Hjörleifshöfði and Yoda cave

Date 21 June 2020

Hjörleifshöfði and Yoda cave

Hjörleifshöfði and Yoda cave

In the south of Iceland, very close to Vik, there is a huge promontory called Hjörleifshöfði, which literally means the residence of Hjörleifur.

At its foot is the “Yoda Cave”, a very popular attraction, with photos cropping up all over the internet.

Hjörleifshöfði is an enormous green promontory that dominates the Myrdalssandur Desert. With a peak height of 221 meters, it can be seen from afar, its steep flanks rising dramatically out of the flat desert around it.

Hjörleifshöfði: a place steeped in history

Yoda cave

Yoda Cave at the foot of Hjörleifshöfði: Canyalcin @shuttershock

Hjörleifshöfði is named after Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, brother of Ingólfur Arnarson who was the first Viking to settle here around 874 AD.

Historically, this huge rock was an islet in the Atlantic Ocean, but following the eruptions of the terrible Katla volcano, the landscape has changed dramatically. The coastline moved and now Hjörleifshöfði finds itself stranded in the middle of the sandur of sand and gravel.

Hjörleifshöfði was in fact one of the very first populated areas in Iceland. History tells us that Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson had a farm on the cliff with a view of the ocean. Infamously, he kept a few slaves who attempted to flee to the Westman Islands before Hjörleifur found and killed them.

The Hjörleifur farm was swept away in a torrent of icy water following the eruption of Katla in 1721. And in 1918 the same Katla erupted again to destroy the few ruins that remained of the Hjörleifur farm. Today, there is almost nothing left and the island became a mountain...

There's lots to see at Hjörleifshöfði, especially the beautiful Lásadrangur Rock that stands like a lonely sentinel on the beach. The area is unique such that it was a filming location for a few movies, including Star Wars: Rogue One.

Lásadrangur is an ancient stack, a rocky pillar, probably transported during either of the Katla eruptions a few centuries ago, much like several other known stacks in Myrdalssandur.

How to get there

Getting to Hjörleifshöfði is quite simple. Located only 15 km from Vik i Myrdal, drive east for about 13 km along Road number 1 until you see a sign indicating Hjörleifshöfði 2 km away.

The trail to get there is a sandy track, easy to manage enough for a standard vehicle, but it's recommended to have a 4x4 vehicle.

A small car park is located on the right side of the promontory, marked “Bæjarstaður”. On arrival, a sign indicates directions for:

  • The hiking to Hjörleifur's tomb
  • The famous Yoda Cave: Gýgagjá

The hike to the summit of Hjörleifshöfði


Hjörleifshöfði: Hakan Ozturk @fotolia

The sign also has some historical info and indicates a small trail that leads up to the summit. It is the only trail on this side of the promontory  and it's an easy climb for a total of 218 m of altitude elevation.

The hike is in fact an easy 3.5 km loop which can be done in 1 hour and offers an exceptional panorama from the summit of Myrdalssandur where you can see the scars in the land from the eruption of Katla in 1721.

The ascent is quite steep at first before the path turns right onto a flatter path. Simply follow the yellow pegs and you can't go wrong. At the top, after about 30 minutes of climbing, a simple wooden sign indicates the location of the Viking's tomb.

You can see the few ruins left of the famous Hjörleifur farm before going back down to the car park. It's a sight to behold, the greenery on the plateau of Hjörleifshöfði contrasts sharply with the black of the sand at the bottom and especially in summer when a few lupine flowers add a touch of purple to the scene...

Hiking is a great option in the evening in summer if you sleep in the Vik region, as with the bright silver light of the Icelandic summer you can really get some incredible photos.

Gýgagjá: Yoda Cave

Yoda cave

Yoda Cave at the foot of Hjörleifshöfði

A short walk from Bæjarstaður lies the famous Gýgagjá Cave, recently renamed “Yoda Cave” as it's quite obvious to anyone with the reference that it looks exactly like the silhouette of the famous Star Wars character with the pointy ears.

The cave is located a few hundred meters further south, at the tip of the promontory. You really can't miss it because this thing is huge, more than 20 meters in height. This is a palagonite cave with a huge opening, or rather two which together form one complete Yoda.

The interior is really not that deep, but it gives you enough space to get a back-lit shot of this unique natural formation if you have a wide-angle camera.