Route F35 is the second-longest of Iceland’s mountain roads. Crossing some of the country’s most dramatic highland scenery, it’s a rewarding drive for motorists who are up for an adventure. Here’s what it’s like to drive Iceland’s highland road, the Kjölur F35.
Preparing to drive the F35 road in Iceland
If you’re keen to drive the F35, then there are a few preparations you’ll need to make before you set out. First, you’ll need to rent a car that can cope with this unpaved surface. A standard two-wheel drive saloon will be no match for the highlands of Iceland, which can experience rapidly changing weather conditions, even in summer. Instead, when it comes to camper rentals in Iceland, you’ll need a 4x4 with decent ground clearance to handle the uneven and sometimes unpredictable terrain. When it comes to camper rentals, make sure that the van you intend to hire is suitable. Loose gravel roads like this can be a challenge, and you need to make sure that you’re ready for the adventure as road conditions might be daunting for novice drivers. Oh, and plan to visit in the summer as this road only opens for a few months a year, typically from mid-June to early September.
Driving the Kjölur plateau
The F35 crosses the Kjölur plateau between two of Iceland’s many glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull. Most of the drive is between 600 and 700 metres above sea level. The southern parts of the road link up with Route 35, which leads from Selfoss to Gullfoss waterfall (the one that’s on the Golden Circle circuit). If you’re planning to tour Iceland near Haukadalur, home to Geysir and the very active Strokkur, plus Gullfoss waterfall, then this F road makes the perfect add on. In the north, the road ends in the Blöndulón valley, where at the T-junction a few kilometres east of Svinavatn Lake you’ll need to pick up the R731 and then the ring road. And in between is one of the most scenic highland roads anywhere in Iceland.
Scenic highlights on and just off the F35
Lakes abound on the Kjölur route, up here, and one of the best is Hvítárvatn, which translates as White River Lake, found about 45km north of Gullfoss. It’s wild and unspoilt, free from the crowds that can plague the Golden Circle. The lake, where you can sail, is fed by water from Nordurjökull, itself linked to the glacier Langjökull. From time to time, the glacier calves onto the lake and you’ll see little icebergs bobbing around. Birdwatchers come for the abundant wildfowl; geese and other birds commonly nest here.
Those who don’t believe in ghosts – or who want to meet one! – might like to stay at the mountain hut at Hvítárnes near the lake. A young woman is often seen here, or so people claim, making this one of the most haunted places in Iceland.
A natural alternative to the Blue Lagoon
Another of the highlights of the F35 highland route is Hveravellir hot spring on Kjölur plateau. Iceland is well known for its hot springs and this geothermal area, famed for pools, steaming vents and fumaroles, is found towards the northern end of the F35. The main pool called Bláhver is fed by both hot and cold streams of water. That makes it popular with bathers as the mix keeps the temperature just right.
The natural setting makes a wonderful contrast with other popular but much more managed spas such as the Blue Lagoon near Keflavik airport. As you relax in Bláhver’swarm water, you’ll enjoy wonderful views of Kjalhraun lava field and Langjökull beyond. Try to time your visit here for sunset – you can stay at the nearby lodge rather than continue your drive in the dark – as the orange of the setting sun and blue of the water make for a stunning colour combination.
A troll turned to stone?
Hikers will be more than happy to tackle the small detour that leads from the F35 to Kerlingarfjöll. It’s an easy detour from the Kjölur route and one that will take your breath away. The area’s surrounded by a mountain range with peaks that are between 1000 and 15000 metres high and the views are definitely going to make you stop and look twice. Hikes as easy as a kilometre stroll or as challenging as a full day walk will lead you to waterfalls, geothermal pools and panoramic lookouts.
The hills and mountains here take on all sorts of different hues, the varied colours the result of the minerals found in the rocks and hot springs here. Rusts, yellows, even greens all provide a beautiful contrast to the snow capped summits surrounding the area and, if you’re blessed with good weather, blue skies above. The rocks are dark here; legend has it that the name Kerlingarfjöll(Old Woman’s Mountains) references a female troll who was turned to stone as the sun came up.
Don’t plan to drive up there for a few hours; instead, stay a while. You see, the F35 can be driven in a single day, but why rush paradise?