The Kjalvegur Road, also known as the F35 Kjölur route, runs 168km from north to south through the midwest of Iceland. F roads in Iceland are only open in the summer around June to the end of August/September and the Kjölur is no different.
These roads are mountainous and dangerous. They are unpaved, have unpredictable and fast-changing weather areas, and are usually well above sea level. They require a 4WD, and your insurance would not cover you if you were to drive on one with a 2WD.
The Kjölur runs across highland with an average of 500 meters altitude. Along the way, there are some incredible places to stop by. There are plenty of walking trails and natural wonders so it is worth exploring. There needs to be a high degree of caution, however. Its altitude is partly the cause of its exclusivity - for most of the year, it is decimated by snow and unpredictable snow storms.
Not only you'll need a 4WD for an F road but you will need significant ground clearance because there are often moments where you will have to cross deep water and rivers in the vehicle. Rental places such as https://www.motorhomeiceland.com provide 4x4 options for large campervans, which is a rare mix and can usually be difficult to find. The F35 has some difficult patches, but doesn’t have any official river crossings.
It is a good idea to get information on the weather conditions of that exact day, on the day, as you pass through, however. If you venture slightly off to another F road (easily done), it’s worth bearing in mind that rivers from glaciers can get deeper over the course of several hours, so it’s a good idea to watch other vehicles travel through first (there can be significantly high amounts of water). It is also a good idea to drive downstream if it’s possible (with the current) and drive very slowly.
Only the first portion of the F35 (Blöndulón) is a good road, which you can drive at highway speed. After this, the road deteriorates into gravel and big rocks and you will want to reduce your speed significantly - in fact, the speed limit changes to 40km/h. There is not a lot of traffic, although a few cars are always a good reference point to help you drive safely. Many sections of the F35 will actually require first gear - under 10km/h speeds. Only towards the very end will the roads become proper again.
The F35 is one of the longest highland roads in Iceland, meaning it really is worth taking your time and enjoying the views rather than trying to get across in one go. It’s best to consider this as part of the experience as opposed to a road you need to cross.
Where to stop-off
Given how carefully you have to drive along this dangerous road, you will most certainly not make it across in a single day. Because of this, you’ll want to make the most of your surroundings, of which it has many natural wonders and places to grab some food.
There is some interesting cuisine to be tried at the restaurants in Iceland. Hveravellir for example is around a third of the way down the F35 and has two camping houses. This tiny, remote place has a quaint restaurant along with a swimming pool and hiking opportunities. From here you can see the Langjökull glaciers, the Kerlingarfjöll and the Kjalhraun lava field.
Hveravellir also has natural hot springs. In fact, it is known for its fire and ice combination as the water boils up from the earth and flows both cold and hot.
Kerlingarfjöll is along the F35 route too (around half way), which is certainly a place you will want to slow down and take a look around. It is only 10km off the F35 via the F347, where there is 100 km2 area of mountains that stretch over 1.5km tall. This is a popular spot for photographers as there’s usually snow at the top of the mountains still as well as some hot springs and vegetation crops that have an incredible color palette. There are plenty of campsites, although Iceland is incredibly liberal in its wild camping laws. This can be a chance to jump into some geothermal pools and see the Gýgjarfoss waterfall.
The F35 isn’t the only fascinating road in Iceland, there are many of them. The F905 is an adventurous 21km, where you can see the Askja Volcano, and continue down the F910 which has 3 river crossings which get progressively deeper. Be careful for the latter ones, as they’re often not denoted on maps, so they can come as a surprise. The Asja mountains are nearby and reach over 1,510 meters tall. Again, this area is only open for a few months of the year (summer).