view-countries-simple.phtml

Jökulsárgljúfur - A view from our expert author


Phenomenal glacial floods burst through the bedrock with such force that they blew a channel through the land (not unlike a child with a bucketful of water on the beach). The resulting topography is strange and gargantuan, a rough-and-tumble mix of rocks, water and sand. 

Of Iceland’s four national parks, Jökulsárgljúfur is the least visited and the hardest to pronounce (yuh-kul-sour-glyu-fur). The word means ‘glacier gorge’ and describes the deep chasm formed by the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River. Often referred to as a ‘canyon’ in English, the term is a slight geological mismatch – real canyons take an exceptionally long time to form, whereas Jökulsárgljúfur is the outcome of a few thousand years of cooled lava and melted ice. Phenomenal glacial floods burst through the bedrock with such force that they blew a channel through the land (not unlike a child with a bucketful of water on the beach). The resulting topography is strange and gargantuan, a rough-and-tumble mix of rocks, water and sand. The last such flood occurred only 2,000 years ago but the massive scale of the formations makes Jökulsárgljúfur feel positively prehistoric. The present-day gorge is about 25km long, but narrow (500m wide) and fairly deep (100m).  

Selfoss waterfall, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, Iceland by Max Topchii, Shutterstock

The national park was created back in 1973 in order to protect the left bank (the right bank is a flat, grey desert). Highlights include the odd-shaped Ásbyrgi, the echo rocks at Hljóðaklettar, the springs of Hólmatungur, and the powerful waterfall Dettifoss. The line of attractions are connected by several hiking paths and a single dirt road (Route 862). Organised tour groups and rushed travellers can be guilty of skipping the park and speeding down the right bank (Route 864) for a hit and run at Dettifoss. They will be sure to get a nice picture of the falls but they will also miss all the cool landscapes the falls have created. 

(Photo: Selfoss waterfall in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park © Max Topchii, Shutterstock)

The main office and tourist information centre for Jökulsárgljúfur National Park is at Ásbyrgi (tel: 465 2195; email: jokulsargljufur@ust.is; www.ust.is; open: 24hrs daily). Jökulsárgljúfur is open year-round, but the roads beyond Ásbyrgi are closed whenever there’s snow. Those who wish to hike in and experience a one-of-a-kind winter wonderland must first register at the office.  

Back to the top

Iceland articles

View all

The best places to see the northern lights

From Alaska to Finland, these are best places to marvel at the northern lights. 

Read more...

The world’s best whale-watching destinations

With whale-watching being the fastest-growing tourist activity worldwide, you may be keen to catch a glimpse of some for yourself. Here are some of the best destinations to do so.

Read more...

12 European national parks that you’ve probably never heard of

There are many national parks in Europe that remain fairly unknown. Here you can discover 12 of the best. Why miss out on visiting somewhere spectacular? 

Read more...

Related guides and other books

View all
Previous
Next