Being the Land of Fire and Ice comes with having some pretty interesting and contrasting terrain – from majestic mountains, and fiery hot volcanoes, to magnificent valleys and canyons and icy glaciers. Some of these places are simply too incredible to miss. One of the must-visit places here in Iceland is Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon.
There are many reasons why one should add Jökulsárgljúfur to one’s Iceland trip itinerary, and with so many things to see and do there, we recommend that you allocate at least a couple of days to exploring this incredible area. In this article, we tell you exactly what makes this canyon so special, how to get there, and everything you can look forward to from your visit.
Jökulsárgljúfur’s Claim to Fame
The first thing to know is that Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon has officially taken the title of Iceland’s longest river canyon. So, not only will you be visiting a beautiful place with loads of fun activities, but you’ll also be in the presence of one of our natural wonder celebrities.
An Overview of Jökulsárgljúfur
Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon is an astounding 25 kilometers long, 0.5 kilometers wide, and 120 meters deep. Not only is Jökulsárgljúfur a bit of a natural wonder celebrity here in Iceland, but it also houses a number of other stars, such as Dettifoss Waterfall, which is the second-most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. The area was officially made a national park in 1973 and grew when Asbyrgi was added to its borders in 1978.
Where is Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon in Iceland?
Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon can be found in North Iceland and its location is a bit like opening up a Russian Doll; Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon can be found in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, and Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is part of Iceland’s largest national park; Vatnajökull National Park, making up most of the parks northeastern region.
The closest towns to Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon are Akureyri (referred to as the capital city of the north), and Husavik (which is called the whale capital of Iceland) Akureyri is about 130 kilometers away from the canyon, and Husavik roughly 60 kilometers.
How to Get to Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon
You will essentially have three options for getting to Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon:
You Can Go On a Tour
We have many tour operators and private guides who will be able to take you on a tour of Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon. Most of these tours will depart from the bigger cities. Day tours will most likely depart from either Akureyri or Husavik, whilst multi-day tours will also depart from the capital city of Reykjavik. Just keep in mind that our summer season is considered our peak season here on the island and you will need to book any tours well in advance for this period.
You Can Catch a Flight
If you have limited time on the island or are not too keen on spending so much time in the car (any parent with little kids will understand), then shortening the trip by taking a flight might be a good solution for you. You will have your pick of daily flights leaving Reykjavik Airport (NOT Keflavik Airport!) that go to Akureyri, Husavik, and Egilsstadir. There you can rent a vehicle to make the short drive to the canyon.
You Can Drive Yourself
This will always be our go-to option. Driving yourself just allows you to truly immerse yourself in the Icelandic landscape and culture, and with the open road ahead of you, you are ultimately in control of your time and trip itinerary. Whilst a day trip is out of the question from the capital city of Reykjavik, you’ll be able to do a day outing from Akureyri, Husavik, or Egilsstadir.
But by placing such a time crunch on yourself, you’ll definitely be missing out on many things the area has to offer. That’s why we recommend that you make Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon a stop along a Ring Road road trip, and try to overnight in the area for at least a night or two to truly take advantage of all the area has to offer.
How was Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon Formed?
The island is in a constant tug of war between opposing elements, hence why it’s called the Land of Fire and Ice. And it’s these opposing forces that were also responsible for creating Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon.
Although it was a culmination of thousands and thousands of years of chain reactions between volcanic eruptions and glacial floods, the biggest contributors to the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon we know today were glacial floods that occurred due to eruptions 10,000 and 3000 years ago.
When is the Best Time to Visit Jökulsárgljúfur?
Technically, Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon is open to the public all year round, but there are a few things that will be the deciding factor when you plan your trip, especially since Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon is located in North Iceland, which gets hit much harder by our weather. So, before just setting a date and booking a flight, ask yourself the following:
What is it That You Want to See?
For example, if you would like to go Puffin spotting, you’ll need to plan your trip between April and August when it’s their breeding season here on the island. And if you want to see the Northern Lights you’ll need the cold and plenty of darkness which completely rules out the summer months in Iceland.
What is it That You Want to Do?
If you want to have a jam-packed road trip itinerary or are looking for loads of outdoor adventure and fun whilst on the island (which is definitely what you’ll get at Jökulsárgljúfur), you will need nice weather and plenty of daylight hours on your side. This will simply not be the case during our wintertime, and your best bet will be to plan your trip for the warmer months between April and September.
How Do You Feel About Crowds?
As we already mentioned, summertime is considered to be peak season here on the island, and peak season means a lot of traffic – whether on the roads or on foot. Local attractions such as Jökulsárgljúfur will be busy, tours will book up fast, and you’ll struggle if crowds really aren’t your thing. To avoid the crowds, we suggest that you book during what is considered our “down” season, or when we still have decent weather during a shoulder season month (April, May, or October).
What Does Your Budget Look Like?
If you’re visiting on a tight budget, you would want to avoid our peak season and festive season altogether. Prices simply skyrocket, and a budget that might’ve made the cut during one of our “down” season months simply won’t get you very far during our peak season months.
How Well Do You Deal with Weather?
Yes, we might live in a country that has the word ‘ice’ in it, but we can assure you that there is a pretty big difference between our summer and winter season. Not only is our winter season much colder, but it also has much harsher weather elements, such as 35+ kilometer-an-hour winds and blizzards.
And whilst not setting out to explore Jökulsárgljúfur during a blizzard seems like common sense, the one thing many forget is that Jökulsárgljúfur lies in the north of Iceland. Here, winter tends to arrive early and stay later, so you’ll need to be particularly careful when you plan your trip, especially if you don’t deal well with the cold and harsh weather elements.
Are You a Nervous Driver?
This goes hand-in-hand with the weather. During the colder months of the year, which gets a bit extended in Jökulsárgljúfur’s region, road conditions can get pretty challenging, and you might even face sudden road closures which could frazzle the nerves (especially if you’re not used to driving in such conditions) and derail trip itinerary plans.
Is Your Accommodation Preference to Go Camping?
Needless to say, if you are deadest on going camping, you will be more exposed to the elements and the colder months of the year may not be such a good idea. In fact, some campgrounds completely close during the winter season.
Things to Do & See at Jökulsárgljúfur & its Surroundings
There are many exciting things to do and see at Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon and the surrounding area. These are just a few to consider:
Visit Dettifoss Waterfall
Check Out Asbyrgi Canyon
Hike One of the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon Hiking Trails
Where to Stay Near Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon
If you are planning on staying over in the area, we can highly recommend the following accommodation options:
Traversing Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon & All Its Famous Attractions
Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon is the perfect place to combine outdoor activities (hiking) with sightseeing, as traversing the canyon means getting up close and personal with some of Iceland’s most famous sites and natural wonders.
If you are planning on making Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon a stop along your road trip around the country, we suggest that you rent a car in Iceland upon arrival and ensure that you’ve booked at least a couple of nights at the recommended accommodation above to truly experience everything Jökulsárgljúfur and the surrounding area has to offer. Happy travels!