Running between Gullfoss in the south and the Ringroad near Varmahlíð, at 200km long Kjölur is the shorter of the two inland routes across Iceland. Pioneered by the earliest settlers and recorded in the Book of Settlements, Kjölur was always considered a safer route than Sprengisandur, though it passes between the Hofsjökull and Langjökull icecaps and was also abandoned after the death of a large party in 1780. Today it qualifies as a highway – if any Interior route can claim to be one – with buses, coaches, four-wheel-drives and even ordinary family sedans bouncing along it during the summer months. All the rivers have been bridged, but be aware that Kjölur’s rough gravel track is still capable of shredding tyres, tearing off exhausts and puncturing sumps: keep your speed down, especially if driving conventional, low-slung vehicles. Check with your rental company to see if they allow their vehicles along this route before attempting the drive in a hired car.
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Route 35’s mid-point is marked by a short detour west to a grassy depression at Hveravellir hot springs, where you’ll find a campsite and well-appointed overnight huts. The only bathable pool is a small, waist-deep affair next to one of the huts, above which boardwalks head up a calcified slope; encrusted with sulphur, the hotter springs here bubble, belch and occasionally erupt violently. One of these is named Eyvindarhver, after the outlaw Eyvindur who lived at Hveravellir for two years and used the spring to boil up sheep for his dinner. In summer, the springs can get busy, so try to time your dip to avoid scheduled daily bus arrivals in the early afternoon – or stay overnight and have the waters almost to yourself.
Eyvindur and Halla
Eyvindur and Halla
Iceland’s most famous outlaws were the eighteenth-century Eyvindur and his harsh-tempered wife, Halla. They are the only Icelandic outlaws to have managed twenty years on the run, thus earning themselves a pardon; many places around Iceland are named after Eyvindur, showing just how much he had to keep moving.
Originally from the West Fjords, Eyvindur and Halla set up at Hveravellir, robbing travellers and stealing sheep from nearby properties. Eventually chased on by a vengeful posse, they shifted south to the Þjórsá (west of Hekla) for a few years – the easiest time of his outlawry, so Eyvindur later said – then to remoter pastures on the Sprengisandur, which at that time hadn’t been crossed for many years. Caught after stealing a horse, Eyvindur and Halla were held at Mývatn’s church, from where Eyvindur managed to escape by asking to be untied so that he could pray. As luck would have it, a thick fog came down and he was able to hide nearby until people had given up looking for him, thinking him far away. He then stole another horse and rode it south to Herðubreiðarlindir, where he somehow survived an appalling winter in a “cave” he built into the lava here. Later on, he met Halla again and they drifted around the country, always just managing to evade capture but forced by hunger or pursuit to kill their infant children. Tradition has it that after being pardoned they returned to their farm, where they died in the 1780s.
The Kjölurvegur trek
The Kjölurvegur trek
The Kjölurvegur trek is an excellent two- to three-day hike from Hveravellir to the glacial lake of Hvítárvatn, following the original Kjölur route that ran west of the present Route 35, hugging the slopes of Langjökull: it’s punctuated by overnight huts run by Ferðafélag Íslands (book in advance through wfi.is), roughly four to six hours’ walk apart.
From the springs, follow the F735 west towards the glacier for roughly 14km to the Þjófadalir overnight hut. Here the jeep track peters out into a walking path as it swings southeast, around the tiny Hrútfell glacier, to another overnight hut at Þverbrekknamúli. From here, it’s a further straightforward hike of around four to six hours to reach the Hvítárnes hut, an idyllic if somewhat lonely place to break the journey – the hut is supposedly haunted by a young woman who lived hereabouts when the area was farmed, though only men who sleep in a certain bed in the hut will see her.
From the hut, it’s an easy 8km walk back to Route 35 and the bus to either Reykjavík or Akureyri, passing the beautiful Hvítárvatn glacial lake, at the foot of Langjökull, on the way.