There's no better way to see the raw, unfiltered side of Iceland than on its wild and untamed F-roads. Tracing through the remote Icelandic Highlands, these roads lead to some of the most remote, lifeless, and unearthly places in the country. While some are considered easy-going gravel paths, others are obstructed by potholes, boulders, ice, and unabridged rivers. All of them, however, are pretty thrilling.
Due to their untamed nature, access and rules regarding F-roads are pretty strict and those planning to drive on them need to be well-informed before they do so. With this guide on all you need to know about Iceland's F-roads, you'll be prepared as can be to begin your adventure. So, let's dive in.
F-roads are remote gravel paths that trace through Iceland's remote, uninhabited regions. The F stands for fjall which means mountain in Icelandic because they are specifically found in the mountainous Highlands of central Iceland. So while off-roading is not possible here, the F-roads provide a similar experience. Aside from being gravel-based, these roads differ from the rest of Iceland's roads in several ways including:
- They can only be used with 4x4 vehicles
- They have speed limits of 80km/h or 50mph
- They do not provide facilities and services
- They often require extra vehicle insurance
- They are not maintained year-round
- Their use is weather and season dependent
Always keep a map on hand when going for an F-Road roadtrip. Here is a great map to have with you provided with most of the highlands F-Roads in Iceland has to offer.
Much of the Highlands region is an uninhabitable volcanic desert plateau that resembles nothing else on earth. Raw and wild in nature, its roads are for fearless drivers who feel confident navigating narrow passages, rivers, steep inclines, loose terrain, sand dunes, and tackling harsh elements like rain, snow, and ice. Those brave enough to do so will be highly rewarded by the Highlands' generous splendour.
Although Iceland's Highlands cover a large part of the country, they are largely unexplored by tourists simply because of how remote they are and how little infrastructure is built within them. This makes them a more adventurous destination that few have the honour of saying they have experienced on their Icelandic trip.
Plus, the idea of being the only soul for miles around is an intimidating, but beautifully freeing feeling that we rarely get to experience in our daily lives, but something that everyone must feel at least once in their life.
Offroading has been made illegal in Iceland to preserve the integrity of its incredible natural landscapes and prevent interference with its habitats. This law is also concerned with the health and safety of both tourists and locals driving throughout the country.
As a small island near the Arctic Circle in the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland's weather can be harsh and unpredictable. Therefore, it is dangerous to explore off the beaten path where help and rescue is more difficult to provide to stranded vehicles and their passengers.
Those caught off-roading are heavily fined and potentially imprisoned if they are non-compliant. However, abiding by the law is not just about avoiding punishment, it's about practicing respect and understanding for the country that is sharing its land with you.
Due to the harsh weather conditions that affect the Icelandic Highlands throughout autumn, winter, and spring, F-roads are only considered safe enough to drive during summer. This means that they are actually closed between October and May. Every year, the driving conditions of each road are assessed and an opening/closing schedule is published. The below image shows the schedule for 2017-2021, but the same dates apply for 2022. It's an important facter to bear in mind when booking your F-road trip.
For the most part you can trust the information provided from the above image but weather always plays the biggest role here. Winter might decide to overstay it's welcome and the opening might delay until late June or start of July. This also applies if weather is better for a longer period then F-Roads will stay open for a longer period.
Weather is the most important factor before heading out for a drive on the F-Roads and you can follow the weather from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website.
As stated before F-Roads are only open during the summer as the weather conditions in winter can be very hazardous for inexperienced drivers. July / August would be the best time to self-drive through most F-Roads due to warmer climate and more gentle weather.
If you would like to visit during winter and would love nothing more than to experience Iceland's highlands then you can book a guided tour with a licensed operator on a monster 4x4 supertruck. Do not try and drive the roads during harsh weather and when they are closed, even though you think your car can make it. It doesn't always come down to the car or equipment but the drivers knowledge.
With over 40 F-roads in Iceland altogether, it can be hard to narrow down which ones you want to check out on your 4x4 adventure. However, there are three main factors to consider when doing so that can make it much simpler:
Are you up for challenging roads with river crossings and muddy banks or do you want an easy ride that allows you to concentrate more on scenery?
What do you want to get out of your F-road trip; wonderful window views, unusual landscapes, or scenic hikes perhaps?
Do you want to spend a week or more navigating the highlands or would you prefer to tick it off in a day or two?
To help you choose which F-roads to take, we have selected some of the most popular routes based on the factors listed above.
The easy route
Route 35 is one of a few unmarked F-roads in Iceland which, despite not having the same title, follows the same rules. The route is considered one of the easiest to drive because the gravel road is not interrupted by rivers and other natural obstacles.
Reaching north from Gullfoss to Lake Blöndulón in northern Iceland, it takes around five hours to cross on average, making it one of the longest roads in the country. As well as featuring one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls and largest lakes, the route passes hot springs, hiking trails, and much more.
River Crossing: None
The popular route
Landmannalaugar is a scenic mountain within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the southern region of the Icelandic Highlands. It sits at the edge on newly formed lava fields laced with toasty natural hot springs. Its landscape, a maze of mars-like burnt orange peaks and valleys partially carpeted in mossy green grass, has attracted more and more tourists to its F-roads in recent years.
There are a number of F-roads that reach Landmannalaugar including F206, F225, and F208 which is the easiest route to take from the north but the most difficult to take from the south.
River Crossing: Depending on which route; F208 from the North has none but F208 from the South as three medium to large river crossings.
The challenging route
F206 is the route leading 45 km to Lakagígar or the Craters of Lakí along a dramatic volcanic fissure from Kirkjubæjarklaustur on Route 1's South Coast Way. Its landscape is defined by a series of craters, crater lakes, and lava fields caused by a major volcanic eruption in the 18th century that wiped out 25% of Iceland's population.
While Lakagígar is the result of a devastating natural disaster, its beauty is undeniable. Known for its deep river crossings and unstable gravel paths, F206 is one of the most challenging F-roads in the country and it should only be attempted by experienced 4x4 drivers.
River Crossing: Yes, deep river crossings along this route. Do not attempt during heavy rain, preferably with a group.
The long route
The F26 stretches 250+ km northeast between the Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull glaciers in central Iceland. Also known as Sprengisandsleið, which translates to ?Exhausting Sands Way', it's not surprising to learn that it's Iceland's longest F-road.
Reaching over 800 metres above sea level, it is also Iceland's highest, loneliest, and most desolate road. Featuring river crossings, many potholes, boulders, and a long icy gravel plateau with few signs of life, F26 is a rather challenging F-road but it's perfect for those seeking a challenging multi-day highland jaunt.
River Crossing: Several river crossings with water up to approx. 1 meter deep.
A Geothermal Wonder
The F347, or Kerlingafjallavegur, connects to the wonderful mountain range of Kerlingafjöll, which also introduces you to a geothermal area. This road features no river crossings and is mostly an easy gravel track but as it leads closer to Hveradalir it does get more difficult and bit more steep.
River Crossing: None.
F-Road driving can be rather risky and tricky so it's vital that you are well prepared and informed. We decided to provide you with some tips from our renters and partners that we know will assist you in your preparation.
Traveling by a group is always recommended when driving through F-Roads and by a group, means by a group of vehicles. If your car breaks down or you might need a tow or a push then traveling by your self and lonesome means you are in trouble and will have to rely on emergency services.
Being stuck in the deserted mars-like highlands in Iceland without food or drinks is not the ideal situation you would like to find yourself in. It is vital that you have plenty of water, snacks and food in case of any situation as the F-Roads don't ask questions, they only seek answers.
- 2 Extra Water Bottles per Person
- Plenty of prepared sandwiches
- Protein / Power Bars
- Skyr / Yogurt Drinks
- Coffee / Energy Drinks
Stopping at a local bakery would be a great choice. Buy some tasty treats, some drinks and then grab a cup of coffee to-go to keep you alert for your drive.
F-Roads are not meant for racing through, they are made for turtle like driving because; one) you might miss out on some extraordinary sights and two) plowing through treacherous territory can damage the vehicle and leave you stranded.
Make sure you plan with plenty of time to spare in case you need to drive even slower than recommended.
Speed limit for F-Roads: 30mph
This is highly recommended
There is this extremely useful website called SafeTravel.is and there you can plan your whole route and submit a travel plan / itinerary. This is great for most, if not all, that embark on an F-Road adventure.
You will also find emergency information from the Icelandic Government or the Icelandic Met Office if there are weather warnings where roads are closed or there are hazardous weather conditions.
If you don't like the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes.
This is a saying in Iceland that is as true as steel. The weather is ever changing and can surprise you with either sunny blue skies or cloudy windy rainy gray skies. You will have to bring with you waterproof clothing and shoes/boots in case you need to step out of your vehicle.
Also warm sleeping gear as even though the days can be warm, the nights can be very chilly, just in case you can't drive any longer and need to stay the night in your vehicle.
Just come prepared and you might have the adventure of a lifetime.
Sometimes it can be tempting to stray away from the marked path and undertake an adventure on the unbeaten path. First, that is illegal and, secondly, that can be very hazardous. Most paths are marked for a reason as they are the safest routes for a vehicle to take.
This also destroys the beautiful, untouched, nature that we are all here to enjoy. So, lets make sure we leave it that way for the next visitor to appreciate.
Crossing rivers while driving in the highlands is the biggest challenge, especially when you know that car insurance policies do not cover damages caused by river crossing. When in doubt, don't.
You will have to pick the right car, the right conditions for crossing, the correct route and more.
Some pointers for you.
- Make sure you don't cross the river after heavy rainfall.
- Look for markers that show the water height. If they don't have them, make sure the water isn't higher than three-quarters the height of your wheels.
- If you wouldn't wade cross the river due to it's current strength, don't attempt to drive either.
- Be vary of crossing wide rivers as they can build up waves as you cross.
- You might rind a rope to indicate the best crossing route for the river.
- Still water means deeper water. Small ripples means shallow water. Big Waves might suggest a large boulder.
- Watch for tire marks that indicate where others have crossed before you. Make sure the tire marks are as wide as your own, some might be from a larger vehicle.
- Cross with others and be there for each other (if possible).
- Don't hesitate, only cross when you have fully investigated the area.
- Drive slowly in a low gear so that water doesn't enter the exhaust.
Google maps is all of our best friend these days, it's always on when I go on a road trip. Gone are they days of holding a map, calling out the next turn or hoping for the best.
We recommend downloading Google Maps to use off-line just in case if you have lost your way and don't have coverage, you can still check with your phone and make sure you are driving in the right direction.
Make sure you have a full tank of gas / fuel when you go, as there are no petrol stations in the highlands for you stop by. It's demanding for the car to drive through rough terrain and you might burn through more fuel than you anticipated.
Also, just a food for thought, you might also want to bring a full fuel cannister with you in case you need to fill up.
112 is the Icelandic emergency number and you should know it before heading out. In the highlands a network connection or a mobile signal can be very weak so you might not be able to call friends or family for help. You can always call 112, even though you do not have a mobile signal or connection.
As mentioned, a 4x4 is required in order to drive on F-roads because hatchbacks, SUVs, campervans, and other kinds of vehicles would simply not survive their off-road-style terrain. However, it's not just important to hire a 4x4 from your rental service, it's important to choose the right one. Some F-roads are more difficult than others and, therefore, require more robust and off-road-ready 4x4s. When choosing the 4x4 that's right for your F-road adventures, make sure you thoroughly research the routes you plan to take so that you have an idea of their difficulty. This will help pinpoint the features you need your 4x4 to have.
Small 4x4s like the Ford Kuga are nimble and agile enough for the easy F-roads. Meanwhile, the more difficult routes which cross rivers and uneven surfaces would be much safer and more driveable with a medium 4x4 like the Dacia Duster or a large 4x4 like the Land Cruiser. CarsIceland's representatives know their vehicles just as well as they know Iceland's F-roads, like the back of their hand, so they can easily assist you with finding the right 4x4 for your F-road adventure needs.
FYI: The bigger the vehicle, the more room for extra equipment and luggage that you will need to bring with you on your F-Road adventure.
When renting a vehicle, standard vehicle insurance is included in the price quotation. However, there are added safety risks to your person and your vehicle on F-roads that aren't covered on your included standard vehicle insurance. Therefore, some 4x4 rentals require additional cover like ?gravel protection'. Your CarsIceland representative can advise you of this when renting your vehicle to make sure you're safely prepared for all eventualities so that you can enjoy your F-road adventure to the fullest.