There are some places in Iceland that seem too good to be true and the Múlagljúfur Canyon definitely is one of these. Imagine green mossy cliffs, birds flying through the mist, a canyon so deep that it could perfectly serve as a dragons lair and a waterfall coming straight out of a mountain. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the best day hikes in Iceland!
Over the years Iceland has become an extremely popular travel destination and while that’s a really good thing for the economy the Icelandic nature has suffered from it. Icelandic moss got trampled, trash was being thrown around and well, we know how disrespectful people can be towards nature.
As a consequence these places where you could once roam around freely turned into actual tourist attractions. With ropes and fences lining off the trail and completely changing the experience. And it’s no exception that ten other tourist busses would be waiting for you to visit that exact same location.
I can assure you, that’s not the Iceland that I love… but the Múlagljúfur Canyon is one of those places that was able to escape all of that and keep its original beauty and grandeur.
In this article I’ll tell you exactly how to find this magical place in southern Iceland and how to treat it to keep it the way it is right now.
Hiking to Múlagljúfur Canyon – A Hidden Gem in Southern Iceland
Our hike to the Múlagljúfur Canyon was one of the highlights of our latest trip to Iceland. I’m not exaggerating when I say that once we reached the top of this hike we stayed there for an hour or two simply taking it all in. And what made the entire experience even better is that we were standing there all alone for the longest time.
Below you’ll find all of the information that you need so you can have the same magical experience. But first, a few guidelines cause we don’t want this place to become another big tourist attraction and loose all of its charm.
If you’ve spend a lot of time outdoors you’ve probably heard of the “Leave no Trace” principle. These are 7 simple steps that you can follow so your impact on nature and its surroundings is minimal. Now most of these guidelines are catered for backcountry campers but a lot of them can also be used when visiting a secluded place likeMúlagljúfur.
- Plan ahead and prepare – Do research about your destination and pack accordingly.
- Travel and Camp on durable surfaces – In this case, don’t leave the designated hiking trail and stay off the Icelandic moss. You don’t need to forge your own trail, the one that’s there will lead you straight to all of the spectacular viewpoints.
- Dispose of waste properly – On a day hike for instance you can carry a couple wads of toilet paper or tissue and a small zip-top plastic bag. Put the used toilet paper in the bag and dump the paper in your toilet when you get home.
- Leave what you find – Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them. The adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints” still holds, although leaving fewer footprints is even better.
- Respect Wildlife – Don’t approach animals. Both you and the wildlife will enjoy encounters more if you master the zoom lens on your camera and pack along a pair of binoculars.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors – “Treat others the way you would like to be treated” is a rule that applies in the outdoors, too.
- Principle number 7 has to do with campfires but since wild camping is strictly forbidden in Iceland we won’t go over this one.
How to reach theMúlagljúfur Trail
In contrary to many other places in the south of Iceland you won’t find a single sign leading you towards theMúlagljúfur Trail. All that’s there is a small gravel road to the left that will lead you to a small parking space. The turn off is only 5 minutes away from Fjallsarlon Glarcier Lagoon and if you have Google Maps mark this location. This is where you’ll find the gravel road that will lead ytou from the Ring Road to the start of theMúlagljúfur Hiking Trail.
It goes without saying that the only way to reach this trail is by self-driving. The gravel road itself is pretty okay but if you’re not driving a 4×4 always make sure to be extra careful! Car rental companies in Iceland provide a lot of insurances but gravel damage to the bottom of your car is never included!
Simply keep on following this gravel road until you end up at a small unmarked parking lot.
If you turn Google Maps on satellite mode you can actually see the gravel road leading from the Ring Road (1) more inland. In its regular layer mode no road can be detected.
Once you’ve parked your car hike up the small rocky hill to your right and you’ll see the start of the hiking trail. During your hike you’ll see trail markers in all different colors but they all lead to the beautifulMúlagljúfur Canyon!
Where to stay nearMúlagljúfur
The closest campsite toMúlagljúfur is the Skaftaffel campground at the entrance of the Skaftaffel National Park. This stunning campsite is also very close to the Svartifoss waterfall and it can accommodate up to 400 tents. On their website you can book in advance but they never really run out of space. Their facilities are very clean and well maintained as well and they even have several grills on site.
Site fee per night: ISK 250
Adults 18-66 years: one night ISK 1.500
If you don’t feel like camping and you want a little more luxury you can find the hotels closest toMúlagljúfur below.
When to visitMúlagljúfur
This is the perfect place to visit during the summer months and at the start of fall. I don’t recommend attempting this hike during the winter months. The gravel road leading up to the parking lot will most likely be covered in snow and chances are high that the trail leading up to the canyon will be very slippery.
Múlagljúfur Hiking Details
Hike Distance – 3.8km (2.35 miles) one way.
Hike Duration – It will take an average of 2 hours to complete the entire trail. But if you’re like me make it 3 hours cause I literally stopped every 5 minutes to take photos and ended up admiring the scenery for more than an hour.
Hike Difficulty – The hike itself is not difficult at all and goes through even terrain with a couple of inclines. The trail however isn’t well marked and many of the hiking markers are small and worn down.
Elevation – 315 meters
My Experience on theMúlagljúfur Hiking Trail
If there was one place in Iceland high on my list it was theMúlagljúfur canyon! I had seen so many incredible images and videos of this hidden gem that I couldn’t wait to see it for myself and put my own spin on it!
When we arrived at our parking spot I immediately jumped out of our van and I was so ready for it! But it wasn’t all that clear where exactly this hiking trail started?! Next to our van was a small and rocky hill so we decided to climb it and from there we could spot the very first trail marker!
The trail was narrow and a little overgrown but it led us through a stunning purple obsidian field. And when we gazed over to our right we could see the Fjallsarlon glacier in all its glory!
We kept on following the trail as it was winding through all of the flowers and bushes and in the distance we could already catch a glimpse of the canyon!
There were two small river crossings but both of them were very easy to cross or even hop over!
After a while the trail started to go more upwards and it didn’t take long before we were already hiking next to the beginning of the canyon! On our right we were already greeted by a stunning waterfall and after one last incline we had reached the ultimate viewing spot.
Like so many times before in Iceland I had the sudden feeling like we weren’t on planet Earth anymore. There we were, overlooking this majestical piece of nature and surrounded by the sound of birds chirping and water splashing down. All of the cliffs were completely covered in moss and somewhere in the distance were 3 sheep grazing on a very steep hill. We had no idea how the hell they got there and why they even chose that particular, rather uncomfortable place as their feeding spot. But they were our only company.
After admiring the canyon we decided to hike up a little further up and while the view over the waterfall in the back became less impressive all we had to do was look behind to be completely blown away once more.
After admiring the view from up here we hiked back down and stayed a little longer at the main viewpoint. By now another couple had joined us but that’s about how crowded it got.
We took a couple more photos and then headed back down to our van ready for another epic Iceland adventure!
Iceland Hiking Packing List
A lot of people come to Iceland unprepared for the cold, especially during the Summer months. While it can get warm on a sunny day you also need to be prepared for the cold and typical Icelandic wind. For instance, when we were hiking up this mountain I was sweating a lot but the wind was so cold and so harsh that I had to wear a bonnet to keep my ears warm and pain free.
Below are some items that you definitely want to bring with you if you’re planning an adventurous trip to Iceland.
Hiking shoes – You will definitely need a pair of these. Even that some attractions are located right next to a parking lot you’ll pretty much always have to hike over a rocky terrain. I love my Meindl Mountain Trail Boots for longer hikes and my Danner Mountain Light Boots for daily wear and shorter distances.
Wind Proof Jacket – Never go. toIceland without one! The Icelandic wind can be brutal and extremely cold when not properly prepared. I wore my Fjallraven Vidda Jacket during the entire trip and was super happy that I brought it with me.
Woolen cap – The perfect accessory to protect your ears from the cold and to cover your hair after a few days without a shower.
Trekking poles – These will especially come in handy if you’re hiking in some of the more remote areas in Iceland.
Headlamp – It’s very popular to visit the eruption site in the late evening. When it gets darker the lava lits up the sky and you can see it glistening and burning even more. To ensure your safety it’s best to carry a headlamp with you. This way you can keep your hands free and you can see where you’re walking in the dark. I love this one by PETZL, it’s not too expensive and does the trick.
Back Pack – You’ll want to bring a back pack with you to carry your camera, some snacks and your refillable water bottle. I love the Kanken No. 2 back pack from Fjallraven and pretty much take it with me everywhere I go.
Refillable Water Bottle – The water in Iceland is some of the freshet in the entire world so there’s no need at all to buy plastic bottles. Simply find the nearest stream to fill up your bottle and you’re good to go.
More Iceland Blog Posts
I have visited the land of ice and fire 3 times in 3 years and I loved adventuring and driving around the country. On my blog you can find a ton of free resources to help you plan the perfect trip to this beautiful country.
Below are some of my favorite articles and there’s a lot more to come so keep an eye on this space!
- The Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Iceland – A list of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland that I visited myself, divided by region.
- The perfect winter road trip in Iceland – A day by day guide and retelling of my first time visiting this beautiful country.
- Hidden Gems in Iceland – Of the beaten path places that haven’t been discovered by mass tourism.
- Fagradalsfjall Hiking Trail – How To Visit The Active Volcano in Grindavik Iceland
- 1 Day in Landmannalaugar – The Mount Blahnukur Trail
- Discover Thakgil – A hidden gem in southern Iceland