I have visited many of Iceland's geothermal areas over the years, as there is something so otherworldly about hiking amongst boiling mud pools, hissing vents and spouting geysers. Not to mention the extraordinary geothermal colours.
But there is one geothermal area in particular which blows my mind, and that is the Hveradalir geothermal area in Mt. Kerlingarfjöll in the highland of Iceland, which is one of the largest high-temperature geothermal areas in Iceland.
In the highland of Iceland, you will find several mind-blowing spots, and the Mt. Kerlingarfjöll area is for sure one of the pearls of the highland of Iceland. In August 2020 this spectacular area (344 km2) was declared as protected.
Mt. Kerlingarfjöll is a huge mountain range some 6-700 metres above sea level and nestled between two glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull, Iceland's 2nd and 3rd largest glaciers. The mountain range is divided in two by the rivers Ásgarðsá and Kisa; the east and west mountains.
In the steaming geothermal valley, Hveradalir, you will find solfataras and mud pots in abundance, and the whole area is boiling and hissing.
I am sure that visiting this high-temperature geothermal area will leave no man untouched; it at least had a great impact on me. Several trails lead through the geothermal area, and you can take both long and short hikes here. I have only taken a short hike in Hveradalir as I am not much of a hiker, but what a hike this was!
Hiking boots and warm clothing are necessary for this hike, as here we are high up and there can be sudden weather changes. It was pretty cold during my August visits, and you can hear the wind howling in my videos.
Geothermal areas are at their most beautiful in the sunshine when the geothermal colours become extra bright and vivid. Unfortunately, it hasn't been sunny during any of my visits to Mt. Kerlingarfjöll.
But you can see such sunny photos if you click on the links of my other travel-blogs on geothermal areas at the end of this travel-blog.
A huge steaming hill in Hveradalir
In Hveradalir you will find wooden steps and wooden bridges and you can follow the trails you see in the surrounding hills. The whole area is bubbling and boiling and it is both amazing and a little scary hiking in this area, seeing the forces of nature in action.
Rhyolite mountains, glaciers and a hissing landscape in ranges of yellow, orange, red and green colours will greet you in Hveradalir. I even saw a small green river flowing down one of the rhyolite mountains. The perfect colour match in such rhyolite mountains is the yellow rhyolite and the black obsidian.
Steps leading down to the geothermal area from the parking lot; not for those who suffer from fear of heights!
Hveradalir - the Hot Spring Valleys is such a fascinating area of Iceland and here you can take spectacular photos. I love the photos which show the whole area from above with tiny people hiking in this amazing landscape.
Here you can also photograph beautiful details when you explore the smaller aspects of the geothermal areas and the interesting geology of Iceland.
Geologists must have a field day exploring the geothermal areas of Hveradalir. And of course Mt. Kerlingarfjöll is on the Natural Heritage Register and will most likely be protected one day.
The river Innri-Ásgarðsá runs calmly through the bubbling and boiling geothermal area. Contemplating where to go next...
The ground here is unstable and rich in clay and cannot withstand too much traffic, so make sure to stay on the marked trails. Straying from the trails is very dangerous as the thin crust can by hiding boiling hot water, which you might accidentally step through.
Also, never step on coloured areas with deposits as they are extremely hot! Accidents have been known to happen in geothermal areas, and such accidents will result in severe burns, where the skin rolls off the foot like plastic or pantyhose!
A bubbling and boiling hot spring at Hveradalir
My mother witnessed such an accident when she was visiting a geothermal area as a young girl. A man accidentally stepped through a thin crust of clay and into a boiling hot spring. She told me that it is stuck in her mind how the skin on the poor man's foot immediately rolled off.
This story has also stuck with me so I am always extra careful when visiting the geothermal areas in Iceland. And even a bit scared to be surrounded by so much boiling water.
Accidents have also happened here in Hveradalir, so wooden paths and bridges were added back in 2014 to make this area safer for visitors.
There were quite a few people visiting Hveradalir when I hiked through this area, and I was a bit concerned about their safety, hoping that they all realised that you have to stay on the trails and never go closer to a beautiful spot of geothermal colours to get a better photo.
The Hverabotn geothermal area further on, is the site of the highest surface temperature measured in Iceland; a whopping 150 degrees C!
Hveradalir cuts Mt. Kerlingarfjöll in half so to speak. The rhyolite Mt. Kerlingarfjöll got their name from a troll woman, Kerling, a huge pillar of palagonite rock, around 25 metres tall. Kerling in Icelandic is both a derogatory name for an old woman, but also a troll woman.
You will find many pillars of rock in Iceland which go by this name Kerling, and connected to them are invariably old troll stories. As we all know then trolls turn to stone when they see daylight and these pillars of rock are trolls, which weren't able to seek shelter before sunrise.
According to the information sign by Mt. Kerlingarfjöll, this particular Kerling might have been the daughter of the fire-giant Surtur in the Surtshellir Cave from Norse Mythology. But I haven't been able to find the source for this folklore.
My favourite Caves in Iceland if you want to see what the massive Surtshellir cave looks like and why I don't visit it anymore
I haven't got a photo of the Kerling rock, but show you a photo of one of the tallest peaks of Mt. Kerlingarfjöll instead, the distinctive Loðmundur. The other tallest peaks are Snækollur and Fannborg.
Loðmundur in the pink summer sun on an August night
It is possible to stay overnight in Hálendismiðstöðin, the Mountain Resort Ásgarður in Mt. Kerlingarfjöll in the summertime. There you will both find a camping site and sleeping accommodations inside.
A mountain hut was built in Kerlingafjöll back in 1938. Here a very popular skiing school was established back in 1961, and from 1961-2000 there were organized ski trips to Mt. Kerlingarfjöll. From the year 2000, it has not been possible to ski in this area due to climate changes and other travel-services have operated at Kerlingarfjöll.
The Mountain Resort
The river Innri-Ásgarðsá runs through here, and the mountain resort gets its electricity from Sælufoss hydropower plant, which was built back in 1970 and overhauled in 2009.
Ásgarður is at a 10 km distance from Kjalvegur on road F-347. You can drive to Ásgarður on a gravel road in a 2WD (maybe not the smallest ones), but the last part of the road, which leads up to Mt. Kerlingarfjöll is passable by a 4x4. It is a very rough and steep road.
I have read that the hike is 3 km if you hike from Ásgarður, but we drove to the top in a 4x4 jeep and left our car in the parking lot. On top, you will find a path, which leads to a steep path with steps leading down to Hveradalir. And this is where I started and ended my hike.
Snow formations in the liking of Casper the Ghost in the mountains
One of the reasons why I finally bought a 4x4 jeep in the summer of 2018, was to be able to visit Hveradalir geothermal area, i.e. to drive to the very top. And to visit Hvítserkur waterfall, which had been on my list of places to visit for several years:
The gorge is extraordinary
By road F-347 you will see ruggedly beautiful gorges; colourful and plain gorgeous. It is this rugged beauty which touches my heart so much on my travels in Iceland. There are some spots by the road, where you can park your car and have a look at these gorges.
Gýgjarfoss waterfall in Jökulfall glacial river
Driving along road F-347 you will pass a beautiful small glacial waterfall next to the road. This is Gýgjarfoss waterfall in Jökulfall (Jökulkvísl) glacial river. Jökulfall originates in Hofsjökull glacier and further south it merges with the massive Hvítá glacial river, just after Hvítá runs from Lake Hvítárvatn.
Hvítá originates in Langjökull glacier, Iceland's second-largest glacier. Together these rivers contribute to the masses of glacial water which creates Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland's best-known waterfall, which gives a name to the Golden Circle.
Blákvísl - Blue branch river
This beautiful blue river in my photo above is called Blákvísl or Blue branch river. Right by Gýgjarfoss waterfall, Blákvísl river joins Jökulfall glacial river from a gorge guarded by a troll. It joins Gýgjarfoss and makes up the smallest part of the waterfall.
You can see how it joins Jökulfall glacial river and the waterfall to the left in my photo below.
Further up the glacial river, you will find the small waterfall Hvinur, which means a loud swish or a roar.
I stepped out of the car and walked down to the waterfall where I took the photo below. The gorge is small but ruggedly beautiful here.
Hvinur waterfall in Jökulfall glacial river is right under the bridge
Kjölur is the name of the wide mountain pass between Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers and Kjalvegur road connects South and North-Iceland. Most visitors to Iceland visit the popular Golden Circle but don't go further than Gullfoss waterfall. That is where Kjalvegur starts.
Seeing that this is the highland and interior of Iceland, and Kjölur is 6-700 metre above sea level, then Kjalvegur is only open for a few months in the summertime, i.e. late June until the end of September. Thus, in the wintertime, it is only accessible by super jeeps. When it is closed an impassable sign will be put on the road above Gullfoss waterfall.
Never pass an impassable sign in the wintertime. It has happened on a couple of occasions that tourists have passed this sign in a small car in the wintertime and had to be rescued :(
Kjölur and Hofsjökull glacier - an ice-cap which looks like a massive dome
Hveradalir along with Hveravellir geothermal area are the main attractions while driving through the barren Kjölur on the bumpy gravel Kjalvegur road. Kjalvegur is marked on the map as F-35, i.e. a mountain road, but it is passable by 2WD as well in the summertime.
Just remember that the road can be extremely bumpy and there can be huge potholes filled with water after a rainy period. So it is best visited in a 4x4, in my opinion. If you plan on visiting this area it is advisable to ask your car rental if it is ok to pass Kjölur in your rental car.
Bumpy Kjalvegur road
There are many sheep in the Kjölur area, and some of them are even in the middle of the road! This is quite common when driving in the countryside of Iceland, so take that into account.
Sheep on the road - the one to the right stayed behind in the middle of the road and challenged us ;)
The sheep in my photo above were quite defiant; one of the black lambs stayed behind on the road ready to attack the car :) It was so cute and I couldn't but feel respect for the little alpha male lamb for defying us ;)
See also my travel-blog about the Icelandic sheep which roam free in nature in the summertime:
One of the view-dials at Kjölur
But the rule is that when you see a lamb on one side of the road always be on the lookout for its mother. If the mother is on the other side of the road, the lamb will invariably jump in front of the car to be with its mother. At one point we saw a dead sheep by the road, which had been hit by a car, so somebody didn't know this rule :(
The only other animal we saw when driving on the Kjölur road, apart from birds, was a stray Arctic Fox. I got out of the car to try to get a photo of it, but it got so startled that it jumped in the air and ran away. I for sure did not want to startle one of the few living creatures in this desolate area.
One of the view-dials at Kjölur
Once when we had driven the whole of Kjalvegur from north to south in fog and dusk and were very happy to get out of there, we met a Suzuki Jimmy with tourists entering Kjölur! We didn't know whether to warn them or not as it is not advisable to cross this route in darkness and fog if you are new to this area.
Some of us Icelanders also have trepidation when driving on Kjalvegur road in the fog or darkness, as we know that Kjölur is haunted in several places! I could feel fear crawling over me when we drove there in the dusk and fog!
One of the ruggedly beautiful gorges at Kjölur
Back in 1780 Reynistaðarmenn perished on Kjölur. They were 5 men, all in all, including 2 brothers from Reynistaðir in Skagafjörður up north, the youngest one only 11-years-old. They were passing north through Kjölur with a heard of sheep, which they had bought in the south. They never returned... This caused such a chill in Icelanders back then, that they almost stopped travelling across Kjölur.
There are several ghost stories connected to Kjölur and a ghost story from Hvítárnesskáli hut always gives me the chills. Men are still kicked out of one of the bunk beds by what is believed to be a ghost woman who had probably been murdered.
Hvítá river at Kjölur, Hvítárnesskáli hut is close by
The Mt. Kerlingarfjöll area is at a distance of some 185 km from Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland. And some 143 km from Blönduós in the north, from where we were coming when I took most of the photos for this travel-blog.
There is another beautiful geothermal area in the middle of Kjölur, Hveravellir, some 39 km north of Mt. Kerlingarfjöll, which is a must-visit as here you can see some very beautiful hot springs. I have written another travel-blog on Hveravellir, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful geothermal areas in Iceland:
Chilling in a hot pool at Hveravellir :)
Always check out the road conditions at road.is before entering the highland of Iceland. The highland is only open in the summertime and are impassable in the wintertime for normal traffic.
Also, check the weather at vedur.is. And seeing that Mt. Kerlingarfjöll are very high up then always dress warmly. I have been freezing in this area in the middle of summer due to the wind chill factor.
Öskurhóll hot spring at the Hveravellir geothermal area
For further information and lodging in the Kerlingafjöll area check out Kerlingarfjoll.is.
Guided tours to Kerlingarfjöll:
Boiling water in Hveradalir at Mt. Kerlingarfjöll
Other geothermal areas I have visited in Iceland:
And if you want to see another area similar to Mt. Kerlingarfjöll and Hveradalir with beautiful rhyolite mountains, then I have written a couple of travel-blogs on Landmannalaugar in the Highland:
I have visited Mt. Kerlingarfjöll on a couple of occasions, mainly while driving the Kjölur route coming to and from Mývatn in the north. To visit this area in the summertime you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive to the mountains in a couple of hours.
Have a lovely time in the highland of Iceland - safe travels :)