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Highland Driving

Driving in the Icelandic highlands can be

Winter:
During the winter time the Icelandic highlands are impassible/closed for anyone not in a modified vehicle (super jeep). Timing of these closures depend entirely on weather and conditions each year. Every year is different – winter arrives at different times so a closure date is not set in stone but further information on this can be found here.
To visit the Icelandic highlands in wintertime you will need a modified vehicle along with a driver, skilled and experienced with the conditions.

Summer:
Highland driving is very popular during the summertime. It requires a whole different set of skills than normal driving however. Conditions can change even more rapidly than on lowlands and roads often require you to cross unbridged rivers. Roads can be rough and you may not reach a speeds much over 40 km/h so make sure you plan for enough time. Because of this, gathering information about the area you are travelling to and leaving a detailed Travel Plan is extremely important.

  • Start by checking if roads leading to the area have opened or not. What are the road conditions?
  • Make sure to check the weather forecast for the area while keeping in mind that it can change rapidly so prepare for all kinds of weather.
  • Information Centers in the area, rangers and wardens are good sources for detailed information.
  • Make sure that you have the proper knowledge and experience for driving in the highlands.
  • A small vehicle has no business into the highlands – a 4×4 (4WD) with good ground clearance is required at all times!

River Crossing in the highlands:
Driving in the highlands will inevitably lead you to a river crossing. Keep the following things in mind:

  • There’s no insurance in the world that covers any damage that can be lead to crossing rivers or any body of water. The risk is yours and damages can cost thousands of euros/dollars.
  • Do not cross a river unless you are a 100% sure of being able to get to the other side – if you’re unsure, wait for the next car to come by and decide if you can go or not.
  • The currant and depth of the rivers changes according to glacier melt and precipitation. Keep in mind that rivers can become impassible when raining heavily.
  • Be sure of the route you are going to take before entering the water.
  • Put your car in a low-drive and cross the river slowly (5 km/h) and steady – do not switch gears while in the water!
  • Always try to go down stream as going against the currant will increase the risk of water going into your engine.
  • Even the smallest of rivers have lead to some costly damages simply because of the drivers choosing the wrong routes or going too fast.
  • Do NOT enter the river where it seems calm – this is a sign of depth and is not the ideal spot to cross.
  • Do not be fooled by big modified vehicles. They can cross the rivers at higher speeds because they are equipped with a snorkel – allowing the oxygen intake of the engine to be at a higher point than on normal vehicles.

Look for signs like this one and the measuring poles in the rivers. The colors indicate the depth of the rivers but keep in mind that not all rivers have this helpful tool:

Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue Skógarhlíð 14, 105 Rvk. Iceland safetravel@safetravel.is +354 570-5929 Disclaimer