The Best Canyons in Iceland for Your Next Adventure

Iceland is quite a great place, with its terrain stretching across various categories. Forests, plains/grassland, mountains with ice caps, and cold deserts all coexist in the same territory.In all that, canyons are also well represented. With Iceland boasting of a whooping ten canyons, it's hard to say they don't have it all.

Iceland canyon, with its rugged terrain and stunning vistas, is a popular tourist destination for nature lovers. The country hasn’t got just one canyon, it has over 16! Pretty impressive, right?

The canyons are a mixture of sheer cliffs, varying stone textures, rushing rivers, and glorious waterfalls. None is identical to the other, they’re all unique in their fascinating ways. A few of them can be accessed using an off-road vehicle or even a regular 4WD vehicle. For most though, a good pair of hiking boots is all you will be needing.

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In this post, we will be answering the question, how did Iceland canyons form? We will also be sharing with you the 10 best canyons in Iceland to visit.

Let’s get started.

How did Canyons in Iceland form?

Canyons in Iceland
Source: KIMKIM

Iceland’s canyons are some of the most striking natural features of the country’s landscape. These deep, winding gorges were not created overnight, but rather through a long and complex process that involved volcanic activity, glacial erosion, and tectonic shifts. The canyons in Iceland formed as molten lava flowed from the country’s numerous volcanoes, eventually cooling and solidifying into basaltic rock. Over time, glacial rivers carved through the rock, creating deep channels and ravines.

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The formation of Iceland’s canyons is a testament to the power of natural forces and how they shape our planet. The process was not a simple or straightforward one, but rather involved a complex interplay of factors that combined to create the unique features we see today. The canyons are not uniform in their size or shape, with some extending for miles while others are only a few hundred feet in length.

The 10 Most Magnificent Canyons in Iceland to See

1. Mulagljufur Canyon

The Mulagljufur canyon in Iceland
Source: Iceland Travel Guide

This Iceland canyon is located off the Ring Road about twenty minutes south of the tourist stop, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Given its location, exploring the lagoon and Mulagljufur Canyon on the same day is possible. To accomplish that though, you will need to schedule enough time for all you’d have to do. The distance to it’s summit is approximately three miles, which you’d have to hike if you plan to conquer this mighty Iceland canyon. 

Also, add extra time for photos and videos to get everyone jealous. With fewer visitors, you might even have the canyon to yourself. This canyon is a strong contender for the crown jewel of Iceland Canyons.

The ascent is quite simple. For infrequent hikers, climbing hills is typically challenging, but this trip is reasonably easy with lots of stops. It takes roughly 45 minutes to reach the top.

Mulafoss, a stunning 100 m high waterfall that cascades over the uneven stone cliffs at the top of the canyon, is another feature of the Mulagljufur Canyon.

This Icelandic gorge has the ideal natural backdrop, with the silver stream of the waterfall standing out sharply against the darker hills around it from a distance.

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2. Fjadrargljufur Canyon

Fjadrargljufur, the Iceland grand canyon
Source: Blue Carrentel

Located in south east Iceland, Fjadrargljufur is the Iceland grand canyon. It is also popularly known as the majestic canyon of Iceland. 

It is up to 100m deep and 2km long, with stunning moss-coated walls that appear dormant brown in the winter. It is located not so far away from the village Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

It is traversed by the ancient river Fjadra, which was formed by gradual erosion over a long period of time—some estimate 9000 years—as water from glaciers flowed through the rocks.

Visitors can walk near the mountain’s peak to view the whole Canyon facing toward the ocean or hike down to the bottom when the water level is low.

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When walking along the outlining ridges, beware of the edges and make sure you stay on the designated paths. The moss is quite delicate and takes decades to repair itself if damaged.

The Eldhraun Lava Field, a stunning moss-covered landscape found on the other side of the Ring Road, can be explored the same day as this Iceland canyon, which is adjacent to the Ring Road in the south of the nation.

3. Studlagil Basalt Canyon

The Studlagil Basalt canyon in Iceland is truly breathtaking
Source: Blue Carrentel

The jaw-dropping Studlagil Basalt Canyon is one breathtaking canyon in Iceland. It is not to be missed if you plan on playing around the whole Ring Road or, at the very least, planning to visit the eastern section of the country. 

With walls built of soaring black basalt, this Icelandic canyon is praiseworthy. It appears to be something out of a science fiction film.

Long ago, the glacier river Jokulsa a Dal, which is still vividly blue and flows down at the canyon’s foot, carved out this canyon.

The basalt stones can be utilized as natural steps in some locations where they are shorter to go closer to the water for the perfect photo.

Always be careful to watch your step and pay attention to your surroundings in these canyons. 

Tumbling into a frigid and rushing river is something I’m sure isn’t on your Iceland bucket list! 

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As long as safety is your top priority, visiting this fantastic canyon will be worth your time, and you will not regret making room for the visit.

4. Jokulsargljufur Canyon

The Jokulsargljufur canyon and its glacial rivers
Source: Kimkim

The word “Jokulsargljufur” translates to “glacial river canyon,” which already defines its origin and everything you need to know about it. 

It is one of Iceland’s deepest canyons and is formed by the potent Jokulsa a Fjollum River, the country’s second-longest river. Its length is roughly 25 kilometers. This enormous and historic scenery should not be missed.

You may get there by exiting the Ring Road and taking Route 864 north through Iceland’s Vatnajokull National Park. 

A few of those waterfalls include Dettifoss, Selfoss, and Hafragilsfoss. With a burning desire to treat your eyes to something unique, catching a view of Dettifoss won’t disappoint you.

It is clear why this 100-meter-wide waterfall is considered to be among Europe’s most powerful waterfalls after witnessing the incredible volume of water pour over its edge.

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Selfoss is located about a kilometer downstream from Dettifoss.

It is more of a collection of smaller falls that pour into the main river than a single waterfall. It is possible to hike to both Dettifoss and Selfossare from the same parking lot because they are sufficiently close to one another.

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If you long to visit Dettifoss, there is no excuse to overlook Selfoss. Yes, it is smaller, but it’s still a fantastic sight.

5. Sigoldugljufur Canyon

The Sigoldugljufur canyon
Source: Iceland Travel Guide

This canyon is one of the Iceland canyons in the south and can be found by turning off the Ring Road onto Route 26 before moving onto F26 and then turning onto f208. 

The route includes f-roads, so it’s necessary to drive a 4WD vehicle. A small road beyond a power plant leads to a parking lot, and a short walk from there will lead you to the fantastic view this Iceland canyon provides. 

Due to its distance and rough terrain for driving, not many tourists venture this far. Of course, they are missing out on the picture-perfect scenery.

This Iceland gorges hosts the shimmering Tungnaa river and many hidden waterfalls; there is plenty for the eye to enjoy at this location. 

Although the work done at the nearby power plant altered some of the lands, much of the area is still pristine.

6. Glymur Canyon

The Glymur canyon's waterfall
Source: Iceland Travel

Carved out by the instrumentality of Iceland’s second-tallest waterfall, the Glymur Waterfall, this Iceland canyon is a wonder. 

With its origin being the glacial Botnsa River, this waterfall drops 198 meters into the canyon below.

Glymur Canyon from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is a day trip as it’s less than an hour’s drive to the canyon’s parking lot. You’ll then have a nearly four-hour round-trip hike to the journey. It’s neither for the faint-hearted nor the unfit; be ready to hike because it is more than a stroll.

There’s going to be a lot of wading through a river, wandering through a cave, and trekking treacherous mountain paths. 

Always check the weather before you start your journey, and only go when it is safe. 

There is no paved path, but there are plenty of sign markers to keep you from getting lost. It’ll be worth it when you behold the waterfall.

7. Nauthusagil Canyon

Tourists at the Nauthusagil canyon
Credit: Křížem Krážem Světem

The Nauthusagil is another Iceland canyon that’ll blow you away with its awe-inspiring nature. 

The first step is to make your way through the moss-covered walls of this canyon, after which you’ll come face to face with one of the best-hidden gem waterfalls in Iceland.

Similar to the last location, this place involves a challenging hike to get to the waterfall. 

The next phase will be to climb over rocks, walk through water, and use ropes to make your way to your destination. 

This Canyon is located about two hours from Reykjavik, another place you could visit on a day trip from the city. 

It’s also only a few minutes from two other waterfalls on the Ring Road, Gljufrabui and Seljalandsfoss.

8. Gljufrabui Canyon

The Gljufrabui canyon
Source: Iceland Travel Guide

Home to the Gljufrabui Waterfall mentioned above; this canyon is very similar to the Nauthusagil Canyon. 

They are both mossy ravines with beautiful, secret waterfalls nestled inside. The main difference between the two is that Gljufrabui Waterfall is easier to approach.

After you have waded through the stream that flows through the canyon’s opening, you will then be greeted by the roaring 40-meter waterfall hidden within.

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The word “Gljufrabui” translates to “canyon dweller,” which describes the desire of everyone that sets eyes on its beauty once inside this canyon. 

Near the base of the waterfall, there is also the perfect photo spot. Just a few meters from the bottom of the waterfall is a boulder that serves as a photo-worthy spot.

The Gljufrabui tops the list of the best canyons to visit in Iceland.

9. Kvernufoss Canyon

The Kvernufoss canyon
Source: DeviantArt

The Kvernufoss Canyon is another canyon in Iceland that features a breathtaking waterfall.

Its waterfall cascades down 30 meters over the jagged stones that make up its surrounding walls and into a flowing pool below.

One of the coolest features of this canyon is that tourists can go behind its fall to take a picture. Additionally, it is one of the easiest hiking places on this list, it is a top choice for a memorable adventure.

It is only a short hike from Skogafoss, a popular waterfall in Iceland, and is found just off the Ring Road near the south coast. 

If you ain’t tired of waterfalls already, try a trip to both on the same day. It’s something you’d enjoy, we assure you that.

10. Stakkholtsgja Canyon

The Stakkholtsgja canyon in Iceland
Source: Guide To Iceland

Last on our list is the Stakkholtsgja canyon. Located in the south and accessible through f249, this 100-meter-deep Iceland canyon has the most funny looking stone walls.

The Stakkholtsgja canyon is a beautiful place to explore, with many secret caves, side ravines, and waterfalls.

If you don’t mind getting your feet wet, it’s quite an easy hike. There are some defined paths. 

However, there are no bridges, so you may have to wade through the river that runs here, depending on the water level when you visit. 

Just be sure to remain cautious of where you place your feet, the hike is relatively straightforward, and it takes about an hour and a half to make the hike in and out of this amazing canyon.

Things To Know Before Visiting Iceland Canyons

There are a few things to take note of if you plan on visiting the canyons in Iceland. They might seem petite but can help you in no small way. They include:

  • The people of Iceland speak English. Though they regularly communicate in Icelandic, English is taught in schools, and they have an English proficiency rating of 98%, so there’s no need to learn Icelandic.
  • Everything is very expensive because they are essential to everything. Souvenirs, foods, and drinks can rack up costly bills quickly.
  • 1000 Icelandic Krona equals 7 US dollars, and paying with a credit card can get you sorted out.
  • It’s better to rent a car if you want to take the entire fill of touring Iceland.
  • Make sure you take out time to plan. Iceland isn’t a place to just stroll into, and neither is any place in the world.
  • Drinking tap water is safe.
  • Pack for unpredictable weather; the weather can get weird at any time.

Where To Stay On Your Visit To Iceland

For first-timers, Reykjavik the country’s capital and largest city is the best place to stay. It’s an all-encompassing city with everything, including tourist hotspots in it. Additionally, Traveling King has a list of good hotels close to the canyons where you can stay on your visit.

Conclusion

In summary, if you’re looking for a destination to disappear to and be one with nature, you should totally visit one of the Iceland canyons mentioned in this post.

These ten canyons are major tourist attractions in the country. The moss-covered landscape, the waterfalls, and the rivers all, in their ways, contribute to the beauty and uniqueness of these canyons. All are beautiful and non-fungible.

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