Jökulsargljúfur park is located in the North of Iceland and takes its name from the Jökulsårgljúfur canyon, which is one of the longest in the whole country.
Shaped over the years by the Jokulsa a Fjollum River flowing from the huge Vatnajökull glacier, the canyon is 100 meters deep in some places.
The Jokulsa a Fjollum weaves over 200 kilometers through canyons and rugged landscapes, generating several incredible waterfalls in the process, including the famous Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
The canyon was created by successive eruptions that occurred about 8,000 years ago, digging the fissures and flooding the lava fields that surround the park and can still be seen today. The Jokulsargljufur canyon itself was shaped much later by glacial floods about 2,000 years ago.
The park extends from Asbyrgi in the north to Dettifoss in the south and attracts many visitors for the number and beauty of its waterfalls, its multiple hikes, its colorful mountains and other basalt formations that are surprising to say the least.
The park can be reached from Asbyrgi in the North or Dettifoss in the South. Coming from Myvatn, Road number 1 branches off to the North via two successive roads: the 862 and the 864, running downstream on either side of the powerful Jökulsa a Fjöllum. These are the two roads that will get you around the park.
The 862 is paved from the Road 1 intersection all the way to Dettifoss and for this reason is often accessible in winter, however the northern section along with Road 864 are often closed during the colder months. From Asbyrgi, take the 85 and then either of the two previously mentioned roads to reach Road 1 in 1H15 (54 kilometers on the 862, 72 kilometers on the 864).
That's why mostly people visit in summer, as only the Dettifoss area is accessible in winter.
The region a geological paradise in terms of unique features, and is also very popular with hikers. The park is divided into 3 sectors that offer different points of interest:
The 864 does not take you to Hljòðaklettar, so if you want to go there, take Road 862. On the other hand, the 864 runs through Dettifoss as well as Asbyrgi canyon and offers great viewpoints.
The area features a huge range of hiking trails, from 1H to 10H excursions, and some even cross the entire park from Asbyrgi to Dettifoss in 2 days with a break at the Vesturdalur campsite. All official trails are mapped and referenced here:
Starting from the Asbyrgi car park, a first hike takes you south to Eyjan. The trail is short: about 5km return trip, so only 1 to 2 hours. The view of Asbyrgi and the sands to the North from the top of Eyjan is simply superb. Asbyrgi is in fact a huge horseshoe-shaped canyon that, according to legends, hoof-print of the God Odin's eight-legged horse.
Once at the Hljòðaklettar car park, numerous itineraries are possible. If you have two hours ahead of you, you should definitely head North to admire the red flanks of Rauðhòlar. The 5km hike is a fascinating experience, the first part of the route taking you past the Kirkjan of Hljòðaklettar, a naturally-occuring formation of basalt columns reminiscent of a church...
The colors in Rauðhòlar are breathtaking: the bright red flanks of Rauðhòlar contrast with the green moss that grows on the volcanic rocks, with the darker green of the Asbyrgi forest in the distance. Back at the car park, there is anothe short trail (about 40 minutes) to Karl & Kerling (or “The Man and the Witch”), two impressive rock pillars, which, according to legend, were once Trolls.
How could one visit this park without going to Dettifoss? Considered the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss has a width of 100 meters and a height of 45 meters. The thunderous sound from the top of the waterfall is really quite something. And if you are near Dettifoss, it would be a shame not to visit Hafragilsfoss and Selfoss, both within walking distance.