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Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Range Travel Guide

64 Google reviews
Volcanoes, Glaciers, Mountains, Geothermal areas
Southern region, Highlands
Distance from center
41.0 km
High season
1477 m
Average rating
Number of reviews

Kerlingarjoll is a colourful geothermal mountain range in Iceland's highlands

Kerlingarfjoll, spelled Kerlingarfjöll in Iceland, is a mountain range in the central Icelandic Highlands.

Travelers can explore Kerlingarfjoll during Iceland’s summer season on one of the many adventurous tours available. This 12-hour super jeep tour from Akureyri includes hiking in Kerlingarfjoll’s rhyolitic mountains and hot spring bathing. Or, take a six-day self-drive camping trip through the Highlands, including a visit to and perhaps a hike around the Kerlingarfjoll geothermal area.

The Kerlingarfjoll mountain range is renowned for its beautifully colored rhyolite peaks and large geothermal area. It’s also relatively accessible compared to other sites in the country’s interior. Nestled between the Hofsjokull and Langjokull glaciers, it’s a not-to-be-missed destination for those who like to take the road less traveled. 

Nature of Kerlingarfjoll

Kerlingarfjoll is a young mountain range formed by Iceland’s volcanic activity approximately 10,000 years ago. It is part of the 39 square-mile (100 square-kilometer) Tuya volcano system. The volcanic activity is still very apparent. 

The rhyolite mountains have been dyed a gorgeous spectrum of colors by the rising elements of the earth. These beautiful peaks can appear in various shades, constantly shifting as the day’s light changes.

The Kerlingarfjoll region is home to the third-largest geothermal area in the country. This geothermal area is named Hveradalir and boasts geysers, steam vents, and bubbling clay pits. Visitors can marvel at the rising steam contrasting perfectly with the surrounding glacier-capped mountains.

The Kerlingarfjoll mountain range has several small, quickly-retreating ice caps. It sits in the shadow of the massive Hofsjokull glacier. Since 2017, the 141 square-mile (367 square-kilometer) area of Kerlingarfjoll has been a protected nature reserve. 

Kerlingarfjoll’s natural features make it somewhat similar to Landmamnalaguar in the southern Icelandic Highlands. However, fewer people visit Kerlingarfjoll, making it an excellent off-the-beaten-track destination for intrepid travelers. 

Kerlingarfjoll Folklore and History

As with many places in Iceland’s nature, Kerlingarfjoll is rich in folklore and history. Icelandic folklore suggests that trolls live in the Highlands, traveling by night so they don’t get turned to stone in the sunlight.

Kerlingarfjoll translates to ‘Old Lady Mountain,’ from a story regarding a troll woman. Visitors can see the towering rock at Kerlingarfjoll, which the legend says is the remains of the troll woman caught by daylight and turned to stone.

Bandits and outlaws frequented Kerlingarfjoll throughout much of Iceland’s past. It’s an oasis in an otherwise barren land. Furthermore, its distance from other settlements and thus the authorities made it an attractive location.

Hveradalir is a geothermal area in the Kerlingarfjoll Mountains.

Due to its remote inland location, Kerlingarfjoll and other parts of the Icelandic Highlands are generally inaccessible during winter. Some special Highland tours feature activities such as winter snowmobiling.

However, they are often in other Highland areas such as the Langjokull glacier, Thorsmork nature reserve, and Landmannalaugar mountain. For example, this epic 10-day extreme winter adventures package includes super jeep excursions to Highland destinations inaccessible to most winter travelers to Iceland.

Summer travelers can visit Kerlingarfjoll by taking a tour, going on a bus, or driving the Kjalvegur Highland Road, or F35, through Iceland’s interior. 

The all-terrain Highland bus offers a daily summer service between Reykjavik and the Highlands and Akureyri and the Highlands. It makes several South Iceland stops, including one at the Highland resort in Kerlingarfjoll.

Driving the F35 road

The F35 is one of only two roads crossing the Icelandic Highlands and connecting the North to the South. Like all F-roads, it requires a four-wheel-drive to access, although it’s less challenging to travel than many similar routes as all of its rivers are bridged.

The road was once a vital horse trail and trading route. Nowadays, the unpaved road takes around five hours to drive but could be more or less. The duration depends on driver experience, vehicle, road, and weather conditions. The F35 usually opens between mid and late June and closes around early September, depending on the weather.

If you’re driving from South Iceland, the F35 route from Gullfoss to Kerlingarfjoll is 43 miles (70 kilometers). The distance from the North Iceland Ring Road is 74.5 miles (120 kilometers). 

Summer travelers with a 4x4 can easily add a half-day or full-day Kerlingarfjoll excursion to their Golden Circle trip. Doing so could be ideal for those who want to explore the Hveradalir geothermal area and then return to the Golden Circle or South Iceland. 

Or, travel the entire length of the F35 and create a multi-day adventure. You can explore Kerlingarfjoll and discover North and South Iceland attractions on either side.

Kerlingarfjoll Accommodation

The Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Resort has year-round accommodation for guests who want to make the most of the area's hiking routes and hot spring opportunities. Choose from a chalet, a double room with a private bathroom, or a dorm room. 

The hotel and huts both have heating. Plus, there is a restaurant serving three meals daily and offering packed lunches for hikers.

Or, stay at the on-site campground and enjoy access to the communal kitchen and dining facilities. Campground reservations are not necessary, although travelers should book huts and rooms well in advance. Hikers can book accommodation in other mountain huts from the Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Resort if they haven’t already booked online.

There is a small natural thermal bathing pool within walking distance from the Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Resort. It’s the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate after an active day of hiking while basking amid awe-inspiring natural surroundings.

Kerlingarfjoll Activities

It’s possible to enjoy several outdoor activities at Kerlingarfjoll, including hiking, hot spring bathing, photography, and winter snowshoeing or snowmobiling. Winter travelers to Kerlingarfjoll have superb opportunities for northern lights spotting in this vast wilderness area far from cities and towns.

The mountain range was once home to a summer snow school. Although it was open for decades, it no longer exists. It closed in 2000 because rising temperatures led to insufficient snow to keep the facilities available.

Hiking in the Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Range

Nowadays, Kerlingarfjoll is a hiker’s paradise. Trekking enthusiasts can opt for half-day, full-day, or multi-day hikes traversing rivers, mountains, and canyons. With breathtaking scenery and unbeatable solitude, all trekking enthusiasts should add Kerlingarfjoll to their Icelandic summer bucket list.

The Hveradalir geothermal valley near Kerlingarfjoll is one location hikers won’t want to miss. Try the two-mile (3.2-kilometer) hike around the steaming, bubbling, and hissing geothermal valley, or opt for a multi-day hike. Visitors can also bathe in the Hveravellir blue geothermal pool, a small natural bathing site boasting spectacular views.

More experienced hikers may wish to climb the higher peaks of the Kerlingarfjoll mountain range, including Snaekollur, the tallest at 4862 feet (1482 meters). The Lodmundur and Fannborg peaks, also part of this mountain range, reach almost the same height. 

Starting on elevated terrain makes these walks doable for any avid hiker in mid to late summer when the peaks are usually snow-free. For example, the trek to Snaekollur peak is a 4.3-mile (seven-kilometer) round trip from the car park with just over 2000 feet (640 meters) of elevation gain.

Or, opt for a 29-mile (47-kilometer) multi-day hike, staying in mountain huts and covering different peaks in the area. Clear days reward hikers with spectacular panoramic mountaintop views sweeping toward the north and south of the country.

Kerlingarfjoll for Photography

Kerlingarfjoll is an outstanding photography location for professionals or those who love capturing unique landscapes. Visitors can snap images of hikers traversing the rugged terrain, dwarfed by rolling caramel-colored peaks. Splashes of reds, yellows, and greens make this area a picture-perfect landscape ripe for capturing unforgettable memories.

Visit Beautiful Waterfalls

The Kerlingarfjoll area offers excellent opportunities to see pristine waterfalls without the crowds. Kerlingarfoss Sudurhraun waterfall is on the southern side of Kerlingarfjoll, about a one-hour walk from Leppistunguskali mountain cabin. Fed by the Kerlingarfjoll glacier, the waterfall is about 164 feet (50 meters) high with a width of around 114 feet (35 meters).

A bit further north, travelers can visit the Gygjarfoss waterfall on their way to the Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Resort. The waterfall is close to the roadside, just four miles (6.4 kilometers) before the resort. A car park makes it easy to access, and you can get up close to enjoy the waterfall’s rugged natural beauty.

The Kerlingarfjoll mountain range in the Icelandic Highlands during summerTop Tips for Visiting Kerlingarfjoll

The following tips can help you prepare to visit Kerlingarfjoll and enjoy your time there:

  • If you are driving to Kerlingarfjoll, make sure you have a full tank of gas to see you through the entire length of the F35. Find out everything you need about driving and road trips in Iceland.
  • Wear warm layers and waterproof outerwear when visiting Kerlingarfjoll because it can be cold at any time of the year. Be prepared for all types of weather, and bring a hat, scarf, and gloves, even if you’re visiting during summer. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are a must-have for exploring Kerlingarfjoll’s majestic landscapes. Find out what to pack for Iceland for all seasons.
  • Research hiking trails before you go and ensure you are well prepared, or book a guided tour. Ensure you stick to the hiking trails to help protect delicate vegetation.
  • Travelers who intend to camp at Kerlingarfjoll should prepare appropriately for a safe and enjoyable experience.
  • Although meals are available at the Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Resort, travelers should bring plenty of snacks and food they intend to prepare or cook. Purchase these before heading to Kerlingarfjoll.

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