Exploring Iceland’s Highlands: The Ultimate Guide
Iceland is a real paradise for all of those people who like to spend their holidays active. Those who are really passionate about spending their time on outdoor activities will never get bored here. The opportunities are endless. Once forgotten, nowadays Iceland became one of the most wanted tourism destinations. No other country offers such diversity and uniqueness as this small Nordic island. The season in Iceland lasts from April to October in general. Each year it begins to get longer and in the most famous attractions all around the island, you are able to meet tourists even in wintertime. There are however places on the island that still remains somewhat desolate. They preserve the wildness and beauty of nature which is not limited by human interference and that is the one that rules here. One of those places is Iceland Highlands.
Where are the Highlands of Iceland?
The Highlands of Iceland is the area located in the center part of Iceland, always called the heart of the island. It stretches on 40.000 square kilometers and is the most secluded part of the island. It is the area that has not yet been altered by humans and thus is home to numerous volcanoes, rivers, geothermal springs, and little vegetation. All this has a very easily explainable cause and it is the harsh weather conditions that make it barely possible to live in. Therefore, this part of Iceland is only accessible when the weather conditions and thus road conditions are better. This happens only during the summer months.
What are the most popular places in the Highlands of Iceland?
The most popular places in the Highlands of Iceland are Landmannalaugar and Askja.
Landmannalaugar is well known for the colorful mountains known as the Rainbow Mountains. It is a real paradise for all the trekking and hiking lovers. It is the starting point for many interesting trails and this is the main reason why it is one of the most famous places in the Highlands. Askja is a volcanic area, where you will have a chance to feel as if you were on a different planet. This is where the Apollo mission training took place due to the surface similarity.
What are F-roads in the highlands of Iceland?
The roads crossing the Highlands in Iceland are called the F-roads. It is very easy to distinguish them from the other roads because they have the "F" letter in the name. The F-roads are gravel roads, not paved, bumpy, with loose stones, curved and very narrow. You can find gravel roads all around the island but the F-roads are much more challenging to drive. Due to very bad and almost extreme weather conditions in this part of Iceland, the F-roads can only be used during the summer months. The rest of the year, they remain closed. Some of them get closed even during the summer in case of heavy rain for example or early snow. This is why checking the safety alerts before heading down the Highlands is very important. Some of the roads towards Askja are impossible to pass through even during the rain as the water level in the rivers gets too high.
To be able to use the F-roads you need a suitable car, that is, a four-wheel-drive. It is forbidden to use a 2wd car on those roads, it might be dangerous and in case of any damage, it is usually not covered by your rental company. Some of the F-roads require river crossing which needs some good driving skills and experience. A small 4x4 vehicle like Dacia Duster or Suzuki Jimny will not have enough clearance for those adventures. If you have never tried crossing rivers before, you should reconsider your plans. Sometimes it would be safer if you decide to go for a day tour, with an experienced guide. They do know how to cross the rivers and which spot is the best. Believe me, it is not that easy as it might seem and it is very easy to get washed off by the water stream.
If you are planning a self-drive trip to Highlands, check with the RV rental company, which models will be suitable for the certain trip. Remember to add all the necessary insurance you might need. Make sure your package includes at least gravel protection as this is the most common damage on those types of roads. It will lower significantly the amount you will be obligated to pay.
Accommodation in the Highlands of Iceland
Finding good accommodation in the Highlands of Iceland might be a real challenge. This part of Iceland is inhabited and wild. Do not expect to find here luxury hotels or even some hostels. The choice will be very limited and usually, the best option is wild camping in a tent.
Most of the people who think of the Highlands have in mind Landmannalaugar, which is the most popular destination. They know the colorful mountains from the travel guides and other sources. Landmannalaugar is known all around the world thanks to its beauty and uniqueness. This breathtaking geothermal area with rhyolite mountains is located in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Landmannalaugar is a paradise for trekking and hiking lovers. It is full of many exciting trails of different difficulty levels.
The most popular one is the Laugavegur trail which is 55 kilometres long. If you are looking for accommodation in Landmannalaugar, there is a hut run by Icelandic Touring Association. It has two floors offering kitchen, and bunk beds. The upper floor offers a small dorm room and three large ones. Outside there is another house which offers toilets and shower facilities. It is very important to book your sleeping space in advance, you can do it online. Near the hut there is a campsite which is the perfect solution for these travelling with a rental vehicle.
The Highland Center Hrauneyjar is a very good starting base for any day trips to Landmannalaugar. It is only 150km away from Reykjavik and, at the same time, it is located very near the volcanic area. The Center is easy to get to as there is a paved road to get there. It might seem it is right in the middle of nowhere but do not worry! You can get breakfast and dinner as they have their own restaurant. The rooms are rather small but cosy and you will get there everything you need.
However, if you wish to spend the night right in the middle of the wild nature of the Highlands, Kerlingarfjoll Mountain Resort will be the perfect choice for you. It is only accessible with a 4wd and in good weather conditions. It is located just between the Langjokull and Hofsjokull glaciers. The views here are amazing and the atmosphere is like nowhere else.
Exploring Iceland’s Highlands
In the interior, there are several shelters available for tourists. However, you should take into account that without prior reservation, there might be no room for all the travelers as the space is very limited. The alternative would be to stay in a tent in the wild or make use of one of the numerous campsites, and we do recommend the second option. You will find many travel agents in Iceland offering trips and excursions to the most popular places in the Highlands. You will be provided with transport by special 4x4 buses appropriate for the road conditions that are typical there. This way there is nothing for you to worry about, just take a good seat on the bus and enjoy the unbelievable views.