In Search Of The Basalt Column Canyon Of Eastern Iceland

The thing we realized on our trip around Iceland is that less famous places there are no less unique or wonderful than their more famous kin – they are just less accessible and therefore lesser known. Our favorite of these hidden gems is Stuðlagil, the Basalt Column Canyon in Jökuldalur valley, Eastern Iceland. The eastern part of Iceland is a less visited area, anyway. Most people just drive through it as fast as they can to get to the north/to the south. It’s worth slowing down though…

This hidden gem is really well hidden

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

First of all, Stuðlagil is not easy to get to. Though we managed to find it eventually, we are the worst people to be asked for directions – only God (and our GPS) knows how we ended up at the right place… But we had no doubt we found the right place. The basalt formations we’ve seen there were like no other – even in Iceland. Climbing down cautiously to the bottom of the basalt columns made us feel so tiny… and it was hard to believe they were not made to be that perfect by men. (Well, that shows what kind of egoists we people are 😛 )

An incidental benefit of building a power plant

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

Still people have a role in this story. Though the sculptor of the canyon was nature, it was people who built a hydroelectric plant and created a reservoir on 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 also much lower and that makes it possible to see the Basalt Column Canyon that was previously under water.

The directions we followed…

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

So how to find this wonder? When heading to Northern Iceland from Egilsstaðir we turned to Road 923 from the Ring Road and drove to the farm called Klaustursel. It was easy to recognise the small parking lot by the bridge and easy things ended with that. We were supposed to follow the trail from the bridge but we couldn’t find one. We assumed it should be the road leading towards the nearby farms then.

Stuðlafoss, Eastern Icelan

Soon we found Stuðlafoss, the Basalt Column Waterfall that is halfway to the canyon. But then the road took a turn and it headed to a very different direction to where the canyon was supposed to be. So we followed the narrow paths along the fences of the farms instead and checked our GPS regularly.

We almost turned back – not once but like after every 20 minutes. Will we really find some spectacular canyon here? How come there’s no trail leading to it then? Well, there is a very spectacular canyon there – and we have no idea whether there’s any trail.

The reward

But we are so happy we haven’t turned back. Because the reward took our breath away:

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

Just as there’s no trail to the canyon, there’s no trail down to the canyon either. But we were able to find several spots where we could safely climb down and see it up close. Looking up at the huge basalt columns made us realize the sheer power and beauty of nature. Sitting on the rocks and staring at the turquoise river felt like the perfect definition of peace.

Stuðlagil, the Basalt Column Canyon is a great example of the rewards Iceland has for you if you don’t rush through it but take your time and wander around. Honestly, we were a bit hesitant whether to share this fabulous secret spot of ours. But others have already done that anyway. We read about this place and that’s why we searched for it in the first place. It takes some effort to find but it’s worth all that and more. Moreover, we had it all to ourselves and we’ve met only two people all day.

Stuðlagil (Basalt Column Canyon), Eastern Icelan

Where to stay

We spent 2 nights in 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.

You can also look for hotels and guest houses in the smaller settlements along the Lagarfljót river, like Hallormsstadur or Vallanes. Or at the eastern fjords, like Seydisfjordur, Eskifjordur or Reydarfjordur.

Hiking info
  • Route: trail from Klaustursel farm to Stuðlagil
  • Length: no idea how many kilometres but it took almost a full day to get there and back
  • Difficulty: medium

What is the most spectacular canyon you’ve seen?

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18 comments on “In Search Of The Basalt Column Canyon Of Eastern IcelandAdd yours →

  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!)

        1. 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?
    Thanks!

    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.

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