Reykjadalur Hot Springs: An Icy Winter Hike
January 1, 1970
by Alyssa Conlee
In the past few years, travel through Iceland has spiked. Adventures from all over the globe have come to see the green summers and waterfalls as well as the icy winters and geothermal hot springs.
This wide range of attractions has earned Iceland the reputation for being “the land of fire and ice.” When some friends and I hiked to Reykjadalur Hot Springs in December, 2017, the beautiful land truly lived up to its name.
What Are the Reykjadalur Hot Springs?
The Reykjadalur Hot Springs are unique in the fact that they are found at the intersection of a glacier river and hot springs. It is—quite literally—a place where fire and ice meet, making it a fabulous place to soak in the naturally occurring hot river.
With hot pools designed at a spot that is cool enough for soaking, the Reykjadalur Hot Springs are ready for visitors. (Don’t try to touch the waters before reaching the swimming area— they are at boiling temperatures!)
There is a hiking trail leading directly to the hot pools which are complete with wooden decks along the side of the river and semi-private outdoor changing areas. The views are of a typical Icelandic landscape: simply stunning.
How to Get There
The trail is just a few minutes outside of Hveragerdi, and is easy to find. Simply take Breidamork 3.5 km out of town. If you are unsure of which direction to go, locals working the shops and convenience stores will surely point you the right way!
At the end of the road, you will find a parking lot and a small cafe—it was closed when we went though, most likely because it was winter. The trailhead is easily identifiable as well.
Hiking in the Winter
We read reviews of the hike online, most of which referred to this as an easy, 40 minute hike. While this may be true in the summer, the freezing winter temperatures made this trek more difficult than was expected. The trail started out fairly easy—flat, with a wide, snowy path. The conditions began to worsen, however, as we reached the base of the mountain.
About ten minutes into the hike, we realized that the entire trail was frozen solid. Immensely grateful that we chose to wear good hiking boots and bring trekking poles, we continued on, determined to experience the hot river for ourselves.
Slipping and sliding along the icy trail is almost inevitable without shoes specially designed for snow/ice, especially as foreigners unaccustomed to the ice. There are rocks and snow on the side of a majority of the trail, and if used as secure footing, it can make the journey that much safer.
The frozen trail was at a steady incline, weaving around the mountains. While the trail was wide a majority of the time, at some points it does become very narrow. Some of these narrow parts are near steep cliffs, demanding caution.
Because of the challenging conditions, it did not take us 40 minutes. Our assent took about two hours, even though we are three rather active young adults, each with some hiking experience.
Iceland’s short winter days presented an additional challenge for us. Even though we began hiking around 3:30pm, it was mostly dark by the time we reached the hot pools, and the skies were pitch black when we began our descent.
While this made for a gorgeous view of the sunset, it also meant that the end of our hike up and the entire trek down was done in darkness. This was nerve wracking at times, especially when the trail follows the edge of a cliff.
However, it is possible if you have the correct equipment. Flashlights were invaluable to us, and trekking poles are recommended!
The Hot Springs
No matter the unexpected difficulty of the climb, I cannot fully express how much it was worth it! We headed toward the highest pools (the further up the pools, the hotter the temperature), stripped down to our swimsuits, and got right in. After the windy, bone-chilling hike up, the geothermal pools brought the warmth we so desperately needed. Because the sun was setting on the way up, we darkness in the pools in darkness. There were only two other groups of people there, allowing us to relax under the stars.
When we got out, I expected the wind chill to be terrible. To my pleasant surprise, the water was so warm that we did not feel the chill of the air as we were dressing, and our bodies maintained the heat all the way back down to the car.
Tips For a Successful Hike
If you are visiting Iceland in the winter and are interested in this adventure, here are some tips I have for you!
- Dress appropriately. Wear layers, a coat, gloves, a hat, hiking boots—you may even consider wearing shoes made specifically for snow/ice.
- Don’t forget your swimsuit. Make sure to bring your swimsuit and a towel so that you can experience the hot pools!
- Bring the right supplies. Trekking poles, a flashlight, and water are all a must! I also got hungry, and would bring snacks if I did this again.
- Consider leaving earlier in the day. We had a great time on our sunset hike, but if the idea of walking on ice along the edge of a cliff in the dark terrifies you, consider heading out on the trail close to sunrise. That way you would be walking on ice along the edge of a cliff in the daylight.
- Take your time. Don’t try to get to the end in 40 minutes (unless you are an expert winter hiker). Rushing will only lead to more slips. Take your time; the hot pools will be there whenever you arrive.
- Be ready for an adventure! While this isn’t the most difficult hike in the world, it is definitely not as beginner-friendly as many online sources describe.
Iceland definitely lives up to the buzz surrounding it, and is worth visiting. Good luck with your next Icelandic adventure, and have fun exploring the natural beauty the country has to offer!