Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Muddy public pathways that connect the north and the south. Tips on how to navigate those rough, Icelandic mountain roads

By Sara McMahon

  • Fjallabak mountain road. Mountain roads can turn into muddy quagmires when thawing out after a hard winter and are only meant for vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

The majority of people visit Iceland because of its unspoiled nature, where they can enjoy solitude and breath-taking scenery. For many it can be tempting to simply drive off into the highlands, where towering glaciers slowly grind their way down towards black volcanic sands. No matter how adventurous this might sound, it is not a smart thing to do. And this is why: Most mountain roads are closed for summer traffic until early July because of bad conditions. The narrow gravel roads turn into muddy quagmires when thawing out after a hard winter. The terrain is difficult to travel across and only meant for vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive.


Route 1, or the Ring Road (Hringvegurinn), is the national highway that runs around the island and covers a distance of 1,339 kilometers. The most frequented highland roads are Kjölur, Sprengisandur and Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. The first two are old public pathways that connected the North and the South and were frequented by chieftains who had to attend the Parliament held annually at Þingvellir.

A popular poem titled Á Sprengisandi tells the tale of farmers herding their sheep across the highlands. As darkness descends, they encounter outlaws, elves, and otherworldly creatures along the way.

Kjalarvegur hinn forni, or the Old Kjölur Road, is still used for hiking and horse-trekking. Ancient cairns still mark the trail today.

4 things to keep in mind when crossing rivers

1. When crossing glacial rivers, make sure to drive very slowly and never switch gears while in the water. Water flow in glacial rivers is usually less in the morning making it the safest time to cross.

2. On warm summer days, the volume of water can increase substantially. When in doubt about whether to cross or not, a good rule to follow is: Do not drive into rivers that you would not attempt to wade into.

3. The easiest place to cross is often marked. Another warning: The deepest part of the river is usually where the water surface is calmest.

4. The best way to cross a river is to follow the stream diagonally downwards, to go with the flow!


Crossing Gígjukvísl river. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson


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