The country of Iceland has a mysterious beauty that demands your attention in the simplest of ways. What the island lacks in forests it makes up in jagged topography that dots the mossy landscape. Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, but I cannot help but feel there is a missing component, WATER!
Iceland’s Best Natural Hot Spring Hike
The countryside has many hidden hot springs that locals and tourists flock to for a warm dip. Of course, the first on many people’s radar when thinking of hot springs is the famous Blue Lagoon. But this human built destination is by far not your only option when it comes to hot springs. Instead, let’s discover Iceland’s most natural hot spring, Reykjadular, that always happens to be completely free to visit!
Reykjadalur Hot Spring River Is About As Natural As Hot Springs Come in Iceland
Imagine soaking your nearly naked body in the warm waters of a natural river that flows through a valley of geothermal vents. You’re surrounded by the rocky horizon of distance peaks, and the only sign of civilization is the boardwalk at the water’s edge. If you have ever wanted to enjoy a hot spring in the middle of a true Icelandic mountain scene, then Reykjadalur is the perfect place for you! These hot springs are carved in the middle of real Icelandic nature, much unlike most other hot springs or hot pools in Iceland. Reykjadalur Hot Springs is literally a flowing steam through a postcard worthy valley scene. Instead of soaking in a suburban community pool, your geothermal heated waters flow over a rocky streambed. The allure of this natural scene is what draws visitors and locals alike to the magical Reykjadulur Hot Spring River.
Boardwalk view of Reykjadalur Hot Spring River with changing partitions in the background. Visitors venturing upstream in search of warmer waters at Reykjadalur Hot Spring River. Natural mountainous landscape surrounding Reykjadalur Hot Spring River.
Hiking To Your Icelandic Hot Spring Oasis
Located just 40 minutes east from Reykjavik, Reykjadalur Hot Springs are well worth the short drive for an escape into nature. Locating the parking lot was relatively easy with our rental car, but you can find tour companies that will drive you from Reykyavik and back if you prefer. The hike to the hot springs sets the scene as you walk through the “steam valley,” which is the fitting English translation of Reykjadalur. Some stretches of the tail are so engulfed in warm sulfuric smelling steam that you feel like you’re walking through the clouds. This dead-end trek is only 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) and takes most travelers roughly 45 minutes to hike, with plenty of pausing to enjoy the views. The hike is considered easy to moderately difficult considering the incline and rocky trail. From the parking lot it starts with a relatively steep uphill climb, but eventually levels out as you hike into the valley. Not to fear, there are no surprises, the trail is clearly marked and very well maintained. Always remember to be respectful and stay on the trail and not disturb the landscape! Most guests spend around 3-4 hours enjoying the entire experience, including the time spent hiking and time spent soaking in the river.
Bubbling geothermal pool just past the Reykjadalur Hot Spring River. HOT steam pouring from the geothermal vents just past Reykjadalur Hot Spring River.
Tips for Enjoying Reykjadalur Hot Springs
Our trek to Reykjadalur Hot Springs was in the beginning of November, where the temperature sat around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Honestly, the hike warmed us up as we trekked our way into the valley, but that crisp Icelandic air brought the chill right back as we stripped to get into our swimsuits. We quickly stepped into the water to find a warm spot to soak in. But we were hard pressed to find the best real estate where the water was nice and warm, and both our bodies could stay submerged. Little did we know, the further upstream you venture the warmer the water becomes. Instead, we found a shallow spot to lay in, and flipped from our stomachs to our backs to keep us nice and warm. My recommendation would be to trek just a little further upriver and find a deeper spot to soak in the warmer waters.
Taking in the spectacular view of a distant waterfall on our hike back to the car from Reykjadalur. The “valley of steam” with warning signs to beware of dangerously hot temperatures.
What to Pack for your Hot Springs Hike
Considering the 3km hike to the springs, make sure you bring the right stuff along to ensure your natural hot springs experience will be a success. Here are the basics you’ll want to throw into a bag and bring with you on your Reykjadalur Hot Springs hike.
Sturdy Shoes: The tail is well maintained, so it can be done in regular sneakers, but I would encourage hiking shoes instead. Because of the high moisture levels from the valley’s steam, the trail is often very muddy, so having footwear with decent traction will help get you there with ease.
Swimsuit: Some folks just wear their suits under their layers for the hike in, and others skip the swimsuit entirely, which is not entirely uncommon in Iceland. For our chilly November dip, we opted to keep our swimsuits on, for at least some perceived warmth! There are semi-private changing partitions on the boardwalk to leave your belongings, and to block the wind while you dress.
Towel: Be sure to have a big dry towel for each person enjoying the springs. Once the cold air hits your skin the last thing you’ll want to do is share. Instead, wrap up and try to get dry as fast as possible. If you’re visiting in the chillier months I’d even recommend bringing a blanket. Towels are great for drying off, but a big blanket would have been so welcomed in November.
Snacks: It may not be a long hike, but having a little snack on our hike back to the car was a yummy reward. Of course, whatever you bring in must get packed back out, always remember to leave no trace!
Water Bottle: Make sure to bring a reusable water bottle to keep yourself well hydrated on this trek!
Sunglasses & Sunblock: The day we hiked into Reykjadalur the sky was very overcast and grey, but for those visiting in the summer months, make sure to be sun ready. Even though the temperature outside may not feel warm, always protect your skin and eyes from those harsh rays!
Layers: Iceland’s weather is extremely unpredictable. Even though we were peeling off our outer layers as we hiked, it was great to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature served us. I recommend bringing a raincoat wherever you go in Iceland, you just never know when the weather will take a turn.
Other Hot Springs In Iceland That Will Blow Your Mind
I know you’re already picturing yourself sitting in the warm waters of Reykjadalur Hot Springs, but before you pack your bags, make sure to check out these other tempting Icelandic hot springs.
Blue Lagoon: Since the early 1990’s Blue Lagoon has easily been considered Iceland’s most famous hot springs. Visited by over one million guests each year, this hot spot is not to be missed. My recommendation would be to schedule a visit timed for right after your arrival flight. There is nothing better than relaxing your tired body in the warm 100-degree waters right from the airport. What says “welcome to Iceland” more than geothermal heated waters! Just make sure to get tickets far in advance (we booked ours months beforehand), and be prepared to pay a pretty penny. Our two tickets totaled $92 for the most basic of Blue Lagoon packages.
Geosea Sea Baths: This recently constructed hot spring is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Located in Husavik in northern Iceland, this new addition is a bit on the fancier side and serves epic views of the North Atlantic. The area is a very popular place for whale watching, so you might even spot some marine mammals while soaking in the warm waters. Reminds me of our hot tub whale watching experience from San Juan Island, Washington.
Mývatn Nature Baths: Similar in appearance to Blue Lagoon, these nature baths have all the bright blue waters with a fraction of the crowds. The lack of visitors is simply due to their location in northern Iceland, far away from the tourism hub of Reykjavik. If you’re looking to replicate the Blue Lagoon experience but pay much less, then a road trip to these nature baths is in order.
Sky Lagoon: Currently under construction this new destination will bring a trendy geothermal soak right into the city of Reykjavik. The Sky Lagoon will be located in Kársnes Harbor, just minutes from downtown Reykjavik. Not only will it provide guests a place to relax but will also offer incredible sights of the Atlantic Ocean from its 230 feet infinity-edge waters. This lagoon is being designed to incorporate traditional Icelandic turf houses that blend into the ocean-side landscape and is sure to be a top destination in Iceland!
My Favorite Icelandic Memories: Iceland: 5 Things I’d Do Again and 5 Things I’d Need to Add!
Visiting Iceland in Chilly November: Iceland in November: Hot Soup and Hot Springs
Iceland Highlight Video: 2016’s Icelandic Anniversary