When I read about Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river, I put it in my “must-see” list for our trip to Iceland in July. The idea that a river could flow with hot water was too oddly enticing to pass up.
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Getting to Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river
Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river is about a 45-minute drive from the center of Reykjavik. Or, rather, the parking lot is that distance. From there, you have to walk.
If you aren’t going to rent a car in Iceland, you’ll need to take organized tours to get around, since public transportation is pretty limited. Try this guided hike to Reykjadalur, which includes transport from Reykjavik.
Click here for accommodations in Reykjavik.
After you park at the designated parking lot, the hike is about 3.5 kilometers each way. Going there, it’s mostly uphill, taking an hour to an hour and a half, depending on your walking speed and how often you stop to take pictures. I had brought along some walking sticks and was glad of it: they saved me more than once from turning a weak ankle. (The origin of my weak ankles is in an ill-advised solo hike up a volcano in Guadeloupe.)
The path isn’t difficult. Most of it is gravel, but the gravel varies from fine to quite large rocks that are loose underfoot. It’s muddy in spots as well. I huffed and puffed as usual on the uphills, but none of it was extremely steep, and we didn’t hurry.
As we hiked, we passed views of green valleys and rolling hills: partly bare dirt or rock, partly covered in grass and moss with small wildflowers. We saw traces of the river here and there along the way, passing a number of streams. Some of them were warm, even to the extent of giving off steam, while others were icy cold.
Plumes of steam rose from the landscape. While walkers are not allowed to leave the trail – a rule that applies pretty much anywhere in Iceland – at one point early in the walk it was possible to look down right into one of the steam vents. The water boiled merrily.
Enjoying the hot pools at Reykjadalur
Reaching the part of the river that is suitable for bathing, we stepped on to a boardwalk along the river. Just a handful of other people were there when we were, and there was plenty of river to go around. It trickles merrily down a series of small rapids, with shallows pools between them. Higher up, the water is hotter than lower down.
To change into bathing suits was a bit of a culture shock for me. All that is available in this treeless environment is an x-shaped wooden wall, allowing, in theory, four people to change in relative privacy at once. The flaw in the plan is that anyone walking up to the river or leaving would walk right by on one side or the other.
We changed into the bathing suits we’d brought along, with my husband watching out to let me know if anyone was approaching, and made our way into the river. Here and there small ladders offer access.
The water was lovely and warm, so warm that I had to hold my upper body above the surface from time to time in order to cool off. The day was cold and misty, as you can see from the photos I’ve included here. That hadn’t bothered me on the way up, since I worked up a sweat on the uphill walk. Now, in the warm water, the contrast was delightful.
To stay as close as possible to the start of the hike, use the map below to find accommodations in Hveragerði, the nearest town:
The water isn’t warm enough? That’s easy to solve: just move up the river one “step”. Each pool higher up is slightly warmer than the one below, as the water cools on its way down.
I wished I’d brought swim shoes of some sort, since the floor of the river was rough and rocky. It was difficult to walk, and pulling myself along on my hands didn’t work either. The water was too shallow. It was worth the effort – part walking, part crawling – to get to where the little waterfalls were, which offered a natural jacuzzi action.
Eventually, we faced the same scramble to climb out, dry off, change clothes without exposing ourselves to other visitors, and then walk the 3½ kilometers back down to the parking lot. For my ankles, walking downhill is no better than uphill, but at least I didn’t get out of breath this time. And the views down the valley are just as lovely as the views up. The walk down took less time, perhaps an hour or so.
You might also enjoy these other articles about Iceland:
- 3-week Iceland itinerary: The best Iceland road trip! covers the whole trip
- Best Hot Springs in Iceland (besides Reykjadalur, which was my favorite)
- Skogar, Iceland and what to see there
- Things to do in Heimaey island, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
- Icelandic Turf Houses
Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river is without a doubt worth the effort to get there. How often do you get a chance to experience a hot river?
Advice for visiting Reykjadalur
Here are some suggestions for your visit to Reykjadalur:
- Wear hiking shoes, preferably the kind that support your ankles.
- Wear layers, so you can shed or add as needed. This applies pretty much anywhere in Iceland.
- If you’re clumsy, like me, carry walking sticks.
- Bring water.
- Stay on the path. Off the path can be a) dangerous and b) damaging to a delicate environment.
- Stop often to take in the views.
- Bring bug repellant: we contended with midges that dive-bombed our faces and got in our ears, noses, eyes and mouths.
- It’s a good idea to take along some food to keep your energy up.
- Bring a swimsuit and towel.
- Go together with someone else who can hold up a towel or sarong for you to change behind.
- Bring a waterproof backpack or plastic bag to put your clothes into if it rains while you’re in the river. There is no shelter. Then you can use it to carry your wet swimsuit and towel back down to your car.
- Bring swim shoes or just any shoes that you can use to walk in the river.
- Be prepared to get chilled very quickly when you are in your swimsuit and making your way into the river. And be prepared to get chilled again when you get out. Be ready to dry off and get dressed quickly.
Is this something you’d enjoy doing? Or is a formal spa more your style?
Hi, I’m Rachel!
Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...