As visitor numbers to Iceland have increased, particularly in the summer months, so too has the determination of some travellers to discover an Iceland off the beaten track. One way to accomplish that is to rent a 4x4 and follow an Iceland Highlands self drive itinerary. If that sounds tempting, then one of the best roads to drive is the F208, also known as Fjallabaksleid Nyrdi. You’ll need to be an experienced driver and at times have nerves of steel, but if you’re up for the challenge, this will be one of the most rewarding drives of your life. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering driving the highland F208 in Iceland.
What are highland F roads in Iceland?
If you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security after seeing how good the ring road is in Iceland, you might get a bit of a wakeup call when you tackle your first F road. This is the classification given to roads that are more challenging. They criss-cross the island’s mountainous interior, characterised by steep drop offs, loose gravelly surfaces and tight turns. They’re often rutted, punctuated by large boulders and span river crossings.
Maintenance is minimal and they’re closed for much of the year, typically opening from June to October, though that varies from year to year. Though you can usually drive them throughout the summer months, whether they are accessible is dependent on the weather, so seek local advice before setting out as to opening dates. Early or late in the season, some sections might remain closed, so make sure the parts you’re keen to explore are accessible.
Are you up for a challenge?
Nervous and new drivers will have given up reading this by now, intimidated by the thought of attempting to drive on Iceland’s mountain roads. But if you are ready to take on nature, this can be one of the most incredible drives of your life. The central highlands, through which the F208 weaves, are breathtaking. Driving this road, if you can handle it, is as dramatic as it is daunting. The elation you’ll feel in conquering the drive is second to none.
Some things to bear in mind
By the middle of June, the F208 road is generally open for travellers and locals. Road conditions can still be treacherous and drivers will need to be able to cope with snow and ice as well as fog and driving rain. Weather conditions in Iceland are notoriously fickle and it’s common for you to experience all kinds of weather in the same day, whatever the time of year. Road conditions can change in an instant, so pay attention. If the beauty of the surrounding landscape is creating a distraction, stop and take your pictures. Carry on when you’re ready to concentrate again.
If you plan to drive the F208 solo, make sure you inform someone of your plans. If you have an accident, getting help out to this remote area takes time so it helps if you’ve already given others the heads up about your intentions. Renting a camper in Iceland with a Sat Nav will help ensure you don’t take a wrong turning.
Even on a fine sunny day, you’ll need to rent a 4X4. Having high clearance is essential, as 2WD vehicles will bottom out on the uneven surface and become stuck. You may choose to rent a super jeep – and driver – if you feel you need to. Regardless, all-wheel drive is a must on these tricky gravel roads. One important thing to remember, perhaps the most important thing of all, is that it is illegal to drive off-road in Iceland, no matter how tempting that might be. Strictly enforced laws protect Iceland’s pristine natural environment. Don’t be frustrated by that, after all, the amazing scenery in Iceland is one of the things that brought you to the country in the first place.
So what is there to see in the Highlands of Iceland?
No one in their right mind would even consider driving through the highlands of Iceland if they weren’t so sensational. The F208 is no exception. It runs from the south of the country towards the centre, passing through Friðland að Fjallabaki nature reserve and leading to Landmannalaugar, one of the country’s premier hiking spots.
The Pools of the People
Landmannalaugar Iceland is remote but well worth the effort to reach. It’s a geothermal area with hot springs and natural pools – in fact its name translates as “Pools of the People”. The backdrop is a multi-coloured mountain range flecked with pinks, yellows, oranges and even blues, thanks to the varied mineral content of the rock. Adjacent to this spectacular place is a black lava field called Laugahraun, created during a 15th century eruption. You’ll also find Frostaðstaðavatn and Ljótipollur, two of the most well-known lakes in the area. Get out of the car and stretch your legs for a while along the hiking trail that leads through the dramatic countryside.
Navigating the section of the road to Eldgjá is a little more taxing, because it’s likely you will have to ford a river. It’s really important to make sure you know how deep the river is; an understanding of the preceding weather conditions coupled with local knowledge is helpful when attempting the F208’s river crossings. Sometimes rivers look deceptively shallow and you don’t want to be stranded or worse, swept away if conditions are unsafe. Nevertheless, the sight that greets you when you reach Ófærufoss waterfall and the nearby lava fields, amongst the biggest in the world, will take your breath away. Eldgjá, or Fire Canyon, is a 40-kilometre fissure in the Icelandic highlands extending from Gjátindur Mountain to the glacier Mýrdalsjökull.
Of all the roads in Iceland, this highland road is one of the country’s most dangerous yet almost addictively beautiful. Forget for a minute the road conditions and the challenge of the weather in Iceland’s highlands. Drive it and you’ll understand why it keeps people coming back year after year.