Driving the Highlands of Iceland: Roadtrip Guide

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The Highlands of Iceland is a destination of wonder, mystery, and exceptional ambiance – otherworldly landscapes that bewilder locals and tourists alike.

The sparsely inhabited area offers tranquillity, serenity, and uttermost natural beauty.

From glacial rivers and vast black deserts to geothermal attractions and enchanting volcanoes, this interior part of the country is plausibly one of the most splendid places in the world.

If you’re yearning for some off-the-beaten-track adventures, the Highlands of Iceland should top your bucket list!

However, unlike other parts of Iceland, visiting the Highlands demands meticulous planning and lots of precautions.

Here is a comprehensive guide to help you plan a thrilling escape.

Weather

Towering over 900 meters above sea level, the Highlands are understandably the coldest part of the country, with temperatures averaging between -15°C to -10°C in the winter and hardly rising above 15° C in the summer.

But with glaciers and majestic mountains, the weather conditions can be highly unpredictable.

In fact, it’s possible to experience all weather seasons in one day!

It’s crucial to note that an epic adventure in the Icelandic Highlands is highly dependent on weather and the condition of the roads.

So, check the weather forecasts and do thorough research before you hit the road.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Highlands is during the summer when the weather is fairly warm, and the terrain is less intimidating.

Besides, most snow has thawed in the summertime, revealing the most picturesque parts of the area.

In winter, the weather is extreme, the trails nearly impassable, and the environment is wild.

For these reasons, almost all the roads are closed for the best part of the year (nearly 9 months), which means this is a seasonal destination and that season is pretty brief.

The roads are typically open in late June through September.

Iceland Kirkjufellsfoss hills
Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall

How to Get There

Depending on the region of the Highlands you intend to visit, the journey can take between two and six hours or longer if the road conditions aren’t in a favorable state.

There are multiple routes leading to different attractions, but the tracks are well-marked to point you in the right direction.

The roads leading to the Highlands are referred to as F-roads in Iceland.

These are gravel unpaved paths that are hardly maintained, so you’ll come across potholes, steep inclines, and you might have to ford rivers.

The two most popular ways to get to the Highlands of Iceland is by self-driving or by booking a tour.

If you’re a daredevil that gets thrills from the wildest challenges, all you need to do is hire a 4×4 vehicle, and pack lots of patience then hit the F-roads.

If you’re departing from Reykjavik and onto the Ring Road (Route 1), F249 is the main route to Thorsmork, F35 will lead you to Kerlingarfjöll, and F26 will take you to Landmannalaugar.

If you’re planning to visit the Kerlingarfjöll Geothermal Region, departing from the Golden Circle is the easiest and fastest route.

Once you hit the road to the mountains, it’s important to stick to the marked route for your safety.

You can also check out this website for up-to-date road opening and condition of the roads.

Getting Around

Self-driving is the best option to explore this scenic region, especially because it offers you the flexibility and freedom to wander at a leisurely pace.

That said, it’s important to note that the road conditions can be a hassle to navigate.

Nonetheless, if you’re confident about your driving skills on wild and unforgiving terrains, it’s essential to rent the recommended vehicles (mostly the four-wheel-drive) as regular cars are prohibited on the Highlands roads.

Otherwise, Super Jeep and bus tours are available if you prefer to leave the troublesome driving task to more experienced guides.

Landmannalaugar colorful mountains landscape view Iceland
colorful mountains, Landmannalaugar

Tours in the Highlands

Tours are a great way to experience the Highlands of Iceland, and they vary wildly in the duration of stay.

You can have a day trip or get a 7–day itinerary planned to explore the most popular areas.

This can cost you between $100 and $2000 depending on the attractions you intend to visit and for how long.

For example, a full-day hiking tour of Landmannalaugar will cost approximately $119 USD per person.

Best Places to Visit in the Icelandic Highlands

From spectacular views of mountain ridges and lava fields to remarkable hiking trails graced with waterfalls and geothermal areas, the Highlands of Iceland is the place to be, especially if you’re fond of raw nature.

Now, where exactly should you visit in the Highlands?

Due to its vastness, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you have to settle for a few attractions because of time constraints.

Here are some unmissable spots in the region;

Dramatic landscape of Haifoss Waterfall in Landmannalaugar canyon Iceland
Haifoss Waterfall, Landmannalaugar canyon

1. Landmannalaugar

Situated within the borders of Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the vast Southern Highlands, Landmannalaugar is a treasure trove loaded with surreal scenery, geothermal pools, and ravines.

It’s the starting point of the Laugavegur trek, a 34 miles multi-day hiking trail that warms the hearts of the most avid hikers in the world.

In addition to epic short and long hiking trails, Landmannalaugar is a wonderland for photographers who capture the mesmerizing beauty of the Rhyolite Mountains that engulf the region.

You can hike the legendary trails, take a dip in a hot spring, or simply stand in awe of the unique landscape.

2. Kerlingarfjöll

For hiking fanatics, Kerlingarfjöll is a delight. The scenic cluster of mountain ranges offers explorers an endless array of topography views from different angles.

Hike up the mountains and watch as miles of unearthly terrain unfold right before your eyes or crawl deep into canyons where the only audible thing is the steaming geysers of the renowned Hveradalir.

3. Askja, Öskjuvatn and Viti

Askja is one of the most famed active volcanoes in Iceland, and it consists of a series of awe-inspiring crater lakes and caldera.

Over the years, Askja has undergone intense volcanic and geothermal activities that have shaped its appearance today.

Recurring eruptions caused the upper part of the Askja volcano to collapse, giving rise to two crater lakes; Öskjuvatn and Viti.

Here, you can enjoy a 45-minute scenic walk to the calderas then take a dip in the popular bathing site – Viti.

Oskjuvatn and Viti iceland
Öskjuvatnn & Viti

Iceland Highlands Travel Tips

  • The terrain is pretty rugged, and you’ll need to cross glacial rivers. Before starting your journey, make sure your 4×4 vehicle is up for the task and in perfect condition.
  • Bring printed maps, a compass, GPS, and inform your friends/family of your destination, itinerary, and route.
  • The weather conditions can change drastically, even during the warmest months. So be sure to dress in layers, bring a scarf, gloves, and pack a beanie hat.
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged before departure, and bring an extra battery pack.
  • Fuel consumption on gravel roads is significantly higher. Bring some extra fuel because the gas stations are few in the highlands.

Where to Stay

With hardly any permanent residents in the Icelandic Highlands, a cozy hotel can only be in your dreams.

However, you’ll find tons of charming mountain huts and chalets dotted across the region.

Alternatively, you can spend your nights at a campsite that’s closest to your favorite attractions.

Browse the nearest campsite.

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