Rules & Ethics of Off-Roading in Iceland

Illegal Off Roading in the mud
Illegal Off Roading

This blog post is intended as a Public Service Announcement about the rules of off-road driving in Iceland and why it’s so important to follow these rules.

First, the ‘Why’

Most people who come to Iceland are coming for the pristine nature.  And, like many pristine, natural environments, they are fragile. Iceland, because of its high latitude, unique landscapes and flora and fauna, is particularly fragile.  Because it is a sub Arctic environment, the growing seasons are very short so the plant life takes a long time to recover.  Additionally, much of Iceland’s landscapes are damp and therefore very soft so they can’t support the weight of a car.

map of the Mountain trails of Iceland
Mountain trails

With increased tourism in Iceland, there has been an increase in people renting off-road capable vehicles and driving into nature, often illegally.  Sometimes this off-road activity leaves ruts in the land and plant life that can literally takes decades to recover from; in some cases even a century.

There are clear-cut rules in Iceland about illegal off-roading. But the truth is, Iceland does not have a large police force - we’ve never had to.  Instead Iceland has a strong culture of self-reliance and self-monitoring. This is not a nanny-state. We strongly believe that the reason NOT to illegally drive off-road is not so much about the law but the ethics of preserving a pristine natural environment. Besides, there are plenty of rugged paths and highland roads to drive legally! So know before you go.

Iceland’s off-roading laws - the basics

  • It is strictly forbidden to drive off-road. Meaning, don’t just pull off the road and forge a new path!

  • Stay on roads and marked trails, all of which are available for viewing on Iceland road maps.

  • If you are unsure, ask for help. If no help is available, assume you can’t drive in that area.

  • Find out in advance when mountain roads will be open. This information is available in any visitor center or from a park ranger.

  • Illegal off-roading can result in a fine from 500,000 isk (~$4500).

 We at Icelandic Mountain Guides believe in the careful and loving stewardship of mother nature, especially our delicate and fragile home country.  We operate according to the highest environmental standards, we’ve even won awards for our environmental practices.  And, all of our Iceland tours follow the off-roading rules as stipulated by the Icelandic Road Authority. Let’s work together to keep Iceland pristine for all generations to come!

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IMG Staff Writer

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