The horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi canyon, in the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park, is renowned for its natural beauty. In summer, it’s surprisingly lush and home to a variety of tree species.
Lying about 40 km (25 mi) east of Húsavík, Ásbyrgi is one of the star attractions on the Diamond Circle route. The Jökulsá á Fjöllum river, which runs from the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon in the south, passes right by Ásbyrgi.
The canyon is believed to have been formed as the result of catastrophic glacial flooding during the last ice age. This event carved out a canyon that is approximately 3.5 km (2 mi) in length and 1 km (0.6 mi) in width. And the cliffs here stretch up to 100 meters (330 feet) high.
Glacial flooding is the scientific explanation for the canyon’s unusual shape, but there’s also a Viking legend attached to it that’s slightly more fun. Ásbyrgi is nicknamed ‘Sleipnir’s footprint’, and is said to have been formed when Óðinn’s horse Sleipnir trod here.
Ásbyrgi is dotted with unusual rock formations, the most famous being Eyjan, ‘the Island’. At the closed end of the canyon you’ll come across the small lake of Botnstjörn, home to several species of Icelandic birds.
You can access Ásbyrgi easily from road 85, which passes the open end of canyon. Here you’ll find the Gljúfrastofa visitor center with an exhibition about the local area.
Follow road 861 into the canyon itself, and you pass through a forest of low-growing spruce, larch, and pine. Once you’re deep within the canyon, you’ll arrive at a parking lot. It’s here that the main hiking trails begin.