The Snaefellsnes peninsula is well known for its many hiking trails and wonderful natural attractions. The Rauðfeldsgjá or Rauðfeldar canyon is a perfect example of this.
This stunning canyon splits the Botnsfjall Mountain range that borders the south of the peninsula.
Located only a few kilometers up Road 574 beyond the small coastal village of Arnarstapi with its famous Hellnar hiking trail, you can't miss the exit indicating Rauðfeldar to the left.
You can already see it in the distance from Road 574, but to get a better view there is a small car park located just 500 meters away. As usual in Iceland, when you see a white sign with red writing, there's something interesting to see.
The Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge takes its name from a local legend involving beings that were half-troll and half-human. In the story, Rauðfeldur was playing with Helga, his cousin, and accidentally pushed her onto an iceberg that drifted all the way to Greenland.
Helga's father Bárður took his revenge and pushed Rauðfeldur into the canyon that now bears his name: the Rauðfeldar Canyon. The vengeful father Bárður was then said to have run off to hide and can be seen from the top of the canyon!
The 500 meters that lead to the entrance of the canyon are very steep, so it takes about 10 minutes to climb. You'll see the narrow entrance to the canyon with a stream running down the middle. In winter with the slope iced over, the climb can become impossible, and even if you could climb up there the entrance to the canyon is regularly frozen shut (see photos).
To actually get inside the canyon involves some hopping from stone to stone, at least if you want to keep your feet dry. The canyon is not very deep, however, and inside there is a small platform right under a sort of natural skylight which makes for some great views.
This canyon is an impressive structure, but inside it's rather cramped, humid, and cold. On the sides, the walls are almost completely covered with moss, and the film of moss on the wet stones can get a bit slippery. Given the canyon is quite narrow, it can be difficult to get a good angle for photos.
Waterproof clothing is pretty important here, high humidity means even the canyon walls above you drip water constantly.
Kids love this magical place, an impressive sight, and it's a lot of fun jumping across the rocks trying not to get wet. At least, that's the case in summer... In winter, it is almost impossible to enter as the stones are covered with ice, a very different atmosphere.
If you're driving from the black church of Buðir to Arnarstapi, it would be a real shame not to stop here as it's on the way, and the view from the foot of the canyon over the peninsula and the ocean is incredible.
A panorama like that is well worth a bit of a climb!