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Hiking with a towel: Seven natural baths to soak in

Soaking in a natural lagoon after a hike, long or short, is perhaps the ultimate Icelandic experience. Here are seven of Iceland‘s natural baths where hot springs mix with groundwater somewhere in the middle of … a great trip.  

A Valley of Hot Pots

The Reykjadalur are about an hour hike up the valley, starting at a parking lot on the outskirts of Hveragerði.

The popular Reykjadalur stream is roughly an hour hike up the valley from Hveragerði.

Reykjadalur, just 45 km outside of Reykjavik, is a valley filled with hot springs and mud pools in the region of Mt. Hengill, an enormous extinct volcano. After hiking about 3 km, you’ll emerge into the rolling green of the valley, where steam clouds cover the path and the gray-blue mud pools bubble quietly. Be careful, though: some of these pools are boiling hot, so you should be extremely cautious if you leave the trail. Find a spot along the banks of the hot river, and there you can soak and swim in the warm geothermal waters.

The Highland region has steaming rivers and natural baths serving travelers since the time of settlement.

Inland Pools

Hveravallalaug is in the highlands, farther from the coast. The pool is located in the course of a stream, lined by stone, and nearby is an old chalet where you can change clothes. This pool is quite undeveloped, without much more than a wooden boardwalk overlooking the water, so you may find yourself with plenty of privacy to enjoy the surrounding windswept landscape.

Bathe Among Colorful Mountains

The Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands is known for its colorful, ethereal rhyolite mountains, threaded with great hiking trails. The Landmannalaugar lava field is a stretch of black obsidian, striking beneath the hills streaked with red iron and yellow sulphur. Take a dip in what is known as the “People’s Pool,” a popular area for natural hot spring bathing, and a perfect place for a rest as you walk the slops of the dazzling mountains.

Seljavallalaug in southern Iceland is always open.

Seljavallalaug in southern Iceland. Always open.

Seljavallalaug

Hidden away in the mountains of southern Iceland, this photogenic pool is one of the oldest in Iceland. You’ll take an easy 20 minute hike along a rocky river bed to get there, and find a large rectangular pool whose lip overlooks the bottom of a valley, while black and green hills climb overhead.  This pool is fed by geothermal springs, but it its temperature is lower than most springs on this list, tending between 20° and 30° C. The water also has a lower mineral content, so it is dark rather than the blue-white color of the silica-rich pools.

The Vatnajökull National Park.

The Vatnajökull National Park.

Swim in a Volcanic Crater

“Víti” may mean “hell” in Icelandic, but this hot spring is more than heavenly. In the eastern highlands, Víti sits in the caldera of the Askja volcano, surrounded by the dramatic landscape that was shaped by its ancient eruptions. We recommend you use a guide to get to this pool, as it is only accessible by 4-wheel drive in the summer. The edge of the crater offers magnificent views of the surrounding bay and distant snowy mountains, while below sits the blue-white steaming bath.

A man soaking in Hellulaug pool in The Westfjords

A man soaking in Hellulaug pool

Soak with Beach Views

There are several pools in the Westfjords, and Hellulaug is distinctive for being right on the beach, offering a view of the freezing ocean while being shielded from the road. It is a breeze to access from the main road while still feeling private, so you can easily hop in for a dip while watching the fjord waters. Keep an eye out for local waterfowl, like the snow goose or tundra swan.

He was here. The legendary Grettir the Strong.

A Legendary Spring

This pool comes with a story: located in the north, this spring was the bathing place of Grettir the Strong. According to Icelandic sagas, he was an outlaw who battled trolls and the undead. One night, their fire went out, so Grettir swam to shore from Drangey Island, and then spent the night in the pool warming up. The pool was actually destroyed by a storm in the early 20th century, and then rebuilt in 1992, so today it is walled by stone and has rails to help bathers descend.

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