It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It’s the kind of place which robs your voice.
Iceland is a country full of bizarre natural wonders, and Ásbyrgi is yet another. The canyon defies logic. You’re walking through a forest, when suddenly there’s this massive cliff wall towering 100 meters into the air, encircling you on three sides. There’s a pond at its foot, into which a small waterfall is trickling. And, while you should be concentrating on the sheer magnificence of the scene, you can’t stop wondering … how did something like this form in the first place?
Modern-day geologists have an answer for us. Something about catastrophic glacial flooding swiftly carving a chunk out of a relatively warm lava bed. But I prefer the origin story from Norse mythology. Ásbyrgi is believed to be the place where the horse of Óðinn, Thor’s father, stamped one of his eight hooves down onto the earth. It would explain the shape, and the pool at the base of the cliff looks just like a rain puddle collected in the hoof-print.
There’s a network of trails around Ásbyrgi, and a few excellent lookouts from which you can take in the scene. We only had a couple hours, and so stuck to those which were easiest to reach. With more time, we’d have been able to climb to the top of the cliff, or even scale Eyja, a giant rock island which sits in front of the horseshoe. There’s also a popular multi-day hike leading from Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss.
Regardless of how much time you have, it’s worth going out of your way to see Ásbyrgi. It’s an area of sublime beauty, especially in autumn when a thick forest of birch and fir trees have turned colors, and was one of the surprise highlights of our trip around Iceland.