Driving Highland Road F208 in Iceland is one of the most scenic routes in the entire country. It's only for the most intrepid adventurers, and novices should beware. The dramatic and breathtaking landscapes absolutely warrant your time and attention, but there are certain things to know about driving this route before you set out.
Let's take a look at what makes this Iceland Highland road so special and dangerous.
What are Highland F-Roads in Iceland?
To understand what we're up against, we need a little bit of context. The central Highlands are the rocky, mountainous, interior volcanic region in the middle of the island. These inner Highlands of Iceland are famous for their sweeping views, dramatic landscapes, and unparalleled rugged beauty.
You can only access this uninhabitable part of the country during certain times of the year, namely summer. Road conditions as well as melting ice and snow simply make it too treacherous to attempt driving here outside of this limited period.
The F in front of the road number comes from the word “fjalla”, which means mountain in Icelandic. What's notable about these mountain roads is that they are made of unpaved gravel. Navigating narrow gravel roads adds another layer of complexity to already complicated driving circumstances.
You'll find F-roads all over Iceland's interior. This region is home to numerous hot springs, hiking trails, striking volcanic terrain, and a lava field or two.
The most important thing to know about Iceland F roads is that you absolutely must have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. A 2-wheel drive car simply will not cut it. But it's not only for purposes of handling or having good traction. It's mandated by Icelandic law to have a 4x4 car, SUV, or camper van to drive on an F-road.
When Do Iceland’s F-Roads Open?
Unlike the Ring Road, Iceland’s Highlands are only open during the summer months. The opening dates are completely dependent on the weather and are different for every road. Icelandic road authorities inspect the roads to see how much snow is covering them and how quickly they’ve dried after the ice melts in the spring. Once the roads are no longer wet, they are opened up to traffic.
Driving F208 on an Iceland Highlands Self Drive
Driving this road in the south of Iceland to Landmannalaugar is 102 km (63 miles) of pure wild and rugged nature. You'll not only be getting back to the elements on the Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri. You’ll also witness some of the most unspoiled and beautiful territory you'll ever see in your life.
It usually opens around the middle of June, but double-check with the Icelandic Road and Coastal authorities to be sure. Sometimes Highland roads open as late as the beginning of July and the summer season lasts around a month and a half. Check the road.is website or dial 1777 to be sure about your desired route.
Highland Road F208: What makes it so dangerous and challenging?
All F-roads in Iceland require a certain amount of skill and expertise on the part of the driver. And driving on this particular Highland road is not for the faint of heart. There are a few different reasons why Road F208 can be quite difficult to drive on.
The first is that it has the standard rocks, stones, pebbles, gravel, potholes, and uneven surfaces that you'll find on any of Iceland F-roads. These require a slow, considered, deliberate driving approach. You must keep your eyes on the road at all times and have 100% concentration. The same is true when approaching blind hills and blind curves, both in the Highlands and on other roads in Iceland. The gravel paths are not very well maintained, so be prepared for that obstacle.
The second and scariest part is that there are sections that have very steep drops unprotected by guardrails. This risky driving element is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the views you’ll encounter are absolutely stunning and are totally out of this world. On the other hand, taking a turn too quickly or losing control of your vehicle will see you careening off the edge of the mountainside. You'll fall hundreds of meters (several hundred feet) and most likely won't survive the resulting impact or rolling of your vehicle.
Lastly, there are parts of F208 where will you will have to cross unbridged rivers. In theory, this may sound like something really fun and exciting out of Jumanji or the Oregon Trail video game of your youth. But the reality is very different.
Attempting to ford a river is no joke. Before driving in, assess the composition of the riverbed, the depth of the river, and the speed of the current. If one of the river crossings you encounter looks too dangerous to cross, listen to your gut and just don't do it.
If it has been raining recently, you might not be able to cross at all because the water is too deep. You need to only approach shallow water with a not very strong current. It's also important to note that's during the day, glacial rivers swell. This means that crossing in the morning will be easier than crossing in the afternoon or evening.
If this is your first time, I suggest getting help from an expert who can show you where and how to do it. You wouldn't want water damage to destroy your Iceland car rental, especially since no type of rental insurance covers that.
If having an expert show you the ropes isn't a possibility, at least wait until there's another vehicle crossing at the same time. This way, help will not be too far away if you do in the event you run into trouble.
Highlands Iceland Weather
Like much of the rest of Iceland, weather conditions in the Highlands can change quickly. The way to best arm yourself is to check the weather forecast regularly. If you see that there's a storm coming or that there's going to be large amounts of precipitation, consider delaying your journey by a day. Iceland's climate is harsh, and Mother Nature does not mess around here.
Driving Highland Road F208 in Iceland
The Icelandic Highlands are the country's wild, savage, untamed interior. Visiting this unspoiled land will have you feeling as though you've stepped back in time and get you extremely close to nature. Just be sure to pay attention when you're driving and take extra precautions.