Driving the F-Roads in Iceland gets you off the beaten track and into amazing, barren scenery. But navigating these mountain roads can be challenging. Here’s all you need to know about driving on the F-roads in Iceland.

Perched on the mid-Atlantic ridge, where the earth’s crust is thin, Iceland is a volcanic wonderland of colourful mountains, sulphuric mud pots and expansive lava fields.

While some of the unique beauty of Iceland can be seen from the Ring Road, much more lies in the desolate highlands in the centre of the country. To drive to these highlands you need to journey along F-roads or mountain roads. Rough and ungraded gravel tracks, driving along them requires a 4×4 and plenty of concentration.

We were inexperienced 4WD drivers who set off to explore the highlands in an independent and sustainable way. During our 10-day itinerary we were sometimes nervous; often uncomfortable, and spent many nights exhausted from long days on the road.

But at all times it was an adventure. Crossing rivers in our 4×4 for the first time, bouncing over lava fields for hours, nervously cruising through sand, and best of all, leaving the crowds behind and heading into vast empty spaces with staggering volcanic scenery. It’s was the experience of a lifetime and something we highly recommend.

Here is everything you need to know for your own adventure driving the F-roads in Iceland.

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WHAT ARE THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND?

The F-roads (fjall which means mountain in Icelandic) are unpaved gravel tracks that are not regularly maintained. The majority of the F-roads criss-cross the mountainous central region of Iceland called the highlands and each poses a different sort of challenge.

Some F-roads are good quality gravel roads that will allow for speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour) in places. Others are much more adventurous and involve fording (crossing) rivers, climbing steep inclines and driving over sand. Most have potholes, ruts or boulders that need to be navigated.

The F-roads in Iceland are also remote with almost no facilities. You will rarely come across a shops, gas station or hotel.

F-ROADS IN ICELAND MAP

The majority of the F-roads in Iceland connect the popular Ring Road route with the mountains central highlands area of the country.

map of the f-roads in Iceland
Map courtesy of www.nordiccarrental.is

WHAT VEHICLES ARE ALLOWED ON THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND?

The tricky nature of the roads and changing weather conditions in the highlands means only 4-wheel drive vehicles (sometimes called AWD or 4WD) can drive on the F-roads in Iceland. In addition, there are 3 other mountain roads that are not prefixed with an F, but also require a 4WD vehicle. They are: Kaldidalur valley (road 550), Kjölur (road 35) and Jökulhálsleið (road 570).

It’s illegal to drive on the F-roads in a 2-wheel drive car and rental companies will not insure you. If you damage a normal passenger car while driving on the F-roads you will be liable.

HOW DIFFICULT ARE THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND TO DRIVE?

Different F-roads present different challenges. Some are smooth gravel tracks where you can speed along at 80 kilometres per hour whereas others rise steeply up mountains and over rocky boulders. Some cross small shallow streams whereas others traverse much deeper and faster-flowing rivers.

Conditions on the mountain roads can also change quickly. What was a stream in the morning can be a river on your return trip. What was a sunny day can quickly turn to thick cloud or mist making visibility poor and the edges of the road indistinct.

All the F-roads in Iceland require good levels of concentration at all times and driving them can be a challenge.

IS DRIVING ON THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND WORTH IT?

Yes, there are several excellent reasons to drive on the F-roads in Iceland.

Firstly, as most tourists circle the Ring Road, the F-roads enable you to get off the beaten track, leave the crowds behind and reduce some of the pressure from the high tourist footprint around the heavily populated areas in Iceland.

Secondly, some amazing destinations can only be reached via the F-roads in Iceland. We cover our favourites in our guide to the Iceland Highlands including the multi-coloured Landmannalaugar area; the barren and desolate Askja Caldera and the stunning Kerlingarfjöll mountains.

Thirdly, driving the F-roads in Iceland is an adventure in itself. The roads are natural and unkempt, and navigating them involves 4×4 skills you didn’t know you had. It’s a lot of fun.  

Finally, because different F-roads have different levels of difficulty, you can stick to the roads that bring the level of adventure you are looking for.

WHEN ARE THE F-ROADS OPEN?

The F-roads are only open during summer. Opening times vary based on the weather and each road has a different opening time based on the conditions in that particular area. Most F-roads open around the middle of June, with a few opening at the start of June and some not opening until early July.

Predicted opening times are available on the Road.is website.

WHICH F-ROADS TO DRIVE?

Different F-roads present different challenges. So it’s important to pick F-roads for the type of adventure you want to have.

EASIER F-ROADS

Some of the easier F-Roads are little more than undulating gravel tracks, with no river crossings. For these roads, inexperienced 4X4 driver should have no problem driving them. Easier F-roads include the F208 from the north to Landmannalaugar, and the 35 Kjölur Road to Kerlingarfjöll. They are excellent and relatively easy ways to leave the crowds behind and explore Iceland’s remote wildernesses.

MEDIUM F-ROADS

Some F-roads are relatively flat but present more of a challenge due to larger boulders, moving sands, and deeper river crossings. These include the F910 to Askja, the F225 west of Landmannalaugar and the F26 to Sprengisandur. No experience is needed, but a higher clearance vehicle is helpful.

DIFFICULT F-ROADS

There are a few F-roads in Iceland that are very steep and/or require crossings through more significant, faster-flowing rivers. These include the F88 to Askja, the F249 to Þórsmörk and the F578 to Arnarvatnsvegur. These roads are often not suitable for small or medium 4WD vehicles and ideally require a more experienced driver.

WHAT VEHICLE SHOULD YOU HIRE FOR THE F-ROADS?

There are a number of factors worth considering when hiring a 4×4 for the F-roads in Iceland. The larger the 4×4 and higher the clearance, the easier it will be to navigate the more difficult F-roads. These vehicles also have better suspension for a more comfortable ride, however it comes at a cost.

SMALL 4×4

A small 4×4 is only suitable on F-roads without river crossings. These include the F208 from the north to Landmannalaugar and the 35 Kjölur Road to Kerlingarfjöll. The ride will still be pretty bumpy, but you should have no issues. Just beware of the small trunk size.

MEDIUM-SIZED 4×4

A medium sized 4×4 is helpful on F-roads that have a more significant river to cross, such as the F910 to Askja, the F225 west of Landmannalaugar and the F26 to Sprengisandur. To cross these rivers, the car should have a clearance of around 18 centimetres.

LARGE 4×4

A large 4×4, such as a Toyota Land Cruiser is required for more treacherous river crossings. Some of the more difficult crossings are on the F88 to Askja, the F249 to Þórsmörk and the F578 to Arnarvatnsvegur. The extra high clearance in a large 4×4 will give you some peace of mind if you’re nervous about crossing rivers, but it’s a comfort that comes with a high price tag.

car on a barren dirt track driving in iceland

WHAT 4X4 VEHICLE DID WE HIRE IN ICELAND AND HOW DID WE DO?

We planned on taking the easy mountain roads, assessing the medium mountain roads as we went, and avoiding the difficult ones. We weighed how much we wanted to pay for a 4X4 against how much we were likely to be able to see. We decided to hire a medium-sized 4X4. It was not much more expensive than a small 4×4, but quite a bit cheaper than a large 4×4.

In spite of it being the worst summer weather in Iceland for 100 years; we easily made the return day trips to Kerlingarfjöll and Landmannalaugar. We also successfully crossed the two fairly challenging rivers on the F910 to Askja, a little nail-biting was involved, but the car handled the crossings without a problem.

The steepness of the road was never a problem on all the roads we drove on our itinerary. The only time we really had to be careful was deciding whether to cross those rivers.

RENTING A 4×4 VEHICLE FOR THE F-ROADS

The best place to book your 4×4 vehicle for the F-roads is Blue Car Rental, however prices vary considerably so check prices against rentalcars.com.

Renting a car in Iceland comes with some unusual natural risks. Insurance for sand and ash damage, gravel and wind needs to be considered.

It’s important to note that almost no insurance covers damage to the car while fording a river, so you need to be particularly careful.

We have more detailed information on our guide to driving in Iceland, plus the below guides may help with your trip planning as well.

MORE ICELAND GUIDES


VISITING THE ICELAND HIGHLANDS

Our guide to the best of the highlands, including information on how to get there.

DRIVING IN ICELAND

Everything you need to know about driving on all the different roads in Iceland.

PLANNING A TRIP TO ICELAND

Get the most out of Iceland with everything you need to know when planning your trip.

TIPS FOR DRIVING THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND

The F-roads take you into a desolate and remote area of Iceland where there are few facilities, so it’s good to be prepared to avoid any unnecessary mishaps. Here are some tips before you head off:

01. CHECK WEATHER & ROAD CONDITIONS

Check the road conditions before you go and ask locals for further advice, including how long the journey will take. While Google maps shows all the F-roads in Iceland, estimated travel times are not reliable.

Check weather conditions here and pack warm clothes, waterproofs and hiking boots. The highlands are colder than the coast and the weather can change quickly.

02. MAKE TRAVEL PLANS

Tell someone about your travel plans. Let your family or friends know your overall itinerary and if possible each day leave instructions with your hotel.

Download the Safe Travel App and submit a travel plan. The app allows you to communicate with the emergency services, even if you have no phone coverage, and your travel plan will help them locate you.

Ideally buddy-up with other cars on the F-roads. Make plans before you leave the day before or when you meet another car on the journey, stay in eye contact so you can help each other if something goes wrong.  

Make sure you know your car rental breakdown number. The emergency services number in Iceland is 112 which can be reached via phone or text message.

Download the area into offline maps on Google maps or Maps.Me before you leave. Your GPS will work even if you don’t have data. It can be invaluable for tracking your drive.

03. TAKE SUPPLIES

Leave with a full tank of petrol and monitor your fuel usage as you go. There are almost no petrol stations in the highlands and running out is not something you want to worry about.

Take plenty of food and water with you for the trip. There are very few shops and restaurants in the highlands.

Ensure you have a spare tyre thats fully operational and you know how to change it.

Driving in Iceland along a barren dirt track with colourful mountains in the distance

HOW TO CROSS RIVERS ON THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND

The biggest challenge when driving on the F-roads in Iceland is crossing rivers. Insurance policies do not cover damage caused during river crossings. Therefore you need to be very careful.

Fortunately, providing you have the correct vehicle and follow these guidelines, driving across rivers in Iceland is not that difficult. The important thing to remember is if you are in doubt, don’t cross.

GO EARLY

Before leaving, check the road conditions online and ask locals for advice. As you drive to a tricky crossing, ask vehicles coming the other way for advice.

INSPECT THE RIVER

Do not try to cross a river where the water is higher than three-quarters of the height of your 4X4 rental wheels. Look for posts marking the depth or wade into the river if you are unsure. Cross the river where it is shallower, often where there are ripples and not where it looks calmer and therefore deeper. The best route is often marked by the tyre tracks of other cars. If the route is unclear it is usually better to start upstream and head diagonally downstream across the river. If unsure DO NOT CROSS. Wait for someone else to help you.

GET IN FIRST GEAR

Before entering the river ensure the vehicle is in manual, in a low gear, and drive slowly (5kph) but steadily along the easiest route. Do not change gears mid crossing and don’t hesitate halfway through.

CHECK YOUR RETURN

When returning by the same route do not rush across the river without checking. Rivers can be higher in the afternoon with rain and glacial melt increasing the challenge. Take your time and inspect them again to makes sure you have a good route through.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Have a backup plan in case you cannot cross the river. Do not put yourself in a position where you have to cross a river that you know might be tricky.

VISITNG THE HIGHLANDS ON A TOUR

If you want to experience some of the fantastic scenery in highlands but don’t want to drive on the F-roads, here are organised tours you can take. Like most things in Iceland, they’re not cheap but we can certainly vouch for the quality of the sights they take you to.

ICELAND HIGHLANDS TOURS


LANDMANNALAUGAR

hiking experience

KERLINGARFJÖLL

day tour

ASKJA CALDERA

super jeep experience

LANGJÖKULL GLACIER

ice cave tour

LANGJÖKULL GLACIER

snowmobile tour

PLANNING YOUR ICELAND TRIP

Iceland is an excellent destination for semi-adventurous travellers who like to get off-the-beaten-track and immerse themselves in stunning scenery. Here’s some more reading from us to help plan your journey to the land of fire and ice.

If you found this guide useful, we’d love it if you could follow us on Instagram.

GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS

15 useful travel tips for visiting Iceland

All you need to know about driving in Iceland

EXPLORING THE HIGHLANDS

Explore the beautiful barren world of the Iceland highlands

Enjoy breath-taking scenery on these 6 incredible Landmannalaugar hikes

Tips and instructions for self-driving to Askja Caldera

Guide to hiking in Kerlingarfjöll and Hveradalir, Iceland


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