Driving the F-Roads of Iceland was a magnificent adventure. Here is what you need to know to decide if this 4x4 adventure is for you.


Perched on the mid-Atlantic ridge, where the earth’s crust is thin, Iceland is a volcanic wonderland.

Gurgling blue and brown rivers wind their way around green and red mountains. Bubbling mud pots and yellow sulphurous boils emit gases from the scarred earth. Geysers erupt, waterfalls crash and black lava swirls across the land, as mighty glaciers and towering volcanos peer down.

Some of this beauty can be seen from the Ring Road that loops around Iceland, but much more lies in the desolate highlands that stretch across the interior of the country. These highlands are connected by isolated gravel tracks known as the F-roads in Iceland.

To use these roads, you will need a 4X4 rental and a sense of adventure. But driving the F-roads in Iceland is more than just exploring this unique landscape, it’s doing it in a way that makes you feel like you’ve conquered foreign lands. It’s an experience we highly recommend.

We were inexperienced 4×4 drivers who hired a 4X4 rental in Iceland and set off to explore the highlands. Driving these roads can be tricky. Sometimes we were nervous (heading into our first river), most of the time we were uncomfortable (after 2 hours bumping over lava fields) and often we were weary (these roads required sharp concentration).

But if you are semi-adventurous, enjoy leaving the crowds behind and own a pair of hiking boots, then hiring a 4×4 rental in Iceland and heading out on the F-roads may be for you.

Here is some information to help you decide.

WHAT ARE THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND?

The F-roads in Iceland are mountain roads; unpaved gravel tracks that are not regularly maintained. Prefixed with an F, such as F210, they have large potholes, many ruts or large boulders on their surface. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are pretty good gravel tracks where you can drive along at 80kph, whereas others will have you fording rivers, rising up across steep rocky inclines and gliding through sand.

The F-roads are dotted around Iceland but most take you into the desolate central highlands. A barren and remote place with very few facilities. You will find almost no shops, no petrol stations and no hotels. What you will find is plenty of rock, snow, lava, ice and some great adventure opportunities.

WHY DRIVE ON THE F-ROADS IN ICELAND?

There are a number of excellent reason to drive on the F-roads in Iceland.

Firstly, as most tourists circle the ring road, it enables you to get off the beaten track, leave the crowds behind and head into some truly remote scenery. You often have the country to yourself, except perhaps for a few sheep. The views from the car windows are excellent as glaciers glint in the sun, lava fields cross the road and volcanos tower into the sky. The highlands are a place to take a deep breath and savour the natural beauty of Iceland.

Secondly, some amazing destinations can only be reached by the mountain and F-roads in Iceland. Landmannalaugar is home to multi-coloured mountains, magenta craters, crystal blue lakes and some magnificent hiking. Askja is a barren and desolate volcanic area with a large crater, two lakes and black lava fields swirling around it. Kerlingarfjöll is a beautiful mountain range, wedged between two glaciers, with gurgling rivers, red rock and steaming vents. Þórsmörk is a valley of icy rivers rushing through rocky moraines with great hiking up to superb viewpoints. Each is a magnificent place to visit that you can only get to on the mountain roads in Iceland.

Finally, the driving the F-roads in Iceland is an adventure in itself. The perfect place to hone your 4×4 skills, navigate unkempt roads and survey rivers for acceptable crossing opportunities. Tackle different types of driving conditions and bask in the glory of accomplishing a great travel milestone.

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

The potholes, boulders and river crossings on mountain roads require a vehicle with good ground clearance. Car rental companies will not insure normal passenger cars on these mountain roads and you could face a hefty fee if your uninsured car is damaged.

So 4×4 rental is required to use the F roads in Iceland. Three other mountain roads, not prefixed with an F, also require a 4X4 rental in Iceland: Kaldidalur valley (road 550), Kjölur (road 35) and Jökulhálsleið (road 570).

To explore the highlands via the F roads in Iceland you will need to come in summer. Most mountain roads are closed in winter, and only open as the snow melts, usually in June, staying open till late September or October. All opening times are available from the Iceland travel website. But once they are open these roads are a joy to drive. You just need a bit of planning and to be careful.

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

Driving the mountain roads requires concentration. We had rocks to negotiate, rivers to cross, and sand to slide through. At times the visibility was low and we were peering out of our windscreen trying to make out the small indent in the rock and gravel that was our road.

Different roads have different challenges. Some are easy gravel tracks 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 Iceland’s F road change. What is a stream in the morning can be a river by the evening. So, the challenges of driving an F road depend on the difficulty of the road, the size of the vehicle you have rented, the weather conditions, and your confidence and experience as a driver.

There are some easy mountain roads, little more than undulating rocky tracks, with no river crossings, that any inexperienced 4X4 driver in any 4X4 rental in Iceland can drive, such as Landmannalaugar from the north on the F208 and Kerlingarfjöll on the 35 Kjölur Road.

Other mountain roads are relatively flat but require river crossings, where higher 4X4 clearance is an advantage, such as the F910 to Askja, the F225 west of Landmannalaugar and the F26 Sprengisandur crossing the centre of Iceland.

Then there are some mountain roads that are very steep or have treacherous rivers, such as the F88 to Askja, F249 to Þórsmörk and F578 to Arnarvatnsvegur. These roads are often not suitable for an economy or intermediate 4×4’s and may require a larger or specialised 4×4.

So, you have to decide which roads you want to take and what sized 4X4 rental you might need.


MORE READING

For a similar day trip in Iceland, although not quite as adventurous, read about our day in Kerlingarfjöll. Read our about page for more about how we like to travel.


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

Being mildly adventurous individuals, yet not wanting to risk life and limb, we planned on taking the easy mountain roads, assessing the more difficult roads as we went, and avoiding the very challenging ones. We weighed how much we wanted to pay for a 4X4 rental in Iceland against how much we were likely to be able to see. We decided to hire an intermediate 4X4. It was not much more expensive than an economy, 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 successfully got across the two rivers on the F910 to Askja.

We had hoped to get to Básar Hut in Þórsmörk via the F249. The F249 is a very difficult road to navigate because of the treacherous Krossa river. But you can park at Básar Hut, just before the river, and walk over a footbridge into Þórsmörk. However, with rain falling, low cloud and more rain forecast we decided to abandon our plans. So, we managed 3 out of 4 of our planned day trips, during a very wet summer.

On all the roads we chose to drive, the steepness of the road was not a problem. The only time we really had to be careful was deciding whether to cross those rivers.

HOW TO CROSS RIVERS ON THE F ROADS IN ICELAND

The reason to be careful when crossing rivers, besides getting wet, is that insurance policies for a 4X4 rental in Iceland do not cover river crossings.

If you damage the vehicle, or get stuck and need help, you will face a hefty bill. But driving across the river is not difficult, the challenge is assessing whether you can cross and choosing the correct route. We were sensible, followed the guidelines below, and in spite of some nerves as we headed in, we easily crossed all the rivers we attempted and were rewarded with a very happy sense of achievement. Here are some helpful tips:

Set off 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.

Scout 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.

Crossing the River /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 stop.

Coming Back /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 scout them again.

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.

Further useful information is available here.

TIPS BEFORE 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 here are some tips before you head off:

  1. Check the road conditions before you go and ask locals for further advice, including how long the journey will take. While Google maps is good in the highlands, travel times are often not reliable on mountain roads.
  2. Tell someone where you are going or leave your travel plans with safe travel, a travel site where you can register your trip details.
  3. Make sure you know your 4X4 rental car emergency number as well as the Safe Travel Iceland number (112). Sometimes you will not always have phone reception but can send messages, so download the safe travel app and use it to send a text message if you get into trouble.
  4. Leave with a full tank of petrol. There are almost no petrol stations in the highlands and running out is not something you want to worry about.
  5. Take enough food and water with you for the trip. There are very few shops and restaurants in the highlands.
  6. 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. When we were there it was often near freezing in the highlands in the middle of summer.
  7. Download the area into offline maps on Google maps before you leave. Your GPS will work even if you don’t have data. It can be invaluable for tracking your drive and any hikes.
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We loved our adventure driving the F roads in Iceland. We got off the beaten track, saw some amazing scenery and hiked in unique landscapes. The driving was a mix of adventure, nerves, fun and achievement. If you travel a bit like us, and enjoy the things we do, then we think you’ll love getting a 4X4 rental in Iceland and heading off, on your own, into the wilds.

DETAILS/ 4×4 RENTAL IN ICELAND

We rented an intermediate 4X4 from Blue Car Rentals. Do not get theft insurance as Iceland is very safe. You may want to consider getting sand and ash insurance depending on conditions, but make sure you get gravel insurance if it is not part of the standard insurance package (but it generally is).

BUSES AND TOURS

If you want to visit the highlands but don’t want to drive a 4X4, there are schedules buses with decent timetables that allow for day hikes to Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar, costing about US $90 return per person.

There is a scheduled bus to Kerlingarfjöll, which cost about US $130, return but the timetable is poor, so you cannot hike in the area on a day trip and will need to spend a night at Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort.

There is no scheduled bus to Askja, but basic tours start at US $130 per person, rising to US $350 for a full-service super-jeep excursion. You can find more information on our Landmannalaugar, Askja and Kerlingarfjöll articles.

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