Situated in the Icelandic Highlands, the multicolored Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range is a haven for solitude-seekers and adventurous spirits alike. Here, below color-changing rhyolite mountains, awestruck visitors walk among hot springs, steam plumes, and boiling mud puddles. This mist-shrouded area is like a dream, a fantasy world, as if it came from the mind of a divine artist.
Endlessly beguiling, Kerlingarfjöll make up a young mountain range that is tucked away in the central Highlands. Once a famous summer skiing resort with a ski school operating in the area. However, by the year 2000, global warming swallowed the famed snows and the school was closed down. Today the place is mainly popular with hikers wooed by its raw, untamed nature.
Kerlingarfjöll is a part of a large volcano system, with one of the most active geothermal areas in the land of fire and ice. It would be no exaggeration to say that the mountainous area is sinking into an ethereal sea of steam. There you’ll find a plethora of marked and unmarked hiking trails to immerse yourself in this dreamy world.
The multiple hues of the mountains topped with micro glaciers only add to the feel of being right out of the pages of a fairy tale. Depending on the weather and lighting, Kerlingarfjöll transform themselves into another creature, which reveals different shades. The fleeting beauty of Kerlingarfjöll never fail to disappoint and will give you a profound perspective on the majesty of nature.
GPS 64°38'17.3"N 19°17'23.3"W
Kerlingarfjöll is located in Iceland’s Highlands, between the Langjökull and Hofsjökull Glaciers, near the Kjölur (or Kjalvegur) highland road. The mountain range is not far from Iceland’s famous Golden Circle sightseeing route, about 34 mi (55 km) north of Gullfoss Waterfall.
It takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes to reach the mountain range from Reykjavik and about 5 hours and 30 minutes from Akureyri, also known as “Capital of the North.”
If you prefer to drive by yourself, you’ll have to hop on a 4×4 vehicle to safely reach Kerlingarfjöll.
Driving from Reykjavik, take Route 1 northeast to Mosfellsbær. After passing Mosfellsbær, turn east on to Route 36. Then, follow signs to Geysir and Gullfoss. From Gullfoss, take Route F35 (Kjölur). The first 9 mi (15 km) are asphalted and the remaining distance crosses gravel roads. Next, turn east onto Route F347. After about 6 mi (10 km) you’ll arrive at Kerlingarfjöll.
During the summer months, it’s also possible to travel by bus, either from Reykjavik or Akureyri. The buses also stop at Geysir and Gullfoss before reaching the Highlands.
However, in the wintertime, the roads might get quite rough, and if you don’t feel confident driving in snow, you might consider joining our Kerlingarfjöll tour with an expert driver.
Unexplored until the 19th century, Kerlingarfjöll has always been wrapped in mystery and were believed to be the abode of notorious outlaws and trolls. Little wonder that the name of these mountains means ‘Old Lady Mountains’ or ‘Troll Lady Mountains’ a name that finds its roots in Icelandic folk tales.
Trolls are said to live in the mountains and caves within the Icelandic Highlands. They travel at night because legend has it that they turn into stone if caught out in sunlight. To be more precise, the name Kerlingarfjöll is drawn from an 82 ft (25 m) high volcanic tuff tower, which used to be an old troll woman. The columnar rock sits on the slopes of Mt Tindur.
While Kerlingarfjöll remained under the radar for a long time, the situation changed when the bridge over the mighty Hvítá River was built in 1933. Three years later, the first vehicles reached the green Ásgarður Valley, where you’ll now find the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort.
Nowadays, Kerlingarfjöll is renowned for striking, colourful landscapes and geothermal wonders. In 2017, the precious area was declared a nature reserve. Its remote hiking trails rival those of the busier Landmannalaugar.
As you hike, take a moment, and breathe in the crisp mountain air. Along the way, feast your eyes on the altering shapes of the colorful terrain. Once you reach Hveradalir, be enchanted by the clouds of steam flowing out of the countless fissures in the ground. A never-ending stream of fleeting beauty being created before your eyes.
There are a variety of different hiking options, once you reach Hveradalir. For those who would like to experience more of Hveradalir, there is a 2-mi (3-km) route that circles the geothermal area. If you want to explore the region in-depth, test your mettle on a 29-mi (30-km) route around Kerlingarfjöll. It takes about 3 days to circumnavigate the area, staying at the mountain huts in Ásgarður.
Climbing in the regions also offers postcard-worthy views of Hofsjökull Glacier, alongside gorges, canyons, and valleys. At every turn, you'll find nature that cries out for your attention. As you conquer your first summit, feel the balmy stillness of the surrounds.
The hot spring was created after an unsuccessful test drill to find out if there was enough water to heat the houses. The pool is surrounded by stones and fits up to 15 people. The iron-rich water coaxes tense muscles to loosen up and brings a sense of tranquility.
As the pool is located in the pristine wilderness, there are no changing facilities, so we recommend bringing a waterproof dry bag to keep your clothes dry while bathing.
During this time of year, the number of visitors is very low, allowing you to get up close and personal with the undulating landscapes. Covered in snow, Kerlingarfjöll are like another planet, with unparalleled photo opportunities.
The Kerlingarfjöll area is reached via F-roads, also known as the mountain roads, which means they aren’t paved and require four-wheel-drive vehicles. If you’re driving by yourself, be aware that gravel roads require special attention, slower speeds, and careful driving. In the winter, the roads become even more challenging, so never underestimate the weather conditions, which you may encounter en route.
Please check with your rental car provider to see if they allow their vehicles along F-roads. If you’re not comfortable with driving through F-roads, you might consider joining a guided tour with an expert driver.