Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is located in northwest Iceland, a little north of the famous Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. This Nature reserve is a true delight for hikers, home to the Rauðholar and Hljoðaklettar trails, which are known throughout the country and cut through some stunning landscapes.
The 862 up to Dettifoss is in excellent condition and is even paved, but later becomes an off-road trail as it nears the 85 and Asbyrgi. The trail then gets quite rugged and very sandy, but it can be overcome with a bit of technique.
Even though the road is fairly easygoing, keep in mind that the 862 (especially the north) is often closed in winter, however confident you may feel about the weather that day.
The hike starts from the Vesturdalur car park. The trail is very well-marked and easygoing for any age, even children. You need 1-2 hours to complete the 5 km loop with a little elevation but nothing challenging, less than 150 m.
The trail takes you through truly lunar landscapes: large volcanic vents and other basalt columns formed by the slow cooling of lava over time rise around you. The Hljoðaklettarhingur hike is the natural continuation, a lava field like a sculpture gallery of incredible basaltic formations.
This is when you get to see one of the main attractions, the Kirkjan (church) of Hjoðaklettar, a unique cave-shaped formation. This lava flow rose as immense pressure gathered beneath it and formed this very impressive cave that visitors love to photograph.
Keep going towards Rauðholar as it rises in your field of vision with stunning contrasts. The effect is incredible, the red and black flanks of the volcano clashing with bright green moss. The reddish slag that paints the flanks is what gave the mountain the name Rauðholar.
From the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view that includes the Jökulsa Gorge and the forests around Asbyrgi. This hike is like a geology lesson, offering the chance to observe a wide variety of geological phenomena.
Near the summit, it can get very windy, so be careful once you get there. The trail cuts straight for the car park on the way back.
There is an extension to the trail, adding 30-40 minutes to see the two famous Karl and Kerling rock formations, “The Man and the Witch”, basaltic pillars said to have been trolls in the past.
This second hike starts from the car park you arrived at and offers a breathtaking view of the canyon.