4x4 Campers in Iceland
The Highlands



Are you interested in exploring the Icelandic highlands? Are you considering renting a 4×4 camper in Iceland and are wondering about the pros and cons? Do you also have questions about where, exactly, you can drive in a 4×4 camper? Do you have questions about river crossings, F-road conditions, seasonal closures, etc.? If so, you’re in the right place so let’s get this party started.


Table of Contents


The Rise of 4x4 Campers in Iceland


Exploring Iceland in a campervan has become increasingly popular since the first campervan rental, Happy Campers (hey, that's us!), opened its doors in 2009. Driving around the country via the ring road is the perfect way to explore Iceland. And since it's a circle, being able to pick-up and drop-off the van at the same location without ever "turning around" makes things super convenient.

The Happy 4x4 Ready for Action

But as amazing as the ring road is, Iceland has a lot more to offer, especially for the more adventurous travelers. Spanning approx. 40% of the entire island, the Icelandic highlands are the home to some of the most spectacular attractions in the country. So it shouldn't be that surprising that 4x4 campers have also become increasingly popular over the past few years. But what, exactly, are the pros and cons of renting a 4x4 camper vs. a normal 4x4 truck?


4x4 Campervan Pros

  • Ability to sleep wherever and whenever you want
  • Being able to cook wherever and whenever you want
  • More storage for food in a refrigerator
  • Having a heater
  • Having an extra battery powered by your solar panel
  • Flexibility - the Highlands are unpredictable so being able to adapt to ever-changing conditions is a huge plus.
  • More mind space - not having to worry about the things above frees up brain cells for what's actually important; enjoying the view and staying safe.


4x4 Campervan Cons

  • Limited truck model options. Your 4x4 camper rental will most likely only offer one or two 4x4 campervan models.
  • More expensive
  • No "monster truck" options, if that's your thing


A lot of people find that the benefits outweigh the cons. This is why we at Happy Campers decided to introduce our own 4x4 camper category, the Happy 4x4, to our fleet this year. This will allow adventurous travelers to explore the Icelandic highlands in the summertime and take advantage of it's superior handling, heating power, and insulation in the winter months.

But "with great product comes great responsibility" as the saying goes (did I get that wrong?). We realize the importance of providing our travelers with accurate and useful information to ensure a "Happy" trip.This post represents the information and guidance we give our 4x4 camper travelers and what we believe everybody should know before heading into the highlands.

Happy 4x4

Happy 4x4

VW Transporter
Roof Tent Compatible
4x4 Van - Automatic

Our 4x4 camper is perfect for those who are looking for a more serious adventure in the Icelandic highlands.

Low Season 1. Oct - 30. Apr € 220/day
Mid Season 1. May - 31. May
1. Sep - 30. Sep
€ 280/day
High Season 1. Jun - 31. Aug € 360/day

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The Icelandic Highlands


The Icelandic highlands are located in the middle of Iceland, extending over 40,000 square kilometers and situated 400-500 meters above sea level. The landscape consists of vast volcanic deserts, glaciers, colorful mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and rivers. So it’s easy to see why people want to explore this beautiful untouched heart of Iceland. The Icelandic highlands forms the largest territory in Europe which has never been inhabited or cultivated. It is truly one of the last unspoiled wilderness areas in the continent.

35% of the highlands are currently belong to a National Park. There is also currently a petition aiming to turn the entire area into one giant National Park.

To access the highlands you need to use the “F” roads, or the mountain roads. Many of these roads barely qualify as roads. They look more like faint tracks and often run through rivers and take you into difficult or dangerous conditions. That's why a 4x4 camper or truck is a must when driving on these roads, even in the best of conditions. No matter what, you always need to pay close attention and expect the unexpected.

The Road To Landmannalaugar

Remember, the Icelandic highlands are very unforgiving. With 0 inhabitants and no shops or gas stations, you are truly on your own. It is only accessible during the summer so don't even try to explore it in other seasons. Please use caution when exploring this area and make sure to read through our Safety chapter below.

4x4 Insurance


When venturing into the highlands, your risk of car damage increases significantly. Rough roads, stream and river crossing, and more severe weather can sometimes result in some car damage, no matter how careful you are. For this reason, it's importance to understand your insurance options - what is actually insured and what isn't. Make sure to ask your rental agency to explain their terms and options carefully when you arrive at the office or before you book.

Going over insurance terms and options


Third-Party Liability Insurance vs. CDW

Car and campervan rentals in Iceland are required by law to offer a basic third-party liability insurance. They should give you information about the details of this included insurance. We at Happy Campers offer this insurance through our insurance partner, TM, and provide a link to the detailed policy terms in our Terms & Condition page. If you are driving a vehicle without this insurance, your camper van rental is breaking the law.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is a voluntary policy where the company "waives" its rights to charge you for the full damage. Instead, it sets a limit on how much you will have to pay in case of damage (self-risk). At Happy Campers, the self-risk is EUR 2,500. So even without purchasing any insurance, you can at least find some comfort in knowing that the CDW is included. If you total a EUR 25,000 4x4 camper, for example, you only pay 10% of the total damage. Even though most rentals include a CDW, remember that it's voluntary so make sure to check if your rental offers it and what it looks like.


Policy Term Restrictions

Each company can set their own terms and conditions regarding what is covered and what is not. Make sure to read the policy terms carefully. Most rentals use the same terms provided to them by their insurance company. Some policy term restrictions are very common or industry standard, so it's important to keep them in mind. You are NOT covered and your CDW is not valid in the following cases:

  • If you are driving in water - even if it's only a small stream
  • When you are driving off-road
  • Damage to wheel, tire, or windscreen
  • Damage to the chassis caused by scraping the ground or protruding rocks.

These are just some of the most common 4x4-relevant policy restrictions that you need to be aware of. This list doesn't include the more obvious restrictions, such as when you drive under the influence of alcohol. Even if you buy the most comprehensive extra insurance package, you might not be covered for this type of damage. However, usually you can find extra insurance options that deal with some of these policy limitations. Common extra insurance options include Gravel Protection and Tire Insurance. If you're driving a 4x4 campervan, you should seriously consider the following extra insurance options for your trip:

  • Super CDW: Lowers the self-risk significantly
  • Gravel Protection: Protects you from damage to the front of the vehicle caused by flying rocks (very common on F-roads), including the windshield, hood, and headlights
  • Tire Insurance: The second most common type of damage, after gravel damage, in the highlands. Remember that it's not just the cost of the new tire but also the expensive labor of changing the tire.

Safety Tips


Nobody lives in the highlands for a good reason. The weather can be extreme, there is limited phone reception, and almost no gas stations. Therefore, it’s absolutely critical that you don’t travel alone in the highlands unless you are very experienced. Getting stuck in a river without any help and no cell phone reception would be a nightmare. Always make sure that you are prepared, have enough water, food and diesel to last you the full trip.

Check out the safety chapter in our Winter Camping in Iceland guide, where we write in-depth about general safety tips and safety resources.


Driving on Gravel Roads

Driving on rough gravel roads or mountain paths require the driver’s full attention and some skill. It’s important to go slow in most scenarios and scan the road for unexpected obstacles or changes in the terrain. Unlike paved roads there will be no road signs so you will be forced to use your judgement about what is wise and what is not. You might be forced to drive on loosely packed sand, snow, or ice and that means the wheels might not get any good traction.

It will also affect your braking distance and your 4x4 campervan's turning capabilities. Drive in a low gear, go slow, but don't stop. Stopping completely or hitting the gas too hard is the most common reason people get stuck in difficult situations.


River Crossing

One of the many challenges you can face in the Icelandic highlands are unabridged rivers that require drivers to cross at river fords. This can be quite dangerous, even in a 4x4 camper. An remember, as mentioned above, you are not insured in these situations. If you flood the engine of the car, for example, you would have to pay the entire bill, which is not limited to the self-risk amount. This can be extremely expensive and is more common than it has to be.

Many rentals forbid any type of river-crossings. Happy Campers does not go that fare, but heavily advise against it. We have a sophisticated tracking system in all of our vans, for travelers' safety, which will alarm us whenever a driver enters a forbidden area. This could result in fines equal to the traveler's self-risk, and is common industry practice.

The most commonly asked-about river crossing area is on the way to Landmannalaugar. Fortunately it’s a rather shallow ford so it shouldn’t be too dangerous. But keep in mind that this can change very fast. In general, it's impossible to predict the conditions, depth, and velocity of rivers, as it depends on the unpredictable weather. This is why using your common sense and erring on the side of caution is crucial.

Road to LandmannalaugarRoad to Landmannalaugar

Safety Resources

It’s always a good idea to check www.vedur.is for the weather forecast from the official source of the Icelandic Met Office before you plan to venture into the highlands. If heavy rain is expected, for example, or a bad storm, it would be wise to wait for a better day. Rivers might be deep and roads might become muddy, so always make sure you know the weather forecast. You also want to know the condition of the roads you're about to explore and www.road.is, published by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, is the go-to website for that information.

If you plan on going for walks or hikes, please leave your travel plan on www.safetravel.is so our search and rescue teams know if you get lost. This is especially important if you are traveling alone but we recommend it for everybody.

Driving on Gravel Roads

Driving on rough gravel roads or mountain paths require the driver’s full attention and some skill. It’s important to go slow in most scenarios and scan the road for unexpected obstacles or changes in the terrain. Unlike paved roads there will be no road signs so you will be forced to use your judgement about what is wise and what is not. You might be forced to drive on loosely packed sand, snow, or ice and that means the wheels might not get any good traction.

It will also affect your braking distance and your 4x4 campervan's turning capabilities. Drive in a low gear, go slow, but don't stop. Stopping completely or hitting the gas too hard is the most common reason people get stuck in difficult situations.

River Crossing

One of the many challenges you can face in the Icelandic highlands are unabridged rivers that require drivers to cross at river fords. This can be quite dangerous, even in a 4x4 camper. An remember, as mentioned above, you are not insured in these situations. If you flood the engine of the car, for example, you would have to pay the entire bill, which is not limited to the self-risk amount. This can be extremely expensive and is more common than it has to be.

Many rentals forbid any type of river-crossings. Happy Campers does not go that fare, but heavily advise against it. We have a sophisticated tracking system in all of our vans, for travelers' safety, which will alarm us whenever a driver enters a forbidden area. This could result in fines equal to the traveler's self-risk, and is common industry practice.

The most commonly asked-about river crossing area is on the way to Landmannalaugar. Fortunately it’s a rather shallow ford so it shouldn’t be too dangerous. But keep in mind that this can change very fast. In general, it's impossible to predict the conditions, depth, and velocity of rivers, as it depends on the unpredictable weather. This is why using your common sense and erring on the side of caution is crucial.

Road to Landmannalaugar


Safety Resources

It’s always a good idea to check www.vedur.is for the weather forecast from the official source of the Icelandic Met Office before you plan to venture into the highlands. If heavy rain is expected, for example, or a bad storm, it would be wise to wait for a better day. Rivers might be deep and roads might become muddy, so always make sure you know the weather forecast. You also want to know the condition of the roads you're about to explore and www.road.is, published by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, is the go-to website for that information.

If you plan on going for walks or hikes, please leave your travel plan on www.safetravel.is so our search and rescue teams know if you get lost. This is especially important if you are traveling alone but we recommend it for everybody.

Highlands Accessibility


For most of the year, the Icelandic highlands are covered in snow and the roads are closed to the public. Generally, the F-roads open in the first half of June and stay open until the end of September. However, this can vary as the weather in Iceland varies drastically year-to-year. Sometimes many of the roads don’t open until late July and sometimes they don’t close until late October - it’s impossible to predict. Road.is displays the best information about F-road conditions and accessibility, so make sure to look through their site before venturing into the highlands. You can also call +354-522-1100 for the latest information by phone.

Off Road Driving


Off-road driving in Iceland is strictly forbidden to protect the untouched nature we value so much. It can be tempting to drive off the small paths that sometimes don’t look too different from the surrounding environment. It's important to realize that the tire tracks your 4x4 camper leaves might take years or decades to disappear. Always be respectful and stay on the roads.

Legally speaking, you can expect heavy fines and jail time up to 2 years if you break these laws. Technically, you are allowed to drive on snow in conditions such that the tires never touch the ground and therefore don't damage it. However, we advice against this and suggest that you should always let the nature get the benefit of the doubt. Please read this brochure on off-road driving from the Environment Agency of Iceland.

Not only can you expect fines and possible jail time in Iceland if you are caught driving off-road, but you can also expect public ridicule. Icelanders and the Icelandic press are infamous for being highly critical of those who do not respect nature. Off-road driving cases are frequently top news stories, such as here, where some French travelers were arrested and fined EUR 3,500 for off-road driving. So please don't be like Justin Bieber when in Iceland. Use common sense, and don't drive off-road.

F Roads


It's important to know that some F-roads are not marked with the letter F, even though they are mountain roads. These roads are Kaldidalur valley (road 550), Kjalvegur (road 35) and Jökulhálsleið (road 570). Please be aware of these roads in particular as you can only drive them in a 4x4 camper or car.

There are also several roads that can be particularly difficult and are often off-limits, even when driving a 4x4 in the summertime.

By "off-limits", I mean that most car and campervan rentals prohibit driving on these roads in their terms & conditions and don't offer any insurance on these roads. This list can be different for different car rentals, so please make sure to ask them what roads, if any, are off-limits.

Off-Off-limits: These roads are off limits for Happy Campers travelers

So now that you know which roads to avoid, let's look at some of the most popular and beautiful F-roads in Iceland. These roads highlight some of the best features of the Icelandic Highlands and we highly recommend driving them if time and conditions allow.


Kjolur (F35)

This is one of the more popular mountain routes that connects the north and the south of Iceland. This road is fairly easy to drive and a great introduction to the highlands for those who are experiencing them for the first time. It's also a logical route after visiting the popular Gullfoss and Geysir attractions, as a part of the Golden Circle.

Photo credit: Hit Iceland

The road will lead you to many interesting places and roads, such as Hagavatn lake and Nyifoss waterfall, accessible by road F335, which connects to Kjalvegur.

Oskjuvegur (F88)

Photo credit: Ingo Meironke

Öskjuleið (F88) runs 80 km from the Ring Road from Hrossaborg, past the beautiful Herðubreið mountin and towards Askja lake (see more about lake Askja below)

You'll also find Herðubreiðarlindir just north of Herðubreið, which is a wonderful oasis full of vegetation and small creeks. Make sure to check out the ruins of Eyvindarkofi as well, made by the infamous Fjalla Eyvindur outlaw in the 18th century.


Landmannaleid (F225)

A 41 km road from road 26 to the gorgeous Landmannalaugar, one of Iceland's natural jewels. But as much as you might be looking forward to arriving at your destination, don't forget to enjoy the journey. You will see lots of interesting things along this short route, such as the beautiful mountains Rauðufossafjöll and Loðmundur, the Rauðufossar ("Red falls") waterfall, and Landmannahellir cave.


Kaldidalsvegur (550)

"The Cold Valley Route" is a 63 km stretch of beautiful scenery between Thingvellir National Park and Húsafell. It is technically not an F-road but is off-limits for most non-4x4 car rentals as it is located in the highlands. The road runs parallel to Þórisjökull and Langjökull glaciers, which offers a magnificent view when the weather allows.

The road was a popular horse riding path until motor traffic was allowed there in the 1930s. There are no river crossings on this route and is generally an easily passable road, so it is perfect for beginners.


Sprengisandsleid (F26)

Yes, this road was on our off-limit list. We include it here for a couple of reasons. One, you might be renting a car one of the few rentals that allows this road. Two, a small part of this road leads to the beautiful Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, which is one of Iceland's most unique attractions.

The magnificent Aldeyjarfoss waterfall

Beyond the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall, Sprengisandsleid features some of the most barren and desolate landscapes in Iceland. The 200km road gets its name from Sprengisandur, a vast and barren plateau between Hofsjokull and Vatnajokull glaciers. Sprengisandur is rich in history and folklore and provided a hiding place for many outlaws throughout the centuries.

The desolate terrain of Sprengisandur

Keep in mind that even though we highly recommend these routes, some of them will require you to cross rivers and you always do so at your own risk.