Hiking in Kerlingarfjöll

Hiking and Exploring in Kerlingarfjöll in the Highlands of Iceland

After visiting Kerlingarfjöll mountain range for the first time, I decided to write a very thorough article about my experience. I hope you'll find it helpful!

Kerlingarfjöll mountain range is one of the destinations in Iceland I have been wanting to visit for years. I knew there were various options for hiking in the area and I had seen stunning pictures of Hveradalir geothermal area that made me even more convinced that Kerlingarfjöll would be worthy of a visit. I finally decided to take action a couple of months ago and booked a night’s stay in one of Kerlingarfjöll’s mountain huts.

The Kerlingarfjöll mountain range is located in the Icelandic Highlands – almost in the very center of Iceland.

Kerlingarfjöll consist of several peaks, the tallest one is 4,846 ft. The mountain range is a part of a large tuya volcano system . Little seismicity in the area hints that Kerlingarfjöll may not be active anymore, although some geologists have for years concluded the opposite.

Volcanic activity in Kerlingarfjöll may be debated but there are signs of geothermal energy all around. The area is characterised by geysers, hot springs, boiling mud pots and colorful rhyolite mountains.

Hveradalir geothermal area in Kerlingarfjöll. Hveradalir geothermal area in Kerlingarfjöll. Travelade/Nína.

Kerlingarfjöll used to be a paradise for skiers

Until the year 2000, there was a ski school operated in the area. Skiers had the rare opportunity to enjoy dashing down the snowy slopes during the summertime so the area was naturally very attractive for enthusiastic skiers. The school was closed down due to rising temperatures in Iceland, there simply wasn’t enough snow in the mountains to maintain skiing facilities any longer.

Some of the summits in Kerlingarfjöll are still suitable for skiing, such as Fannborg and Snækollur. There are no ski lifts though, so a very demanding hike is required for those who are eager to ski.

Snowy slopes of Mount Fannborg, Kerlingarfjöll, Iceland. The snowy slopes of Mt. Fannborg. Travelade/Nína

When the ski school was still up and running, there were often large groups of people staying in the area and according to my mom, there was a lot of partying going on there in the evenings. Young adults spent their days skiing in the fresh mountain breeze and after an exhausting day, somebody usually started strumming guitar and encouraging the group to chant along. I took a quick look at Kerlingarfjöll's official Facebook-page and saw a lot of recent videos of people doing excactly that. So the tradition apparently lives on!

Nowadays, the area is mostly popular with hikers. There are various hiking trails in the area and many people choose to stay there for a couple of days, hiking around and bathing in the local natural pool.


The facilities

The resort consists of several huts – some of them accommodate two to four persons while others are a lot larger. Most visitors bring their own bed linen, a pillow and a sleeping bag but it’s also possible to rent it. There is a campsite too, if you’re looking for an even cheaper option.

There’s a tiny shop selling some snacks (mostly candy) and a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you want to cook your own meals, there’s a kitchenette in every hut, consisting of a small refrigerator and a stove. There were pots and pans you could use, and some basic tableware (plates, glasses, cutlery and even wine glasses!).

Every hut has a bathroom, but not all of them have showers. If that is the case, you can shower in the "shower building". If you want to bathe outdoors, you can hike along the river for about 20 minutes until you reach the “borehole” – a geothermal pool by the river bank.

You can book your stay here .

Hiking trails

Before going to Kerlingarfjöll, I did some research on the hiking trails in the area. The only sources I could find was a not-so-detailed hiking map I bought and some trails I found on www.kerlingarfjoll.is . I figured that a good day’s hike would be hiking from the resort to the Hveradalir geothermal area and back. Maybe adding a little detour on the way back if the weather would be good.

The hike from the resort to Hveradalir is about 2.5 miles. Although the ground is usually free of snow in the summertime, some sections of this stretch are covered with snow. Crampons aren’t necessary but it might be a good idea to bring some walking sticks. The trail from the resort to Hveradalir is not marked but you will see the path quite clearly. It’s not a very challenging hike, no steep slopes or rocky surface.

When you reach Hveradalir, the true beauty of Kerlingarfjöll appears right before your eyes. The colors of the mountains in Hveradalir are sensational and there’s steam rising from the hot geysers all around you. The rusty-red mountains, neon-green moss, and the blue glacial river form an amazing colour-palette. My impulse was to take pictures of pretty much everything I saw in this magical place.

A man hiking near Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Iceland. The last snowy section before entering Hveradalir geothermal area. Travelade/Nína.

Two people hiking in Hveradalir geothermal area near Kerlingarfjöll. Starting to see some interesting colours. Travelade/Nína.

A hiker in Hveradalir geothermal area, Iceland. The sun started to shine when we were approaching the geothermal valley. Travelade/Nína.

Hiking trail in Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Iceland. Travelade/Nína.

Hiking trail in a rusty-red rhyolite mountain in Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll. Travelade/Nína.

Hikers in Hveradalir, Kerlingarfjöll, Iceland.

Once you’ve arrived in Hveradalir, you have a lot of hiking options. You can either hike a 2 mi. long circle around the geothermal area, or hike the nearby mountains.

It's also possible to do a 30 mi. multi-day hike around the whole mountain range. There are huts on the way so you won't be needing a tent. I will do that next time, for sure.

We actually decided to hike Snækollur, the highest peak of Kerlingarfjöll. It was a very demanding walk and the mountain is covered with snow. It was pretty hard to navigate so we ended up climbing the mountain from the “other side”, instead of starting at Keis, walking over Fannborg Glacier and then to the top.

I had heard that Snækollur was one of the best viewpoints in Iceland, and that you could see all the way to the northern coast, and the south coast too, if the skies are clear. There seemed to be good visibility from the top when we started the hike but some low dark clouds began to appear quickly after we started hiking. We decided not to try to reach the summit because of fog and clouds, which was a pity.

Hiking Snækollur is for experienced hikers only and I would seek some advice from the staff at Kerlingarfjöll before you start your hike. Conditions may vary, we could see small avalanches on the mountain side and there are crevasses in the Fannborg Glacier during the summertime.

After the hike up Snækollur we walked along a gravel road towards the resort. I’m not sure how long in total our hike was, my estimate is a little over 10 mi.

A hiker overlooking Mt. Lodmundur in the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range. Overlooking Mt. Loðmundur while grey clouds start to move from the north. Travelade/Nína.

The view from a snowy mountain in Kerlingarfjöll, Iceland. Dark clouds above. Halfway up Mt. Snækollur. Travelade/Nína.

A gravel road with ice and snow all around. On our way back to the resort. This gravel road is called Wall Street. I'm not kidding. Travelade/Nína.

When we arrived at our hut we cooked some pasta, had some red wine and went to bed early. It was raining a bit the last two hours of our hike so we were slightly wet and cold and our feet were soaked after hiking in the snow.

It’s rather difficult to find a good hiking map online. I bought a map in a map-store in Reykjavik, called Iðnú . Once you get to the resort at Kerlingarfjöll, you can take a look at more detailed maps.

We had limited time the day after since our bus left at 13:35. We decided to walk to the “swimming pool” to take a quick dip. For some reason, I had expected it to be a regular outdoor swimming pool, but it turned out to be a rustic geothermal hot pool on the riverbank.

The temperature was around 96°F, a little bit too cold in my opinion. It was still very nice to linger in the pool and enjoy the fresh breeze. The most difficult part was to get out of the pool to dry yourself and get dressed because it was really freezing outside, although it was already July.

A man in a natural thermal pool by the riverbank in Kerlingarfjöll. Travelade/Nína.

A woman bathing in a geothermal natural pool by the river bank, near Kerlingarfjöll Iceland. Travelade/Nína.

Q & A

How can I get to Kerlingarfjöll? Is it possible to go by a small car?
It says on the Kerlingarfjöll website that it’s accessible for all cars during the summertime. I was sceptical about that. Some roads in the Highlands of Iceland are very rough so I decided to drive to Geysir and take the bus from there. I usually have faith in my tiny Kia Picanto, but this time I decided to play it safe.

If you have a decent car, preferably a jeep, you can drive all the way to Kerlingarfjöll when the roads are open during the summertime. Information about road conditions in the whole country can be found here . This PDF is also great if you want to have an overview over all roads in Icelands, for instance which roads are paved and which aren't.

It’s also possible to travel by bus, either from Reykjavik or Akureyri. If you take the bus from Reykjavik, it will stop for a half an hour at both Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir – two of Iceland’s most famous attractions. I was thrilled that I got the opportunity to see these beautiful spots, I hadn’t been there since I was a child.

If you have a tiny rental car, it’s possible to do what I did: Drive to Geysir and take the bus from there. You can buy bus tickets here . I also highly recommend the Reykjavik Excursions Highland Circle Passport , if you will be travelling some more in the Highlands.

A woman stepping out of a bus in the Iceland Highlands. A quick photo-stop at Lake Hvítaárvatn, south of Langjökull Glacier. Travelade/Nína.

What do I have to bring?
If you will be hiking, you’ll definitely have to bring your hiking boots and other standard hiking gear. Crampons aren’t necessary, at least not for the most common hiking trails in the area. Bring warm clothes, a hat, a scarf and some gloves. You should always carry a map, a GPS-device or a compass while hiking in Iceland’s wilderness and Kerlingarfjöll is no exception.

You have to bring your own linen and a sleeping bag if you don’t want to rent it. Bring warm pyjamas and some slippers, since the floors in the huts are quite cold. Don’t forget your swimsuit.

You also should bring a lot of food and snacks unless you want to buy every meal at the restaurant.

Bring your camera and make sure it’s loaded. You will be using it a lot!

Can I go there in the wintertime?
It is possible to visit Kerlingarfjöll in the wintertime but you will be needing a big 4x4 vehicle, a superjeep, if you’re driving there yourself. Hiking in the area is out of the picture during the coldest months, except if you like trudging through deep snow.

Are there any other attractions in the area?
That depends on how you define “in the area”. The Kjölur Highland route is only 10 miles away from the resort, so if you are driving Kjölur, you might want to take a detour to explore Kerlingarfjöll. Hveravellir is a geothermal area worth exploring too, it’s about 18 miles from the Kerlingarfjöll resort.

The Kerlingarfjöll mountain range is situated in the midst of the Highlands of Iceland. There are (almost)  no farms, no shops and no residential areas in the Highlands.

How is the weather?
It’s pretty cold, even in the summer. Bring warm clothes, expect rain and cold winds. You can check out the forecast for Kerlingarfjöll here .

Is there wifi?
No, but there’s 3G connection at the resort.

Whom can I contact for more information about Kerlingarfjöll?
You can contact me directly or check out Kerlingarfjöll’s website . You can also check out the Kerlingarfjöll Facebook page . It’s in Icelandic but I’m sure that if you can post/message them questions in English.