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
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
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…
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.
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 a 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.
But we are so happy we haven’t turned back. Because the reward took our breath away:
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.
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.
Is there a best time to visit?
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 high season, but we think it was worth it. 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.
What is the most spectacular canyon you’ve seen?
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