If you make a road trip through Iceland and also want to go to the highlands, then you can not avoid river crossing. In Iceland’s highlands there are many rivers or streams over which there are no bridges. So if you are on F-roads, you will inevitably face your first river crossing very soon.

This is not uncommon in Iceland and you should be prepared for it. Because it can be very dangerous and in the worst case it can cost your car or even your life. There are countless river crossings in the highlands. Each one is different and each one can be completely different every day, depending on the water level. It also depends on the car you are driving. Not every car can drive through a river at all. Therefore, the right choice of the rental car in Iceland is very important.

We have therefore compiled a short guide with the most important tips to safely river crossing in Iceland with your rental car.

Iceland River Crossing - The Ultimate Guide

River crossing in Iceland | Why at all?

If you are only driving on the ring road in Iceland, then you definitely don’t have to worry about having to cross a river. But if you want to drive into the highlands – into the interior of the island – then you will most likely stand in front of a river at some point with your rental car and think about how to get through it.

The reason is that the highlands are crisscrossed by rivers, streams and watercourses. And only very rarely a bridge leads over the river. Therefore it is important to know how and when to cross a river (or ford).


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Guide to crossing rivers in Iceland

When fording rivers in Iceland, we think it comes down to 3 questions: The HOW, WHERE and WHAT.

By HOW I mean the knowledge and experience of how to ford a river in Iceland and what safety rules to follow.

With WHERE I mean the river crossing itself. Here it depends on the depth of the river and how strong the current is.

By WHAT I mean the type of car you have. Here, of course, the bigger the better, but of course it’s not that simple.

Iceland River Crossing - The Ultimate Guide

How to safely cross an Icelandic river? (HOW)

  1. Check the road conditions. If the F-Road is closed according to road.is, don’t do it and turn back. It is much too dangerous then
  2. Look carefully at the river. Is it a small stream or a puddle? Can you see the bottom? If not, you should walk through it. Alternatively, you can wait for another similar vehicle to pass by and cross the ford in front of you.
  3. Compare the river with your rental car. Would the water go higher than the fender? If so, it’s probably too deep unless you have a snorkel. But more on that below.
  4. Are there markers? Then follow them. Often the ideal line is marked with flags or sticks. You should follow these markings
  5. Always drive in an arc. Never in the middle. The river is usually deeper in the middle, because many off-road vehicles have passed through there. Therefore, always drive an arc against the direction of flow of the water.
  6. Drive where the water flows fast. Because there the river is usually less deep. If the river is rather calm in one place, then it is also rather deeper there.
  7. Switch on the four-wheel drive function (4x4). When you are in the river, it is too late for that.
  8. Drive slowly but steadily. If you drive too fast, then a dangerous bow wave can build up in front of your car, which can then get into your air intake. Then the engine will stop immediately.
  9. Don’t stop and don’t shift gears. Drive slowly, but don’t stop. Because if the ground is muddy you may not be able to get going. Stay in first gear and do not change gear!
Laki Furt
Laki Krater Furt

What types of river crossings are there in Iceland? (WHERE)

There are very many different river crossings in Iceland. Actually infinitely many. But I have divided the different river crossings into 4 different categories to simplify the evaluation.

  1. Puddle
    Maximum 15 centimeters deep
    With such a shallow crossing you don’t even have to drive slower. Even with a normal rental car you can drive through it.
  2. Shallow
    – 15-30 centimeters
    – You should already have a good ground clearance here and follow the ideal line. Should be no problem even with an SUV like the Dacia Duster.
  3. Medium
    – 30-60 centimeters
    – Here you have to be careful and follow the rules mentioned above. You can already sink your car here.
    – It should be possible to get through the river with a normal SUV like the Duster or Suzuki Jimny. But is should run through in doubt before and pay good attention. For this purpose, swimming shoes are a great help.
    – Examples: Laki, southern F208
  4. Very deep
    – more than 60 centimeters
    – For this you need a real off-road vehicle. With a normal SUV or small four-wheel drive car you should in no case try to cross such a deep river.

In general, the depth of the river is the most important criterion!

But you should also consider other factors:

  • Has it rained the day before? Then the rivers usually have more water and it is deeper.
  • Is it early summer? Glacier rivers then carry much more water than in late summer.
  • Is the riverbed muddy or rocky? If it is muddy, then there is a risk of getting stuck. Pebbles or stones are much easier to navigate.

Iceland River Crossing - The Ultimate Guide

What kind of car do I need to drive through a river? (WHAT)

Okay, now you know the best way to ford a river, and what types of river crossings there are. Extremely important is also WHAT. That is the rental car with which you want to drive through the river.

The more ground clearance the better
Ground clearance is important for driving over rocky or stony ground. The greater the ground depth, the lower the risk of damaging the car when crossing a river in Iceland.

Consider the fording depth of your rental car
The wading depth of a vehicle means how deep your car can be under water before it gets damaged. This is not the same as ground clearance, but also has to do with electronic components found on the bottom of the vehicle. You can find information about fording depths of common off-road vehicles here.

The stronger the engine the better
You need a strong engine to fight against the water current and also to get through a muddy ground.

Which car do I need in Iceland? Car rental guide

It is very important to make the right car rental choice especially if you are going to the highlands. What to look for in a rental car in Iceland, how expensive it is and what else is important, you can read in our rental car guide for Iceland:

Our Guide on how to rent a car in Iceland

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