We understand you. The South Coast is the most visited region of Iceland, and in between the must-see attractions, you will want to get away from crowds and enjoy nature for yourself. You thought hidden gems were not a thing in South Iceland? Check out our selection of underrated natural wonders and make some time on your itinerary for them, for a well-appreciated break. Some of these places might get you drenched, others may leave you with dirty shoes and aching muscles, but all of them will leave you in awe and give you goose bumps.
1. Gluggafoss Waterfall in Fljótshlíð
Just Northwest of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, Merkjá River has formed tunnels and grooves in the soft tuff rock of the cliff, revealing over time an enchanting waterfall, once hardly visible. Hence the name Gluggafoss, the Windows Waterfall. This 44-meter high waterfall remained almost completely hidden until the stream came out one of the windows to form a spectacular arch at the very top of the falls, still visible today, before forcing its way through all windows. Gluggafoss is highly exposed to the elements, easily eroded and bound to constant changes, like that time Hekla volcano erupted, in 1947, resulting in a 20-cm thick layer of volcanic ash to clog the vertical tunnel, almost leading to its disappearance. It took 50 years for the falls to get rid of all the debris deposited by the eruption and return to their original form. To reach Gluggafoss from Hvolsvöllur, the closest village, turn from Ring Road onto Road 261 for about 20 kilometers.
2. Nauthúsagil Ravine in Katla Geopark
Katla UNESCO Global Geopark covers 9% of Iceland and is in the most volcanically active area of Iceland, with 150 eruptions recorded since the 9th century, thus constantly shaping the landscape. In the park, not far from the popular Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, lies Nauthúsagil, the Bull Shed Ravine, which earns its name from an ancient bull shed located on the farm Stóru-Mörk, where bulls and non-milking stock used to be put out to pasture. What sets Nauthúsagil apart is the rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia) that grows on its ridge, sometimes almost horizontally, forming a magical roof of trees when you look up. Although the age of the rowan remains unknown, one of its trunks that broke in 1937 was estimated over 90 years, 1.5 meter in diameter and 9-meter high, and now on display at the Skógar Folk Museum. A relatively easy walk along the riverbed will lead you to a succession of beautiful waterfalls in an astounding scenery, with a few river crossings and stepping stones involved. Although Nauthúsagil does not require to drive all the way to Þórsmörk, it is advisable to go with a 4x4 vehicle.
3. Stakkholtsgjá Canyon in Þórsmörk
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North of Eyjafjallajökull this time, the glacier and the glacial rivers have created an impressive 2-kilometer long canyon, 100-meter high in some places, whose velvety soft moss and peculiar rock formations can’t be missed. Park near Krossá river, at the entrance to Þórsmörk valley, the Valley of Thor, and explore the canyon. The hike takes around 1.5 hours back and forth. As soon as you enter the canyon, you will be surrounded by towering palagonite cliffs featuring interesting geological formations, from intriguing caves and deep ravines, to moss-covered shelves. You wouldn’t be surprised to encounter creatures you thought were only in folktales. At the end of the track, you will reach a remarkably high cave, open in its top, and home to a dreamlike waterfall, where you will be dazzled by both light and waterfall spray. Yes, you will get wet. Good to bring a rain jacket and protect your photo material. To access Stakkholtsgjá, pass Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi Waterfalls on Road 249 that soon changes into a gravel road (F249) leading to Þórsmörk, with several unbridged rivers to cross and rough terrain, for which a 4x4 vehicle and caution are essential.
4. Kvernufoss Waterfall
There is no doubt that Skógafoss Waterfall is on your Iceland trip itinerary, but little is known that within a walking distance, East of the waterfall, hides Kvernufoss, another scenic waterfall few have seen. This 40-meter high waterfall is nestled in a spectacular narrow gorge, Kvernugil, although curious onlookers may notice it from the main road. Once you turned from the Ring Road, skip the turn to Skógafoss and head towards Skógar Museum, where you can park your car. Walk East over the fence, and onto a short 600-meter path into the gorge leading to Kvernufoss. Surrounded by lush hills, the place does not only provide magnificent sights, but also a soothing feeling of isolation and tranquillity. Although of a smaller scale, Kvernufoss is highly reminiscent of Seljalandsfoss, also featuring a path behind the waterfall. You will want to be cautious and well-equipped as the path can get slippery after rainfalls.
5. Þakgil Canyon
Þakgil is a peaceful oasis located between Mýrdalsjökull glacier (with Katla volcano underneath) and Mýrdalssandur vast plains. Þakgil, literally the Roof Canyon, owes its name to the very mild and calm weather conditions it boasts, due to its location in a valley, protected by mountains. From September 15th and throughout the Summer, guests can enjoy the beautiful campsite and wooden cottages, with a view over a lovely freshwater stream. At the nearby natural cave - not your average dining area! - tables and benches, a grill, and candle holders make for an unforgettable dinner with a view. Getting chilly? Why not use the heat of the fireplace? Þakgil is located some 20 kilometers from Vík by Road 214, and boasts some of the best hiking area of the country, for families and experienced trekkers alike, all the way to the glacier.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might want to check out our Hidden Gems in North Iceland, or Hidden Gems in East Iceland!