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Friday, November 3, 2017

Day 4: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon and Kirkjugólf Basalt Tiles

Day 4 of Iceland was the day I was most excited about.  We were going to hike on a glacier and see icebergs floating out of a glacial lagoon... how many places in the world can you go do that?  Day 4 we were up early to get to our first planned site before the tour busses.  We left the guesthouse and headed for Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, a name I still have no idea how to pronounce.  After Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, we headed down the road just a few miles to see the Kirkjugolf Basalt Tiles.  Two quick and easy stops to start the day, one worth the stop and one getting a KW skippable tag. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

63.771250°N 18.17194°W

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon doesn't show up in many brochures, and isn't a name you hear often while traveling the country.  While for a while it has remained a hidden gem, its location off the Ring Road means tour busses are making their way down this gravel road and dropping off large amounts of people in steady streams throughout the day.  We pulled up in shock to see that tour busses had made their way to this spot already.  Thankfully it wasn't too crowded and we could sneak in between groups walking down to see the canyon. We passed the very clean bathrooms that had two employees doing their daily rounds making sure the spot was kept clean.  I was amazed at how clean these areas were and how hard the country works to keep it that way (and most of these bathrooms are free!).  While I am giving Iceland some well deserved credit let me also say how impressed I was with the educational signage.  Nearly every spot big or small had some great signage and information educating the public all about these unique spots of Iceland, including geology, history, and culture.  

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

The canyon certainly had a fairytale vibe going on with its beautiful hues of mossy greens and browns.  A trail follows the canyon on one wide where you can hike out, taking in the views of the canyon walls down below.  There are several little outcrops (like the one below) where people have snuck under the ropes to get iconic shots down the canyon. I am a FIRM believer in always staying in bounds as it just takes one set of footprints for a whole group of people to follow and destroy sensitive ecosystems.   Overall, I loved this area and thought this canyon was a perfect representation of beautiful almost untouched Iceland.  This area gets a "Must See" for my list.  If I had time, I would love to hike in the canyon along the river with amazing views of the canyon walls stretching up.  This would also be a great way to escape any crowds that stop to see this area.  
This area can also be seen in the pretty bad official music video of "I'll Show You" by Justin Bieber  (confusing video, but all over beautiful Iceland).

Entrance to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Bathrooms at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Looking down Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Great signage at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

This area is currently listed on the Nature Conservation Register.  The canyon is about 10 meters deep and about 2 km long.  The canyon has sheer walls, is somewhat serpentine, and is quite narrow.  The rock here is thought to be about 2 million years old.  The river flowing through the canyon, Fjaora eventually makes its way to the Skafta river.  The water is relatively low and hikers can walk down inside the canyon along the river (people often wade in the rive as well).  There are waterfalls deep into the canyon so hikes into the gorges will have to be an out and back.  

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

KW Worth the Trip? Yes!
Crowds: Yes but smaller and dispersed (down a gravel road, busses still get here though!)
Fees: No
Bathrooms: Yes, for free, well kept
Parking: Plenty
Hike: Walking trails available.  Option 1:  Top of the canyon - follow this trail 2km to the end of the canyon.  You can also keep going if you would like and explore the nearby sheep farms. Option 2:  You can walk down to the base of the canyon (located immediately the left of the parking lot).  Follow the little trail going down and follow the rive along the canyon.  There will be several river crossings and the water cane quite high during certain times of the year. 
Access: Easy- Gravel roads but even busses make the trip.  On the Ring Road (Route 1) heading east towards Skaftafell, make a left on 206 towards Lakagígar (there is also a small sign for the canyon). Continue on the gravel road for about 2km and you will reach the parking area for the canyon. 

Sheep outside the parking area

Driving to our next destination

63.7954° N, 18.0464° W

Next stop of the day was a right of the right-off-the-road-quick-and-dirty variety.  If you are short on time, this is definitely skippable as it's just a short walk to see some basalt.  If you are interested in rock formations/basalt and have some time, read on. 

Signage for Kirkjugolf Basalt Tiles 

Kirkjugolf Basalt Tiles 

Kirkjugolfi (Kirkjugólf) at Kirkjubaejarklaustur (this language?!?) is a natural monument right off the Ring Road in SouthernIceland.  The name Kirkjugólf translating to "The Church Floor" was protected as a Natural Monument in 1987.  The area is an eroded an shaped columnar basalt outcrop (originating from lava) where the top of these vertical basalt columns can be seen.  Iceland's basalt columns have inspired many forms of local art.

Kirkjugolf Basalt Tiles 

You park your car, and walk about 1/4 mile to the spot.  Snap a few photos, and head back to the car.  For me, this was entirely skippable but if you have time and want to stop, it is right off the Ring Road.  At the rotary with the N1, take the last exit (left) and the parking area will be on your left. 

Directions to Kirkjugolf Basalt Tiles 

KW Worth the Trip? Nah, skippable!
Crowds: No
Fees: No
Bathrooms: No
Parking: A few spots
Hike: Small walking trail to the tiles and back
Access: Easy- Right off the Ring Road

Check back in later for the rest of my JAM PACKED day four including waterfalls, glacier hikes, and icebergs. 

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