When you think of Iceland, canyons might not be the first thing that comes in mind. You’ll think of glaciers, waterfalls and hot springs, possibly even Vikings but canyons never seem to make the list. This is why you might be surprised to hear that Iceland is actually packed with canyons, gullies and ravines just waiting for discovery and exploration.
Those massive glaciers – which really epitomize Iceland – have a lot more do with the formation of these canyons than you may think.
During the last ice age, Iceland’s glaciers covered the majority of the land. Those glaciers dredged deep and craggy but beautiful scars into the land, leaving us with majestic canyons, gullies and ravines. Later in time, rivers, floods, volcanic eruptions and other natural phenomena created even more canyons and continued to reshape the land to what you see today.
Today, canyons are an important part of the countries identity. Many of them now have viewing platforms built for you to get the best and safest views, and some even have designated walking paths to allow you to better explore them. Many have nearby parking lots, toilets, and nearby services. But others, the lesser known ones, will be untouched and without facilities.
To help with finding these idyllic canyons we have put together this blog. It was written to help you find all the best ones around the Ring Road and even those who demand a little more of your travel time. Bon appetit!
Beautiful Canyons in South Iceland
Stakkholtsgja is one of those places Icelanders have always known about but after appearing in Game of Thrones the canyon has risen in popularity. The music video for the Game of Thrones theme song was even filmed there!
Stakkholtsgja is located in Thorsmork ‘The Valley of Thor.’ Surrounded by otherworldly views the impressive canyon still manages to catch the eye. Many say the charm comes from the high rock walls, others say it the waterfall towards the bottom–whichever team you choose, everyone is sure to enjoy a visit!
While this is a great place to visit in any season you more than likely will need to join a guided tour to get there, especially in winter.
In the Southern Highlands, you will find Sigoldugljufur or the ‘Valley of Tears’ as it is sometimes called. The nickname comes from the dozens of small waterfalls that run down the canyon’s walls creating a truly breathtaking scene. Sigoldugljufur is still quite new on the tourist radar so often times you’ll have it all to yourself. There is no denying that the visual feels like a dream!
Sigoldugljufur is a fabulous stop to make when exploring the Landmannalaugar area. Many like to add a visit to our road trip itinerary tours passing through the area, some of these tours include: Highlands and Hidden Gems and the Highlands and Lowlands.
The famous Golden Circle tour has two beautiful canyons which are rarely mentioned in tour descriptions or itineraries. Those are the canyons include the powerful Gullfoss waterfall and the Almannagja canyon, which is probably better known as the canyon which cuts through Thingvellir National Park. Gullfoss waterfall drops two stories down from the Hvita river which originates in Langjokull glacier.
Fun Fact: Langjokull is the second largest ice cap in Iceland.
The powerful river has through the centuries carved its way into the ground creating the mesmerizing sight of Gullfoss canyon. Due to the popularity of the waterfall, the canyon is easily accessible. It has multiple viewing points and platforms and a large parking lot. There are even a café and a souvenir shop. Furthermore, Gullfoss Canyon be visited all year round!
Almannagja at Thingvellir National Park
Almannagja at Thingvellir National Park was created when the tectonic plates drifted apart and ripped open the lava field that had been created in a volcanic eruption centuries before. It is the most historic canyon found in Iceland. It is also the location where the parliament was founded in 930. Which makes it one of the oldest parliaments in the world!
Thingvellir is the first stop made on the Golden Circle and a truly amazing place. So much so that it has received the honor of being on the UNESCO heritage site list! You can easily walk through the canyon which has a well-kept walking path.
Passing through it you might feel like you have been there before. One might ask, why? Well, it is the pathway the characters from Game of Thrones walk through to get to the Eyrie!
Made famous by the one and only Justin Bieber, this 100 meter deep canyon is the King of all Canyons on the South Coast. Fjadrargljufur is a long and massive canyon that zig-zags like snake through the earth. The river Fjadra runs through it and makes a distinctive character in the canyons image.
There is a viewing platform to enjoy the spectacle which visitors are asked to use. The ground around the canyon is extremely fragile and has been badly damaged by the masses of people visiting in recent years. However, on a more positive note, since the arrival of the viewing platform, the ground is healing and the canyon is as breathtaking as ever.
Beautiful Canyons in East Iceland
Studlagil or ‘the Basalt Gully’ is home to one of the biggest collection of basalt columns in Iceland. The sight is awe-inspiring! Through the canyon runs the beautiful river Jokulsa a Dal which is fed by the neighboring Vatnajokull glacier.
Fun Fact: It is the biggest glacier in Europe!
There are two different hiking trails you can take to explore the canyon. Both of which lead up from the farm Grund near Vallanes in central East Iceland. Before embarking on a hike to the canyon, we strongly recommend to let someone know of your travel plans. It is equally as important to check in when having arrived and like always, make sure to check the weather forecast in advance and during your trek.
Another unique fact about the canyon is that from the 1st of May to the 10th of June each year a flock of pink-footed geese breed in the gorge. Please choose a time outside this period to visit so as not to disturb the birds.
Beautiful Canyons in North Iceland
Asbyrgi is by many considered to be the most beautiful place you’ll find in Iceland. The tranquility, the fertile birch forest, the staggering rock formations and the peaceful ponds make up this mesmerizing paradise you simply shouldn’t miss. Asbyrgi is located within a horseshoe-shaped canyon believed to have been formed by Sleipnir, Odin’s 8-legged horse as he trotted over the area creating the canyon with his step. There is no doubt that the location has a certain link with Norse Mythology and you can see it in the names around the area.
There are fantastic hiking trails all around the area and a lovely campsite for those who wish to linger on and really take it all in.
Jokulsargljufur Canyon was once on its own a National Park but has today been joined to Vatnajokull National Park. It is the biggest national park in the whole of Europe and offers an array of opportunities to explore and try out. The most famous activities are the glacier hiking tours on Vatnajokull. But, at the northernmost part of the park, you will find the stunning Jokulsargljufur Canyon.
The Jokulsarlongljufur Canyon can be explored in so many ways. For example, by visiting its waterfall Dettifoss, by river rafting down its powerful stream or simply by admiring its grandiose yet natural architecture. If you are looking for a tour taking you to this magical place we can recommend Arctic Discovery: Husavik and the Diamond Circle and the Ring Road tour Around Iceland.
Beautiful Canyons in West Iceland
Close to the ever so popular and charming village of Arnarstapi, you will find the Raudfeldsgja gorge. It is the only vertical ravine we mention here on this list and surely worth your attention. In the summertime, you can easily walk up into the gully to enjoy all of its quirks and hidden charms, including a gorgeous waterfall!
Raudfeldsgja is without a doubt a hidden gem on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
For those who are looking for a deeper exploration of Icelandic nature, the Iceland Grand Discovery might be just the thing. The tour is a 19-day adventure which captures the best of each part of the country. If you want to truly get to know Iceland, this is the way to go!