As Iceland is a Nordic country too there is also a version of the freedom to roam, or everyman's right that gives everybody the right to access uncultivated land, camp there, pick berries, and in some month make even a fire.
All freedom comes with responsibility and limitations for everybody in order to keep nature in good shape or leave it even as a better place. With three times as many tourists per year arriving in Iceland than Iceland inhabits people the freedom to go everywhere can become a problem. So here are some things you should know when you are traveling Icelandic nature. Many things are given but easy to forget when overwhelmed by the beauty of the countryside. So here for you to remember:
When driving around the island you should stay on the marked tracks, roads or gravel roads. Even though some roads seem like driving off road only go there if it is a marked road. The only exception can be made when there is a closed snow cover thick enough so you don’t damage the soil underneath. Tires leave deep tracks in nature that need a lot of time to be covered again.
The most important thigs for many visitors: Taking pictures. That’s fine but respect fences and gates. By the everyman´s right fences are meant to keep animals inside and not people out but just think about it. Many people a day pass by that place where the hoses are grazing by the road. Quite many of them stop (also on the middle of the road which is quite dangerous) and take pictures of the horses or other farm animals on the meadow. So far so good but if people climb over fences damaging it, opening gates and forgetting to close them again it can become dangerous for the animals if they run on the street, for the people on the street and also very inconvenient for the farmer who has to catch them again.
Another negative thing to do is feeding them. Forbidden in many counties and not a good thing to do as the animals can get sick or bite you. So park in a secure spot and respect fences and gates and try not to disturb the animals.
Also, you are by law allowed to camp in the wilderness on uncultivated land, outside of any nature reserve or national park, and in a respectful distance to people’s properties, but only if there is no designated campsite close by. It is, however, recommended to stay at one of the many camping grounds around the island which are normally quite cheap and well equipped with facilities. The thing with wild camping is that if many people do it and go to the toilet in nature it is not nice and it leaves visible traces as in Iceland with the short summer paper and other waste does not rot fast.
Iceland is a wonderful hiking destination and in order to keep it like that you should stay on the trails as much as possible as the flora is very fragile due to the huge amount of loose soil and the hard weather conditions it takes a long time to recover and some places might never be the same. By law you are allowed to pass over uncultivated fields and access to the water shore must be granted by the owner of the bordering land. Staying on the trails also makes it easier for you and reduces the chance to get lost.
Riders should obviously also stay on special riding trails as there are plenty of them it should not be too difficult. Especially when the ground is wet and soft the horses cause lasting damage. If you go on a highland trip bring food for the horse and let the horses grass on uncultivated land only.
Biking trails might not be so common but still there are some stick to them or the street as much as possible and avoid any damage to nature by biking off-trail.
For any fish you want to catch you need to get a permit in advance for the river, lake or sea you can get those form the person who owns the fishing rights at the place. This can be private people or fishing clubs. There is also a fishing card with which you get access to various waters at once.
Picking wild berries
It is allowed to pick berries and herbs on most state owned grounds if not indicated otherwise. On private grounds it has to be ask for permission from the owner. But always remember to leave as little tracks as possible and only take as much as you need.
Behavior in general
• Respect nature and leave a place as you have found it
• Take your waste with you
• Respect private property and don’t damage fences and gates
• Don’t disturb animals e. g. by walking over their field
• Keep dogs on a leash
• Remember that damage done to natural sights is often irreparable
Nonetheless you will definitively enjoy your time outside and all the above mentioned might sound a lot but it is actually just common sense. So go ahead and explore this wonderful and varied island!