Hiking to the Reykjadalur hot springs

Hiking to the Reykjadalur hot springs

Signe Smala
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Going for a hike is a must-do activity in Iceland. The beautiful scenery comes in a package with fresh air, pleasant physical activity and—if you choose right—a dip in some natural hot springs at the end.

The Reykjadalur hiking and hot springs day tour is one of the most popular adventures of its kind. Located just 40 minutes south of Reykjavík, Reykjadalur is an easy hike that nonetheless shows off many of the Icelandic landscape’s unique characteristics.

The coolness

The tour begins with a 9am pickup. Well prepared for the -10 degree weather in warm winter hiking boots, wool sweaters, jackets, gloves and hats, our group of seven passes the guide’s clothing examination. In the comfort of a warm car, we set out on the southern road.

Reykjadalur (“smoky valley”, in English) is located near Hveragerði, Europe’s capital of hot springs. As we approach the town over the Hellisheiði mountain pass, the surrounding mountains and fields are decorated with telltale columns of white steam. It’s a beautiful day—the sky is clear, the sun is rising, and the snowy mountains shine with pink sunlight in the freezing morning air.

At the base of the trail, the guide hands out ice grips to help with the slippery path, which is steep at times, and gives us instructions to take it slow and avoid breaking a sweat, as that could make us cold in this weather. Reassured that we have an experienced guide who knows his stuff, we start the hike.

Snow & steam

From door to door, the trip takes seven hours, but the hike itself is under an hour each way. The path leads us up into the mountains, winding around the sides of a long valley. The hike is very nice, with picturesque views, but it’s a little scary at times—a few steps in the wrong direction could mean rolling down a long, steep mountainside. The trail isn’t difficult, but in winter conditions, it pays to take extra care. Feeling warm and cosy in my winter wear, I soon get into my stride and start enjoying the sunshine of the fresh winter day.  

After about forty minutes, we start to see steam clouds rising above the stream that runs down the centre of the valley. As the steam disperses in the sunlight, I’m immersed in a creamy, surreal looking world of mist. Despite being just a few metres ahead, my fellow hikers disappear in the white steam as I admire the delicate ice formations on the riverbank of hot springs.

Frozen towels

We finally arrive at the bathing spot. It takes a little courage to get changed in an open field in -10 degrees, but it’s worth it as I sink into the warm water. The river isn’t very deep, but it covers me up to my chin when I lay down, and I enjoy the feeling of warm water flowing around me amongst the shining white mountains.

After a 40 minute soak, we summon the courage to get out of the water. My towel is completely frozen, and it feels like drying myself with a cardboard sheet. It’s fun. Once dressed, the female swimmers also have to address the issue of frozen hair. Not just a few stray snowflakes, but full-blown icicle ponytails. We put our hats on and hope for the best.

The walk back feels shorter, although we’re retracing our steps. We arrive back at the car park feeling pleasantly tired, fresh and happy. For nature lovers who find it difficult to stand still in museums, and those who simply love to have rosy cheeks, this tour is a perfect fit.

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