Iceland’s Studlagil Canyon: All You Need to Know

Studlagil Canyon
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Studlagil Canyon is one of Iceland’s top natural attractions. Once a hidden gem, this giant basalt column canyon is one of the best things to see in Iceland.

There are two different ways to see Studlagil Canyon – from the viewpoint (west side) or by hiking to the canyon itself (east side). Hiking to see Studlagil Canyon certainly offers the best views and allows hikers to explore the canyon itself. In this post, I’ve shared all you need to know about hiking to Studlagil Canyon and how to view the canyon without hiking.

Thanks to social media, Studlagil Canyon is no longer the hidden gem it used to be. Despite this, Studlagil Canyon is an incredible sight and well worth your time and effort. 

Note: the Icelandic spelling is Stuðlagil, but I’ll be using the English spelling of Studlagil for ease.  

A quick overview of Studlagil Canyon

Studlagil Canyon is an impressive black basalt column canyon in Iceland. The turquoise Jokla River runs right through the canyon creating a magnificent sight.  

Studlagil Canyon
Studlagil Canyon

The basalt columns are a hexagonal shape giving the canyon an almost other-worldly feel. While they may seem unusual to visitors, basalt is one of the most common rocks found in Iceland. 

The formation of these basalt columns is known as ‘column jolting’. As volcanos erupt, the lava cools down from the top and contracts, causing the rocks to crack into these famous hexagon shapes.

You can see these basalt rock formations in several places around Iceland including the famous Reynisfjara Beach and Svartifoss in Vatnajokull National Park.

What’s fascinating about Studlagil Canyon is that it was only discovered in 2016. The Jokla River has long been a feature of the area, but the basalt columns themselves were only recently discovered.

In the late 2000s, the Karahnjukavirkjun hydroelectric power plant and Halslon Reservoir were built. The caused the river’s water level to drop dramatically revealing the incredible Studlagil Canyon. It was discovered by farmers in 2016 and quickly became a social media hit.

Studlagil Canyon is also famous for its (sometimes) turquoise waters. The blue water is thanks to sediment deposits from glaciers. The water levels need to be perfect to see the blue colour, however. If there has been heavy rain or lots of snow melting, it’s likely the river water will be brown (which is what happened when I visited).

How to see Studlagil Canyon

Studlagil Canyon can be found in the Jokuldalur Valley in east Iceland. If you’re doing a road trip around Iceland’s ring road, you’ll find this gem between Lake Myvatn and Egilsstadir in eastern Iceland.

To see the magnificent Studlagil Canyon, you have two options.

Option 1: head to the west side of the canyon and walk down the staircase to an observation platform (this is where Google Maps will take you).

Option 2: park on the east side and hike to the canyon. This will take you straight to that epic photo spot.

Studlagil Canyon viewpoint
Studlagil Canyon Observation Platform

Quick tip: hiking to Studlagil Canyon from the east side offers the best views of the canyon. Yes, it’s a lot more effort than parking at the viewpoint, but it’s well worth it. You can even climb down into the canyon to get close-up views of the basalt columns.

The west side is more accessible and ideal for those who have less time or don’t enjoy hiking, but you won’t get anywhere near the same views as hiking down into the canyon. The view of the canyon is slightly obstructed from the viewpoint making it hard to see its true scale.

How to get to Studlagil Canyon

Studlagil Canyon is just off the main ring road (Route 1). Turn off the road between Lake Myvatn and the town of Egilsstadir onto Route 923.

For the west side viewpoint

Once on road 923, continue driving along the gravel road. You’ll eventually see a sign for ‘Farm Grund’ which is where the viewpoint is. It’s well signposted. If you put Studlagil Canyon into your Google Maps, it will take you here. There’s a small parking lot with a toilet. Walk down the staircase to see the canyon.

You need to drive about 12 miles (20km) to reach the parking lot.

For the east side (hiking trail)

For the best views, you’ll need to hike to the canyon on the east side. You can still drive part of the way. Turn off the ring road on to Route and turn left at Klaustursel Farm. You’ll see signs for ‘East Side car park’. From here you’ll need to walk.

Some people opt to keep driving along the road over the wooden bridge to park closer to the canyon itself. This is allowed, but the road is not maintained so you’ll need a 4×4 to do this. If you have a rental car, it’s possible you won’t be insured.

Studlagil Canyon
Studlagil Canyon

Hiking to Studlagil Canyon

Hiking to Studlagil Canyon is the best way to explore this magnificent natural wonder. The hike is relatively easy. You’re rewarded with stunning views of the canyon and its basalt columns. The west side viewpoint doesn’t even compete with what you get to experience on the hike.

Quick facts about hiking to Studlagil Canyon

Hike length: 2.5 miles (4km) each way from the east side car park
Type: out and back
Terrain: dirt path, gravel and grass
Time: an hour each way (allow 3 hours for the round trip and to fully explore the canyon)
Gradient: relatively flat (unless you climb down into the canyon)
Difficulty: easy for another who is relatively fit
Best time to visit: May – September when the road and trail conditions will be the best

The length of the hike depends on where you park. Most people choose to park at the ‘east side parking lot’. There is an option to park further along the gravel road which can knock about 30 minutes off the hike. This might sound appealing, but the road conditions are poor and it’s not something to attempt without a 4×4.

I have to say, the hiking trail to Studlagil Canyon isn’t exactly the most thrilling of hikes. But that’s quickly made up for when you reach the canyon. The hiking path itself takes you through farmland and rolling hills and following the River Jokla.

After about 30-minutes, you’ll reach Studlafoss waterfall. This basalt column waterfall is one impressive sight. It’s right next to the hiking path so it can’t be missed. I know, I know, by this point you’ve probably seen 1000 waterfalls in Iceland, but with the stark basalt columns, this is one beautiful waterfall.

Studlafoss near Studlagil Canyon
Studlafoss near Studlagil Canyon

Keep following the trail through some grassy fields and you’ll eventually reach Studlagil Canyon. You can admire the canyon from above before climbing down into the canyon to get closer to its blue waters (hopefully!).

Climbing down into the canyon can be a bit of an adventure. The rocks can be slippery, so it’s important to watch your step. There’s a rope to help people get down to the very bottom, which is attached to the canyon walls. You’ll also find a small ledge right by the water’s edge to help get that photo. If the river level is high, you might find the ledge is underwater.

This is a popular site in Iceland so you might have to wait your turn for a photo. It wasn’t particularly busy when I went, but I still had to wait for others to finish.

Important note: the water isn’t always blue at Studlagil Canyon. It very much depends on the recent weather and how much water is flowing down the river. The water is said to the bluest in May when the glacier waters melt. However, I went in May and it was very murky!

Stuðlagil Canyon
Studlagil Canyon

Studlagil Canyon quick FAQ

Is the west side or east side the best?

Hiking to Studlagil Canyon from the east side is the best way to see the canyon. Sure, the west side has a viewing platform, but you can’t see the entire canyon from here.

Is Studlagil Canyon safe for solo female hikers?

Studlagil is a great hike for solo hikers. The hike is relatively flat with no tricky terrain (unless you plan to hike down into the canyon). It’s also a very popular hike. This means you’ll no doubt see other people on your solo hike to Studlagil Canyon.

I hiked to the canyon by myself and never felt unsafe. Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world, making it a fantastic destination for solo travellers.

Hiking alone requires a bit of extra preparation and thought. Check my tips for solo female hikers.

Can you swim in Studlagil Canyon?

There’s no law against swimming in Studlagil Canyon, but it’s not advised. This is a powerful glacial river. The water is cold and there can be some very strong currents.

Every now and again, I see videos of people swimming there and posting it all over social media. It’s not advised though.  

Is hiking to Studlagil Canyon free?

Yes, hiking to Studlagil Canyon is completely free. It’s a perfect activity if you’re visiting Iceland on a budget

Do you need a guide for Studlagil Canyon?

No, you don’t need a guide to hike to Studlagil Canyon. It’s a straightforward hike with no special equipment needed.

Can you hike to Studlagil Canyon in the winter?

Technically, you can hike to the canyon in the winter months. However, the likelihood of the road to the canyon’s car park being clear is very low. The road conditions are likely to be very poor. You may also need special winter equipment for the hike itself such as snow crampons.

Are there toilets at Studlagil Canyon?

You’ll find toilets on the west side in the car park for the viewing platform. If you decide to hike to Studlagil Canyon, there are no toilets.

Do I need a car to get to Studlagil Canyon?

If you want to hike to Studlagil Canyon, you’ll need a car. However, if you don’t have a car in Iceland, there are various day tours to some of the attractions.  This day tour runs from the nearby Egilsstadir and includes time at the observation platform. 

Hike to Studlagil Canyon
Studlagil Canyon Hike

Where to stay near Studlagil Canyon

Studlagil Canyon is in a remote area of Iceland, so there isn’t an endless list of options to choose from.

The best place to stay near Studlagil Canyon is the small town of Egilsstadir in east Iceland. It’s about an hour’s drive from the canyon, but it’s the closest major town with accommodation options.

I’d recommend staying in the Berjaya Hotel – it’s very good value and in a convenient location.

If you’re going clockwise around Iceland’s ring road, you’ll probably find staying in Myvatn (northern Iceland) before visiting Studlagil Canyon the best option. It’s a 2-hour drive from Studlagil and you can visit the mighty Dettifoss on the way.

Read next: plan your perfect Lake Myvatn itinerary

Summary: Is hiking to Studlagil Canyon worth it?

For me, hiking to Studlagil Canton was worthwhile. The views from the western viewpoint are great, but they’re nowhere near as good as the views from the hike.

Hiking to Studlagil Canyon was high on my list when heading to Iceland on my solo trip. I had seen endless photos of this unique canyon and couldn’t wait to explore it myself. There’s always the question of ‘will it live up to expectations?’, ‘has it been oversold by social media?’ but I can honestly say this place is magnificent and well worth a visit. It’s one of my favourite spots I visited in all of Iceland.

Visiting Iceland’s famous basalt columns can easily be built into an Iceland road trip. You’ll find Studlagil Canyon in the east of Iceland between Myvatn and Egilsstadir. The canyon is also one of my must-visit spots on any road trip in Iceland. Despite its popularity and social media frenzy, visiting Studlagil Canyon is a true gem of Iceland. It encompasses the country’s unique and wild landscape so well.

Hiking to Studlagil Canyon won’t be for everyone though. It’s going to take a big chunk of time out of your itinerary and the hike itself isn’t the most exciting of hikes. If you’re keen to go down into the canyon and explore, then hiking to Studlagil Canyon is worth-it. If you have less time and aren’t bothered about seeing the canyon in its full glory, a trip to the west viewpoint will be sufficient.

Read next: Still debating a trip to Iceland? Discover why Iceland is well worth visiting

Studlagil Canyon - Iceland's Basalt Columns
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