Headed for the rugged and beautiful F roads in the highlands of Iceland? Our driving tips will help you stay safe and enjoy your Iceland Highlands tour.
The F-Roads are home to some of Iceland's most wild and natural beauty. But for those who are not familiar with driving in the area, driving on the F-Roads can present some risks. An Iceland Highlands Tour can be a great way to experience Iceland’s natural landscapes in all their beauty, however driving the F roads in Iceland’s highlands is not to be taken lightly. Follow our comprehensive tips to make sure you enjoy the scenery without floating down a powerful river or getting stuck in the middle of nowhere!
(Note: Originally written in March 2012, this blog was updated November 2021 to reflect updated information, including new dates in the mountain road opening date table )
The F-roads in the highlands of Iceland
Let me tell you a little bit about the highlands of Iceland. If you have not been there, you have an amazing experience waiting for you! The rugged beauty and the powerful peace and quiet up there is a brilliant way to recharge your batteries after months of hard work and stress. The rolling landscape consists of many of the following at all times: white glaciers, black sands, green mountain tops, rock formations of different varieties, blue or brown rivers, colorful hot springs, small waterfalls, big waterfalls and black volcanoes to name just a few. Sometimes you go whole days without seeing a single person and other times it is like being in busy downtown Reykjavik on a lovely Saturday. Iceland’s highlands can offer a huge array of experiences.
Some facts about the highlands from Wikipedia; they are situated in the middle of the country, at 400 – 500 meters (1,300 - 1640 feet) above sea level. They are mostly uninhabitable. The Highlands are home to many of Iceland’s glaciers such as Vatnajokull glacier, which is the biggest glacier in Europe. Most of Iceland’s active volcanoes are also situated in the highlands. Sounds amazing…and kinda scary, right?
The mountain roads in the highlands are called F-roads and are indicated with an F in front of the number of the road on maps. The F roads are usually narrow gravel roads with no bridges over rivers. And there are lots of rivers in the highlands! You will need a 4x4 car to drive on these roads.
The notable exceptions to this are Kjalvegur road 35 (usually called Kjölur among Icelanders). Road 35 is the road to Gullfoss, but then changes to a mountain road right after Gullfoss, when it becomes F35. This means you are able to drive your small car to Gullfoss in summer and winter (depending on road conditions of course), you will only need a 4x4 car right after you pass Gullfoss.
Sounds even scarier now, right? This is where many people can run into trouble on the F-roads
Driving F roads Iceland
Before you travel, there are a few things you should take care of first. Number 1 on the list - ensure you have a 4x4 vehicle. Other types of vehicles are not properly equipped to tackle the more difficult terrain. Browse our range of 4x4 vehicles for your Iceland highlands tour.
Additionally, letting someone know your travel plans is a good idea in case you encounter any difficulties. This can be a friend, a local ranger, or the good people over at www.travelsafe.is.
Ensure you have a detailed map of the route you will be travelling. Standard maps available from gas stations and tourist information centres might not be as helpful.
Finally, double check the conditions of the roads before you start your journey. Call 1777 or check www.road.is before embarking to ensure they are safe. Checking with local people and rangers as you encounter them is always a good idea.
Now, let's answer the question on how to drive on the F-roads in the highlands of Iceland.
- It is strongly advised that people travel together in 2 or more cars in case you encounter trouble and need help.
- Make sure that the F-road you plan to travel on is open for traffic. Road opening times are listed in this blog.
- Drive slowly and be aware of the possibly very bad gravel road in front of you.
- Cross rivers with ease after reading our instructions below.
- Driving off the designated roads in the highlands is strictly forbidden. It's worth noting that driving off-road anywhere in Iceland is always forbidden!
- It is good to be prepared for all types of weather as the weather in the highlands can change almost in a blink of an eye.
- Be aware that the telephone signal in the highlands is not very stable and you can go for a long while without a mobile connection.
- The emergency number in Iceland is 112. You are able to call it in the highlands, even without a mobile connection.
- There is only one petrol station in the highlands, at Hveravellir, so make sure you fill up!
F-roads opening times
F roads Iceland 2021
|MOUNTAIN ROADS 2011 - 2015||Opening date earliest||Opening date latest||Opening date median|
|Lakagígar, F206||12 June||30 July||19 June|
|Fjallabaksleið nyrðri, F208|
|1. Sigalda - Landmannalaugar||24 May||20 June||10 June|
|2. Laugar - Eldgjá||14 June||8 July||28 June|
|3. Eldgjá - Skaftártunga||5 June||26 June||13 June|
|Fjallabaksleið syðri F210|
|1. Keldur - Hvanngil||21 June||10 July||3 July|
|2. Hvanngil - Skaftártunga||28 June||13 July||5 July|
|Landmannaleið (Dómad.) F225||28 June||14 July||22 June|
|Emstruleið, F261||21 June||8 July||25 June|
|1. Gullfoss - Hveravellir||8 June||1 July||17 June|
|2. Hveravellir - Blönduvirkjun||2 June||25 June||13 June|
|1. Hrauneyjar - Nýidalur||20 June||9 July||29 June|
|2. Nýidalur - Bárðardalur||20 June||9 July||30 June|
|Skagafjarðarleið, F752||26 June||9 July||27 July|
|Eyjafjarðarleið, F821||28 June||24 July||7 July|
|1. To Herðubreiðarlindir||14 June||25 June||19 June|
|2. Herðubreiðarlindir - Dreki||14 June||25 June||18 June|
|Öskjuvatnsvegur, F894||14 June||24 July||24 June|
|Hólsfjallavegur, F864||2 June||29 June||10 June|
|Kverkfjallaleið, F902||14 June||25 June||18 June|
|Arnardalsleið F905||11 June||25 June||17 June|
|Austurleið F910||11 June||17 July||15 June|
|Uxahryggjavegur, 52||16 April||16 May||29 May|
|Kaldadalsvegur, 550||25 May||19 June||27 May|
Opening of mountain roads brochure (updated June 2018).
F-roads Iceland map
Some things to consider when crossing glacial rivers on F Roads Iceland
- When you cross glacial rivers, it’s important to engage the vehicle’s 4 wheel drive function before entering the waters. Drive as slow as possible and stick to a low range if it’s possible. Remain in the same gear while you are in the middle of a river to avoid damage to your gear system or becoming stranded.
- It’s typical that less water flows in glacial rivers in the morning and that warm summer days and heavy rainfall can drastically increase water flow. Some rivers are simply uncrossable, regardless of your vehicle size.
- Crossing a glacial river in a car should be avoided if you would not choose to wade through it yourself. It’s best to cross with an experienced guide with you.
- Fords are generally well marked and you should be able to spot them. Large rocks could lie beneath the water’s surface so be aware of these. Where the water appears calm, rivers tend to be deepest, so avoid these areas at all costs.
- Where you can, cross down river at a diagonal angle, so that the water will help your vehicle cross.
You can, of course, drive the SADcars that are suitable for F-roads driving in the highlands of Iceland. In fact, we want you to enjoy it! We offer several groups that are suitable for F-road driving;
- Group M (manual) and Group N (automatic) Toyota RAV4 4x4 or comparable)
- Group J Suzuki Jimny 4x4 (not suitable to drive on all highland roads under all circumstances, it depends on the amount of water flow in the rivers if they can be crossed)
- Group R (Toyota LandCruiser 4x4 or comparable).
It’s important to note that regardless of your vehicle, driving off-road in Iceland is strictly forbidden. It can cause lasting damage on the landscape if you drive on roads without assigned numbers. Punishment can include huge fines or even imprisonment for up to 2 years.Sources and useful information:
Hopefully, this blog gives you some ideas of what to expect when travelling on the F roads in the highlands of Iceland. Always keep in mind that you are driving in a wilderness where the weather can change very fast and you are located high above sea level so the weather can be very different from the weather in the "lowlands". For more information on how to be safe in Iceland, read our advice on navigating the dangers of Iceland’s roads.
Have a happy and safe journey!