About Studlafoss (Studlagil Canyon)
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.
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.
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
There are actually two ways to experience Stuðlagil Canyon…
- by an overlook on the west side of the canyon beneath Grund
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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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