How to Drive on F-Roads in the Icelandic Highlands

Driving in the Icelandic highlands challenges even the most adventurous of travellers, the desolate windswept plateau in the middle of the country presenting perhaps the final frontier of travel in Iceland. A series of isolated gravel roads traverse the region, known as the F-Roads, connecting volcanoes, glaciers, lush valleys and steaming geothermal areas. But it’s no easy task to drive on these roads and going up into the highlands unprepared can quickly turn dangerous. Read on to give yourself the best chance at a successful adventure up into one of the most isolated regions in all of Europe; the Icelandic highlands.

The Icelandic Highlands

Even without any particular destination in mind, travelling through the Icelandic highlands is a reward unto itself. Vast expanses of black sand, active volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs make up this uninhabitable Icelandic region, which houses some of the most incredible natural sights in the entire country. At times it can be crowded, and at other times you can go for days without seeing another person – it’s one of the largest unpopulated regions in all of Europe.

Witnessing the raw and powerful energy at the heart of Iceland is one of the best experiences one can have whilst in the country. After the winter snows have melted and once again the mountain roads are open, this breathtaking region opens and begs to be explored, with countless adventures to be had.

The Basic Rules

First things first – to be driving up in the highlands, you’ll need to be in a 4x4. Our fleet of 4x4 campers are well-equipped to handle the trials of driving on the F-Roads, and you can book one here. It is illegal to take regular vehicles into the highlands and doing so will void any insurance you have.

Always check the conditions of the road you’re planning on taking. www.road.is has all road openings and any weather warnings as well.

There are limited services in the highlands as well, so it’s important to be very well prepared with enough food, water, and petrol, to last you your whole trip.

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Never go off-road. This is illegal, and you’ll quite possibly be destroying the pristine nature of the region. Large fines await those who do.

The F-Roads themselves are unkempt gravel roads, with no bridges over rivers. This means that you’ll have to cross the rivers, which can be dangerous – especially after a heavy rainfall or warmer weather when the rivers are running stronger than usual. Because of the dangerous nature of crossing these glacial rivers, it’s always recommended to travel with 2 or more cars. If you’re on your own and unexperienced with crossing rivers, it’s a clever idea to wait for another car to come along so that you can work together to cross the river.

It’s also important to note that even though the road may be open, some rivers might be too strong to cross. It’s always good to have a backup plan in case you must turn back the way you came.

How to do a River Crossing

River crossings are an essential part of travelling in the highlands. Successfully crossing rivers is a thrilling achievement, but if it goes wrong it’s a quick way to ruin your 4x4 camper and your trip, so it’s important to be prepared. Following these tips for crossing rivers can ensure an exciting and unforgettable trip in the Icelandic highlands.

  • Study the river crossing’s entrance and exit. Look out for any big boulders in the riverbed to avoid, and make sure that the river isn’t flowing too quickly. Gauge the depth of the river as well, making sure that it’s not too deep for the 4x4.
  • The greatest rule of thumb for crossing a river is this: If you don’t feel comfortable wading across the river on foot, you cannot cross it in your 4x4. Knee high is absolute maximum height of the water level.
  • Take the 4x4 out of ‘Drive’ and put it in a low gear. This ensures that the gears don’t change automatically at a time that’s dangerous for you. It’s important to not change gears whilst in the water.
  • Angling yourself so that the front of the car faces slightly diagonally downriver, enter the river slowly but steadily.
  • As you’re crossing the river, keep pace with the wave of water that is rushing out in front of the car – again, slow but steady. If water is splashing on your windshield, you’re going too quickly.
  • Keep your momentum as you exit the river on the opposite edge.
  • If you do not feel comfortable you should wait for other travellers and see how they manage to cross the river. This also means that you are not on you own if something happens.

Please note, due to the unpredictable nature of the glacial rivers in the highlands, insurance companies don’t cover any water damage. Our 4x4 campers have insurance that extends to cover them on the F-Roads – details of the insurance policies offered can be found here.

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220 Hafnarfjörður, Iceland
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