You will find hot springs all across the country - courtesy of Iceland’s volcanic activity heating up the natural underground water reservoirs. One of the island’s most infamous hot springs hot spots is the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River.
But this is not your average natural hot spring in Iceland. Reykjadalur comes with a bit of a twist that makes it an incredibly unique experience. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about the Reykjadalur Thermal Bathing Pools to both prep you for an upcoming visit, quench your curiosity, or entice you to make it part of your Iceland bucket list.
What is the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River?
The name Reykjadalur means ‘smoke valley’ and nestled in this valley we find that the Reykjadalur Natural Hot Springs are much more than just warm rock pools in the wilderness. Here you get the opportunity to take a dip in an entire river of hot spring water, gently flowing down the mountain. What makes it even more interesting, is that you can essentially choose the perfect temperature for you at this natural hot spring; the further upstream you go, the hotter the water is, and the further downstream you go, the colder the water gets.
However, Iceland’s hot spring water is not just to relax in, it has been proven to have healing properties not only because of the heat but the fact that the water is incredibly mineral-rich due to the filtration through the volcanic rock. Unfortunately, it’s not as beneficial as the famous Blue Lagoon, but you will definitely get some mineral benefits to your skin as you take a relaxing dip.
It’s also important to note, though, that there are no changing rooms at Reykjadalur, so if you have any issues with nudity or doubt the effectiveness of your partner as a human screen, we recommend that you have your swimwear already on beneath your clothes or get comfortable changing in your car.
How was the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River Formed?
As we already mentioned, volcanic activity is the reason we can enjoy the Reykjadalur River today. It is the volcanic activity that heats up the underground water supply deep underneath Hengill Mountain (a now dormant volcano). The water flows through the Klambragil Ravine into the Reykjadalur River, providing all visitors with comfy, mineral-rich water to enjoy.
Since Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river comes from an incredibly warm area, it’s not advised to jump into the hot pools you might find at the very top of the Klambragil Ravine. Rather dip a toe or have a thermometer ready to first make sure it’s safe, even if a proper cannonball might feel like a good first choice.
A Brief History of Reykjadalur
Up until a couple of years ago, Reykjadalur used to be a well-known secret amongst the locals, without any type of man-made structure within several kilometers. There were no boardwalks and nothing fancy around the trails, just a simple stream in the smoky valley.
Today, as you probably know, the larger part of the Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river has wide and comfortable boardwalks along the sides to make it nice and spacious for visitors. The boardwalks came into play when the popularity of the area increased alongside the influx of visitors to Iceland as a whole. Now, it has developed into having a café and dedicated tours from the capital.
Where is the Reykjadalur Thermal River in Iceland?
The Reykjadalur Thermal River runs (as you might’ve already suspected) down the Reykjadalur Valley. It is in the south of Iceland, just north of the town of Hverargerdi, and conveniently located close to the capital city (about a 40-minute drive away from Reykjavik). This makes it the ideal hang-out spot for both locals and visitors when it comes to a day outing.
How to Get to Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
There are essentially 3 ways one can get to Reykjadalur:
By Guided Tour
There are numerous tour operators all across the island, and many have Reykjadalur as part of their repertoire. Some offer them as dedicated day tours (which mostly depart from Reykjavík), whilst others offer them as part of a bigger combination tour package with various Icelandic attractions included.
Some nearby tours will offer the classic horseback riding tours in Iceland and combine it with a hike to get you to the Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river. Those who start in Reykjavík might include a trip to the famous Blue Lagoon to give you both the hot springs in the wild as well as a pampered visit to the stylish spa establishment.
The bus network in Iceland is very well-developed and allows you to get to most of the main spots on the island. From there, most areas (close to the towns) will have local buses to take you the rest of the way. This isn’t an expensive ordeal, but it’s not going to be overly cheap either. To travel to Reykjadalur, though, you’ll only have to deal with a round-trip ticket from Reykjavík, so don’t worry about complicated bus changes.
It is possible to reach Reykjadalur via public transport here on the island. Simply take the number 51 bus from Reykjavík (you’ll need to get on at the Mjödd Bus Stop in Alfabakki) that travels to Hveragerdi. From the town, it’s only a 4-kilometer (beautiful!) walk to Reykjadalur which offers multiple photogenic stops along the trail.
This will, of course, always be our first recommendation since it’s the easiest, and we always advocate that a road trip is the best way to properly explore the island. With Reykjadalur being so close to Reykjavík and with it located along the Ring Road, Reykjadalur makes the perfect Ring Road road trip stop. Driving to Reykjadalur is very easy. Simply take the Ring Road (aka Route 1) east for about 45 kilometers til you reach Hveragerdi. From here, you merely follow the signs to Reykjadalur Geothermal Park.
Driving in your own rental car in Iceland will also allow you to come and go just as you wish from the thermal river. No stress of catching a bus or being late for the departure of a tour bus, just you and your own relaxing time.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Reykjadalur?
Taking a dip in the Reykjadalur Thermal River is completely free of charge. You’ll just need to plan for paying parking at the parking lot, but that starts from a mere $1,50 for 2 hours. Another important thing to remember is that you need to pay this fee over an app, so you might need to use the Reykjadalur Café’s WiFi if you’re struggling with signal upon arrival. Luckily, that also means that you have a good opportunity to have a cup of warm coffee and a bun to give you energy for your hike.
The Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River Hike
Getting to the Reykjadalur Geothermal Park parking lot is one thing, actually reaching the Reykjadalur Thermal River is quite another. You will need to first take a hike before you can take a dip. The hike isn’t very long and the trail is not very challenging, although there are a few steep inclines, so you’ll need to take this into account if you have small children or the elderly in your party.
The hike is 3 kilometers long (one way) and will take between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your pace. But this hike allows you to soak in the incredible Icelandic landscape surrounding the river before soaking in its warm, healing waters. You can expect to see gorges, spectacular waterfalls, geothermal vents with bubbling water, and magnificent views across the Icelandic expanse.
The odds of you spotting some Icelandic Highland sheep or Icelandic horses are also good. The hike alone is well worth the effort, and the fact that you’re rewarded by the Reykjadalur River at the end is merely the icing on the cake.
How Long is the Hike to Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River?
As we already mentioned, the hike is 3 kilometers long in one direction and can take anything between 45 minutes to an hour. So, we would suggest that you set aside at least 2 hours to enjoy a leisurely hike to and from the river, without feeling too pressured for time. Keep in mind that this is a river and not one pool, so once you get to the thermal part of the river, you need to decide how warmer you want to swim and how far up you are willing to go.
How Crowded is Reykjadalur?
As one of the main attractions here on the island, you can expect Reykjadalur to always be pretty busy, especially during our summer peak season between June to September. But, unlike many other hot springs in Iceland, the river gives everyone enough space to be able to enjoy a nice, relaxing, soak whilst also having a certain amount of privacy.
At this point, we would also like to remind you that even though our amazing Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river draws an impressive crowd, there are no changing rooms available.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Reykjadalur Hot Spring River?
The Reykjadalur Hot Spring River is open all year round, and whilst some really enjoy the contrast of the cold air and the warm water during the colder seasons of the month, the hike may prove to be a challenge in terms of available daylight hours and the weather, especially during the winter season.
The best time to visit Reykjadalur when it comes to the weather and hiking stress-free would be during the summertime in Iceland. And if you want to avoid as much of the peak season summer crowds as possible, we recommend that you visit Reykjadalur early morning or late afternoon.
If you happen to be in Iceland when there’s been no rain for a while, you could probably have a nice hike since the trail will be nice and dry. This applies to all seasons except for winter, since the winter months will have some amount of snow still. A dry period like that is, however, incredibly unlikely in Iceland and rarely ever happens, so summer will still be your best option for Reykjadalur.
How Long Does a Visit to Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River Take?
This will depend 100% on you. Just remember to add the hiking time when planning your outing. We would suggest setting aside at least 4-5 hours, which should give you enough time to hike there and back and allow you to lie in the river ‘till all/any aches and pains and stress has drifted away.
What to Pack for Your Trip to Reykjadalur
Don’t forget the following when going to visit Reykjadalur:
- A backpack (suitable for both the hike as well as to pack essentials for a day outing)
- Trash bag (there are no bins along the Reykjadalur hiking trail or at the river, so you’ll need to clean up your own mess and ensure that you only leave your footprints behind)
- Bug spray (also be sure to put some on before starting the hike, since some visitors make mention of how annoying some of the insects such as little flies can get whilst traversing the trail – you’re out in nature, after all)
- Water bottle
- Some snacks
- Quick-drying towel (you don’t want to be lugging around wet things)
- Swimwear (just remember what we said about the changing rooms)
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat (irrespective of season, sunburn is a real threat)
- Waterproof gear and clothing (a raincoat, waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, etc.)
- Comfortable shoes to wear at the river (like flip-flops or Crocs)
- Camera (if your phone’s camera isn’t good enough, or you’re trying your hand at some photography)
Things to Do Near Reykjadalur
A hike and a soak are not the only attraction when it comes to Reykjadalur, and you’ll find plenty of other activities and attractions in the area to add to your road trip itinerary or day outing. The following are just a few that come highly recommended:
- Travel back in time & Icelandic history and explore Thingvellir National Park.
- Check out Kerid Crater.
- Stand in awe at Djupagilsfoss Waterfall.
- Visit Hveradalir Geothermal Area (NOT a swimming spot).
- Take another hot spring dip in Hrunalaug Hot Spring.
- Explore the Reykjadalur Valley on horseback.
Where to Stay Near Reykjadalur
Although most who visit Reykjadalur as a day outing opt to stay in Reykjavík, many others use nearby accommodation, especially when on a road trip. Whatever your preferences or budget – you’ll find something suitable for you.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, the Reykjadalur Guesthouse comes highly recommended. If you want to save even further on accommodation costs, you can opt to go camping at Ulfljotsvatn or CJA Campsite. For a more luxurious stay, you can choose between hotels such as Hotel Laugar and Frost and Fire Hotel.
Where to Eat Near Reykjadalur
As we already mentioned, you should stock up on snacks beforehand for the hike and day swimming at the Reykjadalur River. But if you’ve forgotten or plan to have lunch or dinner nearby, there are a few spots that come highly recommended. Firstly, Reykjadalur Café can be a lifesaver if you’ve forgotten to pack snacks or just want to grab something on the go.
But then there are a few other places, such as Olverk Pizza & Brewery that some will consider being as much of a must-visit site as Reykjadalur itself. And if you just want to satisfy your sweet tooth with some delectable treats, try Almar Bakari. Their pastries are absolutely tops!
Our absolute first-hand choice, though, will always be to bring some light meal to eat at Reykjadalur and (of course) some snacks whilst you’re walking. There are simply too many beautiful spots along the trail that you can stop for a quick snack break and take in the view.
Tips When Visiting Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
If this is your first time to the island, or just the first time visiting Reykjadalur, the following tips will be very helpful:
- You always need to be careful when it comes to hot springs in Iceland, even though it is officially labeled as safe for swimming. Always test the water, especially when you’re upstream at Reykjadalur. Never just get in – start by dipping in a toe or a finger. Another good rule of thumb to follow is to stick to the places you’ve seen others swim and soak if you’re still a little unsure.
- Always swim in designated spots deemed safe and stay on designated paths. If you wonder what can happen if you wander off in a geothermal area, just ask Ed Sheeran who probably still has some scars to show for it.
- The hiking trail and areas surrounding the river are extremely wet and muddy, so be sure to wear your waterproof hiking boots. You can wear your comfortable flip-flops or Crocs when strolling up and down the boardwalk at the river. Some even wear them into the river if they’re scared that they might step on a sharp rock.
- Remembering your water and snacks for the trail as well as whilst hanging out at the river is essential. But if someone slips up or you forget, you can still stock up in the Reykjadalur parking lot at Reykjadalur Café.
- Make sure that you take enough water with you. The hike and the warm water will make you much thirstier than you think, and although you’ll find a place to fill up at the start of the trail, it’s always better to come prepared.
- There are no toilets on the trail or at Reykjadalur, so you’ll need to make good use of the toilets situated next to Reykjadalur Café in the parking lot. These are also free to use.
- Please stay vigilant on the hiking trail, since there are places where the steam from the geothermal vents completely envelops you, and it feels like you can’t see the hand in front of your face.
- Keep your expectations realistic. This might be a river, but it’s not a raging river, and calling it a natural thermal pool might be a bit of a stretch - the river is super shallow. As in, it might cover your butt when you sit down on the bottom. This is probably the biggest reason you’ll see people lying on their backs or their stomachs (to ensure that the water covers their bodies).
- Keep a close eye on the Reykjadalur trail whilst hiking. The majority of the Icelandic Horse riding tours use the exact same hiking trail as their horseriding trail. So, not only does this mean that you might need to move out of the way of oncoming horse traffic, but it also means that you might have to dodge a few “gifts” they leave behind for you.
- Since this is an outdoor activity, and one of our famous local sayings is “you can experience all four seasons in a day”, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the Icelandic weather forecast and the Icelandic road conditions before heading out.
Take the Plunge & Visit Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
Some may still feel like it’s too much effort to actually reach the river in the first place, but we can assure you that a visit to Reykjadalur as well as the hike itself is well worth it.
Immersing yourself in the breathtaking Icelandic landscape before taking a relaxing soak amidst breathtaking views is an experience you can’t describe to those who haven’t experienced it for themselves yet. So, upon your arrival on the island, rent a car in Reykjavik, and make sure that you make a stop at Reykjadalur when traveling around the country along the Ring Road route.