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A Day Trip to Asbyrgi Canyon

Iceland, for many, may seem like a place out of this world. Unusual and unique nature and landscapes, similar to those from another planet, make you feel like you are in some magical land. You start to believe that just nature can't create all of this. A great example of this is undoubtedly Askja. There must be some supernatural forces that took part in it, so you think. You might even end up believing in Icelandic trolls! Those are the type of feelings you have when you first glance at Asbyrgi Canyon.

A couple of tourists admiring the view on the Asbyrgi Canyon in Iceland in a sunny summer day

Asbyrgi canyon is located in northern Iceland and is one of the most intriguing natural wonders of the area. In 1978, this place was known as the Jökulsárgljúfur. The land belonged to a yet-to-be-created National Park. Nowadays, it already belongs to the Vatnajokull National Park. You will be impressed with its shape, like all Iceland, it is very unusual. It has a horseshoe shape. What also makes it impressive is its dimension. This powerful canyon is 3,5 kilometers long (around 2 miles) and over 1 kilometer wide. The cliffs that surround it make it look even more mighty and stark. You will not find another place like this anywhere else, even within Iceland. Once you arrive, you will soon realize and notice that it is one of the few places in Iceland with such a huge diversity of plants and forests.

The Asbyrgi canyon is also known as the land of elves, or as the Icelanders call them: Huldufólk - the Hidden people. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to see them. It is said that they look just like normal people, but they are more beautiful and bold, so keep your eyes wide open!

How was Asbyrgi Canyon created?

There are two theories regarding the creation of the canyon. Let's start with the one which will make you stay in the par and fall in love with the uncanny atmosphere of this place. It comes from the Norse mythology according to which, the eight-legged horse of Odin, the Norse god, created the canyon. During one of his sky trip, flying above the Earth, Sleipnir - that's the name of the horse, accidentally set one of his legs on the planet's surface. He was so powerful that it left a permanent mark on Iceland's topography. The name "Horseshow-like-ravine" is used until today. Asbyrgi literally means the Odin's Footprint in Icelandic.

The second theory is strictly scientific and kind of ruins this whole mythological and storytelling- like explanation. According to this version, the gorge is a result of a catastrophic flood of the glacial river Jukulsa a Fjollum. According to geological research, the canyon got its current shape after three very strong glacial shifts. That occurred after the eruptions of the volcanoes located in the Vatnajokull glacier: Bardarbunga and Kverkfjoll.

If you wish to get some more information about the canyon, you should spend some time in the Asbyrgi visitor center. You will find exhibitions about the Jokulsargljufus reserve and a little souvenir shop with local art and crafts.

A tourist on a hiking trail in the Asbyrgi Canyon in Iceland in autumn

How to get to Asbyrgi Canyon

The Asbyrgi Canyon is part of the Diamond Circle. The most famous route right after the Golden Circle in Southern Iceland. It is, unfortunately, not located right by the Ring Road, which makes it a bit more inconvenient for drivers to reach it. It will be rather easy, though, if you are traveling in a 4x4 vehicle. You can reach Asbyrgi by two different routes. The first one involves the gravel road number 864, leading from the Ring Road to Skinnastadur. The road is narrow and unpaved, so be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Alliteratively you can take the F862, which will be even less comfortable and more challenging than the first option. Whichever route you choose, there are some must-see sites on the way. They are the Dettifoss and Hafragilsfoss waterfalls; you need to stop by!

Asbyrgi Canyon hike

There are two main routes that you can take within the Asbyrgi canyon. The first one starts by the south parking and it is rather a walk around the woodland of birch rather than a hiking trail. At the end of the trail, you will find a small lake which is fed by the remnant of the once overflowing Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. It has an impressive population of ducks. It is called Botnstjörn pond. Near the pond, you can find some banks where you can relax and watch the birds. When you had enough of the greenery and the spectacular nature of the canyon, there comes the time to hike the trail. You can now climb to the lookout point. You will be able to admire the picturesque pond from a way different perspective. On the route, you will find the informative sings with examples of the unique plants that can be found in the canyon. The whole route is around 1 kilometer long and it takes around 40 minutes to complete it.

Picturesqua Botnstjorn lake in the Asbyrgi Canyon in Iceland

The second route is completely different but allows you to see the canyon in all its glory. The northern part of the canyon is cut by a huge rock formation which is called Eyjan in Icelandic, which translates to "the island." It makes sense as it lays just in between, cutting the canyon in half. You can easily get to the top which is quite recommendable so you get a greater view over the canyon and the surroundings. The way to the top is covered with rocks and stones and is not very challenging, so there's nothing to worry about if you are not the most experienced hiker. The trail starts right at the parking lot and the entrance to the Eyjan rock is at its north end. Therefore, to get to the end, you will need to walk across, on top of it. The route is around 2,5 kilometers long (almost 2 miles). The view from the top will make up all the effort you made to get the highest point and leave you with incredible memories.

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