Ultimate Guide to Driving on Gravel Road in Iceland
Updated: Aug 9
Summer is approaching Iceland and so the amount of tourists coming to our island increases every day. The season for exploring the whole country including the areas that were not available in winter, will start soon as well. We already know that Iceland is beautiful and magical in winter and it has its own charm. However some of the attractions and destinations are than not available. Those who have already visited us or at least read about Iceland know, that I am talking about Highlands.
Based on our previous article, we can already agree that the best way of travelling around Iceland is renting a car or an RV. If you already decide that you are going to drive in Iceland, there are many things you should know about. We already spoke about speed limits, general tips for safety driving but haven’t spoken yet about driving on gravel roads. You will need this knowlege especially if you are someone who wants to see every part of Iceland and all its hidden pearls far off the main road.
Quick guide to what the Highlands are
An uninhabited area, far from the main road, volcanic landscapes and glaciers frozen for thousands of years. Yes, that would be a good introduction to what the Highlands are. This area is located in the center of the island with a minimum altitude of 400 meters above sea level. Due to the weather conditions and permeability of volcanic rock, it is not suitable for growing plants. These circumstances create an otherworldly landscape full of black rocks which make you feel like you were on the moon. This area is only accessible during few months of the year, and it is in the summer. Due to bad road conditions, it is impossible to reach during the winter time even if you had with winter tires on.
What is a gravel road?
In Iceland we have three different types of roads. Paved roads, which are asphalt roads accessible all year long - like Ring Road, F-roads, which you will find in the Highlands area and gravel roads.
Gravel roads have an unpaved surface with loose stones - gravel. You can find many surprises on those types of road: bumps, ruts and stumps. It is very important to drive with caution to avoid any unnecessary damage to the rental cars.
Are all gravel roads F-roads?
The answer is of course: no. This is a very common question we get from our customers who are wondering what car should they choose for their trip in Iceland, a 2wd or a 4wd. F-roads, as mentioned above, are the gravel roads located in the central area of Iceland - in the Highlands. These Highlands roads are only open during few summer months due to the severe climate and bad weather conditions of that part of our country. The Icelandic road administration make a decision on the closing and opening dates every year, and every year the date can be different.
The Ring Road is the main paved road in Iceland called road no 1 as well, which encircles the whole island. Some parts of if are also gravel. This doesn’t make it an F-road yet. It is easy to distinguish them though so do not worry! All the F-roads will have an F in their name like F35.
Iceland gravel road map
If you wish to avoid driving on gravel roads in Iceland, you should check the Iceland gravel road map first and plan the route according to it. You can check it on this website.
Speed limits on gravel roads
The speed limit on gravel roads in Iceland is 80 km/h. Just as a reminder as we already spoke about speed limits here, it is 90 km/h on paved roads and 50 km/h in urban areas and in some residential parts it can be lowered to 30 km/h. Especially on gravel roads, you need to reduce the speed and adjust it according to the roads conditions and to weather conditions. It does not mean you need to drive 80 km/h even though it is pouring in rain and the road is really bumpy.
Tips and advice to drive on gravel roads
We prepared few tips and advice for your gravel road driving:
Remember that the off-road driving is forbidden in Iceland and you can be fined. The Icelandic nature is very delicate and fragile and can be easily damaged with the car tires. Please stick to the designated paths and roads.
Gravel roads in Iceland in some parts can be extremely bumpy, curved and narrow. You need to slow down when you pass the other car and in some cases it is even better to stop aside for a moment and wait until the other tourists pass.
Everyone who drives around the country and will use gravel roads needs to know that some unbridged rivers can be found. Crossing the river is quite challenging and it is worth asking for an advice from your car rental company. They know some tricks to pass it safe and sound. Note that insurance does not cover any damages caused to the car while crossing the river. If you are an unexperienced driver and might have a problem, it is better to choose a different road instead.
Stopping on the gravel road just in the middle, to take a selfie with volcanic rock, will not be a good idea. Always remember about other tourists who may be passing by in few minutes. It is very dangerous to stop in other places that designated spots.
Always check the weather forecast before the trip. It is not only for driving on gravel roads but always! Icelandic weather is unpredictable and can be an unpleasant surprise.
We have probably mentioned this already but be careful with Icelandic sheep. As you know they graze freely and you can run into some especially if you are driving far away from towns and villages. My advice, if you see one on the road side, slow down or even to stop let it pass to the other side. If any accident happens with a sheep in Iceland, not only will you damage the rental RV or a car but will have this poor animal on your conscience and will have to cover the cost of replacing it.
Which car is suitable for gravel roads
It is recommendable to rent a 4x4 vehicle if you are planning to drive on gravel roads in Iceland. If you plan to only stick to the Ring Road, of course a 2-wheel-drive car will do as well. Additionally, always go for the GP (Gravel Protection) extra insurance in case of any damage caused to the windshield or the body of the car. Believe me those types of damage are very common in Iceland and can be expensive. It is better to be well insured and prepared than regret not getting it.