Guide to Discovering the Icelandic Highlands

So much mystery and excitement surround the Icelandic Highlands.  For example, for those of you that love feeling like you’re discovering something new for the first time, every second will be MAGICAL. From jumping into your 4×4 or super jeep to turning onto the that “F-Road” you’ll feel like a kid a candy store.  Many incredibly unique places, textures, and tones await you for discovery!

The Highlands of Iceland have always been difficult to traverse.  As a matter of fact, the locals have been navigating through them on foot and horseback since Iceland was settled in 874 AD.  However, it was not until the second half of 20th century that locals begin heading into them recreationally.

Where are the Icelandic Highlands?

When you hear about the Icelandic Highlands, you may be confused as to what specific areas are considered within that territory.  To illustrate, if you have a look at the map below from our friends at Wikipedia.  Then you’ll see the “brown” sections approximately represent where the highlands span across every area of Iceland.  Therefore, it basically it boils down to the uninhabited interior.

Landscape Types in the Highlands

Every type of landscape tone and texture can be found in the Icelandic Highlands.  I’d even dare to say the best landscapes of Iceland reside within.  For instance, depending on the area you are exploring you may experience the following types:

  • Glaciers
  • Raging Rivers (bridged and unbridged)
  • Hidden Waterfalls
  • Crazy shaped mountains
  • Black Deserts
  • Vivid Valleys
  • Canyons
  • Cliffs
  • Hot Springs
  • Mountains Huts
  • Ice Caves
  • Basalt Sea Stacks and Arches
  • Glacier Waterfalls
  • Spring Fed Waterfalls (all sizes)
  • Caves
  • Rock Formations
  • Geothermal Mud Pots
  • Never ending super jeep trails and hiking trails to explore.
  • Winding F-Roads
  • Minerals like Obsidian, Basalt, Palagonite Tuff, etc.

Icelandic Folklore Stories

One of my favorite things about Icelandic culture are the endless amount of folklore stories.  You can easily see how that would come about throughout old traditions too.  For example, countless tales of bandits living in caves to escape the law are known throughout multiple areas of the Icelandic highlands.  Further, there are even tales of ghosts, trolls, elves, and monsters haunting these places.

My wife and I have even heard stories of local sheep farmers encountering strange occurrences when herding the sheep.  Some even have their own superstitions they do when they are up there.  To illustrate, a local guy told me once he always brings a bottle of Brennivín to leave behind at a farmhouse ruins to keep the peace between elves and man!

How to Drive in Iceland’s Highlands

If wanting to plan a trip into the Icelandic Highlands on your own, it is best to do so only in the summer months (June, July, and August).  Please hire a local guide to take you into these areas outside of this time frame and if you do not have any 4×4 or super jeep driving experience.  Also, it important to ensure you take the following steps ahead of time as you plan your trip…

Icelandic Highland Travel Information:

  1. Check the Iceland Road Authority website to see if the F-Road you want to explore is open.
  2. Head to the Iceland Safe Travel to see if there are any warnings out (like extreme wind, rivers swelling, etc).
  3. Review the weather on Belgingur or Vedur before you leave.
  4. Make sure someone knows the specific area when you are adventuring to and the expected time back in case something happens. Note- You can also leave your trip details on Safe Travel (link above).  This is especially important if you do not have a satellite phone or radio to communicate to 112 if you get into trouble.

The actual road conditions will vary.  Plan to not go faster than 40km/h, and be prepared for the roads to be pitted with potholes so a higher clearance vehicle can be beneficial.

Furthermore, unbridged river crossings are a necessary thing when crossing through the countless Iceland F-Roads.  Firstly, ensuring you have the correct vehicle to do these crossings in is important.  For instance, there are significant differences between a 4×4 (like Dacia Duster with very low clearance), a true 4×4 (Pajero, Land Rover, etc) and a Super Jeep (a significantly modified truck on 38” – 46” tires).

Secondly, understanding how to cross rivers is critical as well.  For example, reading how the river is flowing, the depth, and conditions are important elements as you determine.  If you are an unexperienced river crosser, it’s best to begin by checking the depth (in knee high boots, or waders if unsure).

Next, you will put your 4×4 or super jeep in a low gear and enter in slowly (less than 5km/h) going down stream (not against).  Why?  Because it is easy for your vehicle to get turned around, you lose control, and get into a worse situation.

Risks in Driving Through in the Icelandic Highlands:

  • No insurance company will cover damage done by river crossings.
  • Weather plays a huge role in how high or low the rivers run and they change constantly.
  • Unsure?  Don’t cross it, turn around immediately.
  • Never enter the river where it is calm, can be a sign of depth or quick sand (yes that’s a real thing).
  • Failing to cross the river correctly, also endangers the folks who need to come out and now rescue you.

 

Highland Mountain Huts

When traveling through the Icelandic Highlands, staying at one of the many mountain huts can be a necessary part of your trip.  Some mountain huts offer bunk style or communal lodging and also a campground area.  Here is a list by region where mountain huts in Iceland are available.

Some require in advance reservations (especially during summer) and others are privately owned to 4×4 groups but may be available if you check ahead.  Either way it is important to bring your own personal items (IE, sleeping bag, pillow, food, etc) as many do not provide facilities.

Westfjord Mountain Hut (Owned by Icelandic Touring Association):
  • ITA Hornbjarg Hut, Hornstrandir
  • ITA Nordurfjordur hut – Valgeirsstadir
North Iceland Mountain Huts:
  • TCS Mountain hut Trolli, Gonguskord
  • ATA Mountain hut Lambi, Glerardalur
  • TCS Mountain hut Thufnavellir, Vididalur
  • ATA Mountain hut Botni
  • TCS Mountain Hut Hildarsel
East Iceland Mountain Huts:
  • FTC Hut Breidavik, Breidavik Austfjords
  • FTC Husavikurskali, Austfjordum
  • FTC Snaefellskali Hut, Snaefell
  • IGS Godahnjukar hut
  • FTC Egilssel hut, Lonsoraefi
  • Mulaskali, Lonsoraefi
  • FTC Hut Geldingarfell

Interior Iceland Highland Mountain Huts:

  • Afangagil Mountain Hut
  • Afangi Mountain Hut
  • Alftavatn Huts
  • Arbudir hut, Kjolur
  • ITA Mountain Hut – Baldvinsskali
  • Blagil – Skaftarhreppur
  • ATA Mountain Hut Braedrafell
  • Utivist Mountain Hut – Dalakofinn
  • ATA Mountain huts Dreki, Dyngjufjoll
  • ATA Mountain hut Dyngjufell
  • IGS Mountain Hut Esjufjallaskali hut
  • IGS Fjallkirkja hut Langjokull
  • Fremstaver Hut
  • Gislaskali in Svartarbotnar, Kjolur
  • IGS Grimsvotn Mountain Huts
  • ITA Hagavatn hut, Jarlhettur Langjokull
  • Helgaskali Mountain hut
  • Hiking Trails Kverkfjoll and Hvannalindir
  • ITA Mounatin Hut Hloduvellir
  • Holaskjol Mountain Hut
  • Holaskogur Mountain Hut
  • Hottur Mountain Hut Drekafjoll, Dyngjufjoll
  • Hut Breida, Jokulsarlon
  • IGS Hut Esjufjoll, Breidamerkurjokull
  • FTC Hut Geldingarfell
  • Mountain Hut Sigurdarskali Kverkfjoll
  • ITA Hvanngil Hut
  • Hveravellir Huts
  • ITA Hvitarnes hut, Kjolur
  • TCS Mountain hut Ingolfskali, Lambahrauni
  • ITA Mountain Huts Botnar in Emstrur
  • ITA Mountain Huts in Landmannalaugar
  • ITA Mountain Huts Nyidalur / Jokuldalur
  • ITA Mountain Huts at Lake Alftavatn
  • IGS Kverkfjoll Mountain Hut
  • Langisjor Hut
  • ATA huts Laugarfell, Eyjafjardardalur
  • Leppistungur Hut, Hruna
  • Utivist Mountain Hut Skaelingar
  • FTC Snaefellskali Hut, Snaefell
  • Utivist Mountain Hut Strutur
  • Utivist Mountain Hut Sveinstindur
  • Svinarnes hut, Hruna
  • ITA Thjofadalir hut, Kjolur
  • ATA Mountan hut Thorsteinsskali
  • ITA Thverbrekknamuli hut, Kjolur
  • Utivist Mountain Hut – Fimmvorduhals
  • Veidivotn Huts

South Iceland Mountain Huts:

  • ITA Mountain Hut Skagafjordsskali Langidalur Thorsmork
  • Utivist Mountain Hut – Fimmvorduhals
  • ITA Mountain Hut – Baldvinsskali
  • Utivist Basar Mountain Huts in Thorsmork
  • Volcano Huts – Husadalur Thorsmork
  • ITA Mountain Huts Botnar in Emstrur

Icelandic Highland Expeditions

In conclusion, no matter if you intend on adventuring through the Icelandic Highlands on foot, horseback, or via a 4×4 or super jeep, you will not be disappointed.  Lastly, if interested in getting hiking advice, taking an expedition through, or want an experienced guide leading the way, feel free to contact us!  Vik Expeditions would love to show your our local highland hidden gems and elevate your experience!!

© 2020 Vik Expeditions, All Rights Reserved.

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