Hands down, this is my favorite hike I have ever done. I was in Iceland about 4 years ago, long before Iceland became the tourist mecca it is now. My husband and I spent our 20s paying off our debt and the deal was that when we turned 30,we’d celebrate our new debt free lifestyle by going to a place that we’d never been and that we would both love it. For some reason, my husband decided I should be in charge of picking the place and he would go.…so no pressure.
Since my husband and I both love being outside, I knew what I wanted the location to be chocked-full of outdoor adventure and because it sounded trendy, I wanted the destination to be in Europe. To find this outdoor, European mecca, I typed in “Best Outdoor Adventures in Europe” and each time the same three contenders popped up: Austria, Germany, and Iceland.
I looked at pictures of the idyllic German and Austrian villages nestled in the mountain glens with goats wandering the fields and thought the countries both looked nice enough, but the goat-filled valleys didn’t excite me. And then I turned to Iceland’s photos and saw an Icelandic horse blazing across a lava field below a giant volcano, the pounding waters of Sljelandfoss waterfall, the black sand beaches or Dryhoaley, and a pack of puffins diving into the ocean, and immediately eliminated the Austria and Germany from the list of contenders. We were headed to Iceland.
My goal for touring Iceland wasn’t to just do the main tourist attractions though. I wanted to get off the beaten path and specifically, I wanted to find a trail that wasn’t listed in any tourist books or easy Google searches.
After much planning, I knew we’d be making our way along the lower half of Iceland’s Ring Road, which heads out of Reykjavík, winding past the main tourist waterfalls of Skogafoss and Seljalandfoss, and all the way to Jokalsarlon, the glacier lake featured in many Hollywood action movies. Fun fact, “foss” means waterfall in Icelandic.
There were plenty of well-labeled, well-trodden, and well-known hikes on this route, but I wanted to do those trails plus one that wasn’t labeled on the Ring Road map.
In the process of learning about Iceland, I read a lot about the Blue Lagoon, a man-made thermal pool in Grindavik, not too far from the airport. Relaxing in a heated thermal pool while the outdoor air hovered around 60 degrees sounded amazing. However, the Blue Lagoon is a huge tourist trap, with people from all over world coming to bathe in it daily. And although I love the Blue Lagoon as a tourist attraction, it is the farthest thing possible from a private hot springs experience. But the Blue Lagoon gave me an idea. Maybe I could find a place, where there was a hot spring that would make for a much less touristy experience.
So I took to doing what I often do, and googled “travel blogs+unique hikes+hot springs+Icleand”. I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot that’s written on blogs, but I do look at a lot of the pictures on them. On page 5 of my Google search for unique hot spring hikes, I found what I was looking for on a random girl’s travel blog. On the first page of her site, she had a photo of herself and two of her guy friends, sitting in a river, shoulders just above the crystal clear water with steam rising from it and green hills rolling behind. The description was only “Hike near Hveragerði” and the search was on.
I spent the next two hours searching for this elusive river hike on Google and finally found it after typing in “Iceland Hot Tub River Hike”. The directions to the hike were beyond vague, telling me only the hike could be found near the golf course in Hveragerði, but I still felt like I hit pay dirt!
So to make things easier for everyone reading, I’ll lay out the directions that I never did find. I instead took a leap of faith in finding this hike and told my husband I knew exactly where this hike was when all I was hoping for was that there were some signs to a golf course in Hveragerði and something that looked like a trailhead nearby. The hike is located at the end of the town of Hveragerði, which is an easy 45 minute drive from the main city Reykjavik. Follow signs for Ring Road South/East and exit to the left at the sign for Hveragerði. There aren’t a lot of towns on this road so it makes it very easy to spot the correct exit.
Hveragerði has only one main exit and one main road that goes directly through the middle of town. Follow the main road past the downtown restaurants and shops and then stay on it as it turns to the left, out towards the golf course. Follow the signs for the golf course. You will probably feel like you are getting lost because it’s a little bit of a drive before you see anything that resembles a trail head, but keep driving until you see the brown signs in the photo below. You can park nearby the signs.
The trail to the hot tub river is easy to follow and is a well-maintained dirt path for the entire length of the trail. It can look intimidating as the trail immediately starts uphill from the parking lot and continues that way for 1.5 miles (3 kilometers). Living in Colorado, I can say I’ve done much more challenging hikes, but keep in mind, this is no exaggeration when I say it is an uphill 1.5 mile (3 kilometer) hike from the parking lot until you reach the hot tub river. But the great news is that means the hike back to the car is downhill!
At the top of the hike, the uphill climb will level out and you’ll reach a river valley, where there will be steaming hot pots off to the side of the river and rolling green hills on each side. There are no signs that label the spot to enter the river, but you can easily test the river’s temperature with your hand. I slipped and fell into the river, soaking my shoes, and found this was equally effective in testing the water temperature (yep, I’m pretty graceful!),. My clumsiness is also how we discovered we had reached the hot tub river’s bathing spot. We immediately stripped down to our bathing suits and hopped in. The river was empty except for one couple further down. Swimsuits are optional (the other couple further down from us were skinny-dipping). No need to worry about the water quality either. The water is clean, calm, and warm.
I highly recommend bringing a beer on this hike to crack open in the hot tub river. We didn’t plan for that, but next time we go, we will make sure to bring a Viking beer with us. The only beer I don’t recommend bringing is the Icelandic beer called Black Death, because it tasted exactly as it sounds.
We stayed for a good hour or two in this river. The hardest part was getting out of the river because it was so warm and perfect. The only thing missing was sheep grazing on the hills. In the hot tub river, I knew I’d found a place I wished I could visit everyday (my dogs, husband, and I would be ripped if we hiked this daily), but also a place that I wouldn’t see again for a while.
The hike down is easy. Downhill makes for a relaxing walk back to the car and our muscles were so relaxed from the river soak that I didn’t even notice I had blisters on my feet until the next day.
Take my word, if you are in Iceland and you have any love for the outdoors at all, you need to do this hike. No hot tub will ever compare.