Things to Do

Road conditions in Iceland during different times of year

A common question people ask is, “What will the roads be like when I will be in Iceland?” This is a difficult question to answer. Let’s start with a few generalities, and then dive down into some specifics over the last year:

  • In the summer (say mid June through mid September), barring a recent storm, most roads should be in good shape. Many F roads may still be closed until July, but you should avoid F roads in Iceland unless you really know what you are doing.
  • In the winter (say December through March) you should expect at least some slippery spots throughout, even on Ring Road and other major roads. Ice and slush and blowing snow will be common, even if they are just in limited spots.
  • The rest of the time (so, mid September through November, and April through mid June) the answer varies with the year. You should be fine most of the time in May, though you can still have snow in May, especially in the mountains. Here’s a picture from May 29, 2016 on the mountain pass from Egilsstaðir to Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland:

snow-on-mountain-pass-iceland

The road is clear, but it might not have been the week before. (Most of the rest of Iceland was clear at this time.)

So what do you do? The main tip you should follow, no matter what time of year, is:

Check road.is every day.

Remember it. Bookmark it. This site shows you the road conditions throughout Iceland, and it’s updated continuously. They say: “Information on road conditions is entered on the map from 7:00 – 22:00 and are displayed there almost immediately.” You could actually bookmark the link to the map of the whole country:

http://www.road.is/travel-info/road-conditions-and-weather/the-entire-country/island1e.html

From there, you can click through to any region(s) you would like to see more details on.

Other things to consider before we dive into specifics:

  • I’m a fan of having Icelandic cell phone service. See our tips for getting an Icelandic SIM card.
  • A good map can also help with your planning. You’ll know which roads are F roads, and which are gravel. You’ll find plenty of options once you’re in Iceland; here is a map you could order ahead of time.

On to the details. I’ve saved some screenshots from road.is over the last year or so. Now, please don’t get too attached to these; a mild winter or different storm timing can make these look totally different from year to year. But you may get some sense of road conditions at different times of year. And I’ll intersperse images from 2015 and 2016; you will be able to see differences between the two years quite clearly.

Let’s start at the beginning of the main tourist season, in early June. Below is an image from Road.is from June 5th, 2016. Most of the roads are open and green, including Ring Road. But you will notice a fair bit of red: The F roads in the interior aren’t open yet, and there are some roads closed in the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes, as well as the roads in the northeast up to Dettifoss.

2016-06-05

(We actually skipped Dettifoss on our trip right around this time; here is an article from a week before the above image was taken. “… the viewing site of Dettifoss waterfall has been declared dangerous due to water growth and slippery conditions due to thaw. For this reason, the road no. 862 to Dettifoss has been closed until the situation improves.” Remember to stay flexible, and that you simply can’t see everything, even with perfect weather!)

But skip ahead two weeks and you can envision a little more melting: the interior roads in the south of Iceland are now open, as well as most of the roads around Dettifoss. Here is June 19, 2016:

2016-06-19

And now let’s move ahead just 9 days, to June 28, 2016 belowA beautiful day in Iceland. In fact, you can see what we did that day here: Laugarvatn Fontana and the ice cream barn at Efstidalur. Here’s a taste of what day looked like, from Laugarvatn Fontana:

fontana-other-pools

There’s nothing but green on the map below: all roads are open and clear. Even the F roads in the interior of Iceland are open; note they are labeled as requiring a 4X4 vehicle.

2016-06-28

Now let’s jump ahead, but back. That is, let’s move ahead to July, but back a year. Here is July 22, 2015:

2015-07-22

We are further into summer, but in 2015 some of the F roads, as well as a roads in the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes, still were not open yet. That’s maybe the other main tip in this post, besides check road.is every day: remain flexible!

Once these roads open for the season, you’ll generally see green for the rest of the summer, barring a storm and/or high winds. (Another tip: check safetravel.is and en.vedur.is for other travel advisories.) The image below is from Septmber 21, 2016, and everything is still open.

2016-09-22

But on October 4th, 2016 below, some of the F roads started closing, as well as a couple of other roads in the extreme north and west:

2016-10-04

And then (today, as this post is written) here is where we stand on October 30, 2016 below. More F roads have closed, some other scattered roads are closed, and the Westfjords are starting to get slippery:

2016-10-30

Now we have to jump back to 2015. I don’t have any images from November; I’ll fill in from 2016 in a couple of weeks. But here is December 7, 2015 below.

2015-12-07-storm

Now, a storm had hit Iceland during this time, and there is basically no green whatsoever. Here is a news article from December 7th: “Violent storm or hurricane-force winds are expected throughout most of the country tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening, (Dec 7th) . The magnitude of the approaching storm is so great that such conditions occur only every 10 to 20 years.”

Six days later, on December 13, 2015 (below), much of Ring Road in South Iceland had changed for the better, from “slippery” to “spots of ice”:

dec-13-15

By December 23rd, 2015, 10 days later, some green was emerging, meaning the road was clear in those sections:

2015-12-19

Continuing through, I’ll just show you a bunch of dates in the winter. First, December 23rd, 2015:

2015-12-23

And December 30, 2015:

2015-12-30

January 1, 2016:

2016-01-01

January 18, 2016:

2016-01-17

January 27, 2016:

2016-01-26

February 10, 2016:

2016-02-09

March 2, 2016 below. Starting to see some clearing in South Iceland:

2016-03-01

April 23, 2016- suddenly we’re back to lots of green:

2016-04-23

Some of these images are from Archive.org. You can go here and try to find old images. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the retrieval dates don’t actually match the date of the map; be sure to look on the bottom right of the image to see the actual date of the map.

The weather varies from day to day, and you can’t necessarily use prior year’s data to forecast this year. Still, there are some general rules. Roads will be pretty clear in the summer, barring a storm. Roads will most likely be at least spotty in the winter, so be careful. Other times of year, check the map, and be careful. And change your plans if conditions aren’t safe.


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Road conditions in Iceland during different times of year was last modified: October 30th, 2016 by Eric