It wasn’t until the sixth day of our Ring Road trip in Iceland that we realized that our “small” Land Rover vehicle that we were camping in wasn’t really as bad as we had expected it to be. I had dreaded the thought of spending 11 nights in this vehicle, and we had even brought our own tent on the trip as a back up in case we got sick of folding and unfolding ourselves into the three feet of space above our heads in the back of the vehicle for sleeping, but by this halfway point in our journey, we had only used the tent once!
It helped that the vehicle had a heater that came in handy to turn on as we were settling in for the night or waking up. It wasn’t too terribly cold in Iceland during our mid-August trip, but turning the heat on was a nice comfort that we enjoyed treating ourselves to to feel cozy.
On this day of our trip, we were eagerly anticipating hiking to a truly fascinating sight, Stuðlagil Canyon, and the history of that sight was equally as fascinating!
Stuðlagil Canyon was only recently discovered and became popular a few years ago, which if you haven’t already seen photos of, is impossible to imagine that such a stunning sight could go unnoticed for so long… but there was good reason for this!
There are many places in Iceland with unique basalt column formations, including one of the most famous locations, Reynisfjara Beach on the south coast, as well as another popular sight, Svartisfoss, and other lesser-famous, but still stunning, sights such as Aldeyjarfoss, Dverghamrar, Hljóðaklettar, Hofsós, Kálfshamarsvík Bay, and Litlanesfoss. However, Stuðlagil Canyon is arguably the best sight in Iceland to view basalt column formations. Although its prominent and twisty basalt columns are phenomenal in and of themselves, what makes this canyon even more eye-catching is the teal blue water that runs through it during certain times of the year.
Part of the reason this phenomenal sight wasn’t discovered until recently was because of the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant and Dam that was built 45 km upstream in 2008. There was a lot of controversy over the construction of this dam, particularly because of its impact on the environment. Ironically enough, although the dam did negatively alter some of the surrounding landscape, it also revealed the beautiful Stuðlagil Canyon, which used to mostly be under much deeper, murky grey glacier waters that hid the basalt column formations.
Glacier water contains a lot of dirt and ash, but with the new dam and reservoir upstream, water levels of this canyon receded while also not allowing the murky glacier water to mix with a spring-fed water source downstream from the dam. The result of the river being fed more by a natural spring source was the teal-blue color often seen in photos.
Summer is supposedly the best time for viewing this sight, since other times of the year, bad weather can stir up the water, making it cloudy, and murky glacier water is also allowed to be released from the dam. We were so excited to be visiting Stuðlagil Canyon during a time of year that would possibly have the amazing teal-blue color, but we couldn’t wait to see it regardless of the color.
We didn’t have any planned stops on the way to Stuðlagil Canyon, but noticed the cutest grass-roofed church from the remote dirt road we were traveling on, on the way there. We didn’t know if this turf structure was anything we were allowed to visit, since not a single person was around, but after we spotted an informational sign leading up the church, we knew we had to take a closer look! We couldn’t actually ready anything on the sign about the turf church named Geirsstaðakirkja, but it was still a fascinating, quick stop.
Iceland continued to surprise us at every corner of the island as a place one could go to without any itinerary, yet be able to stumble upon so many cool, random little sights like this right off the road!
There are two ways to see Stuðlagil Canyon – either a viewing platform on the west side of the canyon or an easy two-mile hike starting on the east side of the canyon. We opted for the hike, and although this sight ranked up there with being one of the busiest attractions on our trip, it was still easily one of our top three favorite sights in Iceland (with the volcano definitely being the top sight and a toss-up for second best being this sight or Diamond Beach). The photos will surely speak for themselves, so I’ll just be quiet now.
After spending an immense amount of time at Stuðlagil Canyon, it was already time to start finding a campground for the night. We had lost WiFi for a good portion of the remote road that lead up to and away from Stuðlagil Canyon, but got it back just in time to make a turn off to another remote road for a campground that ended up being so adorably Icelandic in every way.
Every structure in the small town and campground of Möðrudalur was turf-covered, from the bathrooms to the restaurant to the camp kitchen… and even a fueling station nearby!
We were also fortunate enough to claim a camping spot right next to a small turf wall, which came in handy for setting up camp against, since every morning and evening, we had a routine of purging our vehicle of all our luggage in order to sort through our clothing and food.
The turf wall was also useful in cooking and protecting our stove from the wind, which was another fun activity we had to routinely do outside the vehicle on the ground. Ask me again why I let my hubby choose the vehicle we would be camping in for 11 days?? All joking aside, we didn’t mind having to cook outside because it was a good excuse to enjoy nature and not hide in our vehicle. And we didn’t mind having to shuffle all our belongings back and forth between from the back of the vehicle to front seats to the ground because it was a good excuse to stay organized.
There was also a small section of the campground dedicated to some outdoor Viking games for nostalgic entertainment, but we passed that up for our usual evening happy hour with adult beverages.
As if all the things in this town/campground weren’t whimsical enough, when we left the next morning, we spotted a dark grey Icelandic fox that was pouncing around from the nearby restaurant to a sports field with its other little fox friend tagging behind.
The next day, we decided our long hike deserved to be followed up with a classic, relaxing Icelandic activity.