The Jökulsárgljúfur national park

To answer one of the most obvious question first: No I don’t know how to pronounce this correctly.  I do however have the answer to a different question: What is the meaning of  Jökulsárgljúfur? Jökulsárgljúfur means glacier river canyon, which aptly describes what we would be seeing this day. We would be following the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, a river coming from the Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Iceland and Europe, through its canyon and see the impressive stone formations, the incredible waterfalls and the colourful countryside surrounding it.
Today the Jökulsárgljúfur national park is part of the bigger Vatnajökull national park.  A national park that took us 3 days to surround, due to its sheer size. But I digress.

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Above are some of the pictures we took, there were just too many to place them all into the article individually so I just added them up and am showing them off here. 🙂 You can also find some of them below.

When you decide to drive through the Jökulsárgljúfur national park, you have to decide two things:  A) do you want to drive from North to South or  South to North? and B) Do you want to drive the “good road” on the right side of the river or on the jeep track on the left side.

We decided to go for North to South and to opt for the “good road”, which as it turned out was already “jeep-tracky” enough for us, however it led us to a lot of beautiful places so we did not hold a grudge against it.  The views were so beautiful in fact that we did contemplate driving the “bad side” of the river back up to get a further look at some of the sights from the other side of the river.. Unfortunately we ended up not having the time for that.

Our first stop, initially primarily because it contained the visitor center for the national park, was Asbyrgi. The canyon is nice and sports a lovely small lake at its end which shimmers in all shades of light green and turquoise. Unfortunately the rain set in shortly before reaching the lake (it was at least a 10min walk, maybe even 11..), so we fled the scene rather abruptly. We had nevertheless the time to note the rather impressive and slightly red  stone walls of the canyon surrounding us.

From there we took the road south, heading back towards our beloved road 1. The road, while well kept and frequently travelled, was not tarred and just large enough for one car. It also was always ready for surprises, one of them came in form of a huge Land Rover heading our way. This is how we learned that the road was not a one way street. The roadsides not being made out of concrete didn’t help us much, as the height difference was quite impressive. The huge rover being a huge rover helped though, he did not fear the height difference and soon we were past him and back on our way towards our first stop: Hljódaklettar.

My sister had picked out the place and shown me the rather unimpressive picture in her guide of a rock standing in the distance, but since we were going past it anyways, we decided to stop. What a good decision this was! The entire area of Hljódaklettar consists of basaltic columns arranged in different shapes and forms. You can get as close as you like to them and see their intriguing structure and what looks like alien scripture on some of the columns. And amidst all of this, flows our glacial river in its canyon, while in the distance you can see the impressive red glow of Rauðhólar.

A few kilometers further down is Hraunfossar, which can only really be enjoyed if you hike down into the canyon, as it is a lava field covered by hundreds of small waterfalls. It looses the effect somewhat from the distance, however the canyon itself remains just as impressive and you get a good view onto the Rettarfoss, another big waterfall of  Jökulsá á Fjöllum. After having taken in the beautiful panorama and having regretted the fact that we did not have the time to descend into the canyon appropriately we continued on towards Dettifoss.

Shortly before Dettifoss the landscape turns very barren. Barely anything grows anymore. In the midst of this barren landscape is a small trail that leads towards the Hafragilsfoss, “yet another waterfall”.

The waterfall in itself, while beautiful and impressive, does not particularly stand out among the waterfalls of Jökulsá á Fjöllum. What does stand out, however, are the small sidearms in which the water comes to a stand still and the black sand that is giving the Jökulsá á Fjöllum its dark grey colour can sink to the ground. The water then reveals its beautiful dark turquoise colour!

The final stop for that day was the Dettifoss, or to be more precise Dettifoss and Selfoss, two waterfalls. I had looked forward to seeing the Dettifoss, it is supposed to be the largest waterfall in Europe and almost 200.000 liters of water plunge down into the depth every  second. However we arrived simultaneously with two buses full of Chinese tourists which all headed towards Dettifoss. For the rest of the day we had been almost by ourselves and we did not want our experience to be diminished by visiting in a big group, so we set out to see Selfoss first. Selfoss is a lovely waterfall that falls down a v-shaped canyon. When you look at it from the top, it just looks as if the water vanishes into the ground. The mist created by the plummeting water hides most of the waterfall when you look at it from the front and is constantly creating new rainbows .
After having given the crowd enough time to move on, we slowly set out towards the Dettifoss. By the time we got there it had already started raining again. This didn’t matter so much however, since we were already standing in the mist of the Dettifoss which was making us much wetter than the rain would have. I was simply mesmerized by the amount of water falling and the continuity of the shapes you could see in the water, the noise of the water rushing downwards and ultimately crashing. I found it to be very hypnotic. But even the most hypnotic event can not compete with getting wet and cold and after taking in a bit more of the overall scenery and not just staring at the water masses we started our way back towards the car, which had already been preheated, thanks to a caring mum, that did not want to get wet and had returned earlier than we did.



  1. Dettifoss is not really that pretty, the water is a dark grey due to the black sand it carries but I found the sound and the forms in the plummeting water absolutely hypnotic. I could have stood there for hours just staring at it. That had never happened to me before. :p

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