how to visit maelifell iceland

How to Visit Maelifell Volcano

Maelifell is an epic green volcano hidden in the black Icelandic desert in the southern Highlands of Iceland.

Did you know that there is not just one Maelifell in Iceland? There are about 20 of them. Maelifell means “measuring mountain” in Icelandic, or an “orientational hill”. And Icelanders in the past were not very original in naming their mountains. So, yes, there are many Maelifells in Iceland.

Below we explain in deep detail how to reach Maelifell. Information in this article is based on our multiple visits to the volcano over several years. There’s no guarantee the conditions will be the same at the time of your visit, though! More on this below.

Maelifell Video Guide

Maelifell Map

How to get to Maelifell

You have three options:

  1. Drive to Maelifell yourself
  2. Take a public super jeep tour (10% discount code: EPICICELAND10)
  3. Or take our Epic Private Super Jeep tour

There are no buses or bigger group tours.

Driving to Maelifell

You have three options to reach Maelifell:

  • From the West – the most scenic route
  • From the South – the easiest route
  • From the East – route with the biggest river crossing
how to visit maelifell volcano

How to visit Maelifell volcano in Iceland

First of all – it is NOT EASY to get to Maelifell. It’s not a trip for beginners.

You need to drive a big 4wd car AND you have to cross the unpredictable rivers.

Maelifell is disguised deep in the southern Icelandic Highlands. To reach it, you need to take the difficult Highland roads, which are also called the F-roads.

For all of this, you HAVE TO prepare in advance.

Western route

You can reach Maelifell from the west by either

  • Road F210 only, or
  • Roads F261 and F210

Both of these roads are incredibly scenic and rough highland roads. You have to cross medium-sized rivers on both.

F210 only

F210 west near Keldur

F210 west near Keldur

My favorite option is to take the F-road F210 from the west only. It’s one of the most beautiful roads in Iceland. Views on a nice day are simply amazing.

You will have to cross several small to medium rivers on F210. Moreover, you will also drive in a river bank for about 100 meters (yards).

The most significant river crossing is located near the crossroads with F261, and the river is called Kladaklofskvisl:

There are no more river crossings after Kaldaklofskvisl, but the road gets rougher and rougher.

You will, for example, encounter huge volcanic boulders that require a high ground clearance and cautious driving.

What Car do you need for F210?

f-roads maelifell iceland

F-roads around Maelifell

To pass F210 safely, you must drive at least a Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota Hilux, or Jeep Wrangler.

The best option is to drive a super jeep. Super Jeep is a modified vehicle with big tires and a snorkel. Some examples include Land Rover Defender, Land Rover Super Defender or a modified Land Cruiser.

You can rent all of these in Iceland. Check out our article on How to Rent a Super Jeep in Iceland.

F261 and F210

The second option from the west is to use the combination of the roads F261 and F210.

F261 is a bumpy road with one medium-sized river crossing at the end. The river is called Blafjallakvisl and requires just about the same cars to pass as F210.

F261 is also beautiful and worth the drive.

Southern route

f232 blafjallafoss waterfall

F232 Bláfjallafoss waterfall

F232 from the south is the easiest road.

It is the least bumpy road and there is just one medium-sized river crossing. Or better said – a waterfall crossing.

There are huge stones at the bottom of the river and the crossing is very bumpy.

f232 road iceland

F232 south of Maelifell

This one particular spot – the waterfall crossing of Blafjállafoss – is great for drone lovers, and it’s very picturesque.

Other than that, there’s nothing super highly interesting along the road, just one more cute waterfall called Holmsarfoss.

To pass F232, we again recommend ideally a Land Cruiser or something bigger.

On a dry day, you may be able to pass with Dacia Duster, Suzuki Jimny, Nissan Qashqai, or something similar. BUT you need to drive well without mistakes. To be sure not to damage your car, it’s better to rent something bigger.

Eastern route

The final option is to take F210 from the east. Eastern F210 is not difficult, but there is one major obstacle on the road.

f210 iceland east

F210 East of Maelifell

A big river crossing of Holmsa river. This river crossing is located east of Maelifell, right next to the Raudibotn craters area.

To pass this ford safely, it’s best to drive a super jeep. On a dry day you may be able to pass with Land Cruiser or Hilux or something similar.

Please never cross Holmsa in a Duster, Jimny or anything similar!

When to visit Maelifell

In short, you can visit Maelifell only in summer AND only when the roads to Maelifell are open.

maelifell iceland our visit

Our first visit of Maelifell in August

The roads to Maelifell typically open in the beginning of July and usually become impassable around mid-September.

Always check this upfront on or, that is the same website of Icelandic Road Administration.

You can drive to Maelifell only if the road is marked green or dashed green.

What to do around

Our favorite hidden gems near Maelifell are Raudibotn craters, Strútslaug hot spring, Markarfljotsgljufur canyon, and Hungurfit dirt track.

Raudibotn craters

Rauðibotn waterfalls

Raudibotn waterfalls

Raudibotn craters are an out-of-this-world secluded area full of waterfalls, rivers, and craters. Beware, though, to reach Raudibotn from Maelifell, you must cross the more giant Holmsa river.

Or you need to go all the way back to the ring road and access Raudibotn by F210 from the south.

You can read more about our Raudibotn experience here.

Strutslaug hot spring

strutslaug hot spring iceland

Strútslaug hot spring deep in the Fjallabak highlands of Iceland

Strútslaug is most likely the least visited hot spring in Iceland. This is a truly wild hot pot, unlike many other touristy ones in Iceland.

To reach Strútslaug, you have to cross one medium-sized river several times and then hike for about 1.5 hours.

You can read more about our Strútslaug experience here.

Markarfljotsgljufur canyon

markarfljotsgljufur east viewpoint

East viewpoint of Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon

Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon is one of our favorite canyons in Iceland. You are almost guaranteed to be alone when you reach it.

That being said, Markarfljótsgljúfur belongs to some of the most difficult-to-access canyons in Iceland.

You can get to Markarfljótsgljúfur either from the west or from the east. We describe in detail both of these options in the article about our Markarfljótsgljúfur experience.

Hungurfit dirt track

We will finish our list of the most secluded and fascinating spots in Iceland by Hungurfit track. This is one of our favorite deserted and totally remote dirt tracks in Iceland.

Driving the Hungurfit track involves steep ascents and descents, driving next to the deep ravines, as well as crossing numerous rivers and streams.

The most sought-for spots on Hungurfit, even for locals, is one of the tightest boulder-passes in Iceland – see video thumbnail above.

Tips and Safety

How do you prepare for a trip like this?

  1. Watch road videos and read blog posts to know what to expect
  2. Rent a proper car – Land Cruiser, Hilux, or a super jeep
  3. Practice on easier roads first
  4. Don’t go alone, ideally, go with more than just one car
  5. Go only when the weather is good, and the roads are open for tourists
  6. Check road and weather conditions on or and in advance
  7. Check with your car rental company if you are allowed to drive the roads to Maelifell
  8. Read our Highlands road trip guide


maelifell iceland drive

Driving around Maelifell

Is there any accommodation near Maelifell?

There is no hotel or hostel anywhere nearby. Only mountain huts with sleeping bag accommodation.

The closest ones are Hvanngil hut, Strútur hut, Alftavatn hut, Alftavotn hut and Emstrur-Botnar hut.

Can I get to Maelifell in Dacia Duster or Suzuki Jimny?

Long story short – we do not recommend it.

It is theoretically possible on a nice and dry day. And only if you use the easiest southern route F232. But you are risking damaging your car.

Can I take small children to Maelifell?

Well, like generally? NO. Only if you already have experience with the highlands, otherwise not.

Maelifell highlands Iceland

Maelifell in the highlands of Iceland. Photo credit to:

How much time do I need?

It takes roughly 2 hours to reach Maelifell from the town of Vik and roughly 2.5hours from Hella.

If you want to see just Maelifell and nothing else, the roundtrip will take you around 6 hours.

Is it worth going in a fog?

Unfortunately not really. But this depends on how heavy the fog is and if it’s persistent or not. This is impossible to predict. So you just need to take your chances!

Why can I visit Maelifell only in summer?

Because there is snow or mud on the roads. You would get stuck or you could damage the fragile soil.

Can I hike Maelifell?

Yes you can, BUT it is a very hard hike on an unmarked trail. It’s very steep and only for highly experienced hikers.

Our Experience

maelifell highlands iceland

The gem on the highlands of Iceland

Our first trip to Maelifell started in Hella via F210 from the west.

Most of the F210 is without bigger river crossings, so in case of good weather, even if you don’t feel like doing bigger river crossings, you may try to drive it in a proper 4×4 (ideally Land Cruiser or bigger, see our guide on how to choose a proper car for Iceland) – up to Alftavatn mountain hut.

F210 west of Alftavatn

Up to Alftavatn hut, the road is just bumpy, with potholes and some steep sections, but really picturesque and one of my favorite Icelandic roads. You will get amazing views in each direction – seeing Landmannalaugar from the distance and a big part of Fjallabak Park.

Even until Alftavatn, you will still have to cross several smaller streams, and even drive in the riverbed for around 100 meters! This is really one of the “once in a lifetime” experiences, for anyone not used to it (yes, maybe not for Icelanders ;).

f210 iceland west

F210 west of Alftavatn

As I mentioned, the road leads through multiple mountainous areas, so if you are unsure about driving in such an environment, please don’t go. Once you pass Alftavatn, the first real obstacle gets into your path – crossing the Kaldaklofskvisl river.

F210 to Alftavatn

Hence, we drove F210 all the way to Alftavatn lake. The road was admiringly beautiful. The part I liked the most was the highest spot just before Alftavatn, where you could see all the surrounding land, including Landmannalaugar in the distance, almost from the “bird’s eye” point of view.

We took a short break at Alftavatn lake, which is a very nice, calm, and quiet spot to stop at and have a picnic or short stay during nice weather. We were lucky enough that exactly after our arrival at Alftavatn the sun started to fight its way between the clouds and we could even walk in the T-shirt outside.

F210 Fjallabaksleið Syðri

F210 Fjallabaksleið Syðri to Alftavatn

F210 after Alftavatn then continues in two directions – south towards F261 and east towards Maelifell and Holmsa river. Since our journey went smoothly up to this point, we definitely wanted to take a detour toward Maelifell and so we did. We turned left on the eastern part of F210. Here’s where the truly lunar landscapes have begun to emerge.

Kaldaklofskvisl river crossing

Kaldaklofskvisl crossing on F210 can get tricky at times because there are some large boulders in the river that you are unable to see beforehand. Secondly, the water level in the river may get too high to allow for safe crossing in vehicles not big enough.

It’s always necessary to strictly adhere to all the river crossing rules, watch someone cross before you, wade the river yourself if feeling unsure, and if still feeling unsure better turn back.

F210 kaldaklofskvisl river crossing

Kaldaklofskvísl river crossing F210

We had nice partially cloudy/partially sunny weather, luckily with no fog and no rain. We already knew from our friends and from the day before, that the water level in rivers is favorably low and rivers are shallower than usual. These are practically one of the best conditions possible.

F210 to Maelifell

F210 towards Maelifell is definitely one of the most unique Icelandic roads. Firstly, the weather almost always changes when driving on this road. F210 towards Maelifellsandur literally feels like a gateway towards another world, thanks to this. Secondly, the road itself is very specific – it starts with huge boulders and continues as a black sand road.

And it’s almost always covered with some kind of mist – either light or heavy. Huge boulders are the most difficult part of F210 towards Maelifell. The road doesn’t have a clearly visible track, and if you don’t take enough care, you may damage the underside of your car.

F210 Fjallabaksleid Sydri east to Maelifell

F210 Fjallabaksleid Sydri east to Maelifell

After basically driving on huge stone plates rather than an ordinary road, the route turns into tracks in the black sand. Oftentimes expect it to be wet and muddy because this is the area where it may rain occasionally. This part of the road doesn’t have any huge obstacles, or rivers, so it looks like a giant moon highway.

There are no more river crossings going from Kaldaklofskvisl to Maelifell. If you are the only car on the road (which is frequently the case, as with us) then your only guides are the tracks in the sand and yellow sticks marking the side of the road.


After a drive in the middle of “black sand nowhere”, you will be able to spot majestic Maelifellsandur in the distance. If you are lucky enough, and Mr. Maelifell is not covered in fog – which he likes to do – your view will be truly amazing. As I already mentioned, the weather usually changes to worse after turning towards Maelifell. This was exactly our case (multiple times). This time it, however, only changed to cloudy with occasional little rain – which is still considered good weather.

maelifell iceland

Maelifell in Fjallabak nature reserve

Finally, after an adventurous drive – there it stood – Maelifell volcano. It’s a view as if you were on a deserted planet. A huge green volcano in front of you, surrounded by black sand fields, with occasional little lakes created by past rain and absolute silence in the air.

It’s even possible to climb the Maelifell, but we don’t recommend doing that unless you are really experienced in performing steep, unmarked hikes unless there’s ideal weather and ideally only with a guide. We didn’t go for the hike as it may be really dangerous (and the view from above wouldn’t be great in partially foggy weather).

Holmsa river crossing

We still had enough time at that point of the day, because everything went pretty smoothly. Thus, we decided to take a look at the Holmsa river crossing with an aim of seeing Raudibotn – the beautiful hidden (from a typical tourist) area with a crater, river, and amazing landscapes all around.

holmsa river crossing iceland

Me crossing bigger Hólmsá river by Land Cruiser on F210 near Maelifell

After reaching Maelifell, we continued east and we soon arrived at the Holmsá river crossing. According to a friend of mine, the crossing was supposed to be doable, without problems, at this time of the year (especially due to low water levels). Beware, this is the river crossing which may get pretty nasty. Always check both beforehand and on-site.

The crossing looked exactly like my friend Haraldur described it – this time harmless. I examined the river anyway and it looked calm and shallow. Because of this, we decided to go for a ford even without wading the river on foot. And the crossing went smoothly. There’s a small hill with the road, usually easy to spot on your left after the Holmsa crossing.

Raudibotn, Markarfljostgljufur and Hungurfit

After crossing Holmsa we went hiking all the way to Raudibotn craters. Highly recommended and totally worth a tiring day!

hungurfit track river crossings

Many small to medium river crossings are an amazing part of the Hungurfit track

After Raudibotn, we didn’t have enough and explored also Markarfljotsgljufur canyon and drove Hungurfit track. You can read in detail about our Fjallabak highlands day involving all these activities.

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Posted by Igor

Igor has spent months exploring every inch of Iceland over several years. He specializes in the Highlands, F-roads, hiking, hot springs, and less touristy places. He loves Iceland and keeps coming back.


I congratulate you for the great information you provide to be able to visit Maelifell. I had been looking for days how to go on foot but I didn’t find any information until now. I was trying to make this journey but I couldn’t know the distance until I saw your image with the 10 km scale. Therefore, I deduce that the walking distance is approximately 100 kilometers (go and return), which makes this route unfeasible (there is a lot to see in Iceland!). To make things easier for hikers, perhaps you could include the distances to be covered. At least, I didn’t find it in your text.
Thanks again from Spain.

Hi Carlos, and thank you for your message!
We do our best to provide as much information as possible. As for the distances you mention – it’s impossible to include these, because there are infinity different hiking route combinations one can reach Maelifell (and other places) from. So we only list hiking distances for the main hikes, not for multi-day hikes that cannot be reasonably estimated. Nevertheless, we always provide links to maps, where you can check these yourself 🙂
All the best!

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