Stuðlagil canyon found in Austurland – or Eastern Iceland, amazes with its sheer size and ethereal landscape. Towering basalt columns intertwine with the perfectly contrasting waters of Jökuldalur valley, allowing visitors to sense the raw power of nature’s finest spectacles.
This blissfully remote basalt canyon in Iceland, away from the common tourist routes makes this location one of the top places to visit in Iceland.
Want to learn more about Stuðlagil canyon? If you can visit this basalt canyon during winter and how to get there? If so, then read on!
How was Stuðlagil canyon formed?
Up until a few years ago, Stuðlagil canyon remained unknown to both locals and tourists alike. The canyon itself was formed by the powerful Jökla ‘Glacial’ River, making its way from the Highlands all the way up to the East of Iceland. The 150-kilometer river was so influential with its roaring cold waters, that it was considered extremely dangerous for any sort of habitation except that of sheep and other farm animals. Stuðlagil canyon and its nearby region were entirely submerged under Jökla River, making it impossible to see from both ground or sky.
In 2009, the Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric power plant was built close to the canyon in order to provide Reyðarfjörður aluminium plant with electric power. The Hálslón reservoir was also built nearby, storing the collected water in three dams – the Sauðárdalsstífla Dam, the Kárahnjúkastífla Dam and the Desjarárstífla Dam.
The more the hydroelectric power plant collected water from Jökla River, the more the water became calmer and parts of the canyon became visible by the day. The river’s waters lowered up to a point where Stuðlagil canyon and its ethereal landscape emerged in plain sight.
The canyon was discovered in 2016 by a local tour guide, and in just a few years became widely known on social media, so wide that in fact it is considered to be one of Iceland’s most instagrammable spots!
Why are there basalt columns in Stuðlagil canyon?
Iceland is no stranger to basalt columns. You can find them pretty much all around the island, the most prominent of them being the ones found on Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in the South, Gerðuberg Cliffs on the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula in the West, and the Kálfshamarsvík cove in the North. Basalt columns exist in places where there is high volcanic activity. They are the result of the cooling of magnesium-rich basalt lava, exposed to natural elements such as wind and air. This quick cooling of lava changes its chemical balance, resulting in stunningly shaped basalt columns.
It’s worth adding that Reykjavík’s biggest landmark – Hallgrímskirkja church built in the 1930s is also heavily inspired by Iceland’s magnificent basalt columns.
Facts and features of Stuðlagil canyon
The canyon itself is 500 m long, with 20 to 30 meter high basalt columns found on both sides of the river. It is considered that the canyon houses the largest column formations of this kind on land in Iceland. The turquoise-colored water greatly contrasts with the towering basalt formations, creating a picture-perfect setting. The area around Stuðlagil canyon is filled with an abundance of fauna and flora. A plethora of hiking trails and magnificent viewpoints are dotted around the region, making it a must-visit hotspot.
What can be seen around Stuðlagil canyon
The Kárahnjúkavirkjun power station is definitely a sight to see. It draws power from the dam at Jökulsá á Dal, from the glacial river, and from Jökulsá in Fljótsdalur with a total of five dams and three reservoirs. The largest of the dams is also the largest of its kind in Europe, 193 meters in hight, 730 meters long, and consisting of 8,5 million cubic meters of material. The experience of a walk along the edge of the dam and the view looking down into the canyon below is unforgettable.
Also, a point of interest is the church at Eiríksstaðakirkja, the oldest concrete church in eastern Iceland. It was once located in Brú, a farm next to Eiríksstadir. It was subsequently moved to the town. The old altarpiece was painted in 1794 by Jon Hallgrímsson and is now kept in the National Museum of Iceland.
There are also a few remarkable waterfalls near Stuðlagil: Stuðlafoss, and the Rjúkandi waterfall, which is one of the few larger waterfalls in northern Iceland that can be seen directly from the ring road. Its waters cascade down the steep valley of Jökuldalur, carved by the river Jokulsá á Bru. Many other waterfalls can be seen in the direction of the settlement of Egilsstaðir.
An old farm building named Sænautasel that is a historical landmark is also found close by. It was abandoned when the Askja caldera erupted in 1875. Lake Binnubúð at Hjnúksvatn with a small hut by it is also a splendid sight to see; the old sheep farm at Hjarðarhagi and Askja are all also found nearby. Jökuldalur is the gateway to the mountains from the north-east part of the country, resulting in the presence of many other mountain ranges and massifs, rivers and National parks.
How long is the hike to Stuðlagil canyon?
Stuðlagil canyon can be reached by following two differently marked paths. Both paths require good hiking shoes as the terrain in the region is quite uneven and accidents have the potential to occur.
One path takes you along the west side of the canyon as is found near Grund farm. The hike, if we can even call it so, takes a little over 5 minutes to complete from the parking lot and takes you across a flight of metal stairs until you reach the viewpoint. The view is considerably different from this vantage point, and you won’t be able to see Stuðlagil canyon as pictured on social media.
The other path takes you along the east side of the canyon and consists of a moderate hike of about 45 minutes until you reach the bottom of the canyon.
Jökulsá river is considered by locals to be one of Iceland’s most notorious rivers, therefore attempting to cross it from east to west or vice versa is strictly a big no-no!
Can you visit Stuðlagil canyon during winter?
Although theoretically the canyon can be visited all-year round, it is absolutely not recommended to hike the longer route during winter. The path may be at times too slippery and muddy to offer an enjoyable, and safe experience.
It is recommended to visit Stuðlagil canyon during the high season, in between the months of June and August. It is at exactly that period of the year where the canyon looks its best, surrounded by luscious greenery all around.
How to reach Stuðlagil canyon?
Unlike most of Iceland’s natural attractions, Stuðlagil canyon is found quite a bit more off-the-beaten path. Route markings leading to the canyon are near non-existent, therefore it’s best to do some research before heading towards it, to make sure you don’t get lost or miss a turn.
Stuðlagil canyon takes about 600 kilometers, or eight hours to reach from Reykjavík. The best and easiest way to reach it is to head North from Egilsstaðir towards Skjöldólfsstadir guesthouse until you see route 923. This road will take you to Jökuldalsvegur, and past Stuðlafoss waterfall. It is best to park here and continue your journey by foot in order to get a better vantage point of the area and the canyon itself.
Stuðlagil canyon, found in the East part of Iceland is one of the country’s most prized hidden-gems, that was discovered fairly recently. Towering basalt columns seem to rise from the turquoise–colored waters of Jökuldalur valley, allowing for a unique and spellbinding natural setting. Although Stuðlagil canyon can be visited during winter, it is best to leave this hidden location for the warmer part of the year!