A big part of any Iceland travel itinerary includes the obligatory stops at popular tourist attractions like the Blue Lagoon and the natural wonders of the Golden Circle. But what if you’re looking to get off the beaten path a little? Although Iceland is famous for its glaciers, some of the island’s most enjoyable outdoor pursuits involve putting on your bathing suits. Yes, you read that right. Lesser frequented destinations like the
Reykjadalur hot springs are one way to enjoy the Great Outdoors in Iceland without freezing your buns off.
Icelandic Hot Springs
Iceland’s nickname is the Land of Fire and Ice. The unusual combination of being extremely far north while resting on tectonic plates means we possess both glaciers and volcanoes. Iceland hot springs are the direct result of massive, powerful volcano systems raising the temperature of the water that flows through the ground just beneath our feet. This is known as geothermal heating and is the reason that hot springs in Iceland are, well...hot.
If you’ve ever read about Landmannalaugar, this is another territory well known for thermals baths. Every Iceland hot spring you encounter along the Laugavegur trail is heated by subterranean forces. This area is a top destination for hikes in Iceland thanks to its colorful rhyolite mountains and landscapes. You’ll often see people along the trail stopping to take a dip one of many geothermal hot springs. There’s nothing nicer than slipping into the nice, warm, welcoming water after a strenuous hike.
Reykjadalur Valley is another option for bathing in an Icelandic hot spring. You might not have the time or the opportunity to venture all the way out to Landmannalaugar. This is a great alternative for those looking to get their feet wet along Iceland’s hiking trails. Plus, this particular location has a special surprise for those who make the trek.
The Reykjadalur Hot River in Iceland
You may or may not have heard of the famous hot river in Iceland. You’ve no doubt seen photos of bathers floating happily as the heated current rushes downstream. It’s an idyllic picture of both children and adults alike enjoying their trip to the fullest. This is also a fun place for families. You’ll see many Icelanders and their kids coming here to enjoy bathing.
One of the great things about this outdoor activity is that the weather doesn’t need to be perfect. Even if it’s overcast or a little chilly, the warm river will heat you right up. Of course, be sure to bring a microfiber towel to dry off with once you’ve hopped out of the water. If you’re wet, it will be a bit nippy, in summer or wintertime.
Where is Reykjadalur Valley?
This beautiful zone is located in South Iceland, close to the town of Hveragerði, about 45 km (28 miles) away from Reykjavik. It’s part of the Hengill area, home to an extinct volcano. Don’t worry; Mount Hengill was last active around 120,000 years ago. Chances are slim to none that you’ll need to worry about an Eyjafjallajökull-type eruption ruining your outing.
Reykjadalur actually means “steam valley” in Icelandic, and with all of the bubbling mud pools and steamy hot springs, it’s easy to see why. The scenic valley and geothermal areas are renowned for their beauty and famous heated river. And that’s exactly what we’re going to visit!
How to Arrive
If you’re based in Reykjavik and looking to take a day trip, I highly recommend you visit Reykjadalur. It’s easy to get to and is a relaxing, natural alternative to places like the Blue Lagoon or the Lake Mývatn Nature Baths. Reykjadalur Valley is about a 45-minute road trip from Iceland’s capital by car. Head south out of town on the Ring Road (Route 1) and keep going until you reach the Breiðamörk roundabout.
Driving in Iceland is pretty straightforward, and things are usually well-signaled. After you've turned onto the secondary road, you’ll follow it past the Hverasvæðið geothermal park until you reach a small parking lot. Once you’ve found a spot, the path for the hiking trail is very clearly marked.
The Reykjadalur Hot Springs Hike
As I mentioned, the Reykjadalur hot springs hike is one of my favorite day trips from Reykjavik. You should have already packed a sturdy pair of waterproof hiking boots for your trip, so why not put them to good use? Reykjadalur is one of the top Iceland hot springs, and you definitely don’t want to miss out.
After you’ve started the hike, It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to make the 3 km (1.9 mile) trek to the valley. When you arrive at the end of your hike, you’ll see a stunning valley filled with hot springs, mud pools, and of course the geothermal river. You’ll see and hear other travelers bathing. What are you waiting for? Hop on in and join in the fun! I know you’ll be itching to take a dip, so look for an uncrowded, perfect spot in the thermal river and go for it!
Be sure to bring a plastic bag for when you finish bathing. Moisture is the enemy of both backpackers and Icelandic tourists alike. Putting a wet or damp swimsuit into your backpack without a waterproof holder is a decision you will quickly regret.
What Temperature is the Hot River?
When I say the words hot river what do you picture? A bubbling cauldron of a stream with steam rising into the air? Or maybe it’s a bit more manageable, and people can actually take a dip. Really, how would you define warm, and is Reykjadalur hot? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
I would place the temperature at right around 40 ºC (104 ºF). So it’s not exactly scalding, but it’s definitely not lukewarm. Most people can stay in for about five minutes before needing to get out and take a break. It’s on the warm end of a Goldilocks-type temperature of being not too hot, not too cold, but just right. And of course, if you feel like you’re being boiled alive by volcano-heated water, no one’s forcing you to stay in.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs - Hike and Swim
Icelandic hot springs are a must do on your travel itinerary. Of the many things to do in Iceland, this is definitely at the top of my list for unique experiences. It’s really neat to think about the fact that these geothermally-heated waters are caused by scorching-hot magma in the Earth’s crust. We get to reap the warm water benefits while being reminded of Mother Nature’s awesome and astounding power.
If you’re a fan of hiking and an outdoor enthusiast, this is the perfect activity for you and your travel companions. It’s a fun, refreshing way to spend the day and is a wonderful way to get back to nature. Just be sure to pack your swimsuit so you can take advantage of this unique Iceland travel experience.