When deciding the right car to rent in Iceland, there are several factors to consider. Perhaps the most important is your itinerary because that will determine the vehicle you ultimately choose. If you plan on visiting Iceland in the summer, exploring the Highlands will be an option for you. And if you want to head to Iceland’s wild backcountry, then you need to know about F-roads. You may or may not have read a little bit about them or heard someone mention them while talking about Iceland travel. They are an integral part of our country, and someone who plans on driving in Iceland needs to learn about them.
What are F-roads?
To put it simply, F-roads are mountain roads. The “F” stands for “fjalla”, which means “mountain” in Icelandic. Any time you see a road number with an “F” in front of it, this is an F-road. You’ll find these special trails in Iceland’s rugged interior, and they are made entirely of gravel. This makes these types of roads harder to navigate as they don’t have the smooth surfaced of paved highways like the Ring Road.
If you plan on using these roads, I highly recommend getting gravel protection (GP) insurance on your rental. It’s quite easy to dent or damage your vehicle with the stones and gravel you encounter here.
These trails will take you up into unexplored, vast territories and you’ll see breathtaking, spectacular views from the tops of hills.
Do I need a special vehicle?
When traveling on F-roads in the Highlands, you need to have a 4x4 vehicle. I’m not saying this because I think it’s a good idea; it’s actually the law. Motorhomes, 2WD cars, and campers that don’t have a 4-wheel drive are not allowed to drive on these special roads. They simply cannot handle the rough terrain or the steep inclines.
One of the great things about the Highland is how unspoiled and untouched this area is. If you’re looking to really get away from it all and just be in nature, this is the place for you.
Something you should keep in mind is that just because you’ve got a sports utility vehicle, that doesn't mean you should go off-roading. I understand that it’s quite tempting, but it’s strictly forbidden for a reason. Icelandic nature is quite delicate, and if you destroy fragile plantlife while off-roading, it could take 100 years to grow back. Sometimes it doesn’t grow back at all. Please be responsible and leave our lovely country and its natural beauty better than you found it rather than worse. Remember that the repercussions of your actions will last long after you’ve left.
When do Iceland’s F-roads open?
For those traveling outside of the summer months, unfortunately, you won’t be able to access the Highlands. Due to icy road conditions, melting snow, mudslides, and other dangerous circumstances, it’s not really safe to drive on F-roads during most of the year. These mountain roads and trails are monitored by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. They decide when it’s safe to drive on F-roads. You can find a map of F roads on their website along with a typical list of opening times. Most of them start opening during the first three weeks of June with almost all of them have opened by the beginning of July. Each F-road is monitored individually, so the opening dates and closing dates change every year for each road.
What else should I know?
An important point related to traveling in the Highlands is river crossings. As I mentioned, this is Iceland’s wild, untamed backcountry, and it’s perfect for leaving civilization behind for a while. While it’s great to escape the city (or town) life, there are some benefits to having infrastructure. In addition to the volcanic landscape of the Highlands where there is no river for you to get across. It’s just you, your 4x4 vehicle, and a small prayer that the river’s not too deep.
Look for a shallow point (perhaps where other drivers are crossing) in order to make your way to the other side of the water flow. Whatever you do, don’t get in too deep. If your engine gets wet, it’s going to flood. Not only to do waterlogged engines not work, but they are very expensive to replace. Save yourself and your bank account the headache by finding a good place to ford the river.
F-roads in Iceland: Access the Wild Highland Backcountry
Most people come to Iceland looking for adventure. Whether it’s hiking across Skaftafell glacier, exploring the ice caves in Vatnajokull National Park, or trekking the Laugavegur trail in Landmannalaugar. There’s something for everyone here, and for those adventure enthusiasts, the Highlands and their F-roads are the ultimate challenge. Why not see if you’re up to and take a journey into the wilderness? Reykjavik AutoMay 2016