Discover the Central Highlands of Iceland, a volcanic "desert", preserved and untamed territorries.
Here you will find a mix of lava fields, volcanoes, glaciers and valleys.
Below is a guide with map, visit tips, best places to see, and pictures.
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Why visit the Central Highlands in Iceland?
Everywhere in Iceland the scenery is stunning.
But it is especially true in the Central Highlands where hardly any constructions disturb the impressive natures.
You can enjoy:
- lava fields,
- stunning mountains,
- hot springs,
This is one of my favorite views in the Central Highlands, and I think it sums it up well:
Below is a short video (4 minutes) to give you a snapshot.
I am sorry I shake a lot when I film. I hope you will still enjoy it and it will give you an idea of what you can expect.
Top things to do in the Central Highlands
I will list more with photos further in the article.
But my favorite things to do are:
- Driving F208 - there are a few special spots but the entire drive is fascinating
- Admiring the valley of the tears at Sigoldugljufur
- Admiring the colors at Landmannalaugar
To be honest, I was less convinced by the Thorsmork part of the Highlands.
Iceland Central Highlands - Map & Main F-roads
The main "roads" tracks through the Central Highlands are :
- F26 connecting the North and South
- F208 going through the most famous part of the Central Highlands
- F225 - the easier track to Landmannalaugar
Here is a map of the South part of the Central Highlands (the most visited) to help you get oriented
The complete map with the main tracks and the best locations is available in my travel guide eBook to help your plan your itinerary more easily:
Plan your dream road trip in Iceland
How to visit the Highlands of Iceland
When can it be accessed?
- All roads are tracks (F-roads)
- They are only open during the Summer months (mid-June to mid-September), sometimes longer depending on the conditions
- The Highlands are only accessible by foot or 4WD vehicles only during the summer months.
- For most roads, river crossings are necessary - therefore you need good 4WD skills
Option 1 - Iceland Highlands Tours
Since most people can't rent and drive large 4WD across rivers, your best bet is to join a group tour.
- Landmannalaugar from Reykjavik - The most famous location to visit with an organized tour is Landmannalaugar with the hot springs and colorful mountains - see tour options and availability
- Askja - in the North of Iceland the volcanic area with lakes and hot springs is also a favorite but far less visited - see tour options and availability
Option 2 - Private tour: Superjeep with driver
But if you want a phenomenal experience without the worry of driving, I recommend hiring a driver and his Superjeep.
They know the areas very well and you can tailor the tour with them.
I did a tour of Thorsmork as well as a drive on F208 to Lanmannalaugar and then to Hekla with a Superjeep. Incredible memories!
Here is an option.
Option 3 - Driving in the Highlands (self-drive)
Travelling through the highlands should not be decided on the spot.
It requires planning with
- a 4WD vehicle,
- 4WD driving skills (including river crossing)
- and all the necessary equipment.
Check out my post about driving in Iceland for road safety conditions.
The area is isolated, and with the unpredictable Icelandic weather, the journey can become extreme.
BE PREPARED! and Log your traveling plan is safetravel.is.
Need to rent a car in Iceland?
- Option 1 - Local experts - Iceland has a lot of specificities and offerings by local companies are adapted - compare cars and prices of quality local brands on GuidetoIceland.com
- Option 2 - International Brands - compare offers on Discovercars.com - one of the best customer-rated comparison sites!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
- If you plan on driving on F-roads in the Central Highlands, a good 4WD is mandatory
Option 4 - Hiking in the highlands
If you can't drive, but are fit, there are also hiking options.
- Fimmvorduhals which is 22km - open only in Summer - it starts at Skogafoss and takes you all the way to Thosmork.
- The amazing Laugavegur trek - (53 km - 3 to 4 days) - from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork
Where to stay in the Central Highlands
There are not many lodging options in the Highlands.
But it is possible to stay overnight at:
- a campsite at Landmannalaugar
- small cabin accommodations in Thorsmork - at the Volcano Huts- check out photos and book
- Cabins in Holaskjol, close to the waterfall - check out photos and availability
- You can also wild camp - but make sure to check the weather forecast before and not to say too close to river beds.
#1 - Best thing to do in the Central Highlands: Road F208
The absolute icon of the highlands is road F208 going through the landscapes South to North.
Every minute of this drive is scenic. And it will take you to some of the most famous places.
Below are a few pictures to give you an idea.
Learn more in my article about Driving F208.
#2 to #10 - Famous places in the Iceland Highlands
#2 - Landmannalaugar
Landmannalaugar Iceland is a remote location in the at the centre of the Central Highlands in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. It stands at the the edge of the lava field Laugarhaun (flow from 1477). It is the northern end of the popular Laugavegur Hiking trail.
The name translates into 'Pools of the people'. At this location you fin a campsite, accommodation huts and basic amenities. The camp is surrounded by colorful mountains. It is also a geothermal area where you can see many volcanic phenomena and bath in warm natural pools.
Landmanalaugar is a great place for observing the Northern light on a clear night as there is no light pollution.
- Only accessible by 4WD and crossing a pond
- By car - 4WD Road F208 from the North or the South - But you need to be an experienced off road driver, there is a large pond to cross at arrival
- By car - 4WD Road F225 from the West (starting next to Hekla) - easier a road, but there is still a large pond to cross at arrival
- Group Tour - Several bus companies have regular trips to and from there during the tourist season - check out the program and book
- Private tour - Private drivers with super jeeps can take you on amazing trip. I did one on F208 to Landmannalaugar and then Hekla. It was so worth it! Here is an option.
#3 - Sigoldugljufur
Sigoldugljufur is one of the most mesmerizing landscapes in Iceland.
It has it all:
- The remote location and effort to access it
- The colors with black volcanic rock, green grass and turquoise glacier water
- The mountains in the distance
- as well as tens of waterfalls, which is why it is also called Valley of the tears.
#4 - Frostastadavatn
Along F208, you come across lake Frotastadavatn
On one side, I really enjoyed seeing the flow of lava recovered by moss entering and stopping the lake.
It is one of those places where I was able to really imagine the big flow of lava and realise the power of it.
The rest was also stunning, with patches of red, green and black.
#5 - Holaskjol
Holaskjol is a highland center to settle and explore the region: hiking in summer, cross-country skiing in Winter and snowmobile.
It is located at the foot of Lambaskarðshólar hills with a lava field from an eruption in Eldgjá.
It is a short walk (5 minutes) to the waterfall. This walk in itself was interesting with mossy lava balls againts clean cut columns.
At the beginning I could hear a murmur of the waterfall and as I moved along the noise increased and became louder, but I was still not seeing the waterfall.
This was great to build up my excitement: so much noise could only mean a powerful waterfall!
The waterfall of Holaskjol, called Silfurfoss (the silver waterfall), flows into small pools before plunging into an impressive drop that you can admire from above. There is a sharp edge into the canyon, not unlike Gullfoss.
At first you see only the top pools which are already really pretty. You can hear, guess and feel the mist of the big drop but not see it. How frustrating.
And then, you reach the viewpoint with the plunge of the waterfall. Impressive!
#6 - Hekla Volcano
Culminating at 1491 meters (4892 ft), Hekla is one of the most famous active volcanoes in Iceland. My stop there was not planned. I did research for that post after my climb and I am now scared to have climbed it as it is quite active and does not give much warning!
Hekla is a stratovolcano part of a volcanic ridge which is 40 km long (25 miles). The most active part is a 5.5 km fissure called Heklugja. There are a series of craters all along. Hekla has an unusual form, quite rare around the world.
Hekla is famous for hiking afficonados.
It is not recommended to hike without a guide. And it is an active volcano so you are taking a risk when you climb it.
Part of it can be climbed with a Superjeep before you have to continue on foot - I booked a Superjeep with a driver with a tour like this one - we were able to adapt to what I wanted - We drove up part of the volcano and I continue for a little while on foot. It is so worth it! - Check out this tour similar to mine
#7 - Thorsmork Nature Reserve
Thórsmörk is a Natural Reserve in South Iceland, popular among locals and visitors for all the hiking possibilities. It is a valley surrounded by rugged mountains, closed by the glaciers of Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull and crossed by impressive glacial rivers.
Its situation gives it a warmer climate and protection, therefore the landscape is greener than in the rest of Iceland. Short and long hiking trail gives you beautiful views of the glaciers, volcanic landscape, sharp rocks and caves.
Its name means the Forest of Thor, the famous Norse god associated with thunder, strength and protection of mankind. The region is not easy to access but well-deserved the effort and adventure that comes from getting there.
There are many long and short hiking trails leaving from the Volcano Huts. My guide recommended the short hike of Basahringur that I completed in an hour. This was an easy walk, although good footwear is needed and there is bit to climb.
However, I must admit that it was not my favorite area. It is less different than the rest of Iceland. More of a classic landscape.
How to get to Thorsmork
- Distance from Reykjavik: 150 km
- Take Road 1 towards Vik and then turn into Road 249 (later F249) at the intersection where you can see the waterfall Seljalandsfoss
- Attention!!! Getting there implies crossing several glacier river which are sometimes raging and always unpredictable. You need to be very experience at 4WD through river to get there.
- Alternative Pass the smaller river crossing and park next to the pedestrian bridge to cross the last big river and finish on foot
- or take a day tour from Reykjavik - Hire a private driver and its Super Jeep - it so worth it! they know very well the Highlands - Check out this tour to Thorsmork
- And you can stay overnight with a chance to see the Northern lights - check out photos of the huts and availability
#8 - Hjalparfoss - At the limit of the Central Highlands (2WD access)
Hjálparfoss, whose name means Helping Falls, is one of several waterfalls north of Hekla where the rivers Fossá and Þjórsá join. Easily accessed, it is special because of its double branch flowing into a large pool (actually 2 waterfalls) and surrounded by interesting lava shapes.
I found the location very relaxing with some flowers and bushes surrounding the pool.
I stopped and admired the strange shapes of the lava on all sides.
There is also a big rock facing the falls that some climb to get another perspective.
Getting to Hjalparfoss
- Hjalparfoss about 30 kilometres east of the village Flúðir
- Reykjavik to Hjaparfoss = 1h45 drive
- Off road 32
- It is the last attraction in this area before entering the F roads of Central Highlands
- The gravel road to the waterfall is well indicated, a 2WD is sufficient
- It is a good stop if you head to the Central highlands from the North (or if you exit the Central Highlands via the North)
- Easy walk down to get close to the waterfall
#9 - Thjofafoss - At the limit of the Central Highlands (4WD access)
Þjófafoss (Thjofafoss), whose name means Thieves fall, is another waterfall on the river Thjorsa. Its shape is not very original as it is a simple curtain, but the surroundings make it interesting. Mt Burfell is just behind and really stands out in the flat landscape. But my favorite particularities was the abondance of purple lava rocks around it. This is something I have not seen in another Icelandic waterfall.
Note that this waterfall might not be flowing all year round.
- On route 26, turn West on a sand road for roughly 4km. The turning point is about 45km North of the crossing with Road 1 and 20km South of the crossing with Road 32. The coordinates are 64.056858, -19.867044.
- There is also a track from Road 32 South of Hjalparfoss
- 4WD mandatory - you can park close to the waterfall
#10 - Laugavegur Trail
Iceland's most popular hiking trail, 55km connecting Thorsmork and Landmannalaugar.
And you can also connect with Skogafoss.
#11 to #15 - Off the beaten path in the Icelandic Central Highlands
- #11 - ASKJA
Volcanic Area: Reached from North Iceland and Lake Myvatn
See group tour options and availability
- #12 - VEIDIVOTN "50 LAKES"
This part of the country has about 50 lakes of various sizes (most are crater lakes) famous for hiking and trout fishing.
- #13 - LAKAGIGAR or LAKI
It is a volcanic fissure with is series of craters created from 1783 to 1784
- #14 - OFAERUFOSS
A 2 step waterfall in the Eldgja chasm
- #15 - FRAGRIFOSS
A gentle "veil" waterfall on the way to Laki
Want to see more of the best Iceland has to offer?
- Tips to plan your Iceland road trip - read article
- Tips to rent a car in Iceland - read article
- Tips to drive around Iceland - read article
- Itinerary suggestions - read article
- 45 Most beautiful landscapes in Iceland in pictures - read article
- The Golden Circle - read article
- The Snaefellsnes peninsula - read article
- All my favorite things to do in North Iceland - read article
Planning a trip to Iceland?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
Plan your dream road trip in Iceland
And keep track of your own trip!
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