Stuðlagil Canyon in east Iceland is a place that, despite its incredible beauty, remains under-the-radar for the majority of tourists.
One reason for this is its accessibility, or lack of. It’s located 44 miles from the nearest town Egilsstaðir. It is further from the country’s capital city, Reykjavik, at 140 miles.
Until 2006, this awe-inspiring canyon wasn’t featured in any tour guides or maps whatsoever, as it was completely hidden by the river Jökla. The river’s currents were so fierce that the communities of sheep farmers and villagers, who live either side of it, were completely separated from one another.
All that changed with the construction of the Hálslón Reservoir. It diverted the river’s sources, so the Jökla’s water level lowered dramatically. The water’s appearance changed too. The river transferred from the unappealing murky brown of glacial sediment, to the gorgeous turquoise color. Also, the springs that flow into it from nearby creeks and smaller rivers helped.
Despite this relatively sudden and dramatic change, the place did not become a tourist attraction until 2016. That’s when landscape photographer Einar Páll Svavarsson visited the canyon and it properly came into prominence.
While it may have taken a while for this once completely hidden gem to find its way into the spotlight, it’s definitely a case of “better late than never” for anyone, who visits.
The canyon is dominated by stunning hexagonal basalt columns. These columns are unerringly uniform in appearance. They look manmade, rather than the result of solidified lava and formation of centuries.
Set against the lush green of the vegetation around the canyon, not to mention that crystal clear turquoise of the river rippling along its base, these grey columns offer the perfect contrast for the disbelieving eyes lucky enough to catch sight of it.
Visit needs to be planed carefully. If you head there in August or September, there’s a chance you won’t be greeted by gentle flows of spring water. That time of the year, the river is fast-flowing and brown. That’s because, water from the Vatnajökull glacier takes over the flow and begins to fill the canyon once again.
The west side of the canyon can be reached by car, while visiting the east side will require a two to three-hour hike. That effort will be rewarded, as you’ll also get to witness the wonderful basalt column waterfall Stuðlafoss.
For those, who want an early morning start to catch the best light for photographs, you’ll find accommodation and a campsite at nearby guesthouse Skjöldólfsstadir.
Really, whichever way you choose to catch sight of Stuagil Canyon, “wow” moments and photo opportunities will appear at every turn.
Such is the beauty of this natural and unique gem, hidden for so long by the ferocious river Jökla. Now, finally, unveiled as one of the most beautiful wonders in the whole Iceland.
Stuðlagil Canyon is found in the plateaus of East Iceland, not far from the black beaches of the Eastfjords. The closest major town is Egilsstaðir, 44 miles (72 km) to the east. The canyon is 371 miles (597 km) from Reykjavik and 130 mi (210 km) from Akureyri.
GPS coordinates of Stuðlagil Canyon: 65.1635° N, 15.3073°