Today we explored the east half of the "Diamond Circle" which lies within the boundaries of Vatnajökull National Park. This northern section of the National Park is Jökulsárgljúfur which means "glacial river canyon".
We drove into the northern entrance to the canyon, hiked a mid-section of the canyon, and visited one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe.
This morning we left Húsavík and drove to the Ásbyrgi Visitor Center.
Bear with me as this gets a little complicated. The Ásbyrgi Visitor Center is the information center for the northern section of the Vatnajökull National Park known as Jökulsárgljúfur (map here).
Jökulsárgljúfur was a National Park on its own established in 1973, but it was merged into Vatnajökull National Park when it was established in 2008. The new National Park also absorbed the Skaftafell National Park in the south which was established in 1967.
So, officially, Iceland currently only has three National Parks - Vatnajökull, Þingvellir, & Snæfellsjökull. But you may see older references to Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur National Parks which are now included in Vatnajökull National Park along with the Vatnajökull ice cap "and extensive areas around it".
Vatnajökull National Park is the second largest national park in Europe, and the Vatnajökull glacier ("jokull" means "glacier") is the largest glacier in Europe by volume and second largest by area.
After getting some information at the Visitor Center, we drove into the Ásbyrgi canyon past the campground and on to the end of the road. There are several hiking trails in the canyon, and I soon regretted not purchasing a trail map.
The most popular trail is to the Botnstjörn ponds. I intended to go there, but it had rained earlier and the trails were muddy. Linda didn't even get out of the van.
I anticipated a nice trail map sign at the parking area, but there wasn't one. I walked down a couple of different paths, neither of which led to the ponds. I took a few photos before retreating to the van.
There is actually a real forest here, much unlike the terrain we've seen elsewhere in Iceland to this point.
I wish I would have been a bit more diligent in finding the ponds, but I considered that a minor "miss" in the overall trip.
Driving back out, I took a photo of Eyjan cliff which rises up in the middle of the canyon between the high cliffs on both sides.
We left the canyon and drove west a short distance where we turned south on Road 862, a rough, pot-holed gravel road.
Eventually, after 12k (7.5 miles), we turned left at Vesturdalur and took that even rougher road to the parking area.
The kind person at the Visitors Center highly recommended a 5k loop hike here if we had time. Actually, there are two nice loop hikes here.
The Hljóðaklettar ("Echo Rocks") circle is 3k (1.9 miles) and the Rauðhólar ("Red Hills") circle is 5k (3.1 miles) and includes the Hljóðaklettar circle. Here, the trail signs were very good.
The rain was off and on, so we donned our rain gear and backpacks and headed out. There were lots of signposts offering directional arrows, but sometimes there were too many and it caused more confusion than necessary.
We decided to do the trail counter-clockwise hiking along the river first. That turned out to be the more challenging part of the hike, but we were glad we did it that way in the end.
Oh, this happened to be the only weekend of the year that bikes were allowed on the trails, so we avoided the bikers by taking the more rugged route.
The trail runs along the Jökulsá á Fjöllum glacial river whose source is the Vatnajökull glacier.
Right away we noticed the many rock formations on both sides of the river with columnar basalt.
On our side of the river, we got up close looks at the honeycombing features in the rock walls. Very interesting.
We thought this was going to be a pretty simple loop hike, but we soon found out the trail was rockier and had more ups and downs than we expected.
But that made it more interesting.
Eventually, we came to a short side trail with a sign pointing to "Kirkjan" which means "church".
Popping over the small hill we found the most photographed feature in the Hjóðaklettar (Echo Rocks).
It was much larger than I expected, so Linda hiked down to provide perspective.
By the way, you can access Kirkjan from the other side of the loop which is quite a bit easier.
After exploring the cave and the area for several minutes, we moved on. The flowers, moss, and lichens combined to make it look like a fairy tale landscape.
Aw, a cute little ladder to help us.
After some climbing, we had this view behind us ...
and our first look at the Red Hills in front of us.
Climbing up on a little knob toward the river, we could see more of the Red Hills.
And if you look closely at the photos below you can see a small arch to the right of the black pillar on the far right. Pretty cool.
After a brief rest, we began our final climb.
From the top of the hill, we took one last look at the trail we just came up and the scenery beyond. Beautiful.
And this was the view in the opposite direction. The last photo before we started down.
A lovely carpet of purple flowers lined the trail as we descended.
Soon we entered some thick vegetation where we had to listen closely for cyclists coming through.
We popped out on the other side to some fall-like colors.
The trail on this side of the loop was far easier and faster as we made good time down to the Echo Rocks.
A big group of the mountain bikers had stopped for a break.
From there it was a quick trek back to the parking lot.
We really enjoyed this hike. It was much better than we anticipated, and we would recommend it if you have time. There were very few people and there would have been even fewer if it hadn't been bike weekend.
On to the next stop.
We continued south on Road 862 all the way to the west parking lot for Dettifoss waterfall.
There is another parking area on the east side of the river, if you want to access the waterfall from that side. It just seems to be personal preference as to which view is better. However, Road 862 from the Ring Road is paved all the way to the Dettifoss parking lot, while Road 864 is not paved and can be very rough.
It's a little under 1k from the parking lot to the falls. During that walk, a trail forks off to the right to Selfoss waterfall a short stroll upriver.
We continued straight to visit Dettifoss first.
There are several different viewpoints. But Dettifoss creates a huge mist which, today at least, was soaking just about everybody on the west side.
Many had rain gear, ponchos, or umbrellas, but we didn't walk in with any of that, so we were pretty much relegated to one viewpoint not affected by the mist.
The video below shows more of the viewing area and you can hear the awesome power of Dettifoss.
In the photo below, you can see the people at the edge of the waterfall on the east side .... not getting wet.
Not being able to get any other views or angles, we walked upriver to the prettier (in my opinion) Selfoss waterfall.
So, we walked back to the van and that completed our stops in Jökulsárgljúfur and on the "Diamond Circle".
Continuing south on Road 862, we turned east on the Ring Road. Soon the terrain changed to a more barren landscape as we left North Iceland and entered the East Iceland region.
Not far after crossing the region boundary, we turned south on Road 901 and proceeded 8k (5 miles) to the farm at Möðrudalur. This farm is the highest elevation inhabited farm in Iceland, and they have a campground, guest rooms, a restaurant, and fuel.
Right when we pulled up to check in at the restaurant, we couldn't believe our eyes. Two Arctic Foxes were just hanging out by the restaurant.
We didn't think we would get to see Iceland's only native land mammal, and certainly not this close up. That was a very unexpected treat.
They didn't seem bothered by the people taking their pictures, and I'm sure I would have taken more had it not started raining.
We checked in (this camping site is on our Camping Card) and parked in their field.
Later we walked up to this little village with its church and sod roof buildings.
We decided to have our second week dining out meal here at the Fjallakaffi restaurant.
We opted for the local lamb dish which was quite tasty albeit expensive.
And with that, we ended another wonderful day in our Iceland adventure. Tomorrow, we get our first look at the Central Highlands.
Day 10 Driving - 166k (103 miles)