Wild camping Iceland: Rules, Regulations, overall tips

Jun 26, 2018

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Wild camping Iceland: what you need to know and keep in mind.

Some things don't have to make sense or come with a deeper meaning. They don't have to be for everyone, and nobody but you has to understand them – all they are is a moment of pure and authentic happiness, absolute contentment. Like a weekend spent in a tent, in the mountains or some other sort of wilderness. We grew up camping. Sleeping outside was part of our childhood, our youth. In summer, we camped in Caro's parent's backyard just to sleep outside. When we grew older and moved to one of Germanys biggest cities we didn't only lose our connection to nature we also lost the freedom of sleeping in a tent, completely. It took us years to finally jump start back into camping and it happened quite randomly. Today's article is all about that joy of sleeping in the wilderness. We wanna equip you with all the information you need in order to do so in the Far North. So without further ado, let's talk 'wild camping Iceland'.

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Wild Camping Iceland, Iceland Blog, Iceland insider tips, Camping Guide Iceland, Freedom to roam Iceland, where to camp in Iceland, Camping tips and hacks Iceland, Camping Card Iceland, Dear Heima, Outdoor Website for Women

But first, Let's get personal for a minute:

It all slowly started to come back to us. Who we once were, what we are actually dreaming about, where we are happiest. It was a new beginning, and we somehow felt it. That morning, when we woke up to the birds singing we knew that something had changed. Fast forward two years, and we are planning all the camping adventures for this summer. We are back at hiking, biking, climbing and just overall living our lives in front of the door and not behind it anymore. This is the very story of how we reconnected with our true selves:

We just came back from a long summer weekend spend in Germany and sat at the airport with some fresh freckles and a weird feeling in our guts. Farewell pain. It's been May and while the weather at the Baltic Sea had been amazingly warm and sunny we knew our home by heart would greet us with seven degrees and drizzle. So the four of us sat at the airport, talking about the cold north winds and the never really hot degrees and daydreamed about all those things we would love to do but couldn't because of not living somewhere warmer. That moment, though – it hit us. We never cared about temperatures and weather conditions when we were younger. We slept in a tent at minus 5 degrees and snow, and we loved it. So when exactly did we get so old and grumpy and nagging that we would seriously find all those excused to not do what we always loved most – live outside, spend our days in nature? So we decided to camp the very next weekend and just bring an extra blanket and some tea.

“Our first night back in a tent brings it all back. The memories, the feelings. We camp on a piece of land that belongs to Logi's (Caro's husband) family. Among abandoned houses and in walking distance to the ocean.

It's surreal, how beautiful the surroundings are. The old houses, all the green, the birds and the blooming arctic flora. One advantage of a Nordic summer is the fact that there never are any mosquitoes, no wasps, no utter darkness. No need for flashlights or nets or repellent. Your only company are the seabirds. We go for a midnight walk along the ocean with a dim sun low on the horizon. Not a single soul is in sight and it's so extremely peaceful that we don't even put on music or talk much. The last time we felt this free and debonair was back when we were sixteen and all summer days felt like they contained 200 hours when life and love felt brand-new. We fence with some driftwood, stroll around the perimeter and find the craziest stuff like some of Logi's old books in an abandoned shed. We roam around for hours, climb into an abandoned house and look for hidden treasures, have a long talk in an overgrown garden, around a long-cold fireplace. For this one night, we feel like we are the only living souls, children, and adults at the same time. In the morning we drink our coffee in front of the tent. It's quite cold but the air is crisp and clean, smelling like spring and infinity. We know it with every inch of our souls - this is it, we are home”

If you are a camping enthusiast, like us...

...you might want to check out our mini guide on camping equipment - right over here:

Do we have the freedom to roam?

How's the law in Iceland when it comes to public access to wilderness?

No, we don't. We could only sleep on this amazing piece of land described above because it is owned by Logi's family. Not too long ago it was absolutely no problem to camp wherever you felt like it but with the massive increase in tourists (and loads of them behaving inappropriately, unfortunately) you will now have to camp on public campgrounds. In many places, it is officially forbidden to put up your tent, in others, you might still do so but could very well get into a lot of trouble with the farmers. Not even five years back and hardly any of the locals had an issue with tourists sleeping on their property but with so many campers flooding the country, leaving piles of trash and excuse us literal shit behind it's gotten quite difficult to set camp in the wilderness. But fret not, we have some tips and hacks for you on how to enjoy camping in Iceland to the fullest, anyway.

First of all: to a true outdoor enthusiast some of those rules may not apply (as much). We have hiked a lot of trails by now and even though parts of the country are really getting crowded – others are as secluded and remote as ever. We've found ourselves in the mountains for hours and hours without meeting a single soul. We came through valleys and stopped at lakes where we were completely and utterly alone. To set camp there for a night doesn't harm anybody or anything and also, nobody will care.

As long as you follow the ground rules of not leaving anything behind other than your footprints and not taking anything but memories. For a night. Just one tent. Of course, this does not apply for campervans or motorhomes. Also, not for long-time treks, national parks or land owned by a private person. If you don't know exactly what kind of land (owned by, used as, etc) you will be putting up your tent we would highly suggest to not plan a camping trip in Iceland relying on wild camping. Those few possible spots are not found around the major sights and are especially rare!

We would advise all camping fans to plan your trips around public campsites and only camp wild if you are lost somewhere in the wilderness or have the explicit permission of the land's owner. We personally like to do both. Hike the wilderness, rely on the authorized areas and only set up a wild camp if absolutely necessary. Iceland is amazing for camping, even though it can't really be 'wild' – trust us, though, waking up in front of Skógafoss certainly is a morning to remember! <3

All information you need for a perfect camping trip to Iceland.

So like we just explained there is no official freedom to roam in Iceland (unlike most of the other Nordic countries.) There are a handful of farmers that might not say anything if you spend one or two nights camping on their property, but we can only appeal to everybody's manners and say: ask them, first. They will most likely say yes but you will want to make sure. Everything else is common sense: don't park your van on the sensitive moss as it will never recover from that damage. Don't do your business into the ocean and even throw paper on top – that's disgusting and unnecessary. What's also getting more and more common and is just the poorest of behavior: using public camp-space without paying. Some people arrive late at night, jump into the shower, tap water and electricity and then head out in the early morning light. To all those who leave trash behind, throw it into lakes and waterfalls, trample on pristine nature, throw their drones into the air wherever they feel like it, ignore prohibition signs and just overall act like massive idiots: you suck! You are the reason true outdoor enthusiasts cannot do what they love most. By now, there are police patrols in the national parks that look for wild campers in the highly frequented spaces and who take care of those people sneaking onto camping places to use water & electricity without paying. Due to those reasons, we would emphasize: don't come to Iceland for wild camping. Come to trek, to hike, to bike, to climb, kayak, surf, explore and be in awe but stick to the public campsites or hostels and only camp wild when you find yourself out there in the middle of absolute nowhere.

// There is an exception for caravans that are self-sufficient, though. You can basically park and sleep wherever (parking lots, not nature, of course). There are quite a few places to clear out your toilets around the country, as well. //

So what about those public camp sites?

Where do I find them, how much do they cost, how can I save money, etc.?

There are countless beautiful and considerably cheap possibilities for you to camp in Iceland. Our hack number one would be: use the camping card! 41 campgrounds in Iceland are participating by now and you get an additional card on top which lets you save money when taking gas at one of the Orkan gas stations (the pink ones). You have to pay a special tax at every campsite in Iceland (which is around 80 cents) but they will charge per card and not per person (a card is valid for two adults and up to four kids /one tent / a camper or a caravan). The card can be used during the summer season which is from May 15th to September 15th. You are paying 149€ (180$) for the season – it doesn't get any cheaper than this when traveling Iceland. Usually, a single night on a campground costs between 10 – 15/20€ per person so as soon as you stay longer than five days to a week a camping card is your door to Narnia! The sites are in beautiful locations all over the country, the secluded Westfjords included. You will get incredible views, most of the time well maintained sanitary and even WiFi, some of those campgrounds offer the possibility to cook/BBQ, do laundry and buy some groceries, as well.

Of course, Iceland has way more than those 41 campsites and you will easily find places to stay for the night. It is not necessary to book a spot in advance, but we would make sure to give them a call to make sure before you stop by - especially if it's highly frequented places like Landamannalaugar and Skógarfoss. More and more offer specialized camping possibilities (like for example the so-called glamping) and some are highly rated (4*) campgrounds.

If you go to tjalda.is you will find all the information you might possibly seek and a map that includes all campgrounds - you simply click on the icons and get insight into each and every site. You will find out which ones are open all year round (most of them with limited service during the low season, though) and which ones are dog-friendly - but be aware that it is a nightmare bringing your furry friends to Iceland. Several weeks in quarantine due to Iceland being extremely secluded and far off the mainland.

Another thing that we consider 'good to know' is that we seriously suggest to only go camping during the summer season. Winter in Iceland is not just cold, it is also quite windy and dark, with lots of roads not being maintained, most campsites closed, and – like mentioned above – those that actually ate open might still not offer any service. No matter how good your tent is and how amazing your sleeping bags – meters of snow and icy storms will make your experience way less enjoyable than during summer. Since you will also be unable to get to the highlands and most likely the west and east fjords - camping in winter is definitely not recommended. High season for tents and camper vans is beginning of June to end of August (May and October are doable, as well!) Like we said, almost every campground costs somewhat between 10 – 20€ but if you want to stick to a low budget then seriously consider the camping card. The longer you stay the more sense it makes.

And that's about it. You can go cheap, you can be quite spontaneous but you can't sleep wherever you want – except if it is REALLY off the grid. When it comes to shopping we suggest not to do it on the campgrounds as those little stores tend to be on the more expensive site. Whenever you come by a bigger town make sure to stop at Bónus and stock up on your fav' food – it's the cheapest you can get. If you are looking for in-depth shopping and food tips (especially when you are a vegan or vegetarian) – make sure to check out our (Reykjavik) food guide since it doesn't only cover restaurants in the capital but also gives you loads of information on how and where to shop for groceries. We will write more guides around camping, BBQ-ing and traveling 'wild' in the future so stay tuned for those.

If you seek further information then you can try to find it in our extremely comprehensive Iceland Travel Guide, check the FAQ at our 'About' or contact us via welcome@lindabergmann.com. If you wanna stay on top of new articles and mini guides then make sure to subscribe to our newsletter, where we send out an overview of all newly released articles once a month and tend to add one or the other free goodie. Thanks for reading, we hope you found what you were looking for! (And thanks a ton  for sharing this piece of content with whomever it might be helpful for)!

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Skemmtið ykkur í útileigu! <3

Wild Camping Iceland, Iceland Blog, Iceland insider tips, Camping Guide Iceland, Freedom to roam Iceland, where to camp in Iceland, Camping tips and hacks Iceland, Camping Card Iceland, Dear Heima, Outdoor Website for Women
Wild Camping Iceland, Iceland Blog, Iceland insider tips, Camping Guide Iceland, Freedom to roam Iceland, where to camp in Iceland, Camping tips and hacks Iceland, Camping Card Iceland, Dear Heima, Outdoor Website for Women
Wild Camping Iceland, Iceland Blog, Iceland insider tips, Camping Guide Iceland, Freedom to roam Iceland, where to camp in Iceland, Camping tips and hacks Iceland, Camping Card Iceland, Dear Heima, Outdoor Website for Women

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Linda Bergmann

Linda Bergmann