It’s a Monday afternoon, on a holiday, and I’m trying to decide how to best spend the rest of the afternoon with my better half, Kristie. That’s when I realize that I have never been to Reykjadalur and having heard so much about it, it sounded like the perfect day trip. If you don’t feel like reading the rest of this post, I can just sum it up by saying that I was completely right. The Reykjadalur hike was one of the most memorable day trips Kristie and I have taken with only a couple minor downsides, which I will explain later.
What: Reykjadalur (“Smokey Valley”) is a beautiful valley in the south of Iceland, characterized by geothermal activity and famous for its “hot river”, where hikers can bathe surrounded by nature.
Where: Reykjadalur is located right by the town of Hveragerði, an approximately 40-minute drive from Reykjavik.
How: If you have a rental car or a camper van, take advantage of your freedom and just drive to Reykjadalur! If you don’t, there are many tours available, although they will most definitely charge you more than when renting a vehicle will cost you for a whole day. It’s not something I would recommend, but not everybody is like me and some people like traveling in large groups.
Direction: Leave Reykjavik on Road 1 heading southeast. In about 40 minutes, you will reach Hveragerði. At the first roundabout, take the 3rd exit (left) and follow that main street (Breiðamörk) north, towards the Reykjadalur valley, north of Hveragerði. Keep driving on that road until you reach the parking lot at the foot of the valley.
How long: The Reykjadalur hike is 45 min. to 1 hour each way. Give yourself at least 3 hours for the trip in total. The total distance is 7 km.
What to bring: Bring good clothing and dress for the weather. This is Iceland, so don’t underestimate how rough the weather can be. Bring hiking gear, basically anything you would need for a semi-easy 2-hour hike. Don’t forget your swimsuit to enjoy a bath in the geothermal river once you reach Reykjadalur. Make sure to bring snacks and water, since hiking and bathing in hot water will take some energy. Bring a fly net if you are there in the summer. There are a lot of flies. Finally, don’t forget your camera, as the scenery will give you plenty of opportunities to get great photos.
The first thing we noticed was the number of tourists that had the same idea as us. I had never been to Reykjadalur before and I honestly thought that this was somewhat of a “hidden” secret in Iceland. It might have been the case a few years ago, but now it’s a popular tourist destination. You can expect tour buses full of tourists to arrive when you are there, so I hope you don’t mind sharing this gem with others.
The hike starts on a pretty steep upward slope, so you’ll get your heart rate up right away. The hike to Reykjadalur might take an hour or even a little more, but the hike back is a little easier and faster. Bring good hiking boots because we saw more than one person fall on their butts in the loose gravel. I got very close to falling a few times myself.
We were extremely lucky with the weather and that made the scenery all the more enjoyable. Even though reaching Reykjadalur was definitely the highlight of our trip, the hike itself would have been well worth it without that destination.
There was a lot of geothermal activity in the Reykjadalur area and even though you might be excited to start bathing in the hot springs, or the “hot river”, you need to be careful. Some of these springs are basically boiling and are extremely dangerous. Use common sense and be responsible! Also, make sure that you bring a fly net if you are there in the summer. Sure, you’ll be fine without it, but it’s really nice to have. There are literally hundreds of these flies swarming around your head the whole time, and that’s just a part of it. If that bothers you, just bring a net and don’t worry about it.
When we finally got to Reykjadalur, I was also surprised by the wooden path that had been laid all along the hot river. Apparently this is brand new and wasn’t there last year. Considering how popular this destination has become, I think this is great as it will protect the river banks from erosion. Anyway, we finally got there and could not have been more excited about taking a dip. There is no reason to be shy since there are no changing rooms. We covered each other up with a towel, put our bathing suits on, and looked for the perfect spot. One of the best things about getting into the water is that the steam kept all the little flies away and you could finally breathe without worrying about swallowing them.
We quickly figured out that the more up-river you go, the hotter the water is. We eventually moved a little down-river, for two main reasons. First, the water was super hot and if we were going to be able to enjoy it for more than 10 minutes, we needed to find cooler water. Second, there were a lot of people there. In order to get some privacy and some quiet, we needed to walk off the wooden trail and about 5 minutes down-river.
We spent around 1.5 hours in the Reykjadalur area, bathing and relaxing in the geothermal water. It’s difficult to describe, but finding a secluded location and just relaxing with your favorite person, surrounded by nature, is an unforgettable experience. I would encourage anybody who is looking for a good half-day trip to make this hike. This is not something you can do every day and even though it’s becoming more popular than before, the fact that it’s not accessible by tour buses and does not have luxurious facilities makes it one of the least touristy places you can find. So, aside from the number of people and the annoying flies everywhere, Reykjadalur is well worth visiting.
Have you been to Reykjadalur or do you have some questions? Shoot me an email and let me know at thorsteinn(at)happycampers.is.