top of page
  • Writer's pictureVisit Askja

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.

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.

Asbyrgi Canyon

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?

The formation of Ásbyrgi Canyon is a fascinating blend of geological processes and rich folklore, making it a unique feature in Iceland's landscape. Here's a more detailed exploration of both aspects:

Geological Formation

Ásbyrgi Canyon's creation is a testament to the powerful natural forces at work in Iceland, a country known for its dynamic geological activity. The canyon's formation is attributed to two significant events in its history:

  • Initial Formation (Eight to Ten Million Years Ago): The first event that led to the canyon's formation occurred roughly eight to ten million years ago, shortly after the last Ice Age. This period was marked by catastrophic glacial flooding of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. The flooding was likely triggered by a volcanic eruption beneath the ice cap of the Vatnajökull glacier, one of Iceland's most prominent glaciers. The immense force of the water, combined with volcanic activity, began carving out what would become Ásbyrgi Canyon.

  • Further Sculpting (Around 3000 Years Ago): The canyon underwent further sculpting approximately 3000 years ago, again due to glacial flooding from the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. This subsequent flooding continued to shape the canyon, enhancing its depth and defining its horseshoe shape more distinctly. These geological processes highlight the canyon's dynamic history and the powerful natural forces that have shaped Iceland's landscape over millions of years.

basalt columns, Iceland

Folklore and Myth

In addition to its geological significance, Ásbyrgi Canyon is steeped in Icelandic folklore, which offers a mystical explanation for its formation:

  • Odin’s Steed, Sleipnir: According to legend, the canyon's unique horseshoe shape was formed by Sleipnir, the eight-legged steed of Odin, the chief of the gods in Norse mythology. As the story goes, Sleipnir touched down in this location, leaving a deep imprint that formed the canyon. This mythological explanation adds a layer of cultural and historical intrigue to Ásbyrgi, intertwining the natural world with the supernatural.

  • Home of the Huldufólk and Elves: Ásbyrgi is also said to be the capital city and true home of Iceland's 'hidden people', the Huldufólk, and elves. These beings are central to many Icelandic folk stories, which often depict them living in harmony with nature, sometimes interacting with humans in mysterious ways. The belief in these mystical beings reflects the deep connection between Icelandic culture and the natural environment, imbuing the landscape with a sense of wonder and enchantment.

The dual narrative of Ásbyrgi Canyon's formation—combining scientific explanations with mythological tales—illustrates the unique way in which Icelanders relate to their environment. It showcases a deep respect for the forces of nature, both seen and unseen, and a recognition of the landscape's ability to inspire stories that have been passed down through generations.

This blend of geology and folklore not only makes Ásbyrgi Canyon a fascinating place to visit but also enriches the experience with layers of meaning and history. Visitors are not just witnessing a natural wonder but are also stepping into a place where the lines between the natural and the supernatural blur, where the landscape is alive with stories of gods, mythical creatures, and the powerful forces that have shaped the earth.

Asbyrgi canyon hike

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.

Alternatively, 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 visit

Asbyrgi Canyon hike

This canyon offers a variety of hiking trails that cater to different interests and fitness levels. These trails allow visitors to explore the canyon's unique geological features, lush vegetation, and the serene Botnstjörn pond at its center. Here's a closer look at some of the hiking trails you can find in Ásbyrgi Canyon:

1. The Ásbyrgi Canyon Loop

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: Approximately 4.5 kilometers (around 2.8 miles)

  • Duration: 2 to 3 hours

This loop trail takes hikers around the rim of the canyon, offering breathtaking views of the horseshoe-shaped depression from above. The trail starts at the visitor center, winding its way along the edge of the cliffs before descending into the canyon. Hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and the dense birch forest that lines the canyon floor.

2. The Botnstjörn Pond Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: About 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) round trip

  • Duration: 30 minutes to 1 hour

Ideal for families and those looking for a short, leisurely walk, this trail leads to the tranquil Botnstjörn pond, a small body of water nestled at the base of the canyon's cliffs. The trail is well-marked and relatively flat, making it accessible for most visitors. Along the way, hikers can enjoy the lush vegetation and keep an eye out for the diverse birdlife that inhabits the area.

hiking asbyrgi canyon

3. The Eyjan Rock Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: Varies, but generally around 2 to 3 kilometers (1.2 to 1.9 miles) round trip

  • Duration: 1 to 2 hours

4. The Longer Hiking Trails

For those seeking a more challenging adventure, Ásbyrgi Canyon serves as a starting point for longer hiking trails that extend into the surrounding landscape, including parts of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and the edges of Vatnajökull National Park. These trails vary in length and difficulty, offering opportunities for full-day hikes or even multi-day trekking experiences. Hikers on these trails can explore the diverse landscapes of the region, from river gorges and waterfalls to vast, open highlands.

Tips for Hiking in Ásbyrgi Canyon

  • Preparation: Always check the weather forecast before heading out and dress accordingly. The weather in Iceland can change rapidly.

  • Safety: Stay on marked trails, as the terrain can be uneven and slippery, especially after rain.

  • Respect Nature: Ásbyrgi is a protected area, so it's important to leave no trace. Take all rubbish with you and avoid disturbing wildlife.

  • Visitor Center: Stop by the Ásbyrgi visitor center for the latest information on trail conditions, maps, and safety advice.

asbyrgi pond

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the walk in Ásbyrgi?

The walk in Ásbyrgi can vary in length, depending on the trail chosen, but the area offers several hiking options suitable for different fitness levels.

Can you drive to Ásbyrgi Canyon?

Yes, Ásbyrgi Canyon is accessible by car. It is located fifty miles east of Húsavík along the popular Diamond Circle route, making it a convenient destination for those renting a car in the region.

What is the most famous canyon in Iceland?

While Iceland is home to many famous canyons, Ásbyrgi Canyon is among the most renowned, especially for its unique horseshoe shape and rich folklore.

How was Ásbyrgi Canyon formed?

Ásbyrgi Canyon was formed through a combination of geological and possibly mythical processes. Geologically, it was shaped by catastrophic glacial flooding, likely caused by volcanic eruptions beneath the Vatnajökull glacier. Folklore suggests it was formed by the imprint of Odin’s steed, Sleipnir.

Ásbyrgi Canyon remains a testament to Iceland's dynamic landscape and cultural heritage, offering visitors a glimpse into the natural beauty and mystical folklore that define this unique country. Whether you're drawn by the allure of its geological formations or the tales of mythical beings, Ásbyrgi provides a captivating experience for all who venture into its depths.

250 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page