Updated: Mar 27
All of Iceland’s inhabitants live on or nearby the coastlines. However, the country’s interior section, known as the highlands, is completely uninhabited. Because the conditions are far too harsh and the ground too uneven, permanent human habitation isn’t an option. This makes the highlands a wonderful area to visit, especially for some of the country’s best hiking and scenery.
But the area is not easy to reach, as the roads that lead to it are unpaved gravel roads, only open at certain times of the year. In this article, we explore one of the best-known F-roads, F35, Iceland’s highland-traversing pathway.
Since now we got you thinking about a fun-filled Icelandic road trip, why not lock in your rental car today? Great deals and a wide range of vehicle options can be found at Campervan Reykjavík's website.
What are F-Roads?
The F in F-road stands for "Fjall", which translates to "mountain". F-roads are your ticket to Iceland’s interior, but not every car is fit for the demanding journey. Only 4x4 vehicles are permitted on F-roads, and even then, not all types are suitable. Many of the roads contain river crossings, in which the car must be a certain height to make it through.
Additionally, the F-roads are only open to civilians from June to September every year. This is because the snow build-up and other weather conditions make winter journeys here quite dangerous. Not to mention the gravel roads are not maintained often. So, if you are brave enough to venture on a self-drive tour, expect a bumpy ride, and for your vehicle to get fairly dusty.
Excited yet? Maybe anxious and nervous are more appropriate words to describe your feelings. Well, you needn’t worry; many thousands of people visit the Highlands every year. Just ensure you are fully stocked with plenty of food and water, as supermarkets are hard to come by. A full tank of petrol/fully charged car battery is needed too; the nearest station could be hours away.
Of course, you should pay attention to your driving speed always, but especially in the highlands. The speed limit here is 80km/h (50 miles/h) on unpaved roads in Iceland, but even that’s too fast sometimes. Note that even in summer, some F-roads close if the going is risky. Check your route online before leaving to make sure everything is open.
If the weather forecast is predicting heavy rain or strong wind, it’s best to change your plans. You don’t want to be caught in a storm in the highlands, because rescue is hours away. Check the weather on the official meteo agency of Iceland before leaving.
It’s advisable to download the 112 app, which lets the emergency services know your last known location in case you’re in need of help.
Iceland’s F35 Road
Now, onto one specific F-road. F35, also known as the Kjölur Route or Kjalvegur Road, is one of the unique mountain roads. Most of the F-roads cut into the Highlands, but not all the way across. In these cases, you turn back the way you came to return to the coast. But some roads, like F35, cut all the way across, taking you between north and south Iceland.
This doesn’t mean the F-road is a shortcut. In fact, it will probably take you longer than the winding coastal roads, so it is not a common route to add to the typical Iceland itinerary. However, the reward of picking this route is witnessing untouched natural beauty and some incredible geological features. Keep in mind the speed limit on F35 Iceland is 80 at max, but that’s a guideline, not a target.
If you’re starting from the south, F35 begins after Gullfoss waterfall, one of the stops along the Golden Circle route. Route 35 becomes F35, then changes from paved road to gravel, marking the beginning of your highland journey.
The route will take approximately five hours, excluding stops. You will end up re-joining Route 1 via Route 731, close to the town of Blönduós in the north.
Before we get into what you’ll see along the route, you may be wondering: is F35 easy to drive? Well, no, it won’t be easy. You may feel uncomfortable at times with the winding, undulating route, the uneven gravel, and the river crossings, but it will certainly be an adventure.
Stick to the road; off-road driving is illegal in Iceland because the flora is easily damaged, particularly the green moss. Aside from that, it’s easy to get lost if you stray off the path as a lot of the highlands landscape looks the same.
What to See on the Kjölur Route?
Hvítárvatn. A glacial lake fed by the nearby glacier, Langjökull. The river which runs off this lake must be crossed via bridge on your journey along F35. The site is a nesting area for many bird species and offers a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, you’ll see the glacier in the distance, too.
Kerlingarfjöll. The site of a great accommodation along the route, is the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Resort. This is a little out of your way, as you’ll need to turn off F35 onto Kerlingarfjallavegur/F347, following signs to Kerlingarfjöll. However, since you’ll find some great hiking trails in the area, it’s worth the detour.
The Mountain Resort offers both hut accommodation and a camping area. Those wanting to stay indoors must book in advance, but camping requires no pre-booking. There’s also a restaurant on-site, and a nearby natural hot spring. Kerlingarfjöll was declared a nature reserve in 2017, so its pristine quality is sure to endure.
Langjökull and Hofsjökull. Your journey will take you directly between these two glaciers. There are even hiking trails that will lead you right up to one of them. If you do decide to go on a long hike, make sure you are well prepared with warm, waterproof clothing. The weather in the highlands can be extreme, even in summer.
Hveravellir hot spring. About halfway along the route, again with a small detour, you’ll come to a geothermal area. Follow Route 735 off F35 to arrive at Hveravellir, another nature reserve that contains a famous hot pool. A mix of hot and cold water flows into the pool, making it safe for people to enter.
Note: most of the pools in this area are not regulated and are far too hot for people. Check the temperatures before entering to ensure you are not using the wrong one.
Other Considerations for Driving in Iceland
Most companies' standard insurance packages don’t cover damage caused to rental cars from gravel. However, our Gravel Protection Insurance, included by default, lowers the excess in the event of accidental gravel damage.
Bring a pair of sunglasses for driving. In the summer months, Iceland experiences almost 24 hours of daylight, and the sun can be harsh on the eyes.
In Iceland, it’s mandatory to always keep your headlights on, no matter the season or time of day.
Free camping is illegal in Iceland, so find a designated campsite to park at when resting or sleeping.
The speed limits are 90km/h on paved rural roads, 50km/h in urban areas and, as mentioned, 80km/h on gravel roads. Some areas of towns and villages have lower limits of 30km/h
Watch out for sheep on the roads; they occasionally hop their fences. Approach slowly and don’t honk your horn, and they will move off.
The Kjölur Route (F35)
If you’re traveling to Iceland in the summer and want an adventure away from the main tourist routes, drive F35. Be sure to select a vehicle that is suitable for F-roads, and contact us if you’re unsure. Remember to pack your swimming costume and a towel, because you’ll come across many pools and hot springs that you’ll want to have a quick dip in.
Most importantly, please take all your trash with you and leave the land as you found it. One of Iceland’s biggest charms is its unspoiled, pristine nature, and we’re all responsible for keeping it that way. Everyone wants the next generation to enjoy the wild highlands to the same extent as the ones before.
Book your campervan today for a low-impact, flexible holiday in The Land of Fire and Ice.