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.

A self-drive tour through the highlands of Iceland can be a great way to experience the stunning, natural landscapes in all their beauty. However, driving the rugged F-roads in Iceland is not to be taken lightly. The unpredictable weather and gravelly, off-road conditions mean it can quickly become dangerous if you are not prepared.  

We’ve put together a guide to help you stay safe and to make sure you enjoy the scenery without getting caught in a powerful river or finding yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere as snow begins to fall! 

The information in the guide below includes:

  • What are the F-roads in the highlands of Iceland?
  • What can you see in the highlands of Iceland?
  • What to do before you drive on the F-Roads in Iceland
  • How to drive on the F-roads in Iceland
  • When are the F-roads open?
  • A map of the F-roads
  • Tips for crossing rivers on the F-roads in Iceland
  • Driving laws in Iceland to be aware of
  • Hiring a vehicle to drive on the F-roads in Iceland
Download a printable PDF version of this guide for your trip to the Iceland highlands!
F roads Iceland
 

What are F Roads in Iceland?

In order to understand what the F-roads are, you might first hear about the highlands. 
The highlands of Iceland are large, sparse zones of volcanic desert which cover a large amount of the interior of Iceland. 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 mountain roads in the Iceland 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!

What can you see in the highlands of Iceland?

The rolling landscape consists of many of the following at all times: black sands, green mountain tops, rock formations of different varieties, blue or brown rivers, colourful 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.  

The Highlands are home to many of Iceland’s glaciers such as Vatnajokull glacier, which is one of the biggest glaciers in Europe. Most of Iceland’s active volcanoes are also situated in the highlands. Sounds amazing…and kinda scary, right?  
 
Gravel path on mountainous highlands in Iceland   

What to do before you drive on the F-roads in Iceland

Before you travel to the highlands, there are a few things you should take care of first: 

  • Ensure you have a suitable 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.
  • Let someone know your travel plans 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. 
  • Double check the conditions of the roads before you start your journey. You can call 1777 or check www.road.is to ensure the F roads are safe. Checking with local people and rangers as you encounter them is also a good idea.

How to drive on the F-roads in Iceland

All of the roads in Iceland require extra caution. However, whilst travelling on the F roads in iceland, there are some additional tips that you should follow to help keep you safe:

  • 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 that the road ahead is likely to be gravelly, wet, and may even have potholes. 
  • Cross rivers carefully. There are instructions on how to do so 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!
  • Be prepared for all types of weather. The weather in the highlands can change 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!
Fire canyon

When are the F-roads open?

The F-roads in Iceland are only open during the summer. Some of them open as late as early July and close again in mid to late September. The opening of each road depends mostly on the amount of snow covering them. Roads can be very wet after the spring and are not open to traffic until they dry up. When roads pass through conservation areas, they are not opened until the whole area is ready to take on the pressures of visitors. This means that the estimated opening dates below are subject to change:
 
F-Roads Iceland Opening Dates Guide
 
  MOUNTAIN ROADS 2011 - 2015 Opening date earliest Opening date latest Opening date median
  Lakagígar, F206 12 June 25 June 18 June
  Fjallabaksleið nyrðri, F208      
   1. Sigalda - Landmannalaugar 24 May 19 June 9 June
   2. Laugar - Eldgjá 14 June 8 July  29 June
   3. Eldgjá - Skaftártunga 5 June 16 June 12 June
  Fjallabaksleið syðri F210      
   1. Keldur - Hvanngil 21 June 10 July  4 July
   2. Hvanngil - Skaftártunga 28 June 13 July  5 July 
  Landmannaleið (Dómad.) F225 28 June 18 July  26 June
  Emstruleið, F261 21 June 8 July  2 July
  Kjalvegur, 35      
   1. Gullfoss - Hveravellir 8 June 1 July 17 June
   2. Hveravellir - Blönduvirkjun 2 June 25 June 13 June
  Sprengisandur, F26      
   1. Hrauneyjar - Nýidalur 20 June 9 July  1 July
   2. Nýidalur - Bárðardalur 20 June  9 July 1 July
  Skagafjarðarleið, F752 26 June 9 July 5 July
  Eyjafjarðarleið, F821 28 June 24 July 10 July
  Öskjuleið, F88      
   1. To Herðubreiðarlindir 14 June 1 July 21 June
   2. Herðubreiðarlindir - Dreki 14 June 1 July 20 June
  Öskjuvatnsvegur, F894 14 June 6 July 21 June
Hólsfjallavegur, F864 2 June 29 June 13 June
  Kverkfjallaleið, F902 14 June 30 June 20 June
Arnardalsleið F905 11 June 30 June 19 June
Austurleið F910 11 June 17 July 28 June
  Uxahryggjavegur, 52 16 April 16 May 1 May
  Kaldadalsvegur, 550 4 May 19 June  25 May

Opening of mountain roads brochure (updated August 2022).

 

A map of the F-roads

The Highlands of Iceland have many F-Roads that you can travel on, as shown in the table above and the map below. Many people know of the F35 Kjölur, F26 Sprengisandur and F208 Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. In the past, Kjölur and Sprengisandur were the main connections between north and south Iceland, and native people would travel the roads on foot or horseback. Native Icelanders must have been super-humans for travelling without all the modern equipment and clothes we have today!
 
Opening of mountain roads F roads in the highlands of iceland
 

Tips for crossing rivers on the F-roads in Iceland

There are multiple rivers that block the way of the F-roads in the highlands of Iceland. The rivers are often full of debris and sand. Crossing the rivers can be dangerous as you are unable to see their depth and they can flow quickly, which can make it difficult to control your vehicle. The tips below will help to make river crossings safer in the Iceland Highlands:

  • 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. Remain in the same gear while you are in the middle of a river to avoid damage to your gear system or becoming stranded.
  • 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.
  • Rivers are dangerous and can be deceptively deep. Cross with extreme caution.
  • Where the water appears calm, rivers tend to be deepest, so avoid these areas at all costs.
  • Where you can cross downriver at a diagonal angle so that the water will help your vehicle cross.

It’s typical that less water flows in glacial rivers in the morning and warm summer days and heavy rainfall can drastically increase water flow. Some rivers are simply uncrossable, regardless of your vehicle size. If this is the case then you should explore your map and find another route. 

4x4 submerged in glacial river in f roads

Photo by 4x4offroads.com.

 

The Road Traffic Directorate has made a video about how to drive in Iceland. It is mostly a general video about driving in Iceland, however, it does contain some information about how to drive on F-roads. 

 


Hiring a vehicle to drive on the F-roads in Iceland

You will need a suitable 4x4 car to drive in the Iceland highlands. At SADcars, we offer several groups of vehicles 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). 

The notable exception to the 4x4 requirement is Kjalvegur road 35 (usually called Kjölur among Icelanders). Kjölur does not become an F-road until right after Gulfoss, which means you are able to drive to and from Gullfoss in a standard car.

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 quickly. 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!