Hiking in Kerlingarfjöll – Hiking Routes & Guides

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Individuals who love adventure know the adrenaline rush of accomplishing a hike. Along with this, when an adventure seeker is in the land of fire and ice, the fun doubles up. This is because you never know what may surprise you in this sheer miracle of a country. Talking about miracles, we cannot skip the exquisite beauty called Mt. Kerlingarfjöll. Hiking in Kerlingarfjöll is simply an experience you can not miss. 

In the highlands of Iceland, Mt. Kerlingarfjöll sits like a crowning beauty. Kerlingarfjöll is a massive mountain range, approximately 6-700 meters above sea level. It is almost situated in the very center of Iceland. The mountain range is associated with the large tuya volcano system. Although there is little seismicity in the vicinity, which suggests that Kerlingarfjöll may not be active anymore. Interestingly, some geologists have hinted that there might be some activity in the coming years. The volcanic activity in the area is often a topic of debate when enthusiasts and explorers cannot reach an agreement. There are signs of geothermal energy all over the place. If you love to visit the locations having geysers, hot springs and boiling mud pots, then this amazing hike in Kerlingarfjöll awaits you. The area is characterized by colorful rhyolite mountains.

The gigantic range stands between two glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull. Langjökull and Hofsjökull are the country’s second and third largest glaciers, respectively. The mountain range is parted in two by the beautiful rivers Ásgarðsá and Kisa, the east and west mountains. You would be amazed to know that in August 2020 this magnificent area, spread within 344 square kilometers was declared protected.

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

Know the Recent History

Before you plan the hike to this wonderful location, there are some amazing anecdotes that you must know about the place. There was a ski school located in the area, until two decades ago. The area used to be a heaven for skiers, as they had the chance to play amidst the snow-filled land. The entire area was naturally quite attractive for enthusiastic skiers. Later the school was shut down due to the increasing temperatures in the country. There was not enough snow in the ranges to continue with the skiing facilities. If you are still looking for more options for skiing, Fannborg and Snækollur are some of the summits, ideal for skiing in Kerlingarfjöll. However, it is a challenging ski route as there are no ski lifts. So if you are eager to ski, make sure you follow all the necessary precautions and have all information handy.

Delving into the Different Hiking Trails

Hveradalir

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

You can find a couple of different hiking routes in the Kerlingarfjöll area that all have their unique charm. Hveradalir is the steaming geothermal valley where the explorers can find solfataras and mud pots in large numbers. The entire area is constantly boiling and hissing, truly adding to the fun of the adventure. The visit to this amazing place will leave no explorer untouched. You will bring back so many worthy memories from this place.

There are some trails going through the geothermal area. You do not have to stress about the trail being long or too difficult necessarily as there are both long and short trails that can be done. For hiking beginners, a short hike is advised. You can either do the two-mile-long hike around the geothermal area or go for a 30 miles long multi-day hike. The ground in this area is unstable and quite rich in clay. Due to these natural factors, the region of Hveradalir cannot withstand too much crowd, so make sure to stay on the trails which have markings on them. Straying from the trails can be quite dangerous as the thin crust can by hiding boiling hot water, which the travelers accidentally step through. Also, be extremely cautious never to step on colored areas with fillings as they are extremely hot. The geothermal areas are known for severe accidents and may result in severe burns, where the skin layer rolls off the foot like plastic. 

You would need to pack warm clothes and hiking boots for this hike. There might be sudden weather changes. Summers are most suitable to come to this place as the geothermal areas look most charming in the sunshine when the geothermal colors become beautifully more bright and vivid. The huge steaming hills in Hveradalir look like a beautiful and rare medieval painting brimming full of colors. The color palette in front of you will compel you to take pictures of everything that you see on this wonderful hike. There are wooden steps and wooden bridges in Hveradalir which are meant for hikers. You can follow these trails in the surrounding hills. The whole area braces you with Rhyolite mountains and glaciers. There is a hissing landscape in ranges of yellow, orange, red, and green colors that will greet you in Hveradalir. You can take beautiful pictures here with colorful rivers flowing all around. There are steps made of iron leading down to the geothermal area from the parking lot. Wooden paths and bridges were added in 2014 to make the place safer for the explorers. Ahead of this, a few visitors might like to explore the Hverabotn geothermal area which is the site of the highest surface temperature measured in the country; 150 degrees Celsius.

Mount Kerlingarfjöll

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

Mount Kerlingarfjöll is sliced in half by Hveradalir. The rhyolite Mt. Kerlingarfjöll was christened taking inspiration from a troll woman, Kerling, a gigantic pillar of palagonite rock, 25 meters tall approximately. Kerling is both a negative name for an elderly lady and a troll woman in the Icelandic language. There are many pillars of rock in Iceland that are identified by the name Kerling. Various old troll stories are connected to these pillars of rock. If you do not know it already, you will be surprised to know that trolls turn to stone when the daylight strikes them. These huge pillars of rock are trolls, which were not able to find shelter before sunrise.

Snækollur

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

Snækollur is the highest and the most amazing peak of Kerlingarfjöll. It stands at a striking height of 1478 meters, above Sea Level. The interesting part is that Snækollur and its adjoining mountains are one of the largest Stratovolcanoes in Iceland. It is quite a difficult walk and even more hefty for beginners, so you need to be extremely careful if you have just started hiking. Snow charmingly covers the mountain. Sometimes it can become a difficult task to navigate through the snow. So some of the climbers end up climbing the mountain from the different side, instead of starting at Keis, walking over Fannborg Glacier, and afterward to the top.

Once you reach the top, you will realize that Snækollur is one of the best and most rewarding viewpoints in the country. The visitors can see all the way to the northern coast, and the south coast too, if the skies are clear.  However, if the weather gets cloudy or there is a bit of a haze, it might be difficult for you to enjoy the views. For this reason, take care to visit on a bright sunny day.

The beautiful hiking trail of Snækollur is for experienced hikers only. It is also highly recommended that the visitors take proper advice from the staff at Kerlingarfjöll Center before they begin their hike. The explorers will feel how the conditions vary during the summer as there are minor avalanches visible on the mountainside and crevasses in the Fannborg Glacier. The total distance of the hike is a bit more than 10 miles. 

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

Good Stay Options for Visitors

There are comfortable staying options available near Mt. Kerlingarfjöll during the summertime. There is a nice mountain resort, which is appropriate if you are looking for a night stay facility. The visitors can easily find a camping site and sleeping accommodations there. The river Innri-skarsá flows through the mountain resort, and the Slufoss hydropower plant provides electricity to the resort. The power plant was built in 1970 and overhauled in 2009. Back in the year 1938, a mountain hut was constructed in Kerlingafjöll.

There is a large campsite set to a majestic backdrop with sweeping mountain views. It offers comfortable accommodation in double rooms equipped with private WCs and showers. There are also chalets available either with made beds or sleeping bag facilities. As a camper, you will have access to bathrooms, a communal guest kitchen, and a dining area. There is no reservation required at the campsite. A high-quality waterproof tent is required because the weather can be quite unpredictable in the high terrains.

The visitors can enjoy their stay with these multiple options once they reach their accommodations. For a night’s stay, you can cook, have a memorable meal under the starry cold night at the resort. The Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort has a beautiful, small restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu consists of traditional and vegetarian dishes. You can also buy some snacks for your day hikes. This is the beauty of Iceland, wherever the visitors go, they will get to taste traditional delicacies.

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

How to Reach Here

A great option to reach this region is via self-driving. The Highland roads are accessible anytime from the middle of June till late August. Usually, the roads close around the starting of September. The opening and closing of the roads mainly depend on the weather and road conditions. Kerlingarfjöll is accessible through the road F-35, also called the Kjölur Route or Kjalvegur, from both North and South Iceland, when the roads are open. Note that you will need a 4×4 car to drive to Kerlingarfjöll. 

For a self-drive tour, it takes about three to five hours from Reykjavík without any stops to reach this area. You need to take road 36 towards the direction of the Golden Circle and stay on it till you reach Thingvellir. After driving around Thingvallavatn Lake, take road 365, which will turn into road 37 after a few kilometers. Following the road 37 and 35 after that, the visitors will pass the Geysir Geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. The road will become an F-road from Gullfoss. The first part of the road is smooth to drive on, but after you cover some distance, the route turns unpaved and rough.

The road leads across the Central Highlands, between the two glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull. There are road signs to indicate when the driver needs to leave the F-35 and take F-347. There are two unbridged streams to go through, one shallow and one deeper before you finally reach the valley.

If you are coming from Akureyri in the North of Iceland, the journey takes a little longer. Follow the Ring Road that is road 1 towards Reykjavík for 118 kilometers. From here you will have to take the road F-35 in the south direction. Then shift to F-347 until you eventually see the highland resort. You would require larger 4X4 vehicles to do this trip, due to the river crossings and the usual challenging road conditions. You have to be cautious while renting a car, making sure that you get the required features to do this journey. Renting a car is an excellent way to discover the remote Highlands alone but requires brilliant driving skills and preparation. It is significant to keep yourself informed about the weather forecast and road conditions when you plan to visit here. Please note that road closures can occur even in the summer season.

There is no need to worry if you are not an expert driver or a driver at all. The highland bus service is available from different locations throughout the country. During summers, the explorers can take the Highland bus from the capital city, Reykjavík or Akureyri, in North Iceland. You will notice that this is a specialized all-terrain bus with large wheels. It picks up the passengers at several places in South Iceland before reaching the Highlands. One of the stops is the mountain resort in Kerlingarfjöll. The Highland buses are available on a daily basis between late June and the end of August.

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Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland

Have a Refreshing Dip in Hot Spring

If you think all the hiking has made you tired and you require something refreshing, taking a dip in a natural hot spring is not a bad option. A hot spring situated in Kerlingarfjöll is suitable for bathing. The hot spring is based in a small valley, located at a distance of about 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) from the resort. The route is marked and follows a tiny river. At its base, it was a test drill to examine if the water was sufficiently hot to heat the houses. The geothermal pool is built of stones. It can easily fit 10 to 15 people. The water is rich in iron and has a varying temperature of about 34-37°C (93-38°F) with the warmest spots being found in the center of it.

You will not find any changing facilities so it is a good idea to take a dry bag along. You can carry your dry clothes in the bag while bathing. After using the pool, please make certain not to leave any waste, swimsuits, or underwear behind. Icelanders are very careful and respectful towards their land and do not like when there is litter, deliberately spread across. You must be extra cautious not to cause any waste on the hiking routes.

Kerlingarfjöll Mountains in the highlands of Iceland
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