Iceland Mag

11 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Ask the expert: How to cross those unbridged rivers in the Central Highlands?

By Staff

  • You must know what you are doing  And remember: if the river looks to dangerous to wade in on foot, it's proably too dangerous to cross by car! Photo/Vilhelm

Soon the roads and trails in the Central Highlands will be opened to traffic. But even if the roads are open drivers should expect all kinds of obstacles: The Central Highalnds are not for inexperienced drivers. You need experience and a properly equipped car for the Central Highlands.

One of the many challenges facing travelers in the Central Highalnds are unbridged rivers. Most rivers on F-roads are unbridged, requiring drivers to cross at fords. As a rule rental car insurance does not cover water damage from river crossing. This means that you will have to pay the full bill, out of pocket. Repairing or replacing a flooded engine and transmission can easily set you back 20-25,000 USD.

You don’t want to end your adventure in Iceland stuck in the middle of a river, waiting for ICE-SAR to come rescue you and dreading the huge repair bill you’ll be getting from the car rental!

When you approach an unbridged river follow these steps:

1) Get help and directions
The safest way to cross a river is to wait for an experienced traveler to cross. If you can you should always cross with a second vehicle. Call ahead to the nearest cabins and ask for help and directions.

2) Now what you are getting into
You should always scout the river and the location before attempting to cross. Stop the vehicle and get out to assess the depth of the river, the current and the riverbed. If there is a track across the river, this is most likely the safest spot to cross.

Remember that glacial melt rivers shift and can change dramatically with rainfall and glacial melt: A river which is passable today can become impassable tomorrow. Which is why you must always stop and check the crossing before driving in.

3) Get your feet wet
The narrowest point of a river is never the safest spot to cross, as the river runs deeper and faster at these points. Choose a spot where the river is wider and calmer. Now: wade in ensure that there are no hidden obstacles or potholes in the water. Ensure that the river is not too deep for your vehicle: A good rule of thumb is that the water should not reach the top of the tires. This usually means the water should not be deeper than your knees.

A solid rule of thumb is that if the river looks too dangerous to wade in, it is absolutely too dangerous to drive across!

4) "Hafðu vaðið fyrir neðan þig"
You should try to cross the river at a small angle, with the front of the vehicle facing slightly downstream. This reduces the push of the current on the vehicle and reduces the likelihood of water getting into the engine.

A second good rule to observe is captured by an Icelandic saying, which can be translated as "keep the crossing downstream", which is used to say "be careful": You should always stay on the upstream side of the crossing. Thus, if your vehicle is pushed by the current you are less likely to lose control.

5) Easy does it
It goes without saying that if you have a four wheel drive vehicle you put the vehicle in four wheel drive, and you should also shift to low gear if you are driving a car with an automatic transmission. Do not shift gears while in the river.

Once you have entered the river you must maintain absolutely 100% concentration and drive slowly to reduce the danger of splashing water getting into the engine and permitting you to judge the river. The appropriate speed for river crossing is normal walking speed.

For further information about driving in the Central Highlands check out, a site operated by ICE-SAR. You should also always check road conditions on the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Authority: Remember that entering closed roads is a violation of the law. If you get stuck on a closed road you will have to pay the full cost of assistance, plus a fine.  

Crossing unbridged rivers

Stay safe These signs are located at some unbridged river crossings. Photo/ICE-SAR


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