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!
Top photo: soaking in the hot river
The beginning of the hike - hot pools by the trail
The Reykjadalur valley is part of the Hengill area, but Mt. Hengill last erupted some 2,000 years ago and is still active.
When we last visited Reykjadalur, there were 123 cars in 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 an excellent 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.
Hot pools by the trail
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 one way and will take about 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.
Horses on the trail leading to Reykjadalur
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. In fact, there are several horse riding tours to the geothermal valley. I was a bit worried, as to 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 some 10 minutes into the hike.
The hike to Reykjadalur valley
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 in 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 to medium-difficult (as it is upwards for a while) hike during the summertime in my opinion. And I am far from being a great hiker.
When you pass this spot, you will see a canyon on your left-hand side with a beautiful waterfall cascading down into the valley.
Djúpagil canyon and Djúpagilsfoss waterfall
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 fantastic 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 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.
Hot springs and mud pools in Reykjadalur valley
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 - all blending in with nature.
A hot spring in Reykjadalur valley
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 mud pool in Reykjadalur
A lot of people were bathing in the river, but even though there had been 123 cars in 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. We tried out several spots before we found the perfect place, where we were alone.
Crowds in Reykjadalur valley
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 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.
Soaking in the hot river in Reykjadalur
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.
This was a perfect spot in the hot river
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 visit earlier next time and just hang out in the valley the whole day, and hopefully, this spot will be free.
The geothermal area by Klambragil
Immediately above the river you will find Klambragil canyon and 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.
I include myself in the photo so that you can see how high and wide this gorge is
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 made me feel like I had entered a fairy tale world. I was totally mesmerised in there.
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 :)
When you walk 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 ever so colourful!
A truly fantastic spot, like so many here in Reykjadalur.
Beautiful geothermal colours in the river
Geothermal areas are susceptible to traffic, so let's stay on the marked paths. This area has to be preserved as it is heaven on earth. See also the other geothermal areas I have written about:
In the valley, there are several endangered species of geothermal plants.
Beautiful geothermal colours in the river
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.
Djúpagilsfoss waterfall in Djúpagil canyon
To reach 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 the 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 at the perfect temperature, that I didn't want to go in again.
My husband bathing in the river
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 in a towel with people watching. But by now, so far down the river, we were completely 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.
Djúpagilsfoss waterfall in Djúpagil canyon
There are plenty of photo stops during the hike to the valley, so do bring your camera with you. I always carry 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. Bring the trash and the wet towels back with you and leave nothing behind in the valley.
After our hike, we stayed at a lovely hotel in the vicinity of Reykjadalur, called Frost og funi - Frost and Fire. I have written another travel-blog about 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 :)
Chilling in a hot tub by the river Varmá
There used to be several guided tours to this valley, but now there are only 4 tours left and the winter tours are no longer available:
It has come to my attention that people are visiting Reykjadalur unequipped and without a guide in the wintertime - this is definitely not a winter location for unequipped people. We don't want you to get lost up in this geothermal valley in the darkness of the Icelandic winter.
Photo of the information sign at the beginning of the hike
Due to the masses of winter visitors in 2018 to Reykjadalur, the paths and nature became downtrodden and in a bad shape, so Reykjadalur had to be closed off from the 30th of March - 12th of May 2018, while the ice melted and the tracks could be repaired. In 2020 the track was closed on the 15th of April to preserve nature up there and some hot springs had started to run under the track.
It is best to look up the map of Safe Travel to see which areas are closed at any given time.
Photo of the map on the information sign
To reach the parking lot by the start of the hike to Reykjadalur you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up there in some 45 minutes. And you can look up public transport to Hveragerði from Reykjavík.
After visiting Reykjadalur valley there are plenty of other interesting things to see and do in South Iceland.
A glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier
I have joined several of the guided south-coast tours, including the glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier and written travel-blogs about my experience:
It is estimated that at least 100,000 people visit Reykjadalur annually. Reykjadalur is state-owned, and this delicate pearl of nature has to be protected. So let's not leave anything behind but our footsteps.
Let's all join hands to keep Reykjadalur a clean part of nature so we can enjoy it to the fullest. Have a lovely time bathing in a hot river :)