Preparation

Understanding F roads in Iceland

Iceland” by Moyan Brenn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you are planning to drive in Iceland, you need to understand F roads. F roads are mountain roads; Fjallið means mountain in Icelandic.

Some F roads are hardly roads at all– you might consider them mountain tracks. Here is a picture of F210, for example:

9997872525_2076a323a9_z

Iceland” by Moyan Brenn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These F roads are only open in the middle of summer. VERY roughly, F roads open around mid-June, and close between late August and the end of September. (For more specific opening dates, see this page from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.) And you need a 4 wheel drive car to drive on them; some F roads may also require sufficient ground clearance.

The most important thing to understand is that some maps and mapping programs are not aware of these limitations of F roads, and will not warn you about them. Let’s look at an example.

Suppose you would like to go see Thórsmörk, a beautiful protected valley in South Iceland, covered in lush green vegetation:

Thorsmork

Þórsmörk” by Jennifer Boyer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Google Maps tells you it’s a reasonable 2 hours and 20 minutes from Reykjavik:

The map above is interactive, so double click a few times near the last road into Þórsmörk. Eventually, you will see it is labeled F249:

F249

Let’s switch to the map from the Icelandic Road Association.

vegasja1

Here you are provided a lot more information. First, you can see that 249 starts off as paved, and then switches to gravel. Second, you can see that the road name switches from 249 to F249. (This change you can also see on Google Maps.) Finally, you can see that there are some rivers that F249 crosses over. Let’s zoom in on that last section leading to Þórsmörk:

vegasja2

Now you can more clearly see that, once the road name changes to F249 heading east, it crosses 3 rivers. The 3rd of these crossings is over the river Krossá. Oh, did I mention that F roads typically do not have bridges? Take a look at what this part of F249 looks like:

If you really want to try and cross this, and it’s one of the 2-3 months where the road is even open, you need:

  • A 4 wheel drive vehicle
  • Significant ground clearance. How significant? It depends on the day. You need to watch other vehicles cross, wade in the water yourself, or talk to someone who knows the conditions today.
  • To make sure nothing has changed. For example, rivers fed by glaciers tend to get deeper later in the day, as more ice melts.
  • To drive downstream if possible, so you aren’t fighting against the current
  • To keep a constant slow speed
  • To realize that your rental car insurance more than likely doesn’t cover damage due to river crossings.

But the mapping programs don’t tell you any of this. Even the professionals get stuck doing this crossing:

screen_shot_2015-09-03_at_11.25.25_am[1]

And as for tourists, I think the title of this article says it best (though this is talking about West Iceland): Police constantly assisting travellers stuck on impassable roads which they thought were shortcuts.

Iceland is stunningly beautiful, but it is also natural and untamed. You’ll have an amazing experience. Just make sure you understand the roads. And, unless you plan carefully, avoid F roads.


 

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Understanding F roads in Iceland was last modified: February 19th, 2017 by Eric