Iceland is a wild and untamed country. Around 85 percent of the island is uninhabited, just waiting for exploration. This makes off-roading a particularly popular sport in this cold and unforgiving northern Atlantic nation.
Drive into the mountain ranges, slide across ice fields, and discover remote settlements that have not seen outside human contact for weeks. You can get there by hiring a driver to chauffeur you, or by renting a 4x4 to drive yourself.
Expert tip: If you rent your own off-road vehicle in winter, make sure the rental company has attached metal tread chains over the tires. These snow chains prevent tires from slipping on the ice.
Here are a few of the best off-road adventures in Iceland.
Thórsmörk Glacial Valley Driving
Formed by volcanic eruptions and glacial meltwater over thousands of years, the Thórsmörk glacial valley is one of Iceland’s most breathtaking valleys. Plow through shallow ravines as the water sprays all around. Charge over cliffs and hills. Glide across dew-covered moss and grass. Watch icy snow-covered rocks transition into fields that have been untouched for ages.
Expert tip: Drive by Álfakirkja (“Elf church”) and see one of the country’s most mysterious fairy tale sights: a natural rock formation that looks like a church spire.
Splash through the Jökulsárlón Lagoon
The Jökulsárlón lagoon, on Iceland’s south coast, is a spectacular place to see the country’s wildlife up close. Either rent a self-drive off-road vehicle or pay a driver from Reykjavik and head down to the most southerly point on the island. The dry black sands—an amazing sight in and of themselves—make for perfect dune riding. Don’t miss a visit to Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
Expert tip: Drive by Vik, a remote village where colorful wooden houses have been in the same families for centuries. Family-owned restaurants serve local Icelandic dishes at reasonable prices. You can also drive up the Kerlingardalur Canyon where the film “Beowulf” was filmed.
Formula off-roading is one of those sports best left to the professionals. But in Iceland, you can join in (as a passenger) in a car with huge tractor wheels driving at top speed. You slip and slide on the black sand just outside of Reykjavik as a professional driver takes care of the driving, chasing other drivers to try and catch the white flags attached to their buggies before they get yours. This is a specially designated sport in Iceland, taking place inside a fenced area. All safety equipment (goggles, gloves, jacket and neck brace) must be worn at all times.
Offroad Iceland is a tour company that offers this once in a lifetime experience. They will pick you up from Reykjavik and provide you with a helmet, hood, overalls and gloves for your ride. For more information and pricing check out Offroad Iceland.
Snowmobiling on the Vatnajökull Glacier
You simply can’t visit Iceland without experiencing some serious ice. The freezing Vatnajökull Glacier in southeast Iceland is the place to power up your hired snowmobile and glide along the ice.
Expert tip: Plan your visit for autumn and bring along a waterproof tent and camping stove so you can sleep in the wilderness. The weather will still be quite calm and temperatures relatively warm. There will be no light pollution, meaning the Northern Lights can be seen in all their glory.
4x4 Ride to an Active Volcano
Documented by the British TV show “Top Gear,” a unique adventure in Iceland is driving up close to an active volcano. This volcano has erupted 20 times in recorded history, most recently in 2000. In Top Gear, James May drove onto the hot volcanic rocks at the base of the volcano as small lava-covered rocks spewed from the peak. Chances are you won’t have to dodge falling lava, but you can have the adventure of driving on lava fields in a 4x4 hired from Reykjavik.
Extreme Iceland offers a two-day tour of two volcanic sites on a self-drive tour. With the guidance of professional guides, on modified 4x4 jeeps they'll help you drive across the extreme terrain. Find out more information here at Extreme Iceland's site.
Strokkur Geyser Horse riding
Saddle up and climb aboard. Horse riding may be a more sedate off-road adventure, but it adds an adventurous twist when you ride near the legendary Strokkur Geyser. The geyser erupts around 20 meters high into the air every 10 minutes, so you can’t miss it. Your pure-bred Icelandic horse will know the ropes, jumping over mud pools and fast running streams. Let your horse do the work as you enjoy the experience.