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High on my list of places I want to visit one day in my life is Iceland, but I am worried by a warning I heard. One of two people who talked to me about Iceland experiences told me she was rather disappointed, because in many areas where they went, they were annoyed by four-wheel-drive cars driving by, spoiling the nature experience. The warning has stayed with me ever since.

Indeed, looking around on Google Images, Panomario, etc., one finds many photos of cars and 4WD-roads in the middle of the wilderness. Example one, two, three, four. I would not like to be disturbed by a noisy 4-WD that can likely be heard kilometres away, while three days into a backpacking trip. Below is a map of Vatnajökull National Park, and it seems the glacier is surrounded by 4WD-roads on all sides, making a backpacking trip that does not frequently cross such areas possibly challenging.

Are there any larger areas of Iceland where 4WD-driving is not permitted? Apart from the obviously inaccessible areas such as Vatnajökull, that is. A map with explicitly prohibited areas would be a great aid in planning a backpacking trip that includes a tranquil nature experience and solitude, without frequent encounters of motorised traffic.

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Iceland has some of the remotest landscapes in Europe and its not difficult to find solitude and choose a hiking route where there are neither vehicles nor people if you so wish. With a population of only 300'000 in a country the same size as Ireland, it is 80% uninhabited and very easy to enter a completely remote and untouched hiking destination.

As an Icelandic resident in the northeast, the best advice I think to anyone wishing to be away from tourists is to come off season. In season there is 1 million and counting visitors and it is a completely different place to hike. The best time to hike for me is late September and early October - before the snow but after the tourists.

But even in season, it just depends on what you want to see on the hike - if you specifically want to visit Jokulsarlon for instance then of course you will see more people than in other areas. But Vatnajökull is huge - this is 8% of the entire country. These 4 x4 track are a long distance apart with very little traffic for the most part. The greater worry should be safety when entering these incredibly remote, glacial and to the north of Vatnajokull, recently volcanic areas.

Then, the photos you link to seem a little strange! I don´t think you will happen across many 4x4s in the middle of a river crossing for example! :D ...The other two links do not have cars in. (Have these images changed?)

The other responders sound like they haven´t visited Iceland. Snæfellsjokull is great - but it doesn't make sense to visit the main attraction if you want to avoid tourists! That said - I wouldn't say Snæfellsjokull is anywhere close to the main attraction here. That would be the Golden Circle for most.

It´s very unlikely you will see a helicopter. It's a rare event to see any air traffic where I live in the northeast.

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    I ended up hiking last year in late September, and I can confirm the solitude. I hiked for a week in the Lónsöræfi area and saw exactly 0 people, despite crossing and hiking on some 4WD-roads and passing cabins. Later I realised those 4WD roads were not accessible even in the Icelandic monster trucks, because they were crossing rivers that contained too much water... As for the photos that I linked that don't show cars: they were taken from cars! But indeed; being 3 km from a road that sees less than one car per week is quieter than being 8 km from a road that has 20 cars per hour. – gerrit May 19 '16 at 23:47
  • Two years later I hiked another 12 days around Hofsjökull, mid-September, mostly off-trail. Near the end I hiked on a trail for half a day, during which I met one other hiker (my first fellow hiker in Iceland ever). I even hiked on 4WD-roads for a total of around one day, but saw no sign of humans those days either. I totally recognise what you mean now; in September/October one can probably hike for 10 days on 4WD roads only and still see nobody. – gerrit Oct 7 '17 at 23:00
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If you wanted to avoid the 4WD areas* my suggestion would be to make your start point for a multi-day hike at one of the furthest reaches of a 4WD trail. And if that trail is one of the lesser used ones, you should be well away from petrol-based signs of civilisation rapidly.

That said, with the ongoing popularity of volcano watching in Iceland, you'll probably still have to contend with noise from helicopters.

Read these associated questions on Travel:

(*although I would heartily recommend spending a day on either one of the glacier trips by 4WD or the uniquely Icelandic cliff race buggies - different to anything elsewhere in the world)

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I think your best bet would be to look at their other National Parks, Vatnajökull is the biggest (It covers 13% of Iceland), but apparently Snæfellsjökull National Park is Iceland's main attraction:

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Like Rory said in his answer, you're likely going to have to 4x4 to the end of the road to find a good vehicle-free area to hike in. That's what Bear Grylls did on his adventure in Iceland:

Man vs. Wild, Season 7 Episode 3 - Iceland: "Fire and Ice"

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