River Crossing in a 4×4 Camper

Travelling through the Icelandic highlands often involves river crossing. Some of the unbridged rivers are only small streams but others powerful (and sometimes dangerous) glacial rivers. When crossing the latter ones, it is essential to correctly assess the current, depth and riverbed before driving in.

  • When you arrive at the riverbank, stop the car and engage the four-wheel drive as well as the low drive.
  • Step out of the car, walk to the river bank and study the best path to cross, especially check these things:
    • where is the river at its widest?
    • are there any shallow fords visible?
    • does the depth exceed knee-lenght? If yes, it is not safe to cross.
  • Drive slowly and steadily and stay in low gear. Never switch gears in the middle of a river.
  • Follow the current diagonally, do not drive upstream.
  • If you are not sure if/how to cross, then wait for other travellers, maybe some locals and follow their path
  • Ideally cross rivers in the mornings – the weather plays a big role in river conditions, rain and high temperatures lead to bigger streams and especially glacial rivers swell in the course of warm and sunny days.
  • A good rule of thumb regarding river crossing is that if you would not want to wade through a river you should not drive through it.
  • The air intake of the car must at all times stay well above the water level. If the air-intake is submerged and water is introduced into the motor’s cylinders it results in hydrostatic lock which causes irreversible damage to the engine.  No insurances cover this type of damage.

The following sites have useful information for driving in Iceland:

Icelandic traffic signs


How to drive in Iceland (brochure)

Current road conditions and weather forecast