Askja Road in Iceland is one of Earth's most scenic trips
Askja Road is a winding dirt track running towards Askja volcano, a stratovolcano situated in a remote part of the central highlands of northeast Iceland. The road has some challenging sections with several fords and river crossings. Keep in mind it’s a very dangerous drive.
Can you drive to Askja?
The road is 79km (49 miles) long, running north-south from Route 1 to Route 910. To drive on this road, officially known as F88 (Öskjuleið), you have to be driving a 4x4 vehicle. It is strongly advised that people travel together in 2 or more cars. The track is pretty bad. Along the road, there are fords on the rivers Grafarlandsá and Lindá that need to be crossed. The fords can be difficult or even impassable for small jeeps. The drive is definitely not advised because the river crossings are volatile and dangerous.
Is Askja Road worth it?
Surrounded by a lunar landscape, the drive offers sweeping views. Starting from the Ring Road, the first 60km (37 miles) of Route F88 follow the western side of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum. Just south of the Ring Road and west of Route F88 is Hrossaborg, a 10,000-year-old crater. A small road leads from Route F88 right into Hrossaborg's natural amphitheater through a collapsed crater wall. In roughly 40km (25 miles), Route F88 comes to its first major ford at the Grafarlandaá river. 20km (12 miles) further south is Herðubreiðarlindir, a lovely highland oasis of moss, wildflowers, and springs gushing to converge on the Lindaá River. Herðubreið, a majestic table mountain, looms 6km (3 3/4 miles) to the west. Herðubreiðarlindir has a mountain hut and summer warden, and is also the launch point for the Öskjuvegurinn, a memorable 5-day trek through some of Iceland's starkest wastelands. The Öskjuvegurinn skirts Herðubreið and reaches Askja's Drekagil hut on the second night. A 5-minute trail leads from Herðubreiðarlindir to the remains of a tiny underground shelter, where Fjalla-Eyvindur—Iceland's most legendary outlaw—reportedly survived the winter of 1774-75 on a diet of dried horsemeat and angelica roots. The original shelter collapsed and was renovated in 1922.
Is the Askja Road open?
The road is only open during the summer months, usually between late June and early September.
Do you need a 4x4 vehicle to complete the Askja Road?
It is a rough and challenging road only for a 4-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance. You should check information about the conditions of the roads before you start your journey (call 1777 or check www.road.is). Make sure that the F road you plan to travel on is open for traffic. Driving outside of the roads in the highlands is strictly forbidden. Actually, driving off-road in Iceland is always forbidden. Whenever possible, try to talk to local people about conditions in the area, such as rangers. Tell somebody about your travel plans. It is good to be prepared for all types of weather as the weather in the highlands can change almost with a blink of an eye. Be aware that telephone signals in the highlands are not very stable and you can go for a long while without a mobile connection. The emergency number in Iceland is 112. You are able to call it in the highlands, even without a mobile connection. There is no petrol station in the highlands so make sure you fill up. Expect to be alone; this track is not very busy. It is not recommended to drive unaccompanied.
Navigating River Crossings on Askja Road
It’s one of the famous F Roads of the country. Along the route, you’ll have to cross a few streams. Crossing rivers requires a bit of experience. Do not attempt to cross with one car, or during heavy rain. It can be treacherous if the water level rises due to lots of rain and warm weather. When you cross rivers, make sure that the 4-wheel drive has been engaged before going into the river. Drive very slowly and use the low range if possible. Never switch gears in the middle of the river. Glacial rivers usually have less water in the mornings. During warm summer days, the flow of the river can increase a lot. Heavy rain can also increase the flow of a river substantially. Be aware that rivers can sometimes not be crossed even if the road is open and you are driving a 4x4 vehicle. A good rule of thumb regarding glacier rivers is that if you would not want to wade through a river you should not drive through it. Crossing rivers can be a serious matter if people are not careful. Whenever possible, cross with someone with experience in crossing rivers. Fords over rivers are usually marked and should be easy to spot.
Safety Tips for River Crossings on Askja Road
In case you get stuck in the river, call 112. Always check the river to ensure that it's not too deep. Rivers that can change rapidly with rain or change in heat. Be aware of big rocks that might be under the surface of the water. The worst place to cross is where the water is most calm because that is usually the deepest part of the river. The best way to cross is to follow the torrent diagonally down the river, that way the torrent helps the vehicle over. Rental car insurance does not cover damages from water, including any damage caused by crossing rivers. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue has issued a travel warning for the Lindaá river on route F88. The river can be very challenging to cross and motorists driving smaller 4x4 vehicles such as Suzuki Jimny and Toyota Rav are urged to travel the F905 and F910 instead. Only well-equipped jeeps and larger vehicles are able to cross the rivers. Please do not attempt to cross this river on a small jeep. Most rivers on F-marked roads in Iceland are unbridged. When crossing these rivers be sure to assess the current, depth, and the nature of the riverbed before driving in. If a river looks dangerous to cross, it probably is. Keep an eye on the weather for thunderstorms and lightning. Try not to travel by yourself and even wait for another car to cross an unbridged river with you. This way you will be assured help if you run into trouble. The weather can affect the river conditions; rain and high temperatures can cause bigger streams and please note that glacial rivers swell as the day goes on. This F road has several fords and river crossings that sometimes are not passable with a 4x4. You’ll need a special vehicle with sufficient clearance and a snorkel to be able to cross them.
Pic: L M