The rugged Kjolur mountain road travels across Iceland from south to north (or vice versa), offering adventurous visitors a glimpse into Iceland’s vast highland wilderness. The road passes between between glaciers and through colorful hot spring areas, a true fire and ice experience.

Kjolur (or Kjalvegur) is Road number F 35.  This unpaved mountain track is generally open between mid-June and mid-September. But even in this period, the weather changes fast in the highlands. Travelers need to be vigilant and prepared for sudden extreme weather conditions – including snow storms.

Kjolur takes its name from Kjalfell, Keel Mountain.  The mountain indeed resembles the keel of an overturned boat. The road is 165 km (103 miles) long and lies at an altitude of approximately 600 – 700 meters

One of the highlights of the road is Hveravellir, a hot spring area nature reserve between the two glaciers.  The area has beautiful hiking trails and a natural hot spring bathing pool.

The trail dates back to Viking times. It was the route people from the north took on their way south for the annual Althing meeting at Thingvellir in South Iceland. Through Iceland’s history, people would head on the trail between north and south Iceland on foot or by horse.  When you travel the route today, it is not hard to imagine what it would have been like making this journey in the olden times.

Legends of the trail

Naturally, a trail this ancient holds many tales.  Outlaws hiding out in the wilderness would travel on the trail, and there are tales of their adventures.  There are also ghost stories connected with the trail, as well as tales of unfortunate travelers who ended up in snow-driven tombs.

One well-known tale is about Beinaholl, the Bone Hill.  In the autumn of 1780, two brothers from a farm in North Iceland and their three employees crossed the highlands to buy some sheep and horses in South Iceland. They were cutting it close by traveling so late in the season.  On their return trip, a blizzard caught them northeast of Kjalfell mountain and raged for many days. When the brothers did not return home, their family suspected the worst.  The following spring, people searched for their bodies on the trail but never found them.  The only living creature the searchers found from the travel party was an emaciated mare still wearing a pack saddle that had grown into her skin.  The poor creature could not be saved.

In 1845, people found the bones of the brothers and their companions, along with a massive amount of sheep and horse bones scattered wide around them. As a result, people gave named the area “Beinaholl,” or “Bone Hill.”  It is believed that the brothers had died in their tent.  Earlier, they had set free their sheep and horses since they could not take care of them.  The animals had wandered around the area before also succumbing to the storm.

To this day, visitors camping in Beinaholl often report seeing mysterious shadows, and animal bones still turn up there regularly.

How to visit Kjolur

The unpaved Kjolur road is rugged and very bumpy.  You must have a 4WD vehicle with good suspension and a high carriage.  In North Iceland, you reach Kjolur via a turnoff halfway between Varmahlid and Blonduos villages. In South Iceland, you reach Kjolur in an area near Gullfoss waterfall. The trail conditions require you to drive slowly, so expect to spend about 5 – 6 hours on the trail.  It is a good opportunity to enjoy the experience of being in an amazing and vast northern wilderness.

During the summer, scheduled highland busses run between Reykjavik and Akureyri via the Kjolur trail.  Tour operators offer multiday trips that follow the trail.  If you are experienced horseback rider, you can even take a mutiday tour that follows the trail on horseback and overnights in mountain huts. This is a truly authentic way to connect with the trail’s history.

Remember to bring warm clothing. The highland region is often colder than other parts of Iceland, even during the summer.