Ask any random group of ten people visiting Iceland for the first time why they're going and there's a very good chance that hot springs will make the list. You can certainly find hot springs in other countries — even in the United States! — but there's something about having to really work for your soak that makes it so much more of an adventure.
There are plenty of hot springs in Iceland that don't require any kind of hiking: Blue Lagoon, Myvatn Nature Baths, The Secret Lagoon; the list goes on. But Reykjadalur River is one of those places you will only find in Iceland. Long after your trip, you'll find your mind drifting back to this place when it needs a particularly relaxing moment to revisit.
The one thing you need to know before visiting Reykjadalur is that it is a commitment. You certainly can't see your final destination from the parking lot; there is a bit of a hike involved. Hikers will be rewarded with a more authentic take on Iceland's hot springs, making the hike well worth the small bit of time and effort.
Ahead, everything you need to know about visiting Iceland's Reykjadalur River Valley.
Why It's Worth a Visit
Hot springs are such a massive part of Iceland's — and all of Scandinavian and Nordic — culture. It's a place to catch up with loved ones, get out into nature, and, sometimes, get some exercise. It's something you absolutely have to experience on your trip to Iceland. You can get a general feel for the hot spring ritual at more commercials spas like Blue Lagoon, but Reykjadalur is a great option for those looking for something a bit more authentic and off the beaten path. In short: You will find locals walking to Reykjadalur on any given day.
There's also a bit of a hike involved, which sets this hot spring region apart from the others. There are no official changing rooms, you've got to work for your relaxation, and there are plenty of incredible river valley sights to be seen on the way to the hot springs. If there's one hot spring you make time for, let it be this one.
How to Get There
The Reykjadalur Valley is located about 45 minutes east of Reykjavik by car. It's a simple drive only consisting of one road: Þjóðvegur 1, Iceland main road that circles the entire country. Once you get close to the town of Hveragerði, you'll start seeing signs for the city's geothermal park. From there, you're very close. Follow the signs for Reykjadalur and you'll find yourself at a parking lot.
What to Expect
The parking lot is large and there is also a bathroom onsite. We would recommend paying the facilities a visit before your hike to the river — the sights have a tendency of making the hike longer than you'd expect.
With the road to your back, follow the gravel path leading you up to the mountain. There will be a few small geysers (some just appear as boiling pits of muddy water) along the walk into the valley. The walk will take you some time: around 40 minutes to an hour. There is a bit of elevation, so prepare accordingly. Bring a water bottle and fill it up along the way in the mountain streams — they're safe to drink from.
The pathway is made of loose gravel in some spots so be careful. It's easy to lose your footing and while there is plenty of space for hikers walking both ways, you never want to take a stumble. There are sections of the walk in the beginning that open up into wide panoramic views of the river valley: beautiful and also disorientating.
As you get closer to the hot spring, river, you'll notice the sulfur smell becoming stronger. There's more geothermal activity as you walk further into the valley; the appearance of a handful of geysers proves that. Right before you get to the hot springs — and you really won't see the true full view until you're a few steps away — you'll cross a bridge that's often hidden in steam from the nearby geysers. Prepare yourself for some strong smells.
The hot spring river is exactly what it sounds like: a river with water warm enough to soak in. One important thing to know is that the first bit of the river you'll encounter is far colder than the earlier section. There's a boardwalk following the river: Take a walk up the wooden boardwalk to the warmer sections. It's warmest at the end of the wooden walkway and coolest where you first encounter it at the end of your hike. It gets quite hot at its source, so be careful.
If you're not keen on changing in semi-public, wear your swimsuit to the hot spring river. There are wooden division "screens," but they don't provide full privacy. In Iceland, nudity isn't a huge deal and you'll often see people changing along the boardwalk behind these wooden walls.
More likely than not, you'll be joined by tourists and locals alike. It's a popular site for local runners and cyclists looking for a quick break before returning to their adventure.
The Best Time to Visit
While you can visit during the wintertime, the hiking conditions are going to be much more enjoyable during the warmer months. Something to keep in mind: You're going to encounter much fewer bugs on the hike there when there's a bit of a chill in the air. There tends to be clouds of small gnat-like bugs diving at hikers on the walk to the river. The walk back is much easier on all accounts.
Wear proper footwear. This is no place for flip-flops or any kind of shoe not intended to be hiked in. As mentioned before, there are sections of the path that are made of loose gravel and you may have to cross a few wet rocks. Better safe than very, very sorry. Also, don't forget sunscreen or a bandana to wear across your mouth (to keep bugs out) if you're visiting during the summertime — and always hike with a buddy.