Imagine embarking on a journey to witness a landscape that was recently created or discovered… Does that sound super exciting to you? Maybe that means you visit Iceland’s newly erupted volcano to witness new land take shape. Or some other crazy highland place uncovered from the season before. Regardless, of where you explore, there is likely an interesting history, story or reason the scenery has attached to it. For example, have you heard about or seen Stuðlagil Canyon?
History of Stuðlagil (Studlagil)
Within East Iceland, you’ll find a newly discovered landscape named Stuðlagil Canyon in the Jökuldalur Valley. Also referred to as Studlagil or the direct translation, “Basalt Column Gorge.” The story goes… Between 2003-2007 the hydro plant Kárahnjúkavirkjun created Hálslón Reservoir (a dam storing water). Over the following decade, the water level decreases in conjunction with the harvesting of of hydro power, then revealing a gorgeous basalt canyon!
Wait a second, how was an out of this world place like this created? To illustrate, initially a volcano sends down lava into this valley and contracts as it cools. Furthermore, then the power of a river named Jökla carves out and creates the smooth hexagonal sides and both vertical and horizontal structures.
Subsequently, in circa 2016, Stuðlagil Canyon was discovered by the local sheep farmers and captured by a local guide in the area. Then in 2017, the guide’s image is published in the WOW Magazine, instantly making is a sensation on Instagram. Likely the exact reason you are looking to hike to it today…
Two Viewing Points
Believe it or not, there are 2 viewing points for Stuðlagil Canyon. Firstly, the west side is the less adventurous viewpoint nearby to the farm named “Grund.” Secondly, on the west side the hike from the parking lot is 5 minutes or less as you basically take a flight of metal stairs down (built in 2020). However, the view is focused differently as you’ll notice below. Also be aware, the land owners on this side kindly ask for a donation to maintain the bathrooms, parking lot, and paths. You’ll find the donation box hooked to one of the information signs.
Thirdly, if you’re ready for a 45ish minute hike and want to get into the canyon then head to the east side of Studlagil Canyon. Warning: You cannot cross the river from the platform (west side) to the famed Insta spot. Just make the time to hike the other side =) Why? This is considered by locals, one of the most dangerous rivers in Iceland.
When is Studlagil Canyon Blue?
Next, the twist to Stuðlagil Canyon is that during some days in summer (only) the water is a crystal clear to a greenish-blue color when the water level is extremely low. Therefore other days, you will be greeted with glacier river colors being grey or brown or brown-greenish. Don’t fret, it’s still crazy beautiful and 100% worth a stop to enjoy a natural wonder!
But what makes the vivid water color? First, the dam not being released through the gorge. Which can happen from late August / early September without warning. Second, pure glacier melt snow contributes which comes down during summer (June – August). Third, lots of rain in the area or overflow from the dam can make the river rise and change color anytime during the year.
Thus if you want the best chance to catch the crystal color, plan your trip there in late June to early August. Why? Less chances of rain and the river rising and mixing up to be murky. Our team has visited this Studlagil in June (2021), July (2021), August (2019) and early September (2020) in both early morning and evenings and only 1 time was it the famed green-blue. Iceland Hiking Tip: If having the water be a vivid color is a deal breaker for you to take on the hike, then drive to the west side parking lot and have a look first.
Directions to the East Iceland Basalt Canyon
Alright so now you have all of the background on Stuðlagil Canyon, how the heck do you get there? Good news, if your Iceland self-drive adventure takes you to the town of Egilsstaðir than you are less than 1 hour away! Next, you’ll follow Route 1 until Road #923 for about 8 miles to the farm “Klaustursel” if you want to hike from the east side and down into the canyon.
Note, this is the first turnoff for Stuðlagil. You’ll follow the gravel drive down until you see 2 parking lots and 2 bridges. Hence you park here, DO NOT CROSS THE BRIDGE with your car. Furthermore, if you were to go about 3 miles further (on Road#923) you’ll find the lookout point from the west side. Iceland Waterfall Tip: Right before the turnoff for Route #923 you’ll pass by several gorgeous waterfalls you can walk to. Specifically Rjúkandafoss is worth a stop!
Stuðlagil Canyon Hike What to Expect:
- Distance: ~2 miles one way
- Hike Time: 30-60 minutes one way depending on your pace.
- Terrain: Stones, rocks, dirt/mud, grass, marsh, and slippery rocks.
- Elevation Gain: ~500 feet (2-3 small up hill points)
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (if you climb down into the canyon from the east side the rocks are very slippery).
- Google Map Link to East Side Car Park
- GPS Coordinates: N65.1879375; W-15.2854315
- Best Time to Hike: May – September
- In May the trail or area can still have snow on it depending on how heavy the winter was. And in late August the power company has been known to release the dam.
- Stuðlagil Canyon is on private property, be respectful while visiting. For example, keep hold of your trash, pick up any you find, and stay on the marked trails.
- On the west side, there is a nesting ground near the farm “Grund” for geese which happens between May 1st – June 10th so entry could be denied to protect the birds.
- Bring your lunch and/or dinner with you in your backpack in case you want to spend more time here. Just make sure you LEAVE NO TRACE!
Hiking to Stuðlagil Canyon
Woohoo!! Hike to Stuðlagil Canyon with this step by step guide from our Iceland Wedding Planner team =) After you have parked in the formal parking lot, check out this map to Studlagil before you embark!
Step 1: Start of Studlagil Basalt Canyon Hike
Step 2: Half Way Point
Once you reach the basalt column waterfall, Stuðlafoss you’re half way!
Step 3: Studlagil Hike Becomes More Interesting
Step 4: High Five, You Made It!
So there you are at Stuðlagil Canyon, woot woot!! The images below are a mix from this past June and July’s hike in there. The water level was high in both visits. But the area is still so enjoyable!! In fact, during both visits we delighted in a champagne picnic! However, please be safe if you intend on heading down to the famous Instagram spot where the orange stacks reside. Why? For example, you could slip and go right into that raging river! As of July 2021, the landowners added a black rope that is safely anchored you can use to help you get down there.
Accommodation Options Nearby
Are you a luxury seeker? Traveling around the countryside of Iceland the picks can be slim. Nonetheless there are view gems we would suggest you stay at if interested in discover Stuðlagil Canyon… For instance, our personal favorite location are the Stóravík Cottages that sit in front of Lagarfljót Lake and are slightly outside of the town of Egilsstaðir. Second, if they are booked try to score a room at Hótel Hallomsstaður. Third, if they are out of your budget, then check out Icelandair Hótel Hérað. Since the latter does not come with a hot tub onsite, make sure you visit Vök Baths!
Eloping in Stuðlagil Canyon
Has today’s hiking in Iceland blog post inspired you so much that you want to get married in Stuðlagil Canyon? Hello East Iceland hiking elopement, right?! Good news, it is possible! Just make sure you involve a local Iceland Wedding Planner to aid you asking for in advance permission from the landowners. Lastly, if you’re seeking a less touristy option feel free to contact us so we can show you our amazing portfolio of private canyons available to explore!