If you have a 4X4 rental car while traveling in Iceland, you should consider taking a drive to Eldgjá. The name Eldgjá, or 'Fire Canyon’, refers to a 40-kilometer fissure in the Icelandic Highland stretching southwest from Gjátindur mountain all the way to the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, continuing under the glacier and reaching the fearsome volcano Katla. It is a geological wonder and, in essence, a volcano, seeing as much of the surrounding lava and vast lava carpets south of the fissure came from Eldgjá centuries ago. The name was given to the fissure by Iceland's first geologist Þorvaldur Thoroddssen, at the end of the 19th century. However, today and for the last half a century, the term Eldgjá has most often referred to a part in the middle of the fissure: the large and impressive canyon and natural wonder located at the Highland Road Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri.
A canyon with one of our most impressive waterfalls
The popular part of the canyon Eldgjá is approximately 5 kilometers long and around 600 meters wide. The cliffs and slopes framing the magnificent natural wonder are more or less 200 meters high. In the middle of the canyon, the river Nyrðri Ófæra (‘The Impassable Northern River’) falls into the canyon as one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls, Ófærufoss (‘The Impassable Waterfall’). A marked hiking trail exists from the mouth of the canyon, beginning at the parking lot and small service center. The walk to the waterfall is about 30 to 40 minutes. You can also walk up to a viewing deck by the middle of the waterfall to get up close and personal with Ófærufoss waterfall, which is, if I might say so, quite spectacular.
Access to Eldgjá requires a 4WD vehicle
Eldgjá is part of the Icelandic Highland. Like all other places in the Highland in Iceland, it is only accessible during the opening time of the Highland roads, from early July until the middle of September. Like with most Highland roads, it also requires a 4X4 vehicle as the road is a rugged dirt road, and, on your way to Eldgjá, you need to cross fords and unbridged rivers. The best way to access the road is from the Ring Road, around 23 kilometers west of the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Here you take a turn north on Road no. 208 and drive approximately 16 kilometers until you take a left turn and enter mountain road F208 Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. On this road, you need to drive about 26 kilometers to reach Eldgjá.