Where can I camp in Iceland?

camp in iceland

Where can I camp in Iceland?

Many people seem to think that camping anywhere and everywhere is allowed, however this is not the case.

If you are thinking to camp in Iceland, there are a few things you must keep in mind:

For centuries upon centuries, it was permitted for anyone to camp anywhere and live off the land, while traversing the rugged Icelandic nature. This was due to how ill accessible the whole country was (and still is, in part, today), and was simply a matter of life or death in some cases. As accessibility became easier and road conditions improved, this changed into travelers being allowed to camp for 1 night, and in case of massive emergency, live off the land. Although asking land owners for permission was considered common courtesy and is of course still today!

This law has now changed somewhat. Never the less, many travelers are under the impression that they are allowed to camp anywhere, such as the tourists last summer who decided to camp by the lake at Thingvellir national park – they tore up the moss to insulate their tent, ruining the nature for years to come!

Some of the damage caused.Tents insulated by ripped-up moss.

So where am I allowed to camp?

All over Iceland, there are fantastic camping grounds where you get access to a range of services for a small fee. This website HERE will help you plan your perfect camping trip in Iceland.

In November of 2015, nature preservation law was implemented, which limited the freedom to camp considerably. Here is how it goes:

 etc.

  • Camper vans, camping-trailers of any kind, mobile homes and any similar equipment on wheels can not be camped outside designated camping areas, unless with an express permission from land owners.
    • This means no camping at general parking areas, rest stops along the highway, scenic stops near or far from roads etc.
    • Simply put – nowhere except at designated camping areas, which you must generally pay for. Unless a kind land owner has expressly said you are allowed to camp on their land, in which case you are fine (the oft spoken rule “asking for forgiveness is easier than asking permission” does not apply here)

camp in Iceland

  • Regular tents have more freedom. Here is where you can camp in Iceland in your standard tent:
    • By general roads and in towns, for one night only, on land which is not designated for farming. This is valid only if:
      • Land owner has not specifically forbidden camping by putting up signs by the entrance into their land or by roads/walking paths
      • There is no designated camp site anywhere near (and this also applies to camp sites in the nearest town, if the nearest town is close by).
      • 99% of Icelandic municipalities, villages and towns have a designated camp site, so you are safe in assuming you are not allowed to camp just anywhere within town limits.
    • By general roads, driving paths and hiking trails, in rural areas. Applicable to both private land and common land.
      • You can camp by these areas for one night only and must not drive off road (that is illegal and subject to fines)
      • You must leave the land in the same or better condition than when you arrived (or else be subject to fines)
      • Not valid if land owner has forbidden camping by putting up signs by the entrance into their land or by roads/walking paths
    • Outside general trails, both on private land and common land
      • There are exceptions to this rule, more on that later…
      • You can camp by these areas for one night only and must not drive off road (that is illegal and subject to fines)
      • You must leave the land in the same or better condition than when you arrived (or else be subject to fines)
      • Not valid if land owner has forbidden camping by putting up signs by the entrance into their land or by roads/walking paths

When do I need permission from land owners?

You do need to ask land owners for permission to camp on their land. Not only is it common courtesy to speak to the land owner in advance, it is also quite rude to assume that you are allowed to roam other people’s property as you wish.

So, you need to ask permission when:

  • You plan on camping near somebody’s home or farm, or on their farm land
  • You plan on camping for more than one night
  • You have more than 3 tents
  • This is a farmland or land used to raise crops of any kind
  • You have a camper van, camping-trailer, mobile homes or any similar equipment on wheels

Are there places in the highlands and in rural areas where I am not allowed to camp in Iceland?

Yes, of course there are, and it is important that you are mindful of this.

  • Land owners have full freedom to prohibit you from camping on their land and officials can also forbid camping in areas where nature can be harmed by camping and the erosion it causes.
  • If a land owner has prepared a designated camping area on his land, he is permitted to point campers to stay there and charge for use of the land and services. Land owners can also freely point you to the nearest camp ground.
  • Limitations are to where you can camp within national parks and conservation areas. Here is a good list on that:
Álafoss, MosfellsbaerCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Blábjörg by Berufjörður beach – east fjords Camping and overnight stay forbidden
Bringur in Mosfellsdalur valleyCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Dimmuborgir, by MývatnCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Dyrhólaey island, south coastCamping and overnight stay dependent on an express permit from the Environment Agency of Iceland
Fjallabak nature reserveCamping is allowed on designated camping grounds and hikers/trekkers can camp along side marked hiking trails. Otherwise camping and overnight stay is forbidden, without en express permit from the Environment Agency of Iceland
Grábrók craters in Norðurárdalur – west IcelandCamping and overnight stay dependent on an express permission from the Environment Agency of Iceland
Conservation area of HerðubreiðCamping is allowed on designated camping grounds – outside those camping grounds an express permit is needed from the Environment Agency of Iceland
Hverfjall/Hverfell, near MývatnCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Ingólfshöfði nature reserve, south IcelandCamping and overnight stay dependent on an express permit from the Environment Agency of Iceland and the area’s care takers
Kattarauga nature reserve, north-west IcelandCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Basalt columns of Kirkjugólf and the surrounding area – south IcelandCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Lake Mývatn – north IcelandCamping and overnight stay forbidden, except on designated and fully marked camp grounds
Seljahjallagil, Bláhvammur, Þrengslaborgir and the surrounding area – near MývatnCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Waterfall Skógarfoss – south IcelandCamping and overnight stay forbidden, except on designated and fully marked camp grounds
Pseudo craters Skútustaðagígar – near MývatnCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Snæfellsjökull national parkHikers, trekkers and cyclists need an express permission from the National Park rangers, otherwise camping and overnight stay is forbidden
Beach by Stapi and Hellnar – Snæfellsnes peninsulaCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Teigarhorn farm – east fjordsCamping and overnight stay forbidden
Vatnajökull national parkInside the National Park, guests are to use designated camping grounds for tents, camper vans trailers etc.

Outside these designated camping grounds, regular tents can be pitched for 1 night only, as per the rules above (except for the areas listed below). Groups with 10 tents or more need a permission from park rangers.
While camping outside designated camping grounds, extreme care must be taken not to disrupt nature. All garbage and waste must be brought back into town.

Camping outside designated camping areas is fully forbidden in these areas:

  • Jökulsárgljúfur
  • Askja caldera and the surrounding area
  • Under Mt Hoffell and Heinaberg
  • Skaftafellsheiði
  • Bæjarstaðaskógur forest
  • Morsárdalur valley

Seek assistance from park rangers on where to park in these areas