The name Jökulsárgljúfur means "Icy River Canyon" is one of the largest and most impressive in Iceland and stands at 25 km long, 1.5 km wide and in many places more than 100 meters deep. The canyon is located in one of the most volcanic areas in Iceland and the Park includes some of Iceland's main attractions: Ásbyrgi, horseshoe-shaped canyon, Hljóðaklettar rock formations and Dettifoss Waterfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
Jökulsá á Fjöllum River evolves from the northern ice cap of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland, and flows into the sea at the Gulf of Öxarfjörður. The river flows from its origins through high-level isolated falagonite summits (material created from the meeting of lava with water). At the end of the summit, due to a sharp fall in height, the river becomes more turbulent thus creating several waterfalls falling into the canyon that bears its name.
The area is geologically young, and the oldest surface layer is from the period that dates between the last two Ice Ages. The mountains evolved from eruptions that took place under the glaciers during the last Ice Age. The canyon was created by huge floods in the glacial Jökulsá á Fjöllum River after the last Ice Age. The last flood took place an estimated 2000 years ago and its destructive force can be seen to this day.
The canyon's appearance is the result of a number of volcanic eruptions in the region that changed the topography, diverting the river, creating flooding, filling the channels and creating new canyons.
At the end of the last Ice Age the Gulf of Öxarfjörður was much longer than it is now, and the river Jökulsá flows into it through a valley that was formerly blocked by a glacier. Lava that flowed following a volcanic eruption blocked the bottom of the valley, pushing the river to the east. The region's lowland area was formed by sand and stones brought to the area by the Jökulsá River. Today, in summer, when the river rises, it brings of up to 23 000 tons a day of glacial debris!
About 8 - 9000 years ago, two crevices were formed in the volcanic region. One, 6 km's long lies parallel to the canyon. The second can be found just north of Dettifoss Waterfall. Both these crevices formed large lava fields that partially filled the canyon as it was then.
Gigantic floods caused the river's bedrock to move and part of the flood waters flowed north and formed the area known as Ásbyrgi . Smaller floods during this period also left their mark on land in the canyon. Floods swept large parts of the fields with them, leaving the hills with cliffs as in the Ásbyrgi "Island" or as pillars of rocks and vertical cliffs, with interesting formations as in Hljóðaklettar.
In past years, Ás in Kelduhverfi was one of the largest estates in Iceland and stretched out over the entire surface from the sea to Dettifoss. Residents here had some natural benefits such as driftwood from the beach and arable lowland meadows. But the Jökulsá á Fjöllum floods that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, destroyed a large part of the meadows and farmland that never recovered. Ás in Kelduhverfi had a church until 1816 and the outlines of the cemetery are still visable. Soinadalor farm was part of Ás in Kelduhverfi, and apparently served as a dairy during the summer months.
During the 19th century until 1946, it served as an independent farm but today is deserted. Residents of the changing Soinadalor landscape used it for raising livestock in a diverse way where they built pens in the caves and basins created from the lava. This was an important site on the old road from Lake Mývatn to Kelduhverfi.
Access to the park is on the northern side of Route 85. The road splits into two roads which both reach different sites, Route 864 from the east side of the canyon and Route 862 on the west side. Route 862 from the northern part and up to Dettifoss Waterfall is marked F862 and suitable for 4x4 vehicles only. Dettifoss Waterfall and south to Highway 1 is paved and suitable for all types of vehicles. Dettifoss Waterfall can be accessed from Route 1 and the journey takes 20 minutes each way. Route 864 is an unpaved road, suitable for all types of vehicles.
Ásbyrgi Visitor's Center offers information about routes in the park and the north, information regarding road conditions and maps are available at a nominal price.
The visitor center is open from 1 May to 30 September and is located on the northern side of the Park on Highway 85 and easy to find due to good signage.
Ásbyrgi is a horseshoe-shaped canyon, 3.5 km long and about 1 km wide, its walls reach up to 100 meters. At the open side of the horseshoe, there is a high summit known as the "island" which contributes to the perfect horseshoe shape. This is one of the most popular places in Iceland, especially for families.
The area between the canyon walls is very rich in vegetation, shrubs, flowers and tall trees that are rare in Iceland. The rich vegetation contributes to the protection against winds in the area.
Ásbyrgi means " Haven of Gods" and the word Ás in ancient Icelandic means "Gods" referring to Norse pantheon of gods. According to legend, the canyon was created when Sleipnir the horse with eight feet , that belonged to Odin, the main god in Norse mythology, put one of his hooves on the ground, and created the horseshoe shape.
Geologists claim that the canyon was created by another huge flood from Vatnajökull glacier that formed the canyon where the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River now flows. It took several years for to Ásbyrgi to reach its current form, but the route of the river eventually moved eastward, where it flows today.
It is hard not to admire Ásbyrgi Canyon and the forces of nature needed to create such a place in a short time are so intense, they are frightening.
The canyon walls are homes to nesting birds, mostly albatross who hatch in a unique way. A small lake named Botnstjörn, located at the top of the horseshoe, is home to species of duck.
Travel on Road 85 and follow the signs to Ásbyrgi and the Visitor's Center.
Ásbyrgi has a variety of routes of varying difficulty.
Easy path of an hour long that leads from the parking lot to the lake at the bottom of the horseshoe. The track leads to the horseshoe walls that have several view points and a view of the small lake with ducks and nesting place for birds. If you follow that path to the end, and look back from the furthest point, there is a magnificent view of the entire horseshoe and the "Island" located in the center.
The route starts at the site's store or from the campsite. If you start at the camping site you will need to climb steep metal stairs with the help of a rope.
The route leads east to Jökulsárgljúfur, around a woodland hill called Áshöfði, and a a small lake named Ástjörn ' with views of Jökulsá and the canyon that it flows through. Alternatively, you can climb the hill and view the beautiful landscape. The trail is 7.5 km long.
The path leading to the "Island" in Ásbyrgi starts at the campsite and leads to the south. The trail to the "Island's" summit and back is 5 km, and takes between one and two hours. The summit has a magnificent view of Ásbyrgi and the northern sands. /p>
You can start the route at the site's store or campsite. If you start at the camping site, you will need to climb steep metal stairs with the help of a rope.
The track leads along the eastern wall of Ásbyrgi, south to Klappir and here there are spectacular views of the horseshoe. . From here, you can go turn or go east, toward the Jökulsá River then walk along the canyon through Gilsbakki and Ás to the starting point. The length of the route is 12 km and takes about four hours. The route is Klappir and back is about 10 km.
Hljóðaklettar, meaning "Echo Rocks" is what remains of several ancient volcanic craters. The craters themselves underwent a process of decay by the Jökulsá River and what is left are decorated pillars of lava and basalt rock. The name comes from the fact that the area has peculiar acoustics that produce echoes.
Rauðhólar volcano is also located here, whose eruptions contributed to the change of the river route and topography.
From the north, you can reach the sites via Route 862, which splits from Route 85. Although Route 862 is suitable for all vehicles, it is recommended to check road the conditions before traveling, even in summer. Rain and mud make it difficult to ride and not recommended. The south can be reached by 4x4 vehicles only, via Route F862.
This route is 2.45 km long, takes about an hour and starts out at Hljóðaklettar parking lot.
This circular track is in the area of a cave known as "The church" (Kirkjan), which forks off the main road and carries along a slight incline leading to Rauðhólar. This track shows an interesting variety of geological formations, a view of the north side of the canyon and the "Echo Rocks" in the south.
This route is about 5 km long, takes about two hours and starts at Hljóðaklettar parking lot.
Are the names of two rock pillars that stand on the riverbank, legend has it that they were two trolls who turned into stone. A circular route of about 2.2 km, 40-minute from Hljóðaklettar parking lot.
An easy walking route that starts out at the parking area and leads to the most northern point of the island, on the way passing mossy rocks and small ponds.
Jökulsá á Fjöllum River is considered the most powerful river in Europe. It originates from the northern edge of the Vatnajökull glacier under the name Dyngjujokull and covers a length of 206 km. It is the second longest river in Iceland, but because of the dry climate in this region the river rarely flows at full spate. Rainwater springs also flow into this river, seeping through the spongy earth.
Waterfalls are a fairly new characteristic of the terrain here as the water has still not flattened the river's course. The southernmost waterfalls along the Jökulsá are called Selfoss, they are very wide and reach a height of 10 meters. The most famous waterfall, Dettifoss, is located a kilometer north from here and reaches a height of 45 meters and width of 100 meters. Further north is the Hafragilsfoss waterfall that reaches a height of 27 m and most northerly is Ratafos, which is 7 meters high.
Dettifoss Waterfall viewpoint can be reached by both sides of the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, by Route 864 from the east and Route F864 from the west. Entrances to the above routes are from the eastern side of the canyon.
From the parking lot to Dettifoss Waterfall and back is about 1.5 km. You can get right up to the waterfall itself and stand very close to the water. There is a beautiful view of the highest part of the canyon.
From Dettifoss parking lot to Selfoss and back is about 2.5 km. The route passes near Dettifoss on the highest side along the river to Selfoss, the canyon's highest waterfall. Selfoss waterfall is very wide and picturesque.
From the parking lot you can already see the waterfall and if you look south down the river you can see, in the distance, a cloud from the Dettifoss water droplets. It is recommended to walk towards the protruding rock, which has a great viewpoint of the north part of the canyon and the waterfall, truly a spectacular sight.
This challenging 6 km route starts Hafragilsfoss parking lot. It is steep and constitutes passing large boulders. On route, you will be able to see a view of the Jökulsá River, springs, Hafragilsfoss Waterfall and the canyon itself. This is classed as one of the most impressive walking trails.