Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – East Iceland

Fjaðrárgljúfur river gorge Iceland photo locations
Fjaðrárgljúfur river gorge Iceland photo locations

Fjaðrárgljúfur river gorge

Close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur, in South East Iceland, the Fjaðrárgljúfur river canyon is a river gorge with stunning geology.  Flood waters from the Vatnjokull  glacier are though to have carved the deep gorge over several thousands of years.  The river would have been dramatic when the whole gorge would have been filled by glacier melt water after huge volcanic eruptions under the Vatnjokull glacier.

From above the canyon looks as if a big zipper has ripped apart the gorge.  There is a very tight “S” bend in the river. The river winds through the canyon and in good conditions it is possible to wade in the river. This should not be attempted after heavy rainfall, or alone. The best angle for light is a secret that only local guides know. But it becomes obvious when you visit the Fjaðrárgljúfur river canyon.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Gorge
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Access to the river gorge

The river gorge is not far from the main highway (route 1).  From Reykjavik the access road (206) is on your left just after the huge lava field ends.  From the East, the turning is on the right about 5 minutes outside of Kirkjubaerklautstur. The Road to the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon turns into a rough winding track to a carpark. The track is ok for regular cars, but uncomfortable.  The road can be closed after heavy snow. Then access is only possible over a Winter track which needs a 4×4, or to hike from the farmhouse at Hunkabakka.

There is quite a steep road up to Hunkubakka Farm, so if it is slippery, it might not be possible.  There are now marked walking routes up the East bank of the canyon. Visitors are encourage not to venture beyond the marked zones for flora protection. There are public toilets at the site, but we can’t guarantee they will be open for Winter tourism. There is a nice waterfall at the top of the hiking trail.  Most of the successful photos have been taken from the higher points of the gorge.

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River Bank

If you can get down to the river bank at Fjaðrárgljúfur river canyon, you can have a view right the way through the canyon. The high walls present challenges for exposure control because regular grad filters just darken the higher rocks.  Having a bit of snow on the canyon walls can help with post-processing.  Wading through the river after a December snow storm at Fjaðrárgljúfur river canyon is rewarding. Using a dark filter here can give you some impressive water movement. The Magic Cloth is challenging, but if you keep it simple, you can have nice results.

Fjaðrárgljúfur River Gorge, Iceland

View From a Bridge

Just after the carpark is a little bridge.  From the center of the bridge, you have the best ground-level view of Fjaðrárgljúfur.  It is just a couple of seconds walk from the carpark,  The bridge is an access route for local farms, I wouldn’t recommend driving down there because turning around is difficult.  This can be disruptive for local traffic and I have seen cars getting stuck as they try to turn around – leading to very expensive breakdown costs.  I took this photo from the bridge as a photographer in red made her way down to the river bank.

Fjaðrárgljúfur photographer
Fjaðrárgljúfur from the bridge

Frozen River

This next photo was taken on a Winter Workshop in December.  We arrived the evening before and stayed at Hunkabakka Farm which is an area with very little light pollution.  We were so busy with our night photography that we didn’t realise that all the shops and restaurants had closed.  We survived on crackers and chees until breakfast the next morning.  After breakfast we headed to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon with fishing waders.  Most of the river was frozen solid and we only needed the waders for a tiny bit of flowing river.  The ice was thick and supported us easily.  I took this photo with the reflections in mind and taking take not to lose the details on the snow.  This was 15th December 2011 which was my Birthday, but more importantly was my son’s 2nd birthday.  I dedicate this photo to Noi Thor.

Frozen river at Fjadrargjulfur
Frozen river at Fjaðrárgljúfur

Restricted Access

The Icelandic river gorge became increasingly popular as a tourist location after pop idol Just1n 13eiber filmed a music video there.  Fjaðrárgljúfur is often closed to the public for landscape protection.

Fjaðrárgljúfur River gorge
A vertical photo taken from the river. Waders required!

This next photo was taken from the higher levels during a winter blizzard. This almost shows you how the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon terminates. The end is just around the corner.

Fjaðrárgljúfur  Canyon Blizzard
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in a blizard.
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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.