Ásbyrgi canyon, camping and hiking
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
The canyon Ásbyrgi, in the northeastern part of Iceland, is a joy to behold and a pleasure to visit. Although it is a separate part of the nearby canyon Jökulsárgljúfur, it is considered, geologically, to be a part of Jökulsárgljúfur and formed by the same catastrophic floods and eruptions more than two thousand years ago. The whole area is a monument to the enormous forces of flowing water created when a large eruption occurs under a glacier. What makes Ásbyrgi unique today is the fact that it is shaped like a horseshoe and surrounded by 90- to 100-meter-high cliffs on all except the northern side. This side is also where you enter Ásbyrgi, and where the cliffs descend towards the lowland and the shoreline. In the middle is a cliff island of the same height, simply called ‘the island’, that helps emphasize the horseshoe form of the three-and-a-half by one kilometer canyon.
Made by Odin’s horse Sleipnir?
Even though there are geological explanations, there is also an explanation found in folklore, namely, that the canyon was formed by Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse owned by the god Óðinn (Odin). At one point in time, Odin traveled and came to Iceland, and the horse sunk one of its hooves into the earth and formed Ásbyrgi. Since this story has become widespread knowledge in Iceland, it is often thought that the event was documented in the stories of Norse mythology written hundreds of years before anyone started writing about geology and geography. However, it was regrettably never mentioned in the writings of our beloved 12th-century poet Snorri Sturluson, who wrote much of what we know about Norse mythology. Instead, the story probably came about in a poem by Einar Benediktsson, a 20th-century poet and entrepreneur, published in 1925 called ‘A Summer Morning in Ásbyrgi’. Don't be surprised if you meet many people in Iceland who prefer this explanation about the formation of Ásbyrgi over the scientific version offered by geologists.
Beautiful vegetation that offers tranquility
A small pond called Botnstjörn, surrounded by vegetation and astonishing cliffs, is found at the bottom of the horseshoe canyon. It is a beautiful place to visit. The canyon has an unusual variety of vegetation and lively birdlife during the summer. Ásbyrgi is a great place to stay for a day or two and walk some of the convenient and mellow hiking trails. There are hiking trails inside the canyon, up to the top of the cliffs and even to Vesturdalur and Hljóðaklettar if you have a day to spare. An evening walk up to the island, Eyjan, is a very rewarding hike. The surrounding cliffs in Ásbyrgi give the place a wonderful feeling of a peaceful sanctuary as they often provide shelter from the southern winds. In Ásbyrgi, you will also find one of the best campsites in Iceland. It is a great place to stay for a few days to explore and experience the northeastern region of Iceland. Today, Ásbyrgi, as well as the whole area of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, is part of the Vatnajokull National Park and is managed by the park authorities. Part of the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon are the magnificent waterfalls Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss, and Selfoss. From Ásbyrgi, you can also visit the remote villages of Raufarhöfn and Þórshöfn in the northeast as well as do some whale watching at Húsavík village nearby. All are interesting places to visit.
A great place to stay on your visit to Iceland
Even though it is found at a considerable distance from the Ring Road or Road 1 in Iceland, Ásbyrgi is easily accessible. It is located in the northeastern part of Iceland and is connected to the Ring Road by Road 862, the same road that takes you to the west side of Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and the main viewing panel, Dettifoss waterfall. At the end of that road, you take a right turn onto Road 85 and you can't miss Ásbyrgi. You can also drive to Húsavík town to access Ásbyrgi from the west side at Tjörnes peninsula on Road 85.