Kjalvegur hinn forni - A Profile of IAT Iceland

At the 2012 IAT Annual General Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, the Iceland Touring Association's Kjalvegur hinn forni (Old Kjalvegur hiking trail) became an official part of the International Appalachian Trail. The former horse track extends approximately 40 kms (26 miles) through a highland dessert valley between Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers.

Like Sprengisandur highland road, the area was probably known since the first times of Icelandic settlement and is mentioned in the Icelandic sagas. The track along Langjökull was used as a shortcut between regions during summer, with piles of stones still marking the treeless track across the barren terrain. After a number of people perished in snowstorms during the 18th century, the primitive road was forgotten for about 100 years and rediscovered in the 19th century.

When you cross Iceland via Kjalvegur you drive through a barren land sandwiched between great sheets of snow and ice. Before the age of cars when everyone travelled by horse, the route was further to the west closer to Langjökull glacier, because of the richer vegetation. This is where the Kjalvegur hinn forni (Old Kjalvegur) hiking trail is today. Because the trail is relatively flatter and easier to walk, many people consider it a good preparation for walking the Laugavegur Trail, one of the most popular and well travelled hiking trails in Icelandic.

Hofsjökull Glacier

The trail between Hvítánes and Hveravellir can be walked from either south to north or vice versa, and can be completed easily in three days. Some people prefer to do it twice as a round trip back to their vehicle, and spend two nights in Þverbrekknamúli hut. The description below describes a three-day trek from north to south.

Day One: Hveravellir to Þjófadalir (Distance 12 km. Estimated walking time 4-5 hours. Elevation increase 70 meters.)

The route starts at Hveravellir, where in 1937 the Iceland Touring Association (ITA) built a backcountry hut, followed by another in 1980. Together they accommodate 66 people at 600 meters elevation, 64°51.910 - 19°33.150. While there it is recommended that hikers take time to walk through - or soak in - the nearby geothermal area, which has a great variety of hot springs.

Hut and Hotspring at Hveravellir

From Hveravellir the trail heads southwest until it reaches Sóleyjardalir Valley, then turns due south to Þröskuldur Ridge east of Þjófadalir Valley. The name Þjófadalir means "valley of the thieves," and is named after an old legend about outlaws and thieves that once hid in the area. From the ridge it is a short walk to a hut built in 1939 (12 persons, GPS 64°48.900 - 19°42.510), which is in an area rich in vegetation.

Þjófadalir Valley

Day Two: Þjófadalir to Þverbrekknamúli. (Distance 13 km. Estimated walking time 4-5 hours. Elevation decrease 80 meters.)

From Þjófadalir the trail heads southeast as it leaves the valley, following the southern edge of the Kjalhraun lava field. At right is the Fúlakvísl River, cutting a ravine through the lava as it winds its way to Lake Hvítárvatn .

Kjalhraun Lava Field

Eventually it reaches a small bridge that spans the river, then makes its way "up on the mulls" before turning southwest and heading to Þverbrekknamúli hut (20 persons, GPS 64°43.100 - 19°36.860). An alternate route continues south along the river until it crosses over a second bridge due east of the hut.

Þverbrekknamúli Hut

Day Three: Þverbrekknamúli to Hvítánes. (Distance 14 km. Estimated walking time 4-5 hours. Little change in elevation.)

From Þverbrekknamúli hut the trail heads east across the Fúlakvísl River foot bridge then follows the river southbound to the Hrefnubúðir Hills.

Fúlakvísl River

These are mostly barren and eroded, but on the southern side are patches of rich vegetation and birch trees growing at approximately 400-500 meters above sea level, one of the highest elevations for these trees in Iceland. After another 5 kms the trail reaches Hvítárnes hut (30 persons, GPS 64°37.007 - 19°45.394) with its spectacular view of Langjökull glacier.

Hvítárnes hut with view of Langjökull glacier and Lake Hvítárvatn

The hut is near Fúlakvísl River delta as it enters Lake Hvítárvatn.

Fúlakvísl River delta

To learn more about IAT partner Iceland Touring Association and the spectacular Kjalvegur hinn forni, visit their website .... or fly into Reykjavik airport and drive to Kjölur plateau!