Guide to Hiking in Ásbyrgi Canyon
Ásbyrgi Canyon is an enormous, unusually-shaped depression in Northeast Iceland, within the extensive Vatnajökull National Park. Not only can you expect to spot a variety of wildlife species on a visit here, but you can also admire the steep cliffs that surround the canyon and get a taste of the folklore that the locals love to tell. Covered in greenery, Ásbyrgi Canyon is a wonder of nature and exploring the area on a hike is breathtaking.
The Formation of Ásbyrgi Canyon
Like many of the mesmerising attractions in Iceland, there are a few theories surrounding the formation of the canyon. According to geologists, the canyon began to form approximately 8 to 10 million years ago when the Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river flooded (likely due to a volcanic eruption beneath the Vatnajökull glacier). Around 3,00o years later, this flooding reoccurred and the canyon’s formation advanced once again.
However, in local folklore and legend, it is said that the canyon was created by the eight-legged steed of the Norse god Odin. The legend says that the horse, Sleipnir, caught his foot upon the ground whilst riding through the sky, thus leaving behind an enormous horseshoe imprint on the earth.
In other tales, it is claimed that the canyon is the capital city of Iceland’s elves and Huldufólk (hidden people). Some believe these magical beings reside within the ravines and crevices of the canyon.
How to Get There
Getting to Ásbyrgi Canyon by car is fairly simple and doesn’t take long from the nearby town of Húsavík. Located just off Route 85, visitors from the whale-watching capital can make the trip in just under an hour.
If you are heading to the canyon from Reykjavik, the journey is likely to take around 7 hours. You will need to travel on Route 1 and then onto Route 85, past Húsavík and along to the canyon. If you are planning the trip of a lifetime and are keen to travel in style, you can even take a helicopter tour over Ásbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss.
Ásbyrgi Canyon Hiking Trails
There are a variety of hiking trails that vary in difficulty and allow you to see different aspects of the canyon, many of which will eventually lead you to Klappir, where you can find the best views of Ásbyrgi.
One of the simplest, least demanding hiking trails inside the canyon is the Botnstjörn Trail, a route which takes anything up to an hour. Starting at the car park, the route leads you down a few stone steps to the lake itself.
The 9km Klappir trail, which begins at the visitor centre, is a great way to experience the best views along the edge of the canyon. Usually taking around 3 hours, this route is popular for those with moderate fitness who are keen to find adventure.
One of the most challenging routes around Ásbyrgi is the Kvíar Circle, a 17km loop which typically takes 6-7 hours. On this trail, you will experience the lush vegetation and surrounding landscapes of the canyon and if you look carefully, you can even see the remains of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum floods.
Nearby Places to Visit
Its accessible location close to the Diamond Circle means that there is no shortage of attractions that can be reached quickly from the Ásbyrgi Canyon, hence it is easy to plan a couple of fun-filled days in the area. Here are a few ideas for your itinerary but there are many things to do in northeast Iceland should you have the time.
Hiking amongst the volcanic caves and rock formations at Dimmuborgir, also known as the Black Fortress, is often described as otherworldly. The rugged, uneven lava fields make for an unusual and sometimes eerie landscape which is one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland.
The Dettifoss waterfall is not to be missed when passing so close by at Ásbyrgi Canyon. The waterfall is 100 metres (330 feet) in width and drops an impressive 45 metres (150 feet) into the canyon below. The thundering waterflow of Dettifoss is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe.
If you’re fascinated by the geothermal activity in Iceland, then a visit to Mývatn is a must. Aside from the expansive shallow lake which is a wonder in itself, the area also features soothing nature baths, tiny islands, volcanic craters and unique rock formations.
The comfortable rooms, convenient location, and stunning views on offer at Fosshotel Húsavík make it a great place to base yourself when exploring the area.
Camping in Ásbyrgi Canyon
When visiting the beautiful canyon it’s even possible to pitch up a tent or tourer and stay for the night at the Jökulsárgljúfur/Ásbyrgi campground. With an abundance of space, a small play area and facilities including showers, a washing machine and a golf course, this is a popular place to stay within the national park.