Studlagil Canyon is one of East Iceland’s hidden gems that is worth a visit during your Iceland road trip. Believe it or not, these hexagonal rock formations were naturally created by the cooling and contraction of ancient lava flows millions of years ago. The canyon towers above a beautiful turquoise glacial river, Jökulsá á Brú, which visually contrasts with the dark stone of the basalt.
While once hard to access, more tourists are now stopping off at Stuðlagil Canyon as the construction of a nearby hydroelectric plant has opened up routes into the area. While hiking is still required to reach viewing platforms, the trail is well-maintained and definitely worth it!
In this guide, we will explore everything there is to know about Stuðlagil Canyon, providing essential information such as how to reach this stunning location , what to expect during your visit, and safety tips to keep in mind.
What is Special About Stuðlagil Canyon?
Studlagil basalt Canyon, while only recently gaining popularity among visitors, is truly a geological masterpiece and one of the most incredible of Iceland attractions. Stuðlagil, which means “Basalt Columns” in Icelandic, was aptly named after its iconic collections of basalt columns, with the canyon being created and formed by the powerful Jökulsá á Brú river. The 150-kilometer-long (90-mile) glacial river was once considered incredibly dangerous and was avoided by humans, with the area inhabited solely by sheep.
However, after the construction of the Kárahnjúkavirkjun hydroelectric plant in 2009, the landscape underwent a drastic transformation. The creation of the Hálslón reservoir also led to a reduction in water levels, calming the once fierce river and revealing the hidden beauty of Stuðlagil Canyon.
Formed by volcanic activity, the basalt columns create a visually unique pattern along the canyon walls. The vibrant blue-green color of the river, visible especially on sunny days in summer in Iceland, makes it a prime destination for photographers and nature enthusiasts with more adventurous spirits who are looking for locations that are off the beaten path.
Where is Stuðlagil Canyon Located?
Stuðlagil Canyon is situated in East Iceland, about 70 kilometers west of Egilsstaðir, and carved out by the meandering Jökla River. While not directly on the famous Ring Road, it’s only a short detour for those traveling this route.
Stuðlagil Canyon is on the East coast of Iceland, it’s harder to access than more popular routes like Iceland’s Golden Circle, The South Coast, and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This makes it perfect for those who want to avoid the crowds and immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Iceland in a place that is still relatively untouched.
You will need to hike a bit to access the canyon, as it can only be reached on foot. However, there are two different options: one is a short five-minute walk up some stairs to a viewpoint, and the other is a 45-minute hike to the bottom of the canyon, which provides substantially better views.
Stuðlagil Canyon Located Map
What is the Best Time to Visit Stuðlagil Canyon?
The best time to visit Stuðlagil Canyon is during the summer months between June and August. Mild temperatures, clear hiking trails, and the heightened vibrance of the river’s blue-green color make this period ideal for a visit. In addition, most people tend to visit the Stuðlagil Canyon during summer to get the best experience of the canyon and surrounding attractions, which are the easiest to access during the summer once the snow has melted from the trails.
While the canyon can technically be visited all year long, Iceland winter visits may pose challenges, with snow and ice on the roads and trails providing a tricky test, especially for those who are not accustomed to roads in Iceland. Even though the roads that lead to the Stuðlagil Canyon Iceland remain open all year, it would still be a lot easier to navigate in the summer than in the winter. There is also the added worry of the canyon being frozen or snow-covered.
A spring visit to the Stuðlagil Canyon poses its own challenges, as the melting ice and snow carry debris and sediments into the river, distorting its attractive blue color and causing it to become brownish-gray with impurities. Fall months are characterized by the release of the hydroelectric dam, which causes an overflow of water into the river, causing water levels to rise, which may take away from the beautiful sites along the banks.
Something else to keep in mind is that Stuðlagil Canyon is beginning to gain more popularity, and there are many people trying to get that iconic Instagram shot, but not a lot of room for multiple people at once. This can lead to a queue forming at the edge of the river for those wanting to get a photo taken, so we recommend trying to visit in the early morning or later in the day during the high season.
How to Get to Stuðlagil Canyon by Rental Car
The journey to Stuðlagil Canyon is an adventure in itself because it can be challenging to reach this gem of Eastern Iceland as you will have to come off the Ring Road in order to access the main entrance point.
Depending on where you are traveling from, the estimated commute time to reach Stuðlagil Canyon will vary.
From Hofn to Stuðlagil Canyon
When traveling from Hofn, the distance to reach your destination is about 323 kilometers (201 miles) along the Route 1 Ring Road, taking the Road 923 turn-off. The drive takes between four to five hours on average, not taking into consideration stops for sightseeing.
From the town of Egilsstaðir, the journey is much shorter, only spanning approximately 52 km (32 miles) from the East Iceland settlement to the road 923 turn-off on the Ring Road. The full driving time is around an hour, making Egilsstaðir a great place to spend the night if you want to get to Stuðlagil Canyon early in the day.
From Akureyri to Stuðlagil Canyon
If you are traveling from the North Iceland town Akureyri, expect to spend about two to three hours on the road as the distance from the city to the Route 923 turn-off is about 112 km (70 miles) traveling on Route 1.
From Reykjavik to Stuðlagil Canyon
From the capital Reykjavik, the drive is approximately 601 km (372 miles), which can take seven to eight hours when driving straight. With so many amazing things to do in Iceland along the way and driving safety being a top priority, we wouldn’t recommend doing the drive in one stint. Instead, aim to include Stuðlagil Canyon as part of a 10-day Iceland ring road itinerary or a 5-day Iceland itinerary at the very least.
The most common and most recommended route to take to reach the canyon is through Route 1 on the Ring Road, turning left at the gravel road marked “Road 923” which is located after Guesthouse Skjöldólfsstaðir, Iceland. From the in-road at Route 923, further travel will lead you to the lower part of Jokuldalur and the turn-off for Jökuldalsvegur, where you will find the Stuðlalagil parking lot (East side parking). From here, you can hike the rest of the way to the canyon.
The entire hike from Jökuldalsvegur to the canyon is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long and takes around 45 minutes to reach the bottom of the canyon. Alternatively, there is a viewpoint about a 5-minute walk up a set of stairs if you are accessing the Canyon via the Studlagil Canyon Main access located at the west side of the canyon, but you won’t get the same views as you’ve likely seen in photos.
All the parking lots are clearly marked on the Google Maps, you can easily find the drive way to them.
The Road Conditions and Weather in East Iceland
As with most of the country, East Iceland offers diverse and ever-changing road conditions, which have to be monitored whenever a new trip is being planned. The roads leading to the Stuðlagil canyon are essentially gravel roads, so you must take utmost precaution when navigating to your destination regardless of the time of day or season.
Always ensure that you are up to date with the latest Iceland weather conditions no matter what season, as conditions can change at the drop of a hat in Iceland.
What is the Best Rental Car Option to Get to Stuðlagil Canyon?
Since Route 923 is a gravel road and the only major turn-off point to reach Stuðlagil Canyon, we highly recommend that you rent a 4WD SUV to make your journey through the tricky terrain as smooth and safe as possible. A 4X4 SUV will make driving through the gravel roads in both the winter and summer months much more comfortable.
While 2WD compact or full-size rental cars can technically be used on the Route 923 road during the summer, when the route is clear of snow, they won’t offer as much comfort and safety as the 4WD. Additionally, there are many routes in the East Iceland region that will only be accessible with a 4X4, so if you have plans for additional exploration, then you will definitely want to rent a vehicle that grants you a full range of accessibility of all the roads.
What to Wear When Visiting Stuðlagil Canyon?
To fully enjoy a trip to Stuðlagil Canyon, it’s crucial to dress appropriately. Regardless of what you plan on doing during your Iceland trip, there are a few things that should always be on your Iceland packing list. Iceland is notorious for variable weather; it can be sunny and mild one minute, and the next minute be a snowstorm. When visiting Stuðlagil Canyon, you will need adequate waterproof clothing and sturdy, waterproof shoes that have a good grip.
Remember to pack layered clothing with thermal or moisture-wicking materials and insulating layers to keep you nice and toasty. Make sure to carry rainwear, in case of rain, along with gloves and hats to keep warm. You may also want a waterproof backpack to keep water, snacks, and other items in when hiking the trail.
Safety Tips for Visiting Stuðlagil Canyon
Because of the location of Stuðlagil Canyon and the fact that it’s only accessible by foot, it’s important to keep safety in mind when visiting this natural attraction. Firstly, before heading towards the canyon, always check the road conditions and any road closures on road.is. You should also monitor changing weather conditions and stay up to date using vedur.is, which is the most reliable weather resource in Iceland.
Remember that swimming in the Stuðlagil Canyon is incredibly dangerous and should NEVER be done in any circumstance. Even during the summer, the water is quick-flowing and freezing cold with tons of dangerous obstacles in and around the water. Due to its remote location, its important to be careful with all activities near the canyon to avoid injuries that would require an ambulance or emergency medical help.
Here are some additional tips for an enjoyable and safe visit to Stuðlagil Canyon:
- Motorists are not allowed to drive off-road at any time of the year as this is considered dangerous and potentially harmful to the environment as well.
- Slow down and take extra caution when driving on gravel roads such as Route 923, which leads to the Stuðlagil Canyon.
- Do not drive after sunset during winter months as the lack of road lights in the area will leave you reliant on only your headlights.
- Don’t try to pack too many activities into your itinerary each day to avoid rushing and driving when tired.
- Do not stop in the middle of the road for pictures or other interests.
- Beware of sheep crossing, especially when you visit in the summer months. This includes major roads.
- Respect road closures as motorways are usually closed for your own safety, and look out for signs that say “Lokað” which means “closed”.
For more tips and safety guidelines, head over to our Top 15 Safe Driving Tips.
Visit Stuðlagil Canyon Iceland
Stuðlagil Canyon is an incredible representation of the powerful natural forces that have shaped Iceland’s landscapes throughout history. If you’re traveling to East Iceland, don’t miss the opportunity to include this location on your itinerary and explore the basalt columns and beautiful turquoise waters of the area.
For a seamless adventure, book your Iceland rental car online and in advance with Hertz Iceland to ensure you get the perfect 4X4 rental vehicle for your Iceland adventure. With an office directly in the arrivals hall at Keflavik airport, and even a location in nearby Egilsstaðir, you can begin your trip to Stuðlagil Canyon right away!