East Iceland: Discover the Hidden Gems

East Iceland: Discover the Hidden Gems

14.08.2018 | Camille Beuvard

The Eastfjords are one of the oldest regions in Iceland, owing their varied scenery to glaciers from the Ice Age, and whose secluded beauty is only just beginning to be explored by travellers. A nice breather from how crowded other places can be. Due to their still weather, the sunniest in the country, the Eastfjords boast an extraordinary palette of lush hills and exceptionally rich flora. Along the way between Seyðisfjörður and the border with the Northern region, you will spot many roadside waterfalls running down the slopes, including Gufufoss and Rjúkandi, making the drive an adventure by itself. Here is a selection of attractions that are yet to be discovered.

1. Explore Hafrahvammagljúfur Canyon

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Hafrahvammagljúfur and Dimmugljúfur Canyons, often referred to as just one canyon, represent together one of the best-kept secrets of the Eastern Region. About 7 to 8 kilometres long and 200 meters deep, this imposing canyon stretches from the northern part of Vatnajökull Icecap towards the valley Jökuldalur in the East, carving its way through the land. While this used to be a remote place, access to the canyon was facilitated by the completion of the highland dam at Kárahnjúkar and of a concrete road to go with. This project has changed the landscape and the view of the canyons forever, diverting the river from its direction, unveiling the rocky riverbed in some parts, with the debates it naturally triggered. The craggy, jagged rock formations make for a dramatic and mystical atmosphere that won’t leave you unmoved. 

2. Take a swim at Selárdalur Pool in Vopnafjörður

Not just a swimming pool, the pool in Selárdalur could very well be the most marvellous pool in Iceland, in the midst of superb surroundings. Lying on the riverbank, Selárlaug provides a unique view over Selá salmon stream running through a shallow canyon. If you really want to get away from it all and relax during your long-distance drive, this is the place. The pool extends over an area where hot springs used to feed the pool in a not-so-distant past. The hot spring is now used to heat up the water in the present pool. You will find this gem on Road 85 in direction of Bakkafjörður, 12 km from Vopnafjörður. 

3. Stop at Gljúfursárfoss Waterfall in Vopnafjörður

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Although Hengifoss holds the title of star waterfall of the East, Gljúfursárfoss is an unfairly underrated waterfall. Conveniently located near the road in Vopnafjörður, you will first get a glimpse of the top of the waterfall while crossing the river. This beautiful waterfall cascade down a deep and narrow gorge, flowing into the bay and ending almost directly in the Atlantic Ocean with a single drop of 45 meters. Like all waterfalls, the waterfall changes face with precipitations. Gljúfursárfoss can look rather calm one moment, but heavy rains escalate its power and make the falls roar! The Skjólfjörur Beach is only a short walk from the waterfall and offers a magnificent view over fascinating rock formations and cliffs, of which Ljósastapi Rock Pillar stands out in the sea, somewhat reminiscent of an elephant.

4. Take a leap to the past at Krosshöfði old harbour in Stapavík

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This hidden gem takes you to what used to be one of the main trading points for the area just a few kilometres from the road to Borgarfjörður Eystri. The best way to explore Stapavík Inlet is to follow the 3-hour trail starting from the farm Unaós, along the banks of Selfljót River then to spectacular cliffs and down to the sea. When the fog sets in, the place turns into a mysterious fairytale. The black sand beach and Stapinn Sea Stack make for a captivating view, but the crowning jewel of the trail is Krosshöfði, where goods used to be brought ashore from 1902 to 1945. You will walk past the ruins of a fisherman hut, an ancient sheep shelter, as well as remains of the trading harbour at the mouth of the river. Listen carefully and you will hear the sound of the manual winch used to unload the vessels and the farmers trading! 

5. Follow the Laugavegurinn of the East: Víknaslóðir

Perhaps you have already heard about Borgarfjörður Eystri for that it is home to one of Iceland’s most popular music festivals, Bræðslan, but its surroundings also reveal one of Iceland’s best hiking areas: Víknaslóðir, or the Trails of the Inlets. From day hikes to multi-day excursions, the region will delight every hiker, spoilt for choice with the scenery, from black sand deserts to neon green hills and colourful rhyolite mountain ranges. Víknaslóðir has its own version of the Laugavegurinn hiking trail, from Borgarfjörður Eystri down to Seyðisfjörður covering a distance of 55km on 4 days and combining beautiful fjords and gorges, glorious mountains and panoramic views. Venture in Víknaslóðir and you will discover a soothing haven of tranquillity, where time stands still and all you can hear is the sound of nature.   

6. Hike Stuðlagil Basalt Column Canyon

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This one must be earned, but this is exactly what a hidden gem is all about, right? This 4-kilometre challenging hike leads you to a jaw-dropping canyon, with the picturesque Basalt Column Waterfall Stuðlafoss lying midway. The forceful river Jökla has kept the canyon hidden for centuries, until the controversial construction of the hydroelectric plant Kárahnjúkavirkjun and reservoir Hálslón literally swallowed the glacial river, turning it into a calm spring-fed river, and unveiling a wonderworld of basalt columns. Due to its rather recent existence, not many have visited the canyon, so you might in some places find yourself forging your own path, but the hike is definitely worthwhile and adds to the excitement. From Egilsstaðir, you need to take a turn to road n°923, following Jökuldalur for about 14km, until you reach the river bridge before farm Klautursel, the starting point of the hike.

7. Unveil Mjóifjörður's secrets

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Aptly named the "narrow fjord", Mjóifjörður is an 18-kilometre long fjord clamped between Norðfjörður and Seyðisfjörður, between tall hillsides. On your drive down from the mountains, the falls Klifbrekkufossar welcome you as they tumble down from the high precipitous cliff walls to the ocean, right off the roadside. When the first winter storm comes, the gravel road to Mjóifjörður isn’t cleared until Spring, making the town accessible only by boat. This remoteness makes the Spring even more intense and enjoyable, with Nature awakening, rich birdlife and flora, and the rebirth of waterfalls. The tranquillity that reigns in Mjóifjörður depicts well the Eastern charm and wilderness. The most adventuresome will find in Prestagil, The Priest’s Ravine, exciting outdoor opportunities along charming rivers and waterfalls, while the shipwreck by the shoreline will delight the photographers! 

8. Meet Saxa, the Sea Geyser

Saxa Sea Geysir in East Iceland.jpg

Saxa Sea Geyser in Stöðvarfjörður © Visit Fjarðbyggð

Strokkur Geyser on the Golden Circle is probably on your Iceland journey bucket list, but what about a sea geyser? Located just off the coast of the farm Lönd in Stöðvarfjörður, Saxa is an impressive perforated cliff, where the Atlantic waves rush ceaselessly. When the wind blows from the East, the seawater is pushed into the crevice until the pressure is so high that the water and floating objects are forced up into the air in eruptive splashes, a unique natural phenomenon. Seaweed and driftwood which the waves have brought to land show the incredible power the sea possesses. Hence the name Saxa, “chop” in Icelandic, referring to the marine debris that get chopped up against the rock face when drawn into Saxa crack.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might want to check out our Top 10 Experiences in East Iceland, or our Hidden Gems in North Iceland and in West Iceland!

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