Hiking in Kerlingarfjöll to explore the steaming vents and rusty red mountains of Hveradalir was a highlight of our Iceland trip. Here is all you need to know to undertake this brilliant self-drive excursion.


Kerlingarfjöll is a small but stunning mountain range that lies deep in Iceland’s central highlands. Wedged between two glistening glaciers it rises out of the barren rocky landscape forming beautiful snowy peaks.

Lurking within these snowy peaks is the geothermal area of Hveradalir, a small valley of red rhyolite mountains, steaming vents and bubbling rivers. It’s a hiker’s paradise, a photographer’s dream and an ideal day trip for the mildly adventurous traveller.

Kerlingarfjöll isn’t overly visited by independent travellers, due to the difficult terrain of Iceland’s highlands. But don’t let that put you off. The 35 Kjölur road which provides access is now one of the easiest mountain roads to negotiate. In addition, walking trails are being improved with path markers and signs. Hiking in Kerlingarfjöll is becoming easier to do without an organised tour.

So, driving to Kerlingarfjöll is not too difficult and yet it’s still off the beaten track enough to make you feel like you’ve conquered some of Iceland’s barren terrain. This – and the stunning scenery – make Kerlingarfjöll a great destination to bring out your adventurous side.

Here’s how.


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HIKING FROM KERLINGARFJÖLL TO HVERADALIR


SUMMARY / Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort to Hveradalir

DISTANCE / 7 km

TIME / 2 hours, 30 minutes return

DIFFICULTY / Easy-Medium

HIKERS / Mark & Paul

THE ALLURE OF KERLINGARFJÖLL AND HVERADALIR

We had been keen to visit Hveradalir after being lured in by dramatic photos of steaming rivers curving around rusty mountains. Like most areas of extreme natural beauty, Hveradalir is best explored on foot. So during our 10 days in Iceland, we set off on a day trip to do some hikes from Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort with high expectations, lunch and plenty of warm clothing.

Soon after leaving the resort, we joined the well-marked path and followed the ridge up and down a small valley. We had patches of excellent view – snow-capped mountains surrounding the wide valley – but the path in front of us disappeared into thick white cloud. A little higher, we trudged through snow between the saddle of two mountains.

As we continued over the top of the ridge, the clouds suddenly lifted. On the other side, the sun that had been shackled all day – and almost all week – finally hit our upturned faces. Gazing into the valley below, we were treated to one of the most remarkable sights we had ever seen.

Bubbling blue rivers carved their way around red rhyolite mountains; vibrant green moss clung to rusty rock; yellow scars in the earth pumped steam into the cool, fresh air. Boiling pots spluttered grey mud in a gurgling frenzy. The whole valley was filled with a mystic vibe. The Kerlingarfjöll mountains of rock and snow rose into the blue skies.

Down in Hveradalir, we walked up steps cut into the mountains to collect various vantage points of this spectacular scene. It’s another world up here and exploring the area was one of our top experiences in Iceland.

TRAIL CONDITIONS FOR HIKING FROM KERLINGARFJÖLL MOUNTAIN RESORT TO HVERADALIR

The trail for Hveradalir leaves from the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort at Ásgarður. It begins by heading south, rising up a ridge just to the west of the river. There is a red sign pointing the way. The trail is marked with wooden poles for the first section but they become scarcer as the walk continues. It is, however, a well-trodden path and should be obvious (unless there has just been a fresh flurry of snow).

The trail drops down a small valley, rises over the shoulder of a mountain (sometimes covered in snow) and flattens before meeting a large metal sign pointing in numerous directions. Turn left and head down into Hveradalir. Once in Hveradalir there is a network of paths cut into the hills that criss-cross the geo thermal area, providing views in all directions.

The hike from Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort to Hveradalir takes 2 hours and 30 minutes round trip, but you will want to allow another 2 hours more to explore the geo-thermal area.

HIKING OPTIONS IN KERLINGARFJÖLL

There are over 20 different hikes spread throughout the Kerlingarfjöll mountains. They range from short 1km hikes to a 3-day 47km circuit of the area. Here are some of the most popular.

THE SHORT CUT TO HVERADALIR / The geothermal area of Hveradalir is the highlight of the region. It is most easily accessed by driving to Keis car park (3km drive past Kerlingarföll Mountain Resort) and then walking down a short slope to the river, hot vents and springs. There are about 3km of paths connecting the area, but it’s so scenic you will want to give yourself 1 to 2 hours to explore.

KERLINGARFJÖLL HOT SPRING JAUNT / A hot (or at least quite warm) spring lies 1.5km upstream from the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain resort. It’s a simple, well-signed, easy to follow trail running along the river bank. The pool is a great place to hop into some trunks and soak those tired limbs.

KERLINGARFJÖLL MOUNTAIN RESORT TO HVERADALIR / This is the hike we described above. It is a 7km round trip and takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. The path has signs in places but it is well-trodden and usually easy to follow.

SNAEKOLLUR SUMMIT / At 1,482m Snaekollur is the highest peak in the region. The hike from Keis car park is not long (7km round trip) but it is steep and tough and passes over glacial ice. Snow often covers the top so your best chance for finding your route is in mid to late summer.

AUSTURFJÖLL PEAKS / This is an extension of the Snakeollur hike and includes more of the highest peaks in the area, offering views over the surrounding glaciers. It’s a challenging 5 to 6-hour hike.

For something longer than a day hike, the Hringbrautin circuit covers 47km over 3 days completing a loop of the entire range and going over almost every peak. Accommodation is in huts.

WHAT ELSE TO DO? BATHING IN HVERAVELLIR

Hveravellir, not to be confused with Hveradalir, is another geo-thermal area located 1 hour north of Kerlingarfjöll on the F735, just off the 35 Kjölur road.. It also has a number of trails to explore including the enormous lava field at Kjalhraun. But the highlight is its natural warm pool.

Heated by volcanic activity, the thermal pool at Hveravellir was one of our favourites in Iceland. While it’s great to swim up to the bar in the Blue Lagoon, there’s something about stripping down in the middle of nowhere and jumping in a natural pond that has stunning views and is the perfect temperature.

There is a small decked area with a bench, but no changing rooms. The site is free of charge.

HOW TO GET TO KERLINGARFJÖLL

Kerlingarfjöll is accessed via the F35 Kjölur road and the F347. These are mountain roads (gravel or rocky tracks) that can only be undertaken in a 4X4 (2WD are not legally allowed). Some mountain roads are very challenging and require expertise but fortunately, these are two of the easiest. All the rivers were recently bridged and the roads are in fairly good condition (for Icelandic mountain roads).

There are two routes for getting to Kerlingarfjöll: from Blönduós in the north or from Gullfoss in the south-west.

FROM BLÖNDUÓS / While this route is further, it’s easier. The route is mainly gravel with the odd large boulder. It can be done in any sized 4X4, even with an inexperienced driver. It takes about 2 hours 45 minutes one way, (5 hours 30 minutes there and back). This route is also better if you want to end the day soaking in the warm natural spring at Hveravellir.

FROM GULFOSS / The drive to Kerlingarfjöll from Gullfoss is a much shorter distance, but the roads are much worse. It is a rocky bumpy ride that will take you between 2 to 3 hours depending on your vehicle and your skill. If you are unsure drive in from the north.

For more tips about driving the mountain roads in Iceland, see our article here.

KERLINGARFJÖLL MOUNTAIN RESORT TO HVERADALIR MAP

While the paths are well marked, if you run into poor weather it is a good idea to have a map. Buy the Official Hiking Map: Iceland 03 Kjölur – Langjökull – Kerlingarfjöll. There is also a hiking board detailing the paths in the area at the Mountain Resort.

Click on the icon to the left of the title on the map to bring up the locations on the Kerlingarfjöll to Hveradalir hike. To save this map, click on the star the right of the title – this will save the map to YOUR PLACES -> MAPS in Google Maps.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT OPTIONS

If you don’t have a 4×4 or don’t want to self-drive to Kerlingarfjöll then you can take the 610 or 610a scheduled bus. Unfortunately, the bus stops at Kerlingarfjöll for a short time which doesn’t allow for hiking.

If you want to do some of the hikes in the area, and you’re catching the bus, you will need to spend the night at Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort.

Another option is to take a day tour but they start at about US $250 per person, making it a pretty expensive option. In fact, the price of a tour to Kerlingarfjöll was one of the main reasons we hired a 4X4 on our trip to Iceland.

BEST TIME TO HIKE IN KERLINGARFJÖLL

Kerlingarfjöll can only be accessed via the K35 and F347 mountain roads. These roads are inaccessible in winter and only open when the snow has cleared, usually some-time in June. They remain open till the snow comes again around early October.

However, even though the roads are open, snow can still be found on the paths and covering the peaks well into July. This makes August and early September the best times to hike in Hveradalir.

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WHERE TO STAY FOR HIKING IN KERLINGARFJÖLL

There are three main options for where to stay when visiting Kerlingarfjöll.

Firstly at the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort itself. It has campsites and some huts to rent, as well as showers, toilets, a basic shop and a restaurant.

If you intend to drive in from the north then you want to be near Blönduós. We had a great stay at Brimslóð Atelier – a small family run B&B that does an excellent traditional Icelandic dinner in their homey kitchen.

If you intend to come from the south, check for options in Gulfoss or Geysir areas.

DRIVING & HIKING TIPS FOR KERLINGARFJÖLL & HVERADALIR

While the mountain roads on this day trip are easy to drive, the highlands are a remote part of Iceland with few facilities, so it’s important to be prepared for your journey. Here are some tips before you head to your Kerlingarfjöll hike:

  1. Firstly, read our article about driving the mountain roads in Iceland.
  2. For the whole day trip, driving to and from Kerlingarfjöll, hiking to Hveradalir and soaking in Hveravellir thermal pool, allow 10 to 12 hours.
  3. Always leave with a full tank of petrol, there are no petrol stations on this route and running out is not an option. We used about half a tank to get there and back.
  4. There is a small restaurant and shop at the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort, but you shouldn’t rely on it for too much.
  5. Check weather conditions and pack warm clothes, waterproofs and hiking boots for your Hveradalir hike. The highlands are colder than the coast and the weather can change quickly. Be prepared.
  6. Buy the Official Hiking Map: Iceland 03 Kjölur – Langjökull – Kerlingarfjöll. Before you make the drive, hit the star button on our map (above) to download to your phone. GPS will work even if you don’t have data. It can be invaluable if the cloud comes in when you are hiking.
  7. Although the 35 Kjölur road is one of the easier mountain roads, tell someone where you are heading, ask them about local road difficulties, and make sure you know your rental company breakdown and Iceland road safety phone numbers.

WHERE NEXT?

This day trip to Kerlingarfjöll is just one of the days in our 10 day Iceland itinerary. Here’s some more reading you might be interested in to help plan your Iceland trip.

LANDMANNALAUGAR DAY TRIP

DRIVING TO ASKJA CALDERA

DRIVING THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below – we will always reply. To stay up to date with our travels, follow us on social and signup to our NEWSLETTER.

Beautiful scenic hiking in Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland. / Kerlingarfjoll hot spring, Iceland #Kerlingarfjoll #Iceland

Beautiful scenic hiking in Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland. / Kerlingarfjoll hot spring, Iceland #Kerlingarfjoll #Iceland

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