The name of the valley, Reykjadalur, means Steam Valley and you will understand why when the valley opens up after the hike. The valley is filled with hot springs and mud pools and there is even a hot river in which one can bathe!
The Reykjadalur valley is part of the Hengill area, but Mt. Hengill is an extinct volcano, which was active 120,000 years ago.
When we last visited Reykjadalur there were 123 cars on the parking lot so we got a little bit startled! Would it be crowded in the valley and impossible to find a good spot in the river?
Despite the myriad of cars off we went anyway as the weather forecast had said it would be sunny and still, so we knew it would be a good day to bathe in the warm river. It was overcast when we started the hike, but as I dipped into the warm river the sun came out.
There is a restaurant called Dalakaffi by the parking lots and toilets. The hike starts from the parking lot where you first cross a bridge over a river and a hike on a gravel trail up the Rjúpnabrekkur Ptarmigan slopes, leading to Reykjadalur hot steam valley. The hike is 3 km long and will take ca 45-60 minutes one way with plenty of photo stops.
On the first part of the trail there are several hot springs and mud pools to the left. And a borehole called Drottningarhola or Queen's borehole.
The trail is at times steep and narrow and there was a lot of horse manure on parts of the trail, as there are guided horse riding tours to Reykjadalur valley. I was a bit worried as what to do if I were to meet people on horses on narrow parts of the trail?
Fortunately the only horses we met were on a wide part of the trail ca 10 minutes into the hike.
The hike is relatively easy. I would say that only one spot would be difficult for people, who are afraid of heights and that was on the spot you see on my photo above. The gravel was a bit loose here. But it is ok, just walk slowly here and watch your step. Apart from this spot it is an easy hike.
When you pass this spot there is a canyon on your left hand side with a beautiful waterfall cascading down into the valley.
The name of this canyon is Djúpagil and the waterfall gets its name from the canyon, Djúpagilsfoss waterfall. I am pretty sure that everybody walking on this path looks down into the gorge to have a look at the waterfall far down in the valley. Not for those of us who are afraid of heights though. The scenery is amazing here, breathtaking would be the right word for it.
On our way back we hiked down to the waterfall, but the best view of the waterfall is from up here on the trail.
All of a sudden the beauty of Reykjadalur appeared. I just love this valley, there is so much to see here, all these boiling hot pools and steam rising up from several places.
Here you cross the river, and continue on the path on the other side of the river. At one point the steam covers the path, so you don't see where you are going.
On your right hand side you will find some boiling mud pools and beautiful hot pools, one of which is heavenly blue and reminds me of a miniature Blue Lagoon.
This area is so colourful, green grass, steam, blue river, hot pots, soda springs, greyish blue mud pools, patches of silicon and sulphur blending in with nature.
Be careful where you step here though when you leave the trail and visit the hot pools. Everything is boiling here, so there is no bathing in these pools, they are extremely hot!
If you walk down to these hot pools and mud pools, stay on the small path leading to the pools. One never knows where the mud pools are located and if you get off the path you can step through the earth and into the next mud pool or hot pool, which is just beneath the surface. That will cause serious injury, so let's be careful here. This unfortunately happened to a tourist in April 2017.
A lot of people were bathing in the river, but even though there had been 123 cars on the parking lot there was enough space for everybody.
There is plenty of space as the river is long, so we just found a nice spot to begin with and then moved further down the river and tried out several spots before we found the perfect spot, where we were alone.
Further up the river is the confluence, where the hot river meets the cold river. The further up the valley you choose a spot, the hotter the river is. It is way too hot for me so far up the river.
Reykjadalur has always been a popular spot amongst locals here in Iceland and in the past years tourists are joining us there. Therefore new board pathways have been put around the most popular bathing spot. This has been done to protect the nature here from all these people visiting.
There are earthy banks with grass on both sides of the river and even though these pathways don't look pretty in nature, then something has to be done to protect this vulnerable spot. Such board pathways have been put up in all of the most popular tourist destinations in my country to protect the delicate nature.
Further down the river is better for those of us who cannot stand much heat. At the spot we found the river was very comfortably warm. And the river is like a shallow creek really, not a roaring river, so it is lovely to soak in it.
There are rocks around to make small barricades in the river to have a mini lagoon to bathe in as the river is shallow.
The spot we found was absolutely perfect as there was a small lagoon, which had been made by stacking rocks across the river bed creating a dam. I parked myself on top of the dam and I soaked there for an hour or so – the sun was out and it was absolute bliss, surrounded by beautiful nature and some sheep were even roaming around.
I could have stayed there for the whole day, but we arrived late in the day as we had been exploring other areas in South-Iceland during the day. I will for sure arrive earlier next time and just hang out in the valley the whole day and hopefully this spot will be free.
If you walk further up the valley you will reach Klambragil canyon where there is a beautiful hot spring area with a fumarole and boiling hot springs and mud pools.
Above Klambragil is another trail leading into Reykjadalur valley. While we were visiting Klambragil a group of tourists came walking down this trail and had a look at the hot spring area and the gorge and then left without taking a dip in the river.
There are even hot springs inside the cliff here! When the hot springs boil they touch the cliff and make a clicking sound. It is amazing listening to this.
After visiting the hot spring area go a bit further into the canyon and on the left hand side you will find this beautiful small rift with clicking hot springs inside the walls of the rift.
The colours here are ever so beautiful. There is a creek in this little gorge, which creates a small pool. Standing in there, surrounded by clicking hot springs makes me feel like I have entered a fairy tale world. I am totally mesmerised in there.
I include myself in the photo so that you can see how high and wide this gorge is.
I took a video of the clicking hot springs to listen to at home. I had accidentally turned the camera on the side when I took the video, so I turned it on YouTube, which made the video really narrow, but you will get the general idea of the mystique of this beautiful rift :)
Walking back down to the bathing area you will see the most colourful geothermal moss in the river. It is by a soda spring and the colours are out of this world. Geothermal vegetation is so colourful!
A truly amazing spot, like so many here in Reykjadalur.
Geothermal areas are very sensitive to traffic, so let's stay on the marked paths. This area needs to be preserved as it is heaven on earth.
In the valley there are several endangered species of geothermal plants.
On our way back we hiked down to the waterfall, Djúpagilsfoss, and were actually standing on the very top of this tepid fall. Just breathtaking! From there you look up to the trail, from where we were standing on our way to the Reykjadalur valley admiring the canyon and the waterfall.
The view from the trail of the waterfall is better than it is down in the canyon as you cannot see the last cascade of the waterfall since you are standing on top of it. But it is a beautiful spot to visit.
To get to the waterfall just follow the river instead of hiking up on the hill again. It is well worth the detour just to see the beauty of Djúpagil canyon. We tried bathing in the river just before we reached the waterfall, but it had become a bit too cold.
My husband bathed in a small waterfall in the cold river anyway, but I was so relaxed after my 1-hour-soak in the perfect temperature, that I didn't want to go in again.
Also by that time I had totally dried off and taken off my bathing suit. It is a bit of a hassle taking off one's wet bathing suit wrapped inside a towel with people watching. But by now, so far down the river, we were totally alone.
As we were admiring the view of Djúpagil canyon, we were talking about how it would be faster to hike through Djúpagil canyon instead of up the hills, but then we saw that the canyon is impassable at the point of the waterfall.
Reykjadalur valley is only a ca 45 minute's drive from Reykjavík. There are plenty of photo stops during the hike to the valley, so do bring your camera with you. I always bring 2 cameras with me just in case. Bring your hiking shoes, swimsuit and a towel and something to eat and drink. This is nature so there are no trash bins nor a toilet in Reykjadalur.
After our hike we stayed at a lovely hotel in the vicinity of Reykjadalur, called Frost and Fire. I have written another article on the hotel as it was heavenly sitting in a hot pool on the bank of the river by the hotel after a hike in the Reykjadalur valley. I can wholeheartedly recommend such a treat :)
There are several guided tours to this valley, f.ex. the Hiking Tour to the Hot Springs of Reykjadalur and the Hot Spring Hike. There are also combination tours like this one Walk Through Ice and Fire, which will take you to Reykjadalur valley, but also to the South Coast and on a glacier hike. And Hot springs and lava cave.
I found only one guided tour to Reykjadalur valley in winter time - I would recommend that you join that tour and don't go there alone as we don't want you to get lost up in this geothermal valley in the darkness of the Icelandic winter.
It is estimated that at least 100,000 people visit Reykjadalur annually now (2016). Reykjadalur is state owned and this delicate pearl of nature has to be protected. So let's not leave anything behind but our footsteps. Just imagine how sad it must have been visiting this beautiful area after some people held a party here and left all their rubbish behind :( Such behaviour is incomprehensible to me, so let's all join hands to keep Reykjadalur a clean part of nature so we can enjoy it to the fullest.