Responsible tourism means to be well prepared in order to have a better experience, and to travel safely and in harmony with nature. The roads in Vatnajökull National Park span an entire scale from the highest-quality paved roads to the most primitive and difficult kind of highland roads in the entire country—and everything in between.
Roads in Vatnajökull National Park
Driving routes in Vatnajökull National Park in the Management and Conservation Plan (Chapter 9.3).
Vatnajökull National Park works in close cooperation with the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration provides information about the condition of roads and circumstances that are relevant at each time. Maintenance of roads is generally the responsibility of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.
The roads in Vatnajökull National Park are recorded in the National Park's map viewer. There is also information about all the roads in the National Park in the National Park's Management and Conservation Plan. It should be noted that other data than the aforesaid can contain information about roads that have fallen into disuse (possibly accessible for downloading, indicated on older maps or maps from outside parties). Driving motorised vehicles on untouched, unfrozen ground is only allowed in specified areas in Vatnajökull National Park as described earlier. In the time that has passed since Vatnajökull National Park was founded there has been a revolution in markings for highland roads, which was achieved in part through the efforts of volunteers.
Driving on mountain roads
Icelanders are pioneers when it comes to driving jeeps and specially equipped cars. Highland roads are often primitive gravel roads that have been shaped to fit the landscape and cross rivers that flow free and unbridged.
According to the standards of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, mountain roads are classified into three road types: F1, F2 and F3, depending on the quality of vehicles and the level of experience that is required to drive on them. In Spring, information is provided regarding the opening of highland routes by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration on.
Driving on snow-covered ground
Motorised vehicle traffic is generally limited to roads, but an exception is made for driving on snow-covered and frozen ground in accordance with the specific provisions regarding winter driving that follow and by permits issued by park rangers on the basis of exemption clauses in the Regulation. Off-road driving of motorized vehicles is permitted within the National Park provided that the ground is covered in snow and frozen, and care is taken not to cause damage to the location. However, this does not apply to Jökulsárgljúfur, Skaftafell, Hoffell and Askja, see the demarcation of these areas in the Regulation on Vatnajökull National Park no. 608/2008, cf. Regulation no. 755/2009. Care must be taken to meet conditions that may apply to winter driving in open spaces and specifically defined areas.
Driving on the glacier
According to the provisions of the Regulation it is permitted to go on Vatnajökull in motorised vehicles except for Hvannadalshnjúkur, Öræfajökull and Kverkfjöll, where driving on motorised vehicles is prohibited.
Driving on the glacier requires specially equipped vehicles, extensive experience of travelling in volatile climates, knowledge of glacier conditions and sled/rough terrain driving skills.
The edges of glaciers change quickly and driving conditions vary greatly by season and even during the same day.
Conditions at the edge of the glacier (places of access to the glacier) differ greatly between years, seasons, weeks or different times of day, for that matter. Driving up on the glacier is only expected to take place in the summertime, at the following locations by the route indicated:
● From Svarthöfði up on Köldukvíslarjökull
● At Jökulheimar up on Tungnaárjökull
● From Gæsavötn onto Dyngjujökull
● To the west of Kistufell from Gæsavatnaleið up on Dyngjujökull
● From Háalda within Snæfell up to Brúarjökull
● From Jöklasel up to Skálafellsjökull
● At Breiðamerkursandur up on Breiðamerkurjökull to Mávabyggðarönd east of Breiðárlón
Dyngjujökull: If travelling from Dyngjujökull in wintertime in the direction towards the hut of Fljótsdalshérað and Húsavík touring club in Kverkfjöll, it is recommended that travellers follow the flood plains of Jökulsá á Fjöllum to the following GPS coordinates:
N 64° 75,183' - W 016° 64,278' (at the drill hole).
What is off-road driving?
Off-road driving is prohibited and violations are subject to high fines. The marks left by off-road driving remain visible for a long time and may be such that they are impossible to repair, in addition to which they can have an effect on the growth of plants and the flow of water. Some of the roads in the National Park can be tricky to navigate by car, as sometimes it is necessary to drive on sand, over water, through rough lava formations, mud and pumice through narrow bends and steep inclines. Road users are encouraged to seek information about what roads are suitable, irrespective of whether people are looking for adventurous driving routes or the most comfortable experience possible. It is also good to keep in mind that if road users do not feel that it is safe to continue on a road due to flooding, corrugation or other factors, the best option is to turn back and look for a better road or destination. Adverse road conditions never justify off-road driving. If you witness off-road driving we strongly encourage you to report it to the police or park rangers.
Ökum slóðann (keep to the trail)
The initiative "Ökum slóðann” (keep to the trail) is the contribution of the touring club Ferðaklúbburinn 4×4, for the purpose of discouraging off-road driving, which has been one of their principal goals for a long time. Posters have been printed in Icelandic, English, French, Polish and Chinese which we are currently handing out and want to spread as far and wide as possible.
The Environment Agency of Iceland
Driving in Uninhabited Areas