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Mulagljufur Canyon: One of the Best Day Hikes in Iceland

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Iceland is a very beautiful place. VERY beautiful, just to be clear. So, as you might expect, there are also a lot of beautiful hikes on the island – short and long, easy and difficult, dry and wet. And we certainly haven’t tried them all (quite likely no one has). But of the various walks, hikes and climbs we tackled in Iceland, Mulagljufur Canyon was definitely the best.

Man standing on a cliff looking down at Mulagljufur Canyon

Wherever we travel, we love to hike, so Mulagljufur Canyon was one of the priorities of our trip, coming highly recommended by previous visitors to this incredibly diverse island in the North Atlantic. A dramatic gorge in the mountainous landscape, it features green, mossy cliffs, impressive waterfalls and panoramic views. Yet, despite the phenomenal scenery and easy access, it sees far less foot traffic than most other top spots in Iceland.

Mulagljufur Canyon

Excitable flocks of birds soar through the canyon next to an easy-to-follow, gradually ascending path that reaches several outstanding viewpoints, none of them roped off or restricted like many of the other top spots in Iceland. Majestic Hangandifoss waterfall is the star attraction, but there is also Mulafoss and a couple other waterfalls further up, not to mention exceptional views into the canyon and out over Vatnajokull glacier and Fjallsarlon and Jokullsarlon lakes to the north.

Small waterfall coming down between rugged cliffs

While “Mulagljufur” itself actually means “Mule’s Canyon”, making the name Mulagljufur Canyon somewhat redundant, very few of us non-Icelandic folks can properly pronounce “gljufur” anyway, so adding “canyon” to the end at least gives us a fighting chance at being understood.

As well as being a phenomenal hike, Mulagljufur Canyon is also very close to a bunch of other exceptional Iceland highlights, giving even more reason for a visit. As fantastic as the scenery was throughout our two-week Iceland campervan trip, we would say the Eastern Fjords were the most consistently gorgeous, whether following Ring Road as it curved along the dramatic coastline, camping in one of the many excellent campgrounds or hiking through the constantly surprising terrain.

Steep canyon with river at bottom

While it would take a dozen visits to fully explore all the amazing hikes the country has to offer, considering how easy, unique and stunning it is, Mulagljufur Canyon is one of the best day hikes in Iceland.

To read about all the big highlights of our time in Iceland, check out our other posts:

Iceland Campervan Trip: The Best Ring Road Highlights

The Katla Ice Cave Tour: Spectacular and Unique

Getting to Mulagljufur Canyon

Mulagljufur Canyon can be found the far southeastern corner of Iceland, just beyond the range of most Reykjavik day trips. The closest city is Hofn (95 km / 75 min) and the popular base of Vik is also within easy reach (180 km / 2.5 hrs). All the way from Reykjavik, you’re looking at about 5 hours of driving (370 km).

The main reason Mulagljufur Canyon isn’t completely overrun with tourists, hikers and waterfall aficionados is the fairly rough dirt/gravel road leading to it from Ring Road. The narrow road is rocky, bumpy, washboarded and occasionally muddy, but don’t let that deter you – it is only about 2 kilometres long and should be manageable for almost any vehicle as long as you go slow and pay close attention.

Gravel road leading to a white glacier

We did it in a regular 2-wheel drive campervan from Go Campers and had no problem at all. However, if you are concerned and don’t want to take any chances with your vehicle, it would be easy enough to walk in from the highway in less than 30 minutes.

The Mulagljufur Canyon parking area at the end of the road is fairly small (room for 10-12 vehicles or so) but it’s free and you could always park along the side of the dirt road if necessary.

Rock embankment and small parking area near Mulagljufur Canyon

If you’re thinking of going the campervan route for your trip to Iceland, we were very happy with both the van and the service at Go Campers and can definitely recommend them. We also liked that our van just had a normal logo and understated colours (white with some orange touches), unlike many of the very gaudy, occasionally ridiculous, patterns some of the other companies went with.

And if you decide to rent a regular vehicle instead of a campervan (either to save money by tenting or for the added comfort of staying in hotels) we recommend Discover Cars. We have used them in many different countries and they usually have the cheapest deals and have always been very reliable.

Woman refilling water in a Go Campers van

Mulagljufur Canyon is correctly marked on Google Maps and we had good cell service throughout our trip using our KeepGo eSIM cards. We’ve had them for the last couple years and they work just about anywhere in the world. In Iceland they were compatible with the two best networks and worked great, as usual.

You can also buy physical SIM cards at the airport or in any convenience store, although we find eSIMs more convenient. If you do opt for a local SIM, though, the most consistent signal (especially up north) was with Siminn.

Mulagljufur Canyon Hiking Trail

6 km / 2 hrs / 380m elevation gain

GPS map: AllTrails

Obviously, the best part of the Mulagljufur Canyon hike is the amazing scenery. The second-best part, though, is how easy and straightforward the hike is. Even though it is all uphill, the slope is steady and gradual, with no difficult terrain. There are two small river crossings but in June, when the water is typically quite high, they were pretty simple – just a metre or two of easy rock-hopping.

Woman hiking with a waterfall in the distance

The trail itself is mostly gravel and rock, alternately fairly smooth and a bit rough. But never technical. The trail is regularly marked with wooden stakes that have seen better days but are still usually noticeable enough.

Wooden trail marker and woman hiking with mountains and a waterfall in behind

Just minutes into the hike you can look back and enjoy your first great views of the glaciers and lakes to the north. Then after about 30 minutes you’ll reach the first Mulagljufur Canyon viewpoint – with spectacular looks into the gorge in both directions, plus a fantastic and close view of Hangandifoss waterfall. Here, riveting Hangandifoss plunges dramatically out of a hanging valley (the name actually means “hanging waterfall”) and it is one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland.

Woman posing on a cliff edge with Hangandifoss waterfall behind her
Viewpoint #1

Many people actually turn around here, so if you are pressed for time, dealing with bad weather or just aren’t up for a longer hike, it is still a great trail to that point. However, if possible, it is worth continuing further up Mulagljufur Canyon.

Soon after the first viewpoint hikers have to traverse a narrow rock bridge. “Fun narrow”, not “dangerous narrow”, as it is still several metres wide. It could be a problem for those with height issues but for anyone else it should be fine. Then the trail then gets a bit steeper, following a mix and match collection of trails up the side of an open gravel hillside.

Narrow ridge with steep valleys on both sides

While more strenuous than the previous sections, the hill doesn’t require any special skill, just general fitness and patience. At the top of this you will reach the second Mulagljufur Canyon viewpoint. Here you are much higher up, providing a more direct look down into the canyon itself, as well as further up into the green folds of the mountains. Taking around an hour to reach this point, it is not exactly a short stroll but still very manageable considering the incredible payoff.

Mulagljufur Canyon Iceland

A second waterfall – Mulafoss – is visible from here, along with a third waterfall further up the canyon if there has been recent rain or the snow is still melting. While the views of Hangandifoss are better from the first stop, the views back down the canyon of Vatnajokull glacier, Fjallsarlon lake and a distant mountain range are absolutely phenomenal from the second viewpoint.

There are also plenty of flat rocks where you can sit and rest or maybe enjoy a snack with a view, and even a fantastic rock overhang that offers up some awesome photo ops.

Woman sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking a gorge, lake and mountains

Most people take between 1 and 1.5 hrs to reach this point and turn around after they’ve taken all their photos and rested up. However, eager hikers looking for even more can continue up another steep 10 minutes (or less) to the top of a tall rock outcropping. The views from up there aren’t that different but you will get a slightly different angle, be able to look down on the other hikers and, in case it happens to be busy when you’re there, this extra effort should provide a little solitude.

Narrow green canyon with mountains in the distance

Hiking back down the canyon is just a matter of retracing your steps. Obviously, going downhill will be faster and less strenuous. You just need to watch your footing as there are some stretches of loose gravel and scree that can catch out daydreamers and those trying to go too fast.

People hiking along a barren ridge

I wouldn’t say that hiking poles are strictly necessary for the Mulagljufur Canyon hike but there are enough inclines and slippery spots to make them useful. Especially on the way back down, when poles make a big difference for footing, balance and knees. Lots of people do the hike without them, though, so it’s just something to keep in mind.

How Long is the Mulagljufur Canyon Hike?

The entire hike up and back with short breaks at each viewpoint will take most people 2-3 hours. If you have less time, the first viewpoint (closest to Hangandifoss waterfall) only takes about 30 minutes one-way.

Mulagljufur Canyon Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

When to Hike Mulagljufur Canyon

Summer is by far the best time to do the Mulagljufur Canyon hike. Between June and August the trail is usually dry and the river crossings small and simple.

Woman hiking through low bushes

In spring and fall there will be even fewer people on the trail (not the most important consideration since it is rarely busy) but the rivers might be a little bit trickier and you’re almost certainly going to have some mud to deal with.

Only experienced winter hikers should tackle it between November and March as the trail difficulty will increase significantly with lots of ice and snow. If I had to choose between hiking the Mulagljufur Canyon trail in winter or not doing it at all, though, I would personally still give it a shot. Just be sure to bring or rent some micro-spikes and hiking poles, then proceed with caution.

Where to Stay Near Mulagljufur Canyon

There is a good variety of Mulagljufur Canyon accommodation options in southeastern Iceland. Only one is right next to the canyon but all the others still provide relatively simple access if you have a vehicle.

Fjallsarlon Overnight Adventure

The closest, most unique, best and by far the most expensive option is to stay in a floating mobile home right on Fjallsarlon lake with Fjallsarlon Overnight Adventure. No, it is certainly not cheap (although meals are included as well). But staying in one of their comfortable floating igloos right among the icebergs with the glacier looming right next to you as you enjoy a drink on your deck? Well, that is exactly the sort of memory that lasts a lifetime.

Check prices and availability at Fjallsarlon Overnight Adventure

Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

If you are still willing to splash the cash for a special experience but are looking for a more traditional night’s sleep, another terrific option is the Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. This 4-star luxury hotel has exceptional mountain views, immaculate rooms and easy access to all the big highlights of the Eastern Fjords.

Check prices and availability at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon

Hali Country Hotel

Another popular (and more affordable) choice just a short drive north of the canyon is Hali Country Hotel, with comfortable, modern rooms and fabulous views of Vatnajokull glacier. Terrific value by Icelandic standards, they also have an excellent restaurant.

Check prices and availability at Hali Country Hotel

For those in campervans, RVs or tents, while there aren’t any places to camp on-site, there are still a few good campgrounds near Mulagljufur Canyon.

Svinafelli Campground (1800 ISK/pp inc shower)

A lovely campground not far off Ring Road with excellent views and good access to glacier hikes. Rather impressive bathrooms (with hot showers) and common areas, plus they even have some cabins for rent.

Skaftafell National Park (5000 per vehicle incl showers)

Man lounging in a camp chair next to a Go Campers van on an Iceland campervan trip

Good showers, washing stations, bathrooms, etc. and many different sections, including one for tents only (no cars allowed past the rope) and another more organized area for electrified RVs.

Haukafell Campground (1500 ISK/pp)

A cheap and basic campground with excellent views and a good hike to the glacier that requires a bit of rough driving to reach. There are a couple toilets and sinks but no showers, hot water or electricity.

Places to Visit Near Mulagljufur Canyon

One of the best things about Iceland is that no matter which scenic highlight you are visiting, there are always a few more outstanding attractions close by. Within short drives of Mulagljufur Canyon are four of the biggest attractions in the country.

Fjallsaron Lake

Two lakes, a glacier and a snow-covered mountain

Only a couple kilometres from Mulagljufur Canyon and always within sight, this fascinating lake is full of photogenic icebergs. There are numerous different viewpoints and it is far quieter than Jokulsarlon (see below), probably due to another rough access road which is seemingly enough to deter most tourists.

As far as we could tell, the only way Jokulsarlon is better is that it features bright blue water, while Fjallsarlon’s is less photogenically grey. But in every other way, this is the better choice. Luckily they are only a few minutes apart so it is easy enough to see both. In fact, if you want to avoid the crappy road, you could park at Jokulsarlon and walk to Fjallsarlon and back in probably half an hour.

Jokulsarlon

Man overlooking lake full of icebergs

This very famous and very busy glacier lake is also very blue and very much full of icebergs broken off the nearby glacier. And while there may be loads of tourists, buses, boat tours, kayaks for rent and no fewer than three food trucks, the views are incredibly unique and memorable (and parking is surprisingly free). Ice everywhere, mountains and glaciers in the background, distant peaks to the north.

Diamond Beach

Woman walking among the ice on a black sand beach

Right next to Jokulsarlon is the equally popular Diamond Beach, called this because these two lengthy stretches of black sand are where the icebergs go to rest before their inevitable ocean melt. With hundreds of ice chunks glistening on the black sand or rolling in the waves, this is one of the most unique beaches you’ll ever see.

Svartifoss

Waterfall in an Iceland canyon

One of the most popular waterfalls in the country, fascinating Svartifoss is reached by a short hike from Skaftafell National Park campground and is surrounded by impressive basalt rock columns, rolling hills and glacier scenery. Parking costs 1000 ISK per vehicle although the fee is included in the price if you camp there.

Mulagljufur Canyon Summary

In a country full of phenomenal sights and wonderful scenery, Mulagljufur Canyon still managed to stand out. Located in one of the most beautiful areas in Iceland, it is definitely the best hike we did during our time on this diverse and magical island. Anybody with reasonable fitness and a love for amazing canyon vistas should set aside a few hours for this short but stunning hike.

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