If there’s one place in Iceland that feels like you’ve stepped onto another planet it has to be Kerlingarfjöll and the geothermal area of Hveradalir.
Kerlingarfjöll is one of the most precious natural attractions in Iceland and is located in the central Highlands. It’s part of an active volcanic system and is home to one of Iceland’s most impressive geothermal areas.
When I first heard aboutKerlingarfjöll I didn’t think it would be that impressive. But when I heard someone referring to it as “similar to Landmannalaugar, but better” I immediately knew I had to see it with my very own eyes.
And without a doubt I can say that it is absolutely worth the drive! I am not exaggerating when I say that within the timespan of 2 hours I took more than 600 photos!
In this guide I will tell you exactly how to see the Hveradalir Geothermal Area, which is the most beautiful part of Kerlingarfjöll.
How To Visit Kerlingarfjöll And The Hveradalir Geothermal Area In One Day
Kernlingarfjöll is a rather young mountain range and before it became a hikers paradise it actually used to be a very popular skiing resort. But global warming caused the snow to melt at a rapid pace and now it looks like the rolling hills are being swallowed by steam.
Kerlingarfjöll is part of an active volcanic system and is home to one of the most impressive geothermal area’s in entire Iceland. But what makes this area truly impressive is its ethereal look and feel.
The hills are a brown, nearly orange color and also made out of rhyolite, the same substance as the mountains in Landmannalaugar. It’s this rhyolite that gives them this rusty look and in between, the hills are sprinkled with vivid colors of blue, green, red and yellow. Then add the massive amount of steam coming straight from the ground and the bubbling hot springs spread throughout the area and you know you’ll be in for a treat.
The Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range was created by a volcanic eruption about 10,000 years ago. Before that, the area was entirely covered by a glacier from the last Ice Age. The remnants of that period can still be seen in the area with snow capped mountain tops adding a magical vibe.
In 2017, the 367-square-kilometre Kerlingarfjöll area was declared a protected nature reserve. Today, this extraordinary site is popular for hiking in the summer and snowmobiling or snowshoeing in the winter.
The site features many odd markers such as steaming vents, clay geysers, and bubbling hot springs. And all of them are very easy to access. Small bridges connect the different rhyolite mountains and the very steep parts are made a little easier with the help of some wooden steps.
Kerlingarfjöll Interesting Facts
- The name Kerlingarfjöll is a combination of two words, Kerling, meaning old lady and Fjöll meaning mountains.
- The view from the peaks of Kerlingarfjöll is among the best you can see in Iceland.
- Kerlingarfjoll have been used as a filming location several times. The last project that was filmed in Kerlingarfjoll is a part of survival series – Dude, you’re screwed – which is broadcasted on Discovery Channel. The project was filmed during late winter 2012
- During centuries Kerlingarfjoll was viewed as a remote and not so friendly place, often referred to as the Bad Weather Mountains.
How to reachKerlingarfjöll and the Hveradalir Geothermal Area
The Highland roads open any time between mid and late June and usually close around the beginning of September. This depends on the actual weather and road conditions, though. When the roads are open, Kerlingarfjöll is accessible via road F35, also called the Kjölur Route or Kjalvegur, from both North and South Iceland.
The easiest way to reach Kerlingarfjöll is to simply self-drive. Both the Hveradalir Geothermal Area and Kerlingarfjöll are located in the central Highlands in Iceland and you can only drive there if you have a 4×4. This can either be a 4×4 car or a 4×4 camper van but you can not drive here with a regular car. Especially the last 5 km that will lead you straight towards the Hveradalir Geothermal Area are extremely rocky. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that at times my head nearly bumped the ceiling of the car when driving up and down that last road.
For all of my Iceland adventures I chose one of the camper vans from Happy Campers and with their 4×4 we felt safe on all of the F-roads that we took in Iceland!
Kerlingarfjöll points to the entire hiking area whereas the Hveradalir Geothermal Area is only a small part of it but it’s the most beautiful part for sure.
To reachKerlingarfjöll you have to drive on the F35 which traverses Iceland from North to South. The F35 is one of the best maintained F-roads on the entire island and from where you should drive inland totally depends on your itinerary.
For instance we decided to drive towardsKerlingarfjöll after visiting Godafoss in the North so for us it made total sense to take the F35 near Varmahlid.
TIP 💡 – Before driving into the Highlands make sure to fill up on gas cause there aren’t any gas stations in the Highlands.
TIP💡 – There also aren’t any restauranst or grocery stores in the area so make sure to stock up on enough food and drinks for your trip into the Highlands!
From Akureyri, also known as “Capital of the North” the drive to Kerlingarfjöll takes 5,5 hours. Follow the Ring Road (road 1) towards Reykjavík for 118 kilometers. From here, take the F35 to the south and then change to F347 until you reach the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort.
From Reykjavík it will take 3,5 hours of driving without stopping to reachKerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort. Simply drive towards Gulfoss on road 35 and after a while it will turn into F35. The first part of the road is quite nice, but after a few kilometers, it becomes unpaved and rough.
In summer you can take the Highland bus from Reykjavík, the capital city, or Akureyri, in North Iceland. This is a specialized all-terrain bus with large wheels and it stops at several places in South Iceland before reaching the Highlands, including a stop at the mountain resort in Kerlingarfjöll.
There are several tour companies that go to Kerlingarfjöll and the entire Kjölur area but this one combines it with a visit to the Golden Circle – Kjölr route and Golden Circle Tour.
Where to stay at Kerlingarfjöll
The most convenient place to stay for your visit to the Hveradalir Geothermal Area is the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort.
At Kerlingarfjoll they have a new building with 20 double rooms with made up beds and each room has a private WC and shower. Then there are 10 smaller chalets, each with one to four rooms, which they rent out for made up beds accommodation only.
The sleeping bag accommodation is in three larger chalets, 8, 20 or 28 persons respectively.
The campsite is large, nesting on natural grounds at the banks of the Ásgarðsá river. Guests staying in the sleeping bag facilities or the camp site have access to a kitchen facilities. The camping ground is for tents and Caravans.
You’ll have access to WC and cold water. You don’t have to reserve or book at the campsite in advance. Simply show up, have a good time and enjoy the scenery in Kerlingarfjoll.
If you don’t wish to stay here but you want to be in close proximity to the site you can choose one of these hotels in the south of Iceland below.
When to visit Kerlingarfjöll
The summer season at Kerlingarfjöll is from mid June to early September. This is the best time to visit the Icelandic Highlands and also the only time when you can go hiking in Kerlingarfjöll.
The road opens usually during first week of June and remains open long into the autumn, although one may experience temporary disturbances because of snow after 20th of September.
Driving to Kerlingarfjöll during Autumn, Winter and Spring requires modified cars and experience in driving in snow.
You can hike into the narrow dales or canyons to see noting but the sky above and hear nothing but the roaring steam geysers.
But the area offers more than just the Hveradalir Geothermal Area, such as walking along the Jökulfall gorge, taking a longer hike around the Mountains or eventually towards the Hofsjökull Glacier.
But for those of you wanting to visit during the winter season I do have some good news!
Kelringarfjöll actually stays open all winter long and it’s one of the best places in Iceland to see the Northern lights. Accessing the area is only possible by SuperJeeps or snowmobiles but they do organize a variety of tours. Most tours are 3 day tours and very adventurous! If you’re interested simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things to do at Kerlingarfjöll
During the summer months the area of Kerlingarfjöll is a true hikers paradise! In the next section I will tell you everything about my own experience and how we managed to see the best of the best in the mere timespan of a couple of hours. But if you do have some more time and you want to explore the area more in depth these are some amazing options!
1. THE CIRCLE ROUTE – AROUND KERLINGARFJOLL IN 3 DAYS
This demanding hiking route opened in 2010 and will take you around Kerlingarfjoll in 3 days. On the route there are two small huts, the Klakkur hut which is SE of Kerlingarfjoll and then the hut at Kisubotnar at the NE edge of Kerlingarfjoll. On this route you will go through the Geothermal areas, pass valleys, cross small rivers and canyons and experience the wilderness of Iceland.
Distance – 47km
Elevation – 1750m
Duration – 3 days on average
2. Snækollur, Fannborg Loðmundur – TRAILING THE PEAKS
This trail begins at the parkinglot at Kastali house and from there either over the snowy slopes of Fannborg to Mt. Lodmundur. From Lodmundur to the peak of Snot and from there to the highest peak of Kerlingarfjoll – Snaekollur (1,428m). From Snaekollur to Vesturgnipa and over the passage to Fannborg. From Fannborg back to the parkinglot. This is a rather demanding walk but you are rewarded with the fabulous scenery from the peaks.
Distance – 7km
Elevation – 1100m
Duration – 5 to 6 hours
3. HVERDALIR ADVENTURE – THE LOWER GEOTHERMAL AREA – A MUST SEE
This route begins at the car park by Neðri-Hveradalir and takes you through the geothermal area Hveradalir. This is where ice and fire meets. The geothermal area is vast and you can spend a full day exploring. In my personal opinion this is one of the best hikes in Iceland!
Distance – 3km
Elevation – 900m
Duration – 2 to 3 hours
4. KERLINGARFJÖLL HOT SPRING
The pool was created after non successful attempt to drill for a hot water in the Asgarður gorge. The Kerlingarfjöll hot spring is suitable for bathing and located about 1.5km from the Kerlingarfjöll mountain resort. The path is marked and follows a small river and the pool can fit up to 15 people.
The water is rich in iron and has a temperature of around 34-37°C (93-38°F) with the warmest spots being found in the middle.
There are no changing facilities so it is a good idea to take a drybag with you to keep your clothes dry while bathing. After using the pool, please make sure not to leave any waste, swimsuits, or underwear behind.
My Experience at Kerlingarfjöll and visiting the Hveradalir Geothermal Area
After a full day of exploring waterfalls in Northern Iceland it was time to drive back into the Highlands! We took the F35 and for the first part this road was pretty easy to drive on. I can already give you a little spoiler: you don’t have to do any river crossings on the F35! After a while we took a right to the F347 and from here the road became a lot bumpier.
When we arrived it was already 6pm in the evening so we didn’t have a lot of time left to explore the area unfortunately. But I had done my research and I knew that it was possible to drive straight up to the Hveradalir parking lot.
The drive up from the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain resort to the designated parking area is extremely bumpy and rocky and even in our 4×4 from Happy Campers we were bumping around on our seats. So make sure to take it slow to stay safe!
But as soon as we parked our van and got out of it our mouths fell wide open. In front of us was one of the most stunning landscapes I had ever seen and this was just the parking lot!
After taking some photos we walked back to the main trail and made sure to read the guidelines for visiting the Hveradalir Geothermal Area before entering.
TheHveradalir Geothermal Area has a status of elevated protection within the large area of protected landscape in Kerlingarfjöll. Hikers must stay within the trails at all times and bikes are not allowed within the area. All markings, limited access and closures have to be respected. It is important to show utmost care around the geothermal areas, as boiling hot springs can be hidden beneath the surface. The geothermal areas are often surrounded by vegetation whcih is extremely sensitive to all erosion.
When you enter the geothermal area itself the first thing you’ll notice, besides the incredible landscape, is the smell: rotten eggs galore! From the first hill you get a nice overview over the entire area and it became immediately clear that there are a lot of trails that you can follow.
And the things is you can follow all of them for as long as you like but what we did with out short amount of time is go up 4 or 5 hills to take in all the different views.
This is by far the easiest and fastest way to see the most beautiful parts of the Hveradalir Geothermal Area and if you’re a little short on time I highly recommend you to do the same.
You can explore however long you like and we stayed 1.5 to 2 hours in the area before heading down to the campsite at the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain resort.
Iceland Hiking Packing List
A lot of people come to Iceland unprepared for the cold, especially during the Summer months. While it can get warm on a sunny day you also need to be prepared for the cold and typical Icelandic wind. For instance, when we were hiking up this mountain I was sweating a lot but the wind was so cold and so harsh that I had to wear a bonnet to keep my ears warm and pain free.
Below are some items that you definitely want to bring with you if you’re planning an adventurous trip to Iceland.
Hiking shoes – You will definitely need a pair of these. Even that some attractions are located right next to a parking lot you’ll pretty much always have to hike over a rocky terrain. I love my Meindl Mountain Trail Boots for longer hikes and my Danner Mountain Light Boots for daily wear and shorter distances.
Wind Proof Jacket – Never go. toIceland without one! The Icelandic wind can be brutal and extremely cold when not properly prepared. I wore my Fjallraven Vidda Jacket during the entire trip and was super happy that I brought it with me.
Woolen cap – The perfect accessory to protect your ears from the cold and to cover your hair after a few days without a shower.
Trekking poles – These will especially come in handy if you’re hiking in some of the more remote areas in Iceland.
Headlamp – It’s very popular to visit the eruption site in the late evening. When it gets darker the lava lits up the sky and you can see it glistening and burning even more. To ensure your safety it’s best to carry a headlamp with you. This way you can keep your hands free and you can see where you’re walking in the dark. I love this one by PETZL, it’s not too expensive and does the trick.
Back Pack – You’ll want to bring a back pack with you to carry your camera, some snacks and your refillable water bottle. I love the Kanken No. 2 back pack from Fjallraven and pretty much take it with me everywhere I go.
Refillable Water Bottle – The water in Iceland is some of the freshet in the entire world so there’s no need at all to buy plastic bottles. Simply find the nearest stream to fill up your bottle and you’re good to go.
More Iceland Blog Posts
I have visited the land of ice and fire 3 times in 3 years and I loved adventuring and driving around the country. On my blog you can find a ton of free resources to help you plan the perfect trip to this beautiful country.
Below are some of my favorite articles and there’s a lot more to come so keep an eye on this space!
- The Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Iceland – A list of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland that I visited myself, divided by region.
- The perfect winter road trip in Iceland – A day by day guide and retelling of my first time visiting this beautiful country.
- Hidden Gems in Iceland – Of the beaten path places that haven’t been discovered by mass tourism.
- Fagradalsfjall Hiking Trail – How To Visit The Active Volcano in Grindavik Iceland
- 1 Day in Landmannalaugar – The Mount Blahnukur Trail
- Discover Thakgil – A hidden gem in southern Iceland
- Mulagljufur Canyon – Discover a true hidden gem in South Iceland