Jokulsa Canyon, in Europe’s largest National Park

Jokulsa Canyon, in Europe’s largest National Park

The powerful Jokulsa á Fjollum river carries an average of 193 m3/s of sediment-laden glacial water on a 206km long journey from the northern edge of Vatnajokull to Axafjorður Bay.  

Many exceptional natural wonders are found along the banks of the river. These include Dettifoss (44m), Hafragilsfoss (27m) and Selfoss (11m), a trio of thundering waterfalls unsurpassed elsewhere in Iceland. If you're not sufficiently impressed by the clouds of spray driven by the force of the falls, just touch the rocks in the vicinity and you'll feel the ground tremble!

From Dettifoss, a trail follows the rugged 25km gorge north to Asbyrgi past an extraordinary assortment of natural wonders.  You'd need a couple of days to complete the full hike but key places along the route are accessible by road as well.

At Holmatungur, walk from the car park down to the river, where it surges through a tight channel. An alternative trail meanders along the banks of a clear stream, past some pretty waterfalls to Hólmárfossar. Here the stream tumbles over mossy boulders, its banks fringed by Angelica and birch trees, to meet the glacial Jökulsá in a spectacular cataract. 

Also accessible by vehicle are Hljodaklettar, the Echo Cliffs, where the river has cut through a crater row exposing its plugs.  These gargantuan monoliths display a jumble of very photogenic columnar formations.  There's a circular trail among the troll-like formations but it's quite rugged in places so take care. The reward becomes apparent when you arrive at the mouth of a gaping cave with a columnar roof that presumably was formed in the same flash floods that removed the loose material from around the crater plugs.

At the north end of the canyon, the river changed its course after flooding created the striking Asbyrgi gorge, where easy walking trails invite further exploration. 

All of these amazing natural wonders are included in the recently enlarged Vatnajökull National Park. The most direct route with a more interesting landscape is road 862, along with the west bank of the Jokulsa River but a part of the route is on a gravel road. It is usually passable for all cars during the summer months but please check road conditions before setting off. The road sections from road 1 to Dettifoss and from Hljodaklettar to Asbyrgi are paved.