Travel: Hiking Reykjadalur Valley in Iceland and Bathing in its Geothermal Hot Spring River

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Of all the day hikes we did while visiting Iceland, the hike in Reykjadalur Valley was by far our favorite. Just a stone’s throw away from Reykjavik, this valley is full of beautiful scenery, geothermal hot springs, mud pools, and best of all, a hot river that you can bathe in at the center of the valley mid-hike. I would highly recommend relaxing your muscles in the running river, as it is a serene and beautiful spot. We almost skipped it but after high praises from my sister, who dipped into the river a few days prior, we rolled up our leggings and shorts and waded in. We had a great time and call it one of the best experiences on our Iceland trip.

You can hire a tour guide to explore this area on horse (Iceland does have the cutest horses around, with their squat legs and beautiful flowing hair) but I prefer hiking on foot. My sister did the tour with the horses and it was an all-day trip, whereas my husband and I hiked Reykjadalur Valley on foot and it took about 3-4 hours. If you’d like to learn more about the hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs, feel free to read on.

Spoiler alert: There’s a number of photographs in this post that may spoil the views. This may not be the best post for hikers who prefer to be surprised by the scenery. I, for one, like to know ahead of time.

This is a view of the valley on the main freeway as you approach from Reykjavik. From far away, you can see the geothermal activity of the area in the form of smoke rising from the hills.

Reykjadalur is located fairly close to the main city of Iceland, Reykjavik. You just hop onto the 1 Freeway (also known as Ring Road) and head southeast for 40 minutes. You can see the valley on the freeway and before you reach Hveragerdi (the closest town), there is a turnout with a map of southwest Iceland. From this turnout, you will see smoke rising from the hills. Know that you are not far away. You must turn left towards the mountains when you reach Hveragerdi. The roads are well paved and there are no F-roads to encounter along the way (meaning you can reach the trailhead with a regular car). A large parking lot with a cute coffee shop marks the trailhead. There was plenty of parking space when we went, despite the late start to our day.

The beginning of the trail.

From the parking lot, you will see a well-kept gravel trail that begins the journey into the valley. If I had a do-over, I would start this hike earlier in the morning, so as to return for lunch at the cute cafe near the parking lot. In reality, we slept in after some major jet-lag, and started our hike at noon. As you can tell from the photograph, Iceland stays relatively overcast, even in July. That doesn’t mean you should skip the sun-screen. I would pack a light rain jacket if you have a problem getting wet, or a light fleece jacket over a tanktop. I like to wear layers when I hike for easy shedding. It was fairly warm that day, so I didn’t need both. For us, hiking boots are a must, although this trail is doable in regular running shoes as well. To get an idea, these are the things I wore on this day.

What to Wear When Hiking Reykjavik Hot Springs

Things to Bring

When we went, there were no crowds. People were spaced out enough and as you get deeper into the valley, you see fewer and fewer hikers.

On the day that we went, there were few crowds. I was happy to be hiking with less people around. As you get deeper into the valley, you will notice that the hikers spread out even more. The winding trail allows for bouts of isolation, so that you can enjoy the scenery without a bother. Mike and I prefer to hike fairly alone, and do most of our deepest talks during the most strenuous of hikes, which also happens to be the lesser crowded ones. Check out the photo below to see what I mean.

A lone hiker in front of us, and nature all around.

I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. Don’t let the steep looking inclines dissuade you from trying this one out. There is a steep hill at the very beginning but it is fairly flat towards the middle. Plus, you know what steep hills mean – easy descents! We hiked this trail without walking sticks, and the path was not so gravelly that we were slipping and sliding. Of course, our hiking boots really helped with the solid footing. To give you an idea of the difficulty level, we saw 3-5 year olds doing the hike with their parents. And there is only one patch of the hike that still had ice in July. It was fairly short (twenty steps total?) and was on a flat surface.

A word of caution: Don’t stray too far from the trail. This place is teeming with geothermal activity. Mud pools could create soft pockets of dirt, which a boot can easily depress into. The last thing you want is a burned leg. Stay away from the steaming areas, and I would think twice about touching running water. The hot spring river is good to swim in, but I can’t speak for other areas. Other than that, enjoy the views!

Don’t get too close to these hot vents. They’ve turned black for good reason!
A happy giant looking down on us from the rocks.
Sheep grazing in the grass, unperturbed.
The views undulated between grassy knolls, black lava rock, and bright blue running streams. The overcast day and the white smoke rising from the brown mountains was really a sight to see!
You can see the steaming river just around the bend.
When you get to this bridge and a horse pen, you know that you aren’t too far away.

A bridge and horse pen demarcates your proximity to the running river. You cannot miss it, as people are most likely wading in the waters. There are changing stalls without any doors. If we knew we were going to get into the water, we would have brought a towel and swim suit to switch into. As is customary in Europe, nudity is never a problem and you’ll see a number of people changing without the typical modesty you would see in America. You can always hide behind a stall and wrap your towel around you if that makes you uncomfortable. On either side of the river are stairs by which to enter the water. We spontaneously did it and are so glad we did. We stayed for an hour, and never wanted to leave. It was the perfect break before hiking back down to the parking lot.

Side note: The river is not the end-all-be-all, even though it is where we turned around. The trail continues past the river and into the mountains. It is a loop that starts just past the river and returns to the river. Continuing on would add an hour to your hike. Then you return the way you came.

It is worth stopping by the shop and cafe when you reach the car park. There were delightful cakes in the case, and sandwiches and coffee to be had. They also have clean restrooms and you can refill your water bottles at the restroom sinks. Lastly, there is a tiny shop where you can buy souvenirs or hiking necessities (such as a tiny towel, or a swimsuit).

The valley and all it’s pretty terrain.

This was our favorite hike in Iceland. It was also our favorite geothermal spot (better than the touristy Blue Lagoon!). We are introverted travelers and we prefer the romantic views and more isolated spots where we can hear our inner thoughts, and discuss them too! Even when we were in the river, there was enough space for everyone to get a stairwell to themselves. This place never felt crowded or overwhelming, but rather peaceful and serene, something we like over the tourist scene. I don’t think it’s worth getting a tour guide, as that would require you to see this place on their time. I recommend doing this hike on your own, and taking it in without rushing through it. It would probably take a half day to do.

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