Driving to Landmannalaugar can be challenging and tiresome but once you get there, you are rewarded with nature at its best. We hope these tips can help you have a safe trip.
Most of Iceland’s population is concentrated around the coast. Due to the terrain and the glaciers, it’s fairly difficult to build in the interior. This means that the Icelandic highlands are largely uninhabited and unspoiled; a great place to venture into to connect with the country’s nature. One famous place in the highlands is Landmannalaugar, or the ‘People’s Pools’. Visiting Landmannalaugar is an incredible experience, but it’s not easy to reach there. There are several limiting factors, such as the weather, road conditions and the time of year.
This area, located in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, is certainly one of Iceland’s greatest natural wonders. You may have seen pictures of a certain area in Iceland where the mountains are brightly colored. These are the rhyolite mountains in Landmannalaugar, formed by a mixture of several mineral deposits. Bring your camera and make sure it’s charged because you’ll want to capture these natural phenomena.
Landmannalaugar is also renowned for its geothermal pools; natural hot springs that you can relax in after a grafting journey. Why not enjoy a soothing geothermal bath after you have conquered one of the famous hiking trails? If your trip to the highlands is only for a single day, take one of the hikes that last for a few hours. If you’re really committed to exploring this area fully, consider the Laugavegur Trail; Iceland’s most popular hiking trail. It is about 55km long and takes several days to complete; it is a difficult undertaking, so ensure you are fully prepared.
Landmannalaugar does have some facilities at its base camp, such as showers and a cooking area, but once you leave there, you’ll be on your own. Do your research and if you’d rather be guided, you can find many companies that can take you on a hiking tour of this impressive trail. In addition to the natural hot springs and hiking trails, you’ll be able to experience the beautiful waterfalls, obsidian (volcanic glass), and basalt rock formations.
Yes, you can, but it’s not a smooth journey. You’ll be tackling mountain roads most of the way to Landmannalaugar. The highland roads, or F roads, are gravel roads and while they are maintained, not every car is equipped to navigate them. If you want to drive on F roads, check with your rental car company in Iceland that you are hiring a car that is suitable for them. Only 4x4 vehicles are permitted to drive on the F roads, but this is only half of the story. While your car may be up for the job, you have to be up for it yourself to make it through.
Laser focus is necessary to undertake the numerous challenges of F roads; potholes, river crossings, sheer drops and more. Conduct a serious evaluation of your own driving ability before considering a trip to Landmannalaugar. And, as a general rule, you should never drive an F road alone, not even with just one car. Two or three cars traveling together ensures you’ll have help if it is needed.
Another important point to make is that the road to Landmannalaugar is not open all year round. The F roads are closed in the winter months; generally, they will be open from late June to September. But this also depends on weather conditions.If Iceland has had a particularly snowy winter, some of the roads will be covered with too much water and may not open at all for one year. Before you plan your holiday around exploring the highlands, check when and if each F road will be open.
As we mentioned before, you can, of course, drive to Landmannalaugar. And now that you know what to expect from these roads, let's dig a bit more into the types of rental vehicles you can use to head there. We now know it must be a 4x4, but would any 4x4 suffice?
Within the 4x4 range, there are vehicles that are more sturdy than others. However, the main thing you should look for is the ground clearance. A vehicle with low ground clearance will have higher chances of getting the underside destroyed by the tough and bumpy roads of Landmannalaugar. The higher, the better! It can be manual or automatic, that's up to the driver's preference. A Dacia Duster 4x4 manual is a very affordable option. If you prefer an automatic option, then the JEEP Compass Trailhawk 4x4 is fantastic too.
All of the 4x4 passenger cars we got in Reykjavik Cars are F-roads approved and can be used to drive to the highlands! You can check them out here.
There are two entrances to Landmannalaugar. From Reykjavik, the quickest way is to follow Route 1 and then turn onto road 26. Road 26 takes you most of the way, then you turn onto F208 for access to Landmannalaugar. This takes just over three hours, depending on the road and weather conditions.
A journey of just over 180km (111 mi) from Reykjavík in total. Or, you could stay on Route 1 for longer, drive past Vík and take the F208 all the way there. This takes over five hours and will be a less smooth but perhaps more adventurous drive than road 26. Just over 300km (186 mi) from Reykjavík in total. Keep in mind that both routes contain a significant portion of F208 to drive, and as I mentioned before, F roads are no picnic.
Here you have a map with the directions from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar's Visitors center. There, you can park your rental car and start your adventure in the Highlands right away! In this area, you will also find Landmannalaugar's Hot Spring and a campsite.
First of all, check what your rental company’s insurance covers you for. As I mentioned, some F roads will require you to ford rivers and not all companies cover water damage. The F roads are covered with loose rocks that can jump up and damage your car from underneath, so it’s important to keep your speed down.
Stick to the road; driving off-road is illegal in Iceland and if caught you face heavy fines. Check the forecasts and only attempt an F road when the weather is clear. If you drive in a storm and become stuck, you will have to be rescued by Björgunarsveit (the emergency rescue service), and depending on where you are, it may take hours for them to reach you.
If you use the F 208 Route North we provided on the map, you can avoid crossing rivers. There is a parking area right before the river. Park there and walk across the bridge, the visitor's center is right on the other side.
Cross the rivers only where directed, and avoid traveling on an F road after heavy rainfall, because the rivers may be too big to cross. For this reason, it is recommended to have a raised 4x4 if you are driving on an F road with river crossings. If you are nervous about the thought of driving to Landmannalaugar, there are guided tours that can take you there.
Bring lots of water and snacks with you, because although there is a small shop at the Landmannalaugar base camp, it should be considered only for emergencies. You should be well-stocked for however long you plan to spend up there. The campsite can fit hundreds of tents, so pack yours and venture up to the highlands of Iceland. Bring a strong pair of hiking boots and some warm, waterproof clothing too.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.