Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is an ancient palagonite canyon that carves a path through Skaftárhreppur in the south east of Iceland. This impressive 100 metre deep canyon stretches for 2km with the Fjaðrá river flowing at the base of the sheer moss covered rock walls. A well marked path follows the edge of the canyon to the far end where a waterfall is seen from a well positioned viewing platform. This canyon is located within the Katla Geopark and is on the National Conservation Register.
Formation of Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
This hidden serpentine shaped canyon was formed by the gradual erosion of glacial meltwater over thousands of years. It is believed that it first started forming at the end of the last Ice Age over 9000 years ago. As the glacier retreated a lake formed behind the palagonite rock and the run off from this lake formed the canyon. Through time the lake has filled with sediment and the river level has fallen dramatically.
The river is no longer glacial and originates in the Geirlandshraun lava field in the north. Just below the canyon it joins the Skaftá river which is one of the largest rivers in the region.
The area surrounding the terrace is beautiful with undulating meadows covered in wild flowers and views out across the flat plains and lava fields.
The journey from ring road 1 on road 206 takes you through a changing landscape. Initially a normal road, once you cross the Skaftá river the road becomes rough gravel needing care and attention for the final 2km. The views come and go as the road rolls through cuttings and areas with scrub before the small parking area comes into view. Beyond this the road is closed with a barrier.
Once you have parked up and used the facilities it is a short walk to the road bridge that crosses the Fjaðrá river. This gives a good view up the canyon. While it is tempting to follow the river bed up the canyon, this is closed off and not allowed as it is a protected breeding ground for birds. If the main path is closed then this is the only view of the canyon that you will get. It is still pretty impressive and can be photographed with a standard camera lens.
From the car park a roped path follows the right hand side of the canyon up a surfaced path. This is about 2km to the final viewpoint and the first section is quite steep. Along the way there are a number of marked viewpoints. Some with platforms others are just passing places with stunning views. The views get better as you head up the path and at the same time the path flattens making walking easier.
Each viewing area is slightly different so look out for the changing mosses covering the canyon walls and the arches and windows through the rock giving unique viewpoints.
At the head of the canyon is a beautiful little waterfall. A metal platform takes you out over the canyon where the Möga river meets the Fjadra river with a third smaller river joining the mix. Look down over the edge of the final platform and you can see the water colours from the three rivers merging in an every changing mix of colour.
From the final platform there are stunning views back down the canyon as it snakes its way towards the Skaftá river and the plains towards the sea. These again can be photographed with a standard camera lens.
From the waterfall the hike back to the parking area follows the same path. The views are completely different and the walk is downhill making it possible to really enjoy the landscape.
Photographing Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
This canyon is perfect for photography year round. However, it is best known for its vibrant green moss walls. This is best seen in the summer months when the vegetation is at its most vivid. It is best avoided in the middle of the day as the canyon and the views face south making it hard to capture at this time. The orientation of the canyon and the craggy corners mean that this is the perfect location for photography on a more overcast day.
Sustainable tourism at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
As with many places in Iceland, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon was once a hidden secret. However, Justin Bieber’s music video ‘I’ll Show You’ released in 2015 changed the canyon for ever. The canyon featured in many scenes and fans started to visit the canyon.
Populatrity increased even further when the canyon featured in the seventh and eigth seasons of Game of Thrones. It’s best known scene was during John Snow’s first dragon flight.
This rise in popularity has led to an unsustainable rise in visitor numbers which has meant a burden on the fragile ecosystems that the canyon supports. The impact of tourism is monitored and the canyon is closed when the vegetation is most vulnerable. This is usually between March and June.
Path closures should be respected and ropes are there for a reason and should not be crossed. Closures can be checked at www.saftravel.is and Skaftárstofa Visitor Centre in Kirkjubæjarklaustur www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/en. If it is closed don’t attempt to visit. This just ruins the chances for everyone as it could be permanently closed.
How to find Faðrárgljúfur Canyon
Getting to Faðrárgljúfur is possible year round although snow in winter may mean the road is closed. The road is unsurfaced but is accessible by any car with care. From Kirkjubæjarklaustur take ring road 1 for 8km before turning right onto road 206. This is signposted to Laki and Holt. Follow the road for 3km with the final 2km being along an unsurfaced road. There is a small parking area on the right just before the bridge over the Fjaðrá river where you will find a small toilet block.
Places close to Faðrárgljúfur Canyon
- Eldhraun Lava Fields – One of the largest of the lava fields in Iceland which is now covered in beautiful moss
- Hjörleifshöfði Cape and Cave – Also known as Yoda’s Cave this is a headland with an interesting cave on the edge of a black sand beach
- Renisfjara beach and sea stacks – A stunning black sand beach with sea stacks and basalt column cave
- Dyrhólaey Lighthouse – Clifftop lighthouse with views in all directions
- Skaftafell National Park – Small national park on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park
- Svínafellsjökull – Hidden glacial lagoon with not many visitors and interesting ice formations
- Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon and Breiðamerkursandur (Diamond Beach) – This is one of the most visited areas in south east Iceland and best known for the large lagoon with icebergs that wash up onto the nearby beach
INFORMATION AT A GLANCE
Name | Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Price | Free
Opening Times | Accessible 24/7 but will be closed if area becomes too busy or snow covers the road
Time Needed to Explore | At least 1 hour to walk to the final platform and back
Location | Road 206 8km west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur
What3Words for Parking | ///hotdog.sags.luminaries