The entire visit to the power plant only took about an hour, and soon we were back on the ring road, heading east. Our next stop was a trailhead near the town of Hveragerði, where we would be going on our first hike of the trip - a hike along a geothermally-heated river to a spot in the wilderness where we could have a bit of a spa experience, but without the traditional trappings of a spa. Location number two on our visit of watery-based attractions for the day.
The area just north of the town of Hveragerði is rich with geothermal vents and related features. There is also an extensive hiking trail network north of Hveragerði, and one of these trails leads up towards our bathing hot spot. The valley, appropriately, is named 'Smoke Valley' (Reykjadalur in Icelandic).
The trailhead for the Reykjadalur valley is at the end of a gravel road on the 'back side' of the town of Hveragerði. When we arrived, I was happy to see that there were only a few other cars in the lot. I'd been concerned that this place was too 'discovered', and therefore subject to overrun by hordes of tourists. We set about getting ready for the roughly one hour hike up into the valley.
A disgorgement of Spanish visitors
As we were milling about the trailhead, waiting for the last of our party to be ready, two huge buses came rumbling down the narrow gravel road to the trailhead. Much to my horror, a seemingly-neverending stream of what seemed to be Spanish tourists emptied out of the buses. I tried to think that they were just here to amble a short ways up the trail and then turn around, but I knew that it was also quite possible that they were headed to the same bathing spots we aimed to visit. Our hike had to begin now, to gain every possible bit of time advantage over this horde!
Hiking up from Hveragerði
After crossing a small side stream, the a well-used track led up a grassy hillside, past several active geothermal vents and what looked like the plumbing of some early attempt at extracting hot geothermal water. The path is a bit braided here, but all versions seemed to lead up in the same direction, eventually converging into a single, well-used path that led steeply up and around a shoulder of a hill.
Fortunately, the intermittent rain we had experienced so far this day had tapered off, and things were relatively dry. The clouds above were low, however, and looked ready to drop more wetness upon us.
After a short, steep traverse around the hill's shoulder, the path started to level out. The slopes around us were still steep, but the route now traversed across the slopes, rather than up them. The footing was good and trail here was in nice shape, with evidence of recent maintanence. Looking back, I could see no sign of the sea of Spanish visitors. Hopefully, they would all tire out before reaching this point!
Our first Icelandic Waterfall
The trail traversed scenically across rounded hills, and soon it became apparent that we were arriving at the entrance to the Reykjadalur valley. The steep hills alongside the trail receded away, and the grade flattened out completely. Ahead of us was a wide, gentle valley with a small stream running down its middle. Off in the distance on the left-hand slopes were several areas stream - signs of apparent geothermal activity.
Very shortly, the trail came to a crossing point over the central stream, and Caroline bent down at the junction with a smaller side branch and proclaimed "This one's warm, and that one's cold!". Very neat.
Unlike like what one might expect after seeing some of Iceland's more typical hot spring bathing areas, the water here was not filled with silica particles or volcanic mud. It was obviously warm, but otherwise it was clear and transparent.
We knew that somewhere along this stream (further up) would be the spots suitable for bathing. We decided to diverge off of the main path, which continued up on the left-hand slopes, and continue on a smaller path that followed the stream bed. We would then be able to evaluate all potential bathing spots.
Walking up the right-hand bank of the stream, we could see many spots where visitors had stacked up small rocks across the stream bed, creating little dams that trapped a pool of water behind them. There were many attractive spots here, bounded on each side by earthy banks topped with thick, lush grasses.
Ewart, being of a less restrained mind than the rest of us, wanted in. He wasted no time in going "full starkers", and happily splashed into the river with buttocks all a-quiver. So as not to run afoul of the MPAA and retain a 'G' rating for this report, there are no pictures of this.
The more modest among us (i.e. the rest of us) kept going along the bank until we rejoined the main trail. This is also where the stream branches off into two smaller tributaries - one un-heated, bringing quite cool water flowing down from the northeast, and the other steaming hot. The 'hot branch' led up and away around a corner in the direction of the Hengill volcano, leading to some sort of point of origin which we could not see from here.
Takes time to get used to...
Still worried about the potential arrival of the Spanish Armada (although Ewart's birthday suit splashing downriver from us might give them pause...), we picked a spot not far down from the confluence (Caroline had gone up and tested out the waters of the "hot" tributary, which turned out to be much too hot). We ducked behind some hollows in the grassy plains above the stream and changed into our bathing trunks, then gingerly stepped into the little pool we had chosen for ourselves. Yeowch - hot! Almost too hot to bear, I first thought, but after giving it a few seconds, I was able to slowly lower myself in.
It was supremely cool to be sitting around in a mountain stream - a stream that at first glance looks like it would be quite frigid, given the cool air temperature and the odd snowpatch that still existed high on the hills above - but instead be treated to a deep body-warming experience. Imagine how the effect would be even more pronounced if you came here during the winter!
The Spanish Invasion
We were able to squeeze in a nice half-hour of relatively private soak time before, against all hopes, the huge crowds from the two buses arrived, and immediately started stripping down. Our private moment with nature was over, and it was a good time to move on.
After getting changed and dried and feeling much cleaner (it was remarkable now much that had felt like having a nice clean shower), we decided to start hiking back along the official trail up on the west-facing slopes of the valley. This allowed us to walk through what turned out to be a fairly extensive area of geothermal areas - big hissing vents and big pools of burbling volcanic mud.
After touring the geothermal field, the rest of the hike back down to the trailhead at Hveragerði was swift and uneventful. In total, we hiked just under eight kilometres and spent about three hours in total. If we had had less planned for the day, we could have easily extended this outing into a longer hike. It would have been interesting to continue higher up, along the trail parallelling the "hot branch", to try and find its source.
Interactive Trackmap, Reykjadalur Valley - click to expand
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Bathing In - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Bathing Out - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet