Fjadrargljufur canyon: A Complete Guide
Fjadrargljufur canyon is as beautiful as it is impossible to pronounce.
Situated in the South, this extraordinary canyon is one of Iceland’s most precious gems. 100 meters deep and an incredible 2 kilometers long, Fjadrargljufur was created 2 million years ago at the end of the last Ice Age
The canyon might be ancient, but its popularity is very new.
A combination of rising Icelandic tourism and a viral music video released by international pop star Justin Bieber put Fjadrargljufur canyon firmly on the map. It is now so popular that the rangers have to close it for periods every year to allow the flora and fauna a chance to recover.
Don’t worry, it is still possible to visit the breathtaking canyon at certain times.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about visiting Fjadrargljufur canyon, including how to keep safe and how to know whether or not it will be closed to the public.
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How To Get To Fjadrargljufur Canyon
Fjadrargljufur canyon is situated in the South East of Iceland.
It is part of the expansive Katla Geopark, recognized by UNESCO as a site of great geological importance. Katla Geopark is an immense area, coming in at nearly 1000 square kilometers!
The best way to get to the canyon is to rent a car.
You can pick up your rental car right at the airport and organize the trip yourself. Or, if you don’t want to plan all the little details, you could choose to book onto one of our epic self-drive tours.
This will give you all the freedom of independent travel, minus the stress and hassle of planning! For lots of helpful tips about staying safe on the roads in Iceland, you can check out this article.
Whatever you decide, it takes about 3 hours to drive to Fjadrargljufur canyon from Reykjavik. Alternatively, it is just a 1-hour drive from the lovely town of Vik, so you may want to stop and visit the black volcanic beaches on the way.
You will see signs to the canyon from the Ring Road. If you are driving from the capital, you will make a left-hand turn, coming to the parking lot after 4 kilometers on a bumpy gravel road.
In summer, you can get to the lower parking lot in a 2 wheel drive without a problem. The road to the parking lot is quite bumpy and has potholes, so make sure you leave plenty of time and drive slowly. We also recommend you take out sand and ash insurance on your vehicle.
Do not head to the upper parking lot if you are in a 2 wheel drive hire car, as this is reached via a short F road. If anything happens to your car on an F road, your insurance most likely will be void.
You should also be aware that getting to the canyon is more difficult in winter.
Sometimes the roads are completely shut due to ice and snow. Even when the roads are open, the track up to the canyon is only suitable for a 4 wheel drive at this time of year.
Insider Tip: At the parking lot, you will find some restrooms. They are frequently out of service, so try and make sure you go to the toilet before you set off on the journey. These are the only facilities you will find, so don’t expect to be able to order any food at a cafe or visitor center!
Hiking at Fjadrargljufur Canyon
Once you’ve arrived at the canyon, it’s time to set off for a hike.
Make sure you wear good quality shoes or hiking boots. A 2-kilometer walk will take you to the most incredible views of a waterfall crashing right into the canyon.
You should always bring warm clothes and waterproofs when hiking in Iceland because the weather is very changeable. Don’t forget to bring some snacks with you, because there isn’t a shop or cafe in the canyon.
Please remember that the canyon is not always open to visitors.
This is to protect the delicate ecosystem by allowing it time to recover. When the canyon is fenced off, you must respect the closure.
Sometimes only one part of the canyon will be closed whilst another part remains open. At other times, the canyon is shut completely. This could be between a couple of weeks or up to several months, it just depends on how much time the vegetation needs to recover.
Unfortunately, the rangers have to spend a lot of time sending people away that did not respect the boundaries. Please save yourself and the rangers any stress, by understanding that the canyon is only open at certain times.
To find out whether or not the canyon is open, you can check up to date conditions at this link.
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Hiking Inside the Canyon
The first hiking option is to head into the canyon itself.
The contrast between the craggy walls, soft green moss, and pristine waterfall is truly breathtaking!
Walking between the 100-meter walls, you will feel like a tiny ant. The wide river Fjaðrá winds slowly through the canyon, and you will have to take off your shoes and wade through it several times.
Depending on the time of year, this might not be safe.
The water level and temperature changes drastically, and we would only recommend that you attempt this in the summer months. Listen to your gut, and if you feel the river is running too fast and cold, then you can always head up to the higher hiking trail instead.
Normally, the river is low and wading through it isn’t a danger.
Once you reach the waterfall at the mouth of the canyon, you will turn around and head back in the same direction. Take plenty of time to enjoy the crashing water and take pictures of the stunning location.
Hiking Above The Canyon
Hiking above the Fjadrargljufur canyon gives a totally different perspective. The views are spectacular!
The hiking trail to take you above the canyon is 2 kilometers long and the terrain is easy to follow. To protect the delicate plant life, make sure you stick to the marked path and don’t take any diversions.
You may be happy to hear that there is no river to wade through on this route!
In the past, people commonly walked out onto the narrow Canyon limbs to snap a cool picture. With the erosion caused by many thousands of visitors, this is now very unsafe. The walls of the canyon could collapse underneath you, and no picture is worth dying for!
The most narrow canyon limbs have been roped off, and it’s important that you respect these boundaries for the sake of yourself and to stop the cliffs being damaged any further.
It is strictly forbidden to attempt to climb the canyon walls or hike away from the designated trail.
Don’t worry, the canyon can be enjoyed in all its beauty from the lovely path made available to visitors!
Where to Stay near Fjadrargljufur Canyon
When the canyon is open, it can get very busy.
If you would prefer to enjoy the canyon without crowds of other tourists, you should get there early or later on in the day. With this in mind, it is a good idea to book a place to stay nearby.
It is a good idea to book your place to stay well in advance, as accommodation often gets fully booked in Iceland.
Here are a few accommodations that we recommend in Vik, about an hour’s drive from the canyon.
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Hotel Kria is a new hotel. It was built in 2018, but it already had lots of brilliant reviews. There’s a cocktail bar and restaurant on-site, which serve local and seasonal ingredients. The black volcanic beaches are only a 5-minute walk from the front door too!
As well as double rooms, The Barn offers dormitory beds with blackout curtains for privacy. If you want to connect with other travelers over a cold beer in the trendy on-site bar, this is the perfect place for you!
Black Beach Suites
For upmarket self-catering accommodation, you can stay at The Black Beach Suites. As well as your kitchenette and shower, you will have a private veranda and a parking space reserved for you.
For a fully furnished apartment to unwind in, Vik Apartments come very highly rated. As well as your kitchen and living area, you will have the bonus of a washing machine. Perfect for people who are traveling for a longer time!
Vik Campsite is open between June and October, but it is closed in the wintertime. As well as tent and caravan camping facilities, there are 4 basic camping cottages with beds and electricity. Camping is a great option for people on a tight budget, and the campsite is only 1 km from the village center.
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Why is Fjadrargljufur Canyon So Famous?
Fjadrargljufur canyon is more beautiful than words can describe.
Pictures of the panoramic views, thundering waterfalls, and fairytale soft moss have gone viral all over the internet.
The canyon became even more popular in 2015 after Justin Bieber filmed his music video for ‘I’ll Show You’ in Iceland, which showed him floating in the Fjaðrá river and sitting on the edge of a narrow canyon limb.
He also swam in the Glacial Lagoon, which is not a good idea. The freezing temperatures and risk of Iceberg Collapse mean that wading into the Glacial Lagoon is betting with your life.
We can’t blame him for visiting the canyon though, it is truly spectacular!
The series Game of Thrones also made this location more popular when the dragons appeared flying through the canyon. Tourism, in general, is very popular in Iceland, with more tourists than residents visiting every year.
After its rise in popularity, 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018 alone. This lead to damage to the delicate ecosystem and the canyon had to be closed to visitors to let the canyon recover
Do you have to pay to visit Fjadrargljufur canyon?
You do not have to pay to visit the canyon.
It is free to both park and hike at the canyon. In exchange, the rangers just ask that you respect the closures, stick to marked paths, and leave no litter behind.
Considering Iceland is an expensive place to visit, this can come as a pleasant surprise. For more free hiking, you can head to Skaftafell which is also in the South. However, please note that you do have to pay for parking Skaftafell.
What time of year should I visit Fjadrargljufur canyon?
If you have rented a 2 wheel drive car, then you should not visit in the wintertime. The gravel road is not well maintained, but it shouldn’t be a problem for you in the summer.
If you have a 4 wheel drive it is sometimes possible to visit in the winter, but if the roads are closed, turn around for your safety. It will simply depend on the daily conditions, which you can double-check up on here.
In wintertime, the conditions can be very cold and windy.
You will need lots of warm layers, and shoes with a good grip. You should also remember that daylight hours are much shorter in the winter time, so bring a torch in case you don’t get back to your car before the sunset.
At this time you should not try and walk inside the canyon, because the river is too cold to wade through.
The canyon is equally beautiful to visit in summer or winter, in a very different way. You have the chance of seeing the Northern Lights in the winter months, which would make the visit even more special!
How was the Fjadrargljufur canyon formed?
The Fjadrargljufur canyon was formed at the end of the last ice age, some 2 million years ago.
After an old glacier retreated, the meltwater created a huge lake.
Over time this glacial lake became a river, which flowed over the landscape full of rocks and stones. These rocks and stones carved away the rock, digging out the canyon from the softer palagonite rock.
The contrast between high craggy cliffs, soft green moss, and a gently twisting river never fails to amaze the many visitors that come to see the canyon.
Inside, you will find 3 wonderful waterfalls, and see first hand the evidence of the powerful glacial river.
Is visiting the Fjadrargljufur canyon dangerous?
So long as you respect the canyon closures and stick to the main paths, visiting the canyon should not be dangerous.
Here are a few tips to make sure your visit is as safe and fun as possible:
- Keep An Eye on Children – don’t let them get too close to the edge of the cliffs, and make sure they understand that they need to stick to the trail. If the wind is very strong, it’s a good idea to hold their hand and make sure they don’t get knocked over by the weather!
- Don’t let yourself get too close to the edge either! As tempting as it might be, it’s not worth the risk. The canyon limbs have been eroded by many visitors and could collapse.
- Respect Closures – As disappointed as you might feel, don’t be tempted to ignore the closure signs. To enter the canyon when it is closed is not just irresponsible and damaging to the local wildlife, it is also illegal.
- Wrap Up Warm – No matter what the time of year, Iceland’s weather is very changeable. Make sure you have a warm hat, good quality walking shoes, and gloves, especially in the wintertime.
- Drive Slowly – The road leading from Route 1 to the canyon is gravelly and not well maintained. In the summer, it can be done in a 2 wheel drive but you must take it slowly. In winter, it should only be attempted in a 4 wheel drive. If you do feel unsafe, turn around, and go back!
- Avoid the F road – Most rental cars are not insured for F roads. It is possible to get to the lower car park without hitting an F road, but you mustn’t try to drive to the higher parking lot if you are not insured for F roads. You can still access the canyon from the lower parking lot, you just have to go up some more steps.
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See You Soon!
We hope you found this article about Fjadrargljufur canyon helpful.
To avoid disappointment, don’t forget to check up on road conditions and canyon closures on the day you wish to travel.
If you liked this article, you may be interested in our videos and travel resources. We publish lots of information to help you plan the perfect trip to Iceland, including some epic self-drive tours that you can book on our website.
We look forward to welcoming you to the land of fire and ice!