Studlafoss (Studlagil Canyon)

Jokuldalur / Egilsstadir / Klaustursel, East Region (Austurland), Iceland

About Studlafoss (Studlagil Canyon)


Hiking Distance: 300m round trip (to falls); at least 4.8km round trip to Studlagil
Suggested Time: 15 minutes (to falls); at least 3 hours (to Studlagil)

Date first visited: 2021-08-10
Date last visited: 2021-08-10

Waterfall Latitude: 65.17375
Waterfall Longitude: -15.27251

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Studlafoss (more accurately Stuðlafoss; “STOO-thluh-foss”) is the basalt-columned waterfall at the trailhead for the wildly popular Stuðlagil Canyon hike.

The word stuðlaberg means columnar basalt, and thus as you can tell by the plane names of both the falls and the canyon, there’s plenty of this striking formation on this excursion.

Studlagil_Canyon_278_08102021 - Studlafoss (Stuðlafoss)
Studlafoss (Stuðlafoss)

Indeed, Stuðlafoss really is nothing more than a waterfall-lovers excuse to explore the Stuðlagil Canyon, which has become a bucket list item for tourists only in recent years.

From Controversy To Viral Internet Sensation

When Julie and I first went to Iceland in June and July 2007, no one had ever heard of Stuðlagil Canyon because it was normally submerged by the Jökulsá á Brú River.

However, construction of the controversial Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Power Plant was already well underway, which was to drown out a remote area of the highlands to supply power for Alcoa’s aluminum smelter Fjardaál in Reyðarfjörður.

The project was met with protests by internationally-recognized Icelandic artists like Björk and Sigur Rós, yet the public sentiment didn’t stop the project, which ultimately completed in 2009.

Studlagil_Canyon_241_08102021 - Surrounded by basalt columns within Stuðlagil Canyon
Surrounded by basalt columns within Stuðlagil Canyon

Over the years, the water levels of all but one of the glacial rivers immediately downstream of the Kárahnjúkar Power Plant had been lowered.

This was as a result of most of the source waters being either held up at the Hálslón reservoir or discharged into the Jökulsá í Fljótsdal River.

One of the affected rivers was the Jökulsá á Brú, and it wasn’t until 2016 when the river level was low enough for sheep farmers and a local guide to notice Stuðlagil Canyon.

That local guide then shared a photo of it to the media, which then went viral on social media in 2017, and from that point on, it became the latest tourist bucket list item in Iceland.

Accessing Stuðlafoss and Stuðlagil Canyon

Studlagil_Canyon_129_08102021 - Context of the steps leading down to the overlook of Stuðlagil Canyon from the west side
Context of the steps leading down to the overlook of Stuðlagil Canyon from the west side

There are actually two ways to experience Stuðlagil Canyon…

  1. by an overlook on the west side of the canyon beneath Grund
  2. by a hike going into the east side of the canyon along the Klaustursel Farm

Only the hike into the canyon’s east side included the ability to experience Stuðlafoss so it was the method that we prioritized on our August 2021 visit.

We didn’t have time to do the other way to complete the whole experience, but we were able to look across the canyon towards that overlook and get a sense of what you can experience there.

Indeed, we noticed that there was a car park at the top of the north side of the canyon, which allowed visitors to go down a series of steps to the lookout deck perched right above the basalt columns of Stuðlagil Canyon.

Studlagil_Canyon_253_08102021 - Downstream context of the overlook for Stuðlagil Canyon on the west side as seen from the east side
Downstream context of the overlook for Stuðlagil Canyon on the west side as seen from the east side

However, there was no safe way down into the canyon from that side, and even if you could, you’d still have to swim across the dangerously high current of the Jökulsá á Brú River.

So for the remainder of this write-up, I’ll just describe how we experienced the hike going into Stuðlagil Canyon from the east side.

Trail Description – The New Car Park By Stuðlafoss

It used to be that the Stuðlagil Canyon hike was at least 4.5km each way (9km round trip) starting from an old steel bridge by what the maps had labeled as Klaustursel (turns out they own most of the land encompassing this hike).

However, we noticed on our August 2021 visit that the owner of the farm had built a new car park on his property, and it happens to be a few minutes walk from the Stuðlafoss Waterfall.

Studlagil_Canyon_306_08102021 - Looking back at the context of the new car park within the Klaustursel Farmland
Looking back at the context of the new car park within the Klaustursel Farmland

This car park was about 2.2km from the steel bridge (according to my GPS logs), and the waterfall was another 150m from the car park (see directions below).

I also noticed that the Klaustursel owner had put up a sign asking for donations for the trouble of creating this car park and maintaining the trail to minimize erosion on his land.

That said, it didn’t look like most of the visitors even bothered to put in donations.

Thus, I suspect that the Icelandic government may be a bit more strict about locals charging for parking than say in Norway (e.g. Preikestolen, Kjerag, and Trolltunga) where it seems like highway robbery there.

Studlagil_Canyon_046_08102021 - Sign and money box asking for donations at the new car park within the Klaustursel Farm for hiking into Stuðlagil Canyon
Sign and money box asking for donations at the new car park within the Klaustursel Farm for hiking into Stuðlagil Canyon

In any case, time will tell how much longer this car park deep within the Klaustursel Property will remain available.

Nevertheless, the road to get there is quite narrow and rocky so you’re definitely going at your own risk if your rental car is ill-equipped for such road conditions.

Trail Description – Following The Trail Between The River And The Klaustursel Farmland

Speaking of car park maintenance, the Stuðlagil Canyon Trail skirts the south rim of the canyon carved out by the Jökulsá á Brú River.

Throughout the trail, it traversed and then skirted along the perimeter of the Klaustursel Farmlands, where the owner has put up rope railings to act as a subtle suggestion to stay on the trail and not erode his fields.

Studlagil_Canyon_100_08102021 - Following the wide trail through the Klaustursel Farm Fields on the way to Stuðlagil Canyon. Notice the dead grass to the left of the trail, which is largely due to the fact that the rocky terrain of the main trail can be pretty taxing on the feet and ankles so people eventually gravitate to the edges
Following the wide trail through the Klaustursel Farm Fields on the way to Stuðlagil Canyon. Notice the dead grass to the left of the trail, which is largely due to the fact that the rocky terrain of the main trail can be pretty taxing on the feet and ankles so people eventually gravitate to the edges

That said, the temptation is great to walk on the softer grass because the rocky trail definitely taxes the ankles and feet, and I’ve observed a lot of increasing erosion as a result of this inadvertent trail widening by visitors.

Most of the hike is actually pretty featureless because it’s pretty much along the farm fields with the odd hint of basalt columns and the odd side cascade draining into the canyon.

It wouldn’t be until after about 2.4km of hiking did we finally start to see the famous pronounced basalt columns of Stuðlagil Canyon (you’ll know it when you see it).

Trail Description – Experiencing Both Descents Into Stuðlagil Canyon

Once we started to see Stuðlagil Canyon in earnest, we then took the first opportunity to descend into the canyon, which was along a rather slippery and eroded slope before walking on and amongst the basalt.

Studlagil_Canyon_190_08102021 - Looking at a sketchy part at the start of the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Looking at a sketchy part at the start of the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon

Given the steepness of the descent, we had to be real careful about our footing so this was why wearing hiking boots was a good idea.

By the time we made it to the bottom, we found ourselves alongside the colorful river on one side while there was a small orange cascade falling down among the sheared basalt columns on the other side.

During our visit in August 2021, there had to have been hundreds of people up and down the canyon and on the trails, which attested to this place’s popularity.

This doesn’t even include the dozens of people across the canyon at the overlook beneath Grund.

Studlagil_Canyon_210_08102021 - Context of the wider area below the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon along with the 'orange cascade' spilling into it
Context of the wider area below the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon along with the ‘orange cascade’ spilling into it

Once I had my fill of the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon, I then went back up to the rim and kept going further upstream towards the second descent.

On the way there, I scrambled onto a basalt ridge from where I could get precarious top down views of a pair of cascades on the Jökulsá á Brú River as well as back towards the first descent where I was at earlier.

I’d eventually head back in the downstream direction beneath the basalt ridge towards a rope-aided descent alongside another light-flowing cascade that led into perhaps the most scenic part of the canyon.

Here, there was essentially a narrowing of the canyon where nearly vertical basalt columns completely lined its confines.

Studlagil_Canyon_126_08102021 - Context of the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon as well as the basalt ridge above it
Context of the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon as well as the basalt ridge above it

Although it was really neat to be here, there was very limited real estate so it was constantly crowded (i.e. not socially distant) beneath the second descent of Stuðlagil Canyon.

Eventually, after having our fill of the canyon, we returned the way we came, where we got one more look at Stuðlafoss under more agreeable lighting conditions in the afternoon.

Overall, we spent nearly 4 hours for the entire excursion, which encompassed the 4.8km round-trip hike (also measured according to my GPS watch).

That said, a good deal of time was spent enjoying the canyon itself as well as figuring out that we didn’t need to walk from the steel bridge (which essentially would have doubled the total hiking distance).

Authorities

Stuðlafoss and Stuðlagil Canyon reside in the East Region near Egilsstaðir, Iceland. It is administered by the municipality of Múlaþing. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting their website

Drive_to_Studlagil_047_iPhone_08102021 - One of the waterfalls that we noticed while driving the 923 Road towards Stuðlagil Canyon
Drive_to_Studlagil_048_iPhone_08102021 - Context of the 923 Road as we made our way closer to Stuðlagil Canyon
Drive_to_Studlagil_052_iPhone_08102021 - Descending to the old parking area for Stuðlagil Canyon by Klaustursel Farm
Studlagil_Canyon_003_08102021 - Approaching the footbridges over the Jökulsá á Brú River towards Stuðlagil Canyon. Notice the bridge on the left was the old steel bridge
Studlagil_Canyon_018_08102021 - Looking downstream from the new bridge towards the old bridge and the Jökulsá á Brú River
Studlagil_Canyon_019_08102021 - Looking upstream from the new bridge towards the Jökulsá á Brú River and parts of the Klaustursel Farm Property
Studlagil_Canyon_020_08102021 - Looking back across the modern bridge towards the old car park for Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_025_08102021 - Context of the rocky road leading from the old car park to the new one on the Klaustursel Property
Studlagil_Canyon_044_08102021 - The road after the bridge to get to the new car park for Stuðlagil Canyon was a bit of a single-lane road so usage of pullouts were necessary for cars to scoot by each other
Studlagil_Canyon_049_08102021 - Starting on the hike to Stuðlagil Canyon from the new car park
Studlagil_Canyon_053_08102021 - Looking up against the sun towards Stuðlafoss, which was a mere 150m from the new car park
Studlagil_Canyon_055_08102021 - Portrait view of the convenient yet striking Stuðlafoss Waterfall
Studlagil_Canyon_065_08102021 - Hiking along the wide and fairly rocky hiking trail through the Klaustursel Farm towards Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_071_08102021 - Mom continuing on the wide open (and somewhat featureless) trail through the Klaustursel Farm to towards Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_077_08102021 - Another look at the rocky terrain of the Stuðlagil Canyon Trail through the Klaustursel Farm
Studlagil_Canyon_083_08102021 - Looking into the canyon carved out by the Jökulsá á Brú River from the trail through Klaustursel before we got to the legit part of Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_090_08102021 - Context of the hiking trail and the rim of the canyon, where you can see people tried to find softer landing spots on the trail than the jumble of rocks as you can see by where the worn parts of the grass were at
Studlagil_Canyon_091_08102021 - Looking at the context of a side cascade feeding the Jökulsá á Brú River with some hints of basalt columns still downstream from Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_103_08102021 - Looking directly across the Jökulsá á Brú River towards a side cascade while still making our way to Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_106_08102021 - Tahia getting tired of walking on rocks and walked on the dirt part instead
Studlagil_Canyon_110_08102021 - Tahia going through a gate on the Stuðlagil Canyon Trail through Klaustursel Farm
Studlagil_Canyon_114_08102021 - Starting to see more pronounced columns along this parallel trail-of-use as we were getting close to Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_117_08102021 - Now we were getting onto the legit part of Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_125_08102021 - Looking into Stuðlagil Canyon as we noticed the lookout on the other side
Studlagil_Canyon_135_08102021 - About to take the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon to be amongst the pronounced basalt columns
Studlagil_Canyon_137_08102021 - Looking upstream towards a pair of cascades on the Jökulsá á Brú River as I was descending into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_139_08102021 - Looking downstream after getting to the bottom of the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_142_08102021 - Looking upstream along the Jökulsá á Brú River from within Stuðlagil Canyon almost directly opposite the lookout deck beneath Grund
Studlagil_Canyon_146_08102021 - Looking ahead at the profile of a small 'orange' cascade tumbling on the basalt columns before reaching the Jökulsá á Brú
Studlagil_Canyon_149_08102021 - Looking back at the 'orange' cascade beneath the first descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_161_08102021 - Looking downstream along the Jökulsá á Brú River from within the first descent of Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_162_08102021 - Looking upstream along the Jökulsá á Brú River towards the area of the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_177_08102021 - Direct look up at the 'orange' cascade with some people standing at its foot for some scale. Notice the sheared off hexagonal columns to the topright of the cascade
Studlagil_Canyon_185_08102021 - Another look into the most basalt-rich section of Stuðlagil Canyon down where the second descent would be
Studlagil_Canyon_192_08102021 - Waiting patiently to head back up out of the first descent as people were carefully making their way down into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_194_08102021 - Looking back at the context of the first descent after I was back on the rim and making my way to the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_197_08102021 - Angled look across at the pronounced basalt columns as I was approaching the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_201_08102021 - Context of people standing on a basalt ridge above the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_202_08102021 - As I was getting closer to the basalt ridge, I could clearly see the hexagonal flooring at its top
Studlagil_Canyon_207_08102021 - Looking upstream from the basalt ridge towards cascades further upstream on the Jökulsá á Brú River from above the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_212_08102021 - Looking down towards the second descent into Stuðlagil Canyon on the lower right of this picture
Studlagil_Canyon_219_08102021 - It was consistently busy inside the second descent of Stuðlagil Canyon so there was a bit of a COVID-19 risk versus reward on whether to go further or not
Studlagil_Canyon_230_08102021 - Another look into the scenic second descent of Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil_Canyon_264_08102021 - After the family got their fill of Stuðlagil Canyon they went back the way they came in, but they were weary of walking on the rocks
Studlagil_Canyon_270_08102021 - Finally making it back to Stuðlafoss, which now had more agreeable lighting as it was well into afternoon by now
Studlagil_Canyon_272_08102021 - Portrait look at the Stuðlafoss Waterfall in the afternoon
Studlagil_Canyon_282_08102021 - Direct portrait view in long exposure of Stuðlafoss in the afternoon
Studlagil_Canyon_294_08102021 - Last look at Stuðlafoss before returning to the car park
Studlagil_Canyon_083_08102021 - Looking into the canyon carved out by the Jökulsá á Brú River from the trail through Klaustursel before we got to the legit part of Stuðlagil Canyon


Since we reached Stuðlafoss and Stuðlagil Canyon from the Klaustursel side, I’ll describe the driving directions to get there from Egilsstaðir.

So from Egilsstaðir, we took the Ring Road north, which eventually bent to the west, and we stayed on this road for about 52km.

Studlagil_Canyon_002_08102021 - Descending to the car park before the bridges (including the old steel one on the left side of this photo) at Klaustursel
Descending to the car park before the bridges (including the old steel one on the left side of this photo) at Klaustursel

Then, there were signs pointing the way left onto the smaller 923 road towards “Stuðlagil” and “Brú á Jökuldal”.

The road became unpaved not long after leaving the Ring Road, and with the slower speeds, we were able to notice some side waterfalls in gullies across the canyon.

Eventually after about 14km, we then turned left at the signed turnoff for Klaustursel, which then descended towards a car park by a WC facility in front of a bridge spanning the Jökulsá á Brú.

This was the old car park where the old steel bridge could not be driven on safely, but there was a second more sturdier bridge that does allow vehicular traffic.

Studlagil_Canyon_048_08102021 - Looking back at the new car park within the Klaustursel Property, which made the Stuðlagil Canyon hike a bit shorter than it used to be
Looking back at the new car park within the Klaustursel Property, which made the Stuðlagil Canyon hike a bit shorter than it used to be

Once on the other side of the bridge, we’d turn right and follow a rather rough road for about 2.2 miles to the car park on a half-dirt, half-grassy clearing.

Overall, this 68km drive would take about an hour.

Note that if the desire was to get to the west side of the canyon, then we’d continue driving the 923 Road past the signed Klaustursel turnoff to the car park at Grund.

For geographical context, Egilsstaðir was 27km (about 30 minutes drive) west of Seyðisfjörður, 175km (about 2 hours 15 minutes drive) southeast of Mývatn, 248km (over 3 hours drive) east of Akureyri, 186km (under 3 hours drive) north of Höfn, 448km (under 6 hours drive) northeast of Vík, and 6351km (7.5 hours drive) northeast of Reykjavík.

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Sweep of the Studlafoss waterfall when the lighting was a lot better when we came back


A 3/4 sweep from the base of a small orangish cascade before panning over to the hallway part of the basalt columns and Jokulsa River


360 degree sweep from our picnic spot at the base of the orangish cascade


Long video starting with a trio of cascades on the Jokulsa before walking over to the other side of the plateau and showing the picnic area as well as another small waterfall

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Tagged with: jokulsa, jokulsa a bru, studlagil, studlagil canyon, basalt, columns, klaustursel, egilsstadir'



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