Over the years, I had seen many spectacular photos from Stórurð and was always interested in adding it to the long list of places I have visited in Iceland. It also fascinated me as both Stórurð and Dyrfjöll, the surrounding mountains, have a certain otherworldly atmosphere, besides being highly photogenic destinations. The word Stórurð means “a huge pile of rocks”, and the landform does look like its inhabited by trolls. For centuries, folks living in the area have recounted stories of elves and trolls inhabiting the boulders and cliffs of the surrounding mountains. It is a mystical place and one of those in Iceland that can easily be referred to as one of the nine worlds of Yggdrasill from Norse Mythology – Jötunheimar, the giants' home.
The best time to hike to Stórurð
To grab the best photo opportunities and experience, it became apparent early on in my research that the ideal time to visit was actually a narrow window. As the elevation is relatively high, Stórurð is covered with snow in the winter. This melts late, covering the most exciting landforms well into midsummer. Besides, Stórurð is located in the northeast region, almost as far as possible from Reykjavík, which is where I live. It moved along my bucket list for several years as I kept putting it off because of other tasks in those precious months. And also because other interesting places fell off the list as I continued to visit them.
When you live in Iceland, the hectic weather plays a significant role in everyday life. It dominates conversation, and if you are planning something outside of the four walls of your home, you need to check the weather. This is even more critical for a trip to Stórurð as the fog is often exceptionally thick and deceiving in the area. A striking comparison is that of Southern California. I lived in San Diego for many years where the climate remains more or less the same all year round. Discussion about the weather was a rarity, and when I tried to start one, people looked at me with a blank and confused expression. In early September, 2020, I noticed that the northeast weather forecast was perfect, both a clear sky and calm wind. I decided right then to drive up the new road to Bakkafjörður village and visit Stórurð.
A visit to Stórurð requires a hike
Like many exciting places in Iceland, a visit to Stórurð requires quite a hike. There are three hiking trails that are all between seven to nine kilometers one way. I chose the easternmost track, east of the Vatnsskarð mountain pass. It is a beautiful walk through the Dyrfjalladalur valley. The hike is approximately seven kilometers, amounting to around fifteen kilometers back and forth, including the walk around the big rocks in Stórurð. It is a marked trail with an even increase in elevation all the way to Stórurð, where you descend about one hundred meters down a pretty convenient slope. Then, the walk back to the parking lot at Vatnsskarð is more or less all downhill.
The captivating mountain ridge Dyrfjöll
As I often emphasize on this website, hiking in nature is, in a way, therapeutic. It is the opposite of a busy city filled with big crowds, concrete structures looming large, and the noise of traffic. This is particularly true for Stórurð. From the parking lot, the trek goes through the valley of Dyrfjalladalur. About half an hour into it, the mountains of Ytri Dyrfjall and Miðfell start to grab your attention. And as it often occurs when you are hiking, dormant feelings begin to awaken when you see and sense the beauty that both the landforms of the inner valley and the mountains exude. It is a beautiful hike in which the ever-changing landscape of mountains, vegetation, and small clean creeks embrace you like a kind-hearted giant. It is at this point that you also start your inner journey of relaxation and clearing the mind.
A hike or a state of mind
As you approach Stórurð, the size and shape of the Dyrfjöll mountains engulfs your imagination. Formed as part of a large caldera around ten to twelve million years ago, the northeast mountains are old and have witnessed their share of changes. Created by disastrous fire and exploding magma, sleeping under the ice for thousands of centuries, scraped by ice, molded by the harsh wind for thousands of years, and dissolved by endless rain and water, they now stand tall as an irresistible landform – sharp peaks that represent the geological beginning of our magnificent island.
The astonishing Stórurð pile of rocks
Almost at the end of the hike, before you descend to the mysterious path that takes you around the enormous rocks, you have a magnificent view of the Urðardalur valley. Stretching from the broken part of the mountains of Dyrfjöll, also called the door, the massive stones are distributed towards the west. You can't help but feel that the rocky slope was formed when part of the mountain crumbled and crawled through the valley. One theory suggests that the rocks were carried by overlaying ice for centuries at the end of the Ice Age and landed comfortably on the even ground. To build up this already grand view, small, turquoise blue ponds are scattered between the rocks. Although I have visited many beautiful places in Iceland, Stórurð and Dyrfjöll are among the most interesting and promise a mind-blowing experience.
When you walk around the rocks, you simply can't brush off the feeling that you are surrounded by otherworldly beings—gentle trolls and friendly elves that make their homes in the harsh but wonderful region. While walking the path, it is easy to be convinced that all the folklore spanning centuries is not simply a coincidence and that it has roots in communication with local people and sights.