1978 as Asbyrgi was added to its boundaries. 

Where is Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon?


Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon forms the largest part of Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. This, in turn, forms part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park, covering most of its northeastern region. 

As Jökulsárgljúfur is situated in North Iceland, the closest towns are Husavik (the whale capital of Iceland) which is 60 kilometers away, and Akureyri (the capital city of the north) which is 130 kilometers away. 



Longest River Canyon in Iceland


How to Get to Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon 


There are a variety of ways that one can get to Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon: 


Via a Guided Tour


We have plenty of tour operators and private guides to choose from here on the island. Most of these tours will depart from the bigger cities such as Akureyri and Husavik. These tours can range from day trips and multi-day holiday packages that include Jökulsárgljúfur as a stop, to customized private tours.

 

Just keep in mind that if you’re planning to visit the island during our busy summer months, you will need to book your spot on a tour well in advance to avoid disappointment. 


Via a Plane


If you have limited time on the island or just want to keep travel time to a minimum, you can always opt to take a domestic flight. There are daily flights from Reykjavík Airport (not to be confused with Keflavik Airport) to Egilsstadir, Husavik, and Akureyri where one can either book a tour or rent a vehicle to visit the canyon.



Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.


Via a Self-drive


Doing a self-drive is by far the best way to explore the island, including Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. You can either rent a vehicle at Egilsstadir, Husavik, or Akureyri, and do a day trip to the canyon, but since there’s so much to do and see at the canyon and its surroundings we recommend that you opt for doing a proper road trip


If you do a Ring Road road trip you will be able to drive right around the island, and get to experience most of the vast and contradicting terrain Iceland has to offer visitors, including some of our most infamous attractions. In this scenario, Jökulsárgljúfur will be one of your road trip stops. 


If you decide to go the road trip route, we suggest that you rent a campervan in Reykjavik upon arrival in Iceland. This way you not only sort out both your transport and accommodation, but you can live your best budget-friendly life by going camping in comfort. Add the Camping Card into the mix and you’re in for the most cost-efficient yet comfortable adventure of your life. 


Camper rental Iceland


When is the Best Time to Visit Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon?


The best time for your trip will rely heavily on a number of factors: 


What You Want to Do


If you are planning on having a jam-packed Iceland trip itinerary that includes outdoor places such as Jökulsárgljúfur and activities such as hiking, you will need to have the weather on your side and plenty of daylight hours at your disposal.


Both of these will be lacking during the colder months of the year here on the island. For any outdoor adventures, you’d need to plan your trip around the warmer months (from April to September). 



Jökulsárgljúfur travels


What You Want to See


If you would like the opportunity to spot the Northern Lights or add one of the Puffin colonies as a stop along your Jökulsárgljúfur travels, you will need to pick the right time.


These are all seasonal sightings, so you will need to plan your trip accordingly. For example, the Northern Lights can only be seen during the colder and darker months here on the island, and the Iceland Puffins can only be seen during their breeding season (April to August). 


What Your Budget Looks Like


If you’re going to be traveling on a tight budget, we don’t recommend a trip during the festive season or the summer months which is considered our peak season. Peak season equals peak season prices. 



Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon


Whether You Want to Avoid the Crowds


Once again, you’ll need to avoid the island during the summer months or festive season if you’re not a fan of crowds. Peak season means a lot of foot and road traffic, and even tickets to certain attractions and activities become a scarce commodity. 


How You Cope with the Weather


Iceland is known for some pretty extreme weather and harsh weather elements, and it should come as no surprise that the winter months bring out the worst of it. And this merely escalates in the northern regions of the country. 


So, if you are someone who doesn’t do well with the cold, blizzards, and winds of more than 35 kilometers an hour, we highly recommend that you give the colder months a skip – especially if you’re planning on visiting a few outdoor sites such as Jökulsárgljúfur.



Jökulsárgljúfur Winter


If You Want to Do a Road Trip


Driving during the colder months of the year can be extremely challenging due to weather conditions (especially if you’re not used to it where you’re from).


Some roads are also kept closed during the colder months, and even though popular main roads such as the Ring Road are kept open, one can still encounter sudden road closures. Especially when entering the northern part of Iceland where Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon is located. 


If You Want to Go Camping


Going camping during the colder months can become quite uncomfortable. And, for this reason, certain campgrounds shut down during this period each year. Especially in the extreme weather in the north of Iceland. If camping is your choice of accommodation, we recommend that you plan your trip during the warmer months of the year. 



Jökulsárgljúfur Camping


Things to Do at & Around Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon


You will find plenty of interesting and exciting things to do in and around the canyon. The following are just a few things you can look forward to during your visit to the area:

 

Visit the 2nd Most Powerful Waterfall in Europe


As we already mentioned, Jökulsárgljúfur is home to Dettifoss, the second most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. This waterfall is an astonishing 100 meters wide, 44 meters tall, and has 183,000 liters gushing over its cliff edges EVERY SECOND! 


Check Out Asbyrgi and its Mythology


Just north of Jökulsárgljúfur, you’ll find another famous canyon (although much smaller than Jökulsárgljúfur). But Asbyrgi is a must-visit spot for another mythological reason. You see, this magnificent canyon is in the shape of a horseshoe, and according to Norse mythology, Odin’s horse is the culprit. 


Asbyrgi canyon


The legend says that Odin was riding on his eight-legged horse when one of its hoofs accidentally touched down on the earth’s surface. Today, it is also said to be the capital city of the elves with their homes being inside the canyon’s cliff walls. 


Go Hiking


Irrespective of your age, experience, skill, or fitness level, you will find a hiking trail in Jökulsárgljúfur that’s suitable for you. These include:


  • The A2 (Eyjan Hill in Asbyrgi) – an easy 4.5-kilometer hike offering breathtaking views over the canyon.

  • The Waterfall Hike – this is a moderate 7-kilometer loop trail hike that will take you to three waterfalls; Dettifoss, Selfoss, and Hafragilsfoss.

  • Asbyrgi to Dettifoss Trek – this is a challenging multi-day hike that ranges from 22 to 25 kilometers, depending on which attractions you would like to see along the way. 


Asbyrgi trekking


Where to Stay Near Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon


With so much to see and do at Jökulsárgljúfur and its surroundings, it’s no wonder that most want to stay over for a night or two, and you’ll find a wide variety of accommodations to choose from.


You can opt for a luxury stay in one of the hotels like Fosshotel Myvatn. Go for a comfortable, yet affordable stay at Hrafnavellir Guesthouse, or take the most affordable option with your campervan and book a spot at the Asbyrgi Campground


Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon; a Lucky Packet of Icelandic Sights and Attractions


As you can see, Jökulsárgljúfur boasts a number of our most famous sights and attractions, and avid hikers and bird watchers will need at least a couple of days to indulge in the abundance offered here.


And if you’re planning on renting a campervan in Reykjavik and doing the Ring Road road trip with Jökulsárgljúfur as a stop along the way, you’ll have the most incredible memories (and hopefully the photos too!) that’ll last a lifetime.

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