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When Do the Highlands Close?

10. September, 2018

We are often asked when the Laugavegur / Fimmvörðuháls trail / the highlands open and close each year. Accessibility to the highlands depends a lot on the time of year so below is a guideline of accessibility to the highlands throughout each season.

During the summer, access to the highlands is at its best.

  • There are buses regularly running to and from multiple places in the highlands
  • Mountain huts are open, some are manned
  • The rescue team runs its annual Highland Patrol
  • However, frequent storms can still lead to wardens and Safetravel advising people to postpone travel and seek shelter

Highland patrol rescuing a rental car which will cost the renters thousands of dollars in damage

During the autumn, accessibility becomes more limited.

  • Highland roads are marked as impassable after the first snowfall (impassable means you can go at your own risk but you likely won’t get very far without a modified 4X4 and a VERY experienced driver)
  • Bus service stops around mid September.
  • Wardens leave and mountain huts are only accessible if booked in advance (Huts at Landmannalaugar and Volcano Huts Þórsmörk are the only huts manned and open year round)
  • Rescue teams are further away and will take longer to reach people in the highlands needing assistance

4X4 driving on light snow layer

During the winter, accessibility is very difficult.

  • In the winter there is a lot of snow and even some very modified 4X4’s cannot access the highlands.
  • At this time the highlands are only accessible by foot or cross country skis however these conditions would be EXTREMELY challenging even for very experienced hikers/skiers
  • During the winter rescue operations will likely take a much longer time.
  • Only very experienced hikers/skiers/drivers/snowmobilers should be taking on highland trips during the winter

38 inch tires on a modified 4X4 on Emstrurleið in Februrary

During the spring, accessibility is limited

  • In the spring the vegetation becomes very sensitive and many highlands roads switch from being impassable to CLOSED meaning it is illegal to drive on them.
  • Generally the ground is very wet and muddy so in addition to being very difficult hiking conditions the vegetation can be damaged very easily

Muddy hiking boots from spring hiking 

Overall the best time to visit the highlands is during the summer season. But keep in mind the highland roads are for 4X4’s only. If you plan to hike or camp, do your research and come prepared. Even the best prepared and experienced people can end up in trouble if poor weather hits. If in doubt, don’t go.

If you have any questions about travel to the highlands don’t hesitate to contact us for further information.

Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue, Tourist Information Center, Bankastræti 2, 101 Reykjavík Iceland safetravel@safetravel.is +354 570-5929 Disclaimer