The hot water river in the Reykadalur Valley is one of the most magical hot springs in Iceland, but you'll have to hike to get there...
In the south of Iceland, about forty kilometers from the capital Reykjavík, lies the city of Hveragerði, which means "hot gardens" in Icelandic. This place is known in particular for its hot springs, nourished by the Hengill volcano, but the real prize is the scenic hiking trail that leads to a hot water river.
Reykadalur is a valley in which lies the small town of Hveragerði and its springs. These hot springs mean Hveragerði can grow fruits and vegetables in greenhouses, such as tomatoes and even bananas.
But Reykadalur is best known for its contender among the most famous hot springs in Iceland. You don't want to miss the hike that leads from Hveragerði to reach a small corner of paradise: a hot water river!
Located about 50 km from the capital Reykjavík, Hveragerði is just a 45-minute drive away via Road number 1. Once in the town, head 2 km north of Hveragerði, past the soccer field, to find a car park and the departure point for the hike. The hiking trail curves left until you finally see the column of steam rising from the mountains.
The parking lot can get quite crowded, so cars sometimes park on the side of the small road. You may have to park several hundred meters from the car park itself, especially in summer.
This is why it is best to go there early in the morning or even in the evening in summer to avoid tourists.
From the car park just follow the sign indicating “Reykadalur hotspring” 3 km away. The trail leads to a place called Klambragil with all the amenities for swimming around the Reykadalsa hot water river.
The map of the hike is available here:
The hike to the hot water river in Reykadalur
The swim spot is accessible in winter and summer, but that being said, the climb can be quite tricky in bad weather. When the ground gets muddy and slippery, it may be better to wait for a better day to attempt it.
The advantage of going there outside the summer period is of course the peace and quiet compared to July or August. And there is something quite special about swimming in water at 38 °C in the open air in a snow-covered landscape!
Keep in mind that n winter, the estimated hiking time (see below) will probably be longer due to the difficulty.
The hike starts at the car park and can get quite steep for about 45 minutes as you work your way up a small dirt road. You'll see the beautiful Djúpagilsfoss waterfall on the left before you reach a plateau with a splendid view of Hveragerði and the sea on a clear day.
The Djúpagil canyon on the way is also magnificent and definitely worth a stop.
It takes 30 minutes from this point to reach the hot springs, but from the plateau perched in the middle of the green hills you can already start to see smoke rising with the smell of sulfur on the air. Welcome to the Reykadalsa hot water river.
The contrasts are striking in this place, a patchwork of color, with the lush vegetation in these geothermal regions clashing with volcanic rock and the bright orange rocks colored by bacteria.
Mudpots and other solfatars begin to appear on the side of the road, some of which reach temperatures of 100 degrees, so follow the instructions on the signs and no swimming!
After about an hour and 15 minutes of walking from the car park, you arrive in Klambragil. The place is often very busy in summer as this is the main attraction, but there is plenty of room for you to swim in the river (about 38°).
The site is very well laid out. Wooden docks follow the river for several hundred meters as well as wooden changing rooms.
The area is organised into small independent pools with rocks stacked to separate them, and it's a great experience. And interestingly the higher upstream you go, the hotter the water, so you can really find the perfect temperature for everyone!
It's such a great experience, most visitors stay a good hour enjoying the relaxing hot current after a good walk. The return is easier and almost all downhill so it only takes about an hour to reach the car park via the same 3.5 km route.
You can choose to continue the hike with the Ölkelduhnúkur loop which adds about 3.5 km of hiking to discover a multitude of geothermal phenomena, each more surprising than the next.
You can book horseback riding tours to these hot springs during the summer (May to September) which is a great way to combine two very traditional local activities.
You can even enjoy a tasty meal or drink at Dalakaffi right at the parking lot.
So the total is about 2 to 2.5 hours to complete the return trip for a total of 7 km at an easy pace. There's significant elevation on the way there but overall the hike is quite easy and accessible to everyone, so it's a great option for families!
Hiker in Reykadalur photo credit: vitaliymateha @fotolia