Stuðlagil, The Basalt Column Canyon Of Eastern Iceland

Once a hidden gem, by now an Insta star and a popular stop on the Iceland road trip of many. Stuðlagil, the Basalt Column Canyon in Jökuldalur valley, Eastern Iceland deserves the fame though, and it’s still worth visiting. Read this guide to find out why and how, and all the tricky details about finding it.

We found a hidden gem: an amazing basalt canyon!

This was one of our luckiest finds ever. And we loved Iceland so much, because it proved over and over to us that lesser known places are no less unique or wonderful than their more famous kin. Our favorite of these hidden gems was Stuðlagil.

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Iceland

No queue for pictures back then… I truly stood alone

It was a hidden gem four years ago when we visited. We went to Iceland in August, which is the high season, drove to the trailhead of this canyon, struggled to find the right trail, and met only with another couple during our time there. We were both trying to figure out where exactly to hike to see the canyon, but we had different opinions. They didn’t believe us, and we ended up at this astonishing basalt canyon, just the two of us.

Eastern Iceland was not at all busy those days. Most visitors just drove through it as fast as they could to get to the north or the south. It’s not true anymore. Stuðlagil canyon became famous (Insta-famous, too – there should be a correlation, I guess), and you’ll likely never find yourself alone there. What’s more, you’ll likely need to stand in line for the best photos. Nevertheless, Stuðlagil is worth your effort and patience.

Where to find Stuðlagil Canyon?

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

There’s one advantage of it not being a hidden gem anymore: the trail is more obvious to follow. Back in the day when we went there, we got lost a few times along the way, and were not even sure how we ended up by the canyon with the help of our GPS. But we were quite sure we found it, because those basalt formations we saw were like no other, not even in Iceland!

The east side viewpoint

But how to find it? It depends on what exactly you want to find. When heading to Northern Iceland from Egilsstaðir, you need to take a turn to Road 923. But if you type “Stuðlagil Canyon” in Google Maps, it’ll take you to a newly built viewing platform on the west side of the river. It’s accessible by more than 200 metal stairs, and offers some nice views of the basalt canyon. But these are not those iconic views you’re likely looking for. Those are on the other side, and you have to hike for them.

The west side canyon access

Stuðlagil / Basalt Column Canyon, Iceland

The trailhead for the east side canyon hike is only about 6 minutes drive from the viewing platform parking lot. Type “Klaustursel” in Google Maps which is a name of a farm that’s right by the parking lot. It’s easy to recognise the small parking lot by the bridge, then you need to follow the trail after crossing the bridge. The hike to Stuðlagil Canyon takes about 5 kilometres, and it’s very easy.

The road actually continues through the bridge and for a while after it, but we don’t recommend driving it with smaller cars, or if you’re not comfortable driving on an unmaintained, bumpy road.

Hiking to the east side canyon views

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

A few years ago, it was not a well-marked trail, and not at all straightforward to follow, but this changed as more and more people came to visit. Here you can see it on a trail map.

Halfway to the canyon you find Stuðlafoss, the Basalt Column Waterfall. It’s a nice basalt formation, as well, though not nearly as spectacular as the canyon itself. We were happy to see it, because we knew we must be on the right trail then. And if you’re on the right path, it’s a wide, gravel path which is almost completely flat. At the end, you can climb down into the canyon on a slippery, usually wet trail.

Stuðlafoss, Eastern Icelan

The views? Nice. Yes, this is a nice trail (compared to many breathtaking trails in Iceland), but the destination makes it worth it. This basalt canyon will take your breath away.

What makes this canyon so special?

I mean, just look at it. Those hexagonal rock formations may look fake in the pictures, but they’re not. They are one of the many otherworldly-looking wonders of Iceland!

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Iceland

Also, they may not look as large in the pictures as they are in reality, but let us assure you that they’ll make you feel small as you climb down to the bottom of the canyon. Looking up at the huge columns made us realize the sheer power and beauty of nature. Sitting on the rocks and staring at the turquoise river felt like the definition of peace.

How did the canyon get revealed?

The canyon was carved by the Jökulsá á Brú river, and existed for centuries, but it was under water. Though the sculptor of the canyon was nature, people had a role in revealing it, even if not intentionally.

Stuðlagil, Eastern Iceland

In 2007 a hydroelectric plant was built nearby, and a reservoir was created on the Jökulsá á Brú river. This affected the sources of this previously forceful glacial river that carried a vast amount of sand, dirt and mud from Vatnajökull glacier, and turned it into the calm, clear, turquoise spring-fed river we see today. The water level is much lower, and that makes it possible to see the Basalt Column Canyon that was previously submerged.

Is there a best time to visit?

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

Iceland is lush green and full of flowers in the summer, that’s why we chose to visit in July and August. The prices are high, because it’s the high season, but we think it was worth it. Driving and hiking conditions are the best, so you’ll have a chance to visit some more remote areas.

As for Stuðlagil Canyon, Jökulsá á Brú river changes to a murky brown color late in the summer when the dam at Kárahnjúkar releases surplus water into it from the reservoir. So the best time to see the canyon with its turquoise river is early and mid-summer. We visited it in the beginning of August.

Where to stay?

Studlagil Canyon, Eastern Iceland

We spent 2 nights in the Eidagisting Guesthouse in the small village of Eiðar while exploring Eastern Iceland. The largest settlement in the eastern region is Egilsstaðir – with about 2000 inhabitants. 🙂 It’s also the closest to Stuðlagil Canyon – and it still means about an hour drive.

However, there’s a guesthouse called Skjöldólfsstaðir that’s about 25 minutes drive from the basalt canyon. Since it’s not a full day program, rather a longer stop on your way, you can also look for hotels and guest houses in the smaller settlements along the Lagarfljót river – like Hallormsstadur or Vallanes -, or in the eastern fjords – like Seydisfjordur, Eskifjordur or Reydarfjordur.

Essential hiking info
Route: trail from Klaustursel farm to Stuðlagil
Length: 4.7 km one-way (shorter if you drive further)
Difficulty: easy

What is the most spectacular canyon you’ve seen?

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)


  1. This is absolutely beautiful! I am traveling to Iceland in September and would love to search for this amazing place! I see that one of the sides is very steep and probably impossible to climb down… did you guys walk on the north or the south side of the river? Thank you for this post!Gi

    1. We started our hike after crossing the bridge from the parking site and stayed on that side all the way. We didn’t find any properly marked trail though, so we just tried to find our own way. You can’t hike all the way in the canyon and sometimes we got very far from it (some lands are fenced in that area and we didn’t want to climb through fences – we suppose we shouldn’t anyway 😀 ). But we found sections where we could climb down to the canyon and even walk down there for a while. But they are not marked, you judge it for yourself where is the safe place to climb down. We are happy we didn’t give up searching for it though, it is well worth it and one of the most serene and beautiful place we found in Iceland! Enjoy your trip 🙂

      1. I wanted to leave a quick message to thank you for your explanation on how to get to this Canyon! 😄 Last month we got to experience it ourselves and it was one of the highlights of our roadtrip! Unfortunately the water was less blue and the waterlevel was higher than on your pictures, but still it was magnificant to be all alone all day during our hike and at this beautiful canyon! 🤗

        (PS: we faced the same struggle with the road taking a turn at studlafoss, but after some thinking and debating we decided to cross the waterfall at the bottom -indeed you need to climb one fence to get there- but then we were able to continue to follow the river and easily found it!)

      2. Hey Gitte,
        Thanks for your kind comment, it means so much to us! We are glad we could help you finding this beauty. Hope you enjoyed the rest of Iceland, too 🙂

  2. Great post and thanks for sharing with us! There’s no meaning in ‘hiding’ those ‘secret spots’! The moon is so well promoted and only a couple of people have been there! 😉

    Anyway, trying to find your directions on google Maps, I found another Studlafoss, way more to the center of Iceland. So I guess it is not that one. Also, I found no 923 road, only 925. Are there other directions I could follow on Maps?

    We plan to go there this year and it would be great if we could try this beautiful place!

    thank you!

    1. Haha, finding directions was not easy. 😀 Here’s a hint though: I marked
      Guesthouse Skjöldólfsstadir along the Ring Road on Google Maps. Right after it, you can see the crossing with Road 923. This road took us to a bridge over Jökulsá á Brú river, and we parked on the west side and crossed the bridge on foot. There are fenced farmlands along the river in the beginning, but we could get close to it at the part where the basalt formations were. Google Maps doesn’t seem to know about the Studlafoss we found, but it’s on the way to the basalt canyon. However, you can search for Studlagil Canyon, and what Google Maps show you seem about correct.

      Hope it helped and you can find it, it was definitely worth the walk and the search for us. 🙂

    1. Hey Shirly, a 2WD car is fine. The last, very short section of the road is dirt road, but 4WD is not required for that. Enjoy!

    1. Hey Monica, we rented a 4WD car but not because of this canyon, we drove into the Highlands, too. For road 923 a normal 2WD car is fine, even though the very last section is dirt road.

  3. Hey guys! I have read a lot of reviews about the water sometimes being muddy and gray, do you know what time of year is best to catch the water turquoise?

    1. Hi Jessica, Uhm… we don’t feel confident to answer your question. All we know is that when we visited in August, it was the kind of turquoise you can see in the pictures. We also remember reading something about a new hydropower plant that caused lower water level and clearer water – not sure if that applies year-round though.

  4. It may be worth it to mention that the river actually changes colour late in the summer. It is blue/green until august, when the dam at Kárahnjúkar releases surplus water from the reservoir into the river which in turn colors it murky brown. So it´s always better to visit this place early or mid summer if possible. You can see a 360 panorama from Stuðlagil here: shot late in August after the river had turned from a beautiful blue color to the murky brownish colour.

    1. Hey, thanks for the additional info, we added it to the blog post, as well, so that others won’t miss it either. We didn’t know about this, but we were lucky to visit it at the right time. 🙂

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