Tips for Exploring the Highland Interior of Iceland
Colored mountains in Iceland during the summer season
Iceland is simply breathtaking. Spectacular northern lights, amazing food, rich history, quirky museums, and beautiful beaches are just a few of its attractions. But all those could be experienced elsewhere in the world if you look hard enough. However, nothing - absolutely nothing - you see anywhere in the world or in Iceland can prepare you for the stark, raw beauty of the barren upland plateau of the Icelandic Highland Interior. No people, no houses, no towns, no villages. Just vast expanses with amazing views of magnificent glacial rivers, volcanoes, ice caps, and jagged mountains give you that feeling of being a child of nature.
Hiking in the highland interior of Iceland is not the same as any other hike. The terrain, nature, and activities to engage in the highlands require you to prepare differently from other hikes. A slight miscalculation or lack of enough preparation could turn what could have been an amazing exploration into a dangerous one. Awareness of what to expect and how to prepare for it will prevent this. It is for this reason that we have put together these 12 tips to make your exploration of the Highland Interior as amazing as it can be. But first, here are some strange and interesting facts about the land of fire and ice and its highland interior.
Strange and Interesting Facts about the Iceland Highland Interior
Of the 40,000 km2 that the Icelandic highlands cover, 14,000 km2 are protected as a National Park.
Iceland is the youngest landmass on the planet. It was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. Were we saving the best for last ?
Icelanders believe in trolls and elves. If you are up for it, set some time to ask a local about it. The stories are plentiful !
There are hundreds of waterfalls in the Icelandic Highlands.
There are 15 geothermal hot spots in the Icelandic Highlands, creating a colorful landscape with steam rising up from the ground.
As you can see, there are just so many interesting things about Iceland and its interior highlands, that if we were to continue listing them, we would never finish. So the rest are up to you to uncover for yourself when you get here.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your exploration of the Icelandic Highlands to ensure you get the most out of it:
1. You Need a 4WD Vehicle
Roads in the highlands are unpaved mountain roads. They are rough and uneven and many unbridged rivers. Traveling these roads is usually the only way to explore the highland interior of Iceland.
The only way to drive on these roads is to ensure you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle that is specifically rated for the highlands. Using a smaller car will damage the vehicle and get you stranded in the highlands with no one to help you.
If you aren't confident in your driving skills on F-roads and crossing unbridged rivers, it is better that you avoid the self-guided tour and go on the tour with 4WD buses or have someone do the driving for you as part of a privately guided tour to arrive there safely.
2. Cross Rivers With Caution
There is a high chance the road you use will cross bridgeless rivers. Just because the roads are open doesn't mean you can be reckless. You have to cross the rivers carefully in order to be safe. Here are a few tips to ensure you cross safely.
Only cross in designated areas. The crossing areas have been carefully selected so there is no better place.
Use a low gear and don't change it while in the water.
The tires should not be completely submerged. This indicates danger.
Cross at a slight angle, with the front of the vehicle facing downstream.
3. Regularly Fill Up the Car With Fuel in the Highland Interior
Before you get off the main roads into the F-roads, make sure the car is filled up with fuel and if possible, carry some extra fuel. There are no shops or gas stations around there. And if you come across one, make sure you refill your tank, as you could drive for hours and hours without coming across another. Iceland's weather could change on a whim. Roads that you thought were perfect, could become bad quite fast depending on the conditions. As such, you should regularly check what the road conditions are, especially if the weather conditions have changed on Iceland's Road Website.
If the road condition is bad, it would be best if you found an alternative route. If there is no alternative, it would be best that you wait it out, or just plan another trip altogether if you cannot wait. There is no point in risking your life and the beautiful sites will always be there.
4. Warm Clothing Is a Must
As you may have imagined, the temperatures in the highlands are much lower than in the lowlands. What first-time hikers don't know is they can go much lower than they expect. The temperature rarely goes above 50F. It can also be very windy there, so you should bring with you windproof and thermal clothing, and always dress in layers. Hats, gloves, and scarves are a must-have. Don't forget sturdy hiking shoes and walking poles because some areas in the trail may be covered by snow. Check out our post on how to pack for your Iceland trip for more details.
5. Pack Lunch and Drinks for the Day
There are not many shops outside the capital so you should buy everything you need for the entire duration of the trip in Reykjavik or other towns. Some of the things you need to park are meat, grilling tools, enough food, and drinks until the end of the trip, a cooking stove, plates, forks, spoons, toilet paper, garbage bags, and wet wipes.
6. Familiarize Yourself With Fixing or Changing a Tire
If you are traveling alone, you need to learn how to change a tire and the basics of car repair. If you are in a group, at least one of you should have this knowledge. As aforementioned, you do not know what to expect, and the F-roads could cause a tire burst or even damage your car.
Instead of having to call for rescue, which could take hours and bring your trip to an end, you could perhaps just fix it and go ahead with your trip.
7. Roads Are Only Open in Summer and Best in Late Summer
The roads that lead to the Icelandic Highlands are only open from June or early July during summer. These highlands cannot be visited during winter or spring. If it wasn't completely impossible, it would be absolutely reckless, and you could be fined for attempting.
If it is winter and you still want a taste of the raw beauty of the highlands, you can take a guided tour to Ţórsmörk. This is the most accessible part of the highlands.
8. Never Go Off the Trail
A man hiking in Iceland with a backpack while looking at the colorful landscape of Landmannalaugar
Apart from being downright insensitive to the beautiful environment, driving offroad is dangerous and prohibited by law. There are very high fines for driving off the trail so you should not do it.
9. There Are Almost No Hotels in the Region
Once you decide to hike the mountains or want to overnight in the highlands, you have only two options: Either you camp, or book a mountain hut.
10. Follow Instructions to the Letter
Warning signs, notices, and marked paths are there for a reason. The main reason why the highland interior of Iceland has been such a popular tourist destination for a long while is that people follow the instructions, observe warning signs and clean up after themselves.
That said, do not forget to bring garbage bags with you to carry your leftovers with you. Also, once you decide to set up camp, ensure that the site is designated for camping. Once you destroy the vegetation, it may take decades or even centuries to heal.
11. Install Some Helpful Iceland Apps When Exploring the Highland Interior
To make your trip convenient, there are a couple of apps in Iceland that are created to that effect. Some of them are for emergency services, some are to provide you with more information about various spots and attractions, and others are just to show you directions.
Here are a few must-installs before you explore the Highlands.
This application is highly recommended for visitors looking to travel extensively around Iceland. It allows you to "check-in" your current location from time to time. In case of any emergency such as getting lost, stuck, or a volcanic eruption, responders will know your last location.
It can also connect you to emergency services directly if you need help.
Icelandic weather is very unpredictable. One moment you will be enjoying sunny skies and the next, blizzard-like conditions. This app by the Icelandic Meteorological Office will give you the best estimate of the weather forecast.
Your hike to the highlands is not complete without catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Depending on where you are, this app sends you a notification telling you how likely you are to see the northern lights.
If you are in Iceland during winter, the likelihood of catching them rises!
Hot pots are bodies of water, naturally heated by the earth. They vary in shape and size. Some can only fit one person, while some can fit a group. To help you find them, this app provides GPS locations for all hotpots locations in Iceland.
Learn More About Exploring the Highland Interior of Iceland
If you are planning a trip to Iceland or are already there and the weather conditions allow it, you cannot consider your trip complete without checking out the interior of the Land of Fire and Ice. If you have any doubts about whether it is worth it, let me clear them up for you: The highlands won't disappoint. To get the most out of your highland trip, let a local expert organize it for you. Using their knowledge and experience, they will craft for you the perfect hike, accommodation, and activities.Tour.is has been at service since 1999, before Iceland Highlands became popular. We know the unique properties, attractions, and history that the highlands have to offer, and we know exactly how to show it to you. Additionally, we have over ten types of tours with various durations, so you will definitely find something for yourself. We are willing to show you the hidden beauty of Iceland. If you want to see it for yourself, come, let us show you.