I’m so excited about this post because this hike was the best thing my friend Anna and I did while in Iceland. Before we left for our trip, Anna was doing some research and read about the Midnight Mountain Bath Hike tour with Iceland Activities from a blog (whose name we can’t remember and for that I’m sorry). Iceland Activities is a family run company that offers small group tours around Hveragerði, which is about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavik. The price for the tour is 17900 ISK which hurt our wallets, but decided to take the plunge because we liked the idea of an intimate experience where we’d get to see some natural beauty off the beaten path. It was totally and completely worth it. Let me tell you more.
Anna and I were picked up from our hotel in the early evening by our guide Úlfar (whose name means wolves!). We were driven back to their offices to get our packed meals and any other gear we might have needed. Anna and I were super bundled up wearing three layers of socks, pants, and shirts plus hats, gloves, coats, and scarves. But Úlfar offered us more stuff if we needed it and we felt proud when he said we were well prepared. He was so kind though, that I bet if we had rolled in wearing shorts and a t-shirt he would have politely recommended that we borrow more layers from him. If ever you go on an Icelandic Activities tour you won’t have to fear, they will have everything you need like boots, and towels, and waterproof clothing in case you can’t bring it yourself.
All packed up and ready, we were off. For the hike, it was just me, Anna, and Úlfar. We were absolutely pleased that it would be such a small group because it meant that we could hike and do everything at our own pace. Even better, Úlfar asked us if we had any time constraints. We didn’t and neither did he, so he said we could spend as much time doing things as we wanted. This is something I loved about this experience, we were never rushed and got to take in things how we liked.
Úlfar drove us up the mountain to the point where we would start our hike. Throughout the whole hike, Úlfar told us about the history of place as well as his stories about hiking, biking, and driving around the area. He told us about snow so tall you have to abandon your car. He told us about thousands of years ago glaciers melting away and leaving behind hard dense rocks. He told us about lava and the green moss that covered it. And he told us about Hveragerði.
What I loved about Úlfar is that he was so proud of his home and so connected to it. When he talked about geological transformations they didn’t seem like arcane facts that happened long ago, but events that are familiar and understandable parts of life. In my own life I don’t feel connected to the land around me, and it was so clear that he does. He grew up hiking and biking in these mountains and bathing in these pools and it’s clear he loves them and is a part of them.
However it was interesting because there’s a tension there. A tension between wanting to share this beautiful land with people through Iceland Activities – while simultaneously not wanting to have it overrun with crowds of visitors (brought by other companies). Úlfar also wasn’t a fan of the new paths, bathing platforms, and small bridge over the water. He wants the land to remain mainly wild and as it is. He made Anna and I jump across the river instead of “cheating” and using the bridge. It was incredible to learn about the area and I think it was a real honor that Anna and I got to see Iceland a little bit through his eyes.
Anna and I are not regular hikers so were a little worried about the difficult of the trail. Although the path was a little narrow in places, overall it’s a comfortable walk down to the hot springs and we did just fine. Just be sure to watch out for rocks so you don’t turn your ankle! As we walked we could see steam rising from all over. Úlfar told us some scary stories about people having the ground fall out from under them and then getting third degree burns from mud. That gave us a healthy respect for watching where we walked.
But don’t worry, it wasn’t a scary experience at all. There were lots of cool things to see! Anna and I walked through some big steam clouds that warmed us up immediately. We took photos of bubbling water and gurgling blue-green mud. Where the mud was cool enough Úlfar scooped some out and we put it on our faces. He assured us that now we would be young where the mud had touched. Awesome, now I will always have a young nose.
Using the steam from one crater, Anna was able to cook six eggs! The three of us sat down to a lovely snack of cheese, Icelandic rye bread, and Anna’s steam cooked eggs. It was delicious – and also one of those unique experiences we were hoping to get while in Iceland.
As we walked Úlfar told us about elves and trolls. Trolls are apparently very strong and can sometimes take human form. The only way you could tell if a human was a troll in disguise was if that human had crazy strength. As the stories go, trolls don’t really like humans and would try to kill them but then elves could give people rings that would help keep them safe. While we were out on the trail we didn’t see any life elves or trolls, but we did see a frozen troll. If trolls are out in the sunlight, they will turn to stone. We saw this one in the photo below during our hike.
We also saw a waterfall, which is the water source for the area where we would later get into the water. Anna and I touched the water and it was really cold. Over the course of the hike as we walked to the hot spring Úlfar showed us where the water was cold, where it was boiling hot, and where the two mixed to create a safe temperature.
We reached the hot spring as it started to get dark. Anna and I came with our bathing suits already on, so we quickly undressed (it was cold!), grabbed our packed lunches, and got in the water as quickly as we could. Once we were in it was glorious. I think we both said, “we live here now.” Immediately it felt perfectly warm and we only needed to be part way in the water to feel comfortable. And then for the next three hours we laid and sat in the water. We ate our snacks, drank some water, and just hung out.
But mostly, we looked up at the sky. The sky was filled with stars. I have lived in cities for far too long because I hardly ever see stars like that. The sky was so clear we could easily pick out the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. We saw shooting stars. And we saw the Northern Lights. It was a beautiful evening.
And literally, we did stay in the water for three hours. Sometimes the three of us chatted, sometimes we just stared at the sky. It was the kind of relaxation I never let myself have at home. At home I feel that I should be doing something. There, I just let myself absorb it all. I know I’ve said it already, but it was an incredible experience. The world felt so big, and beautiful, and special and I felt lucky to have the chance to stop and appreciate it. I loved that we could be so close to civilization and yet feel separated from it all. I loved that it had been so green during the day and then so dark at night. I loved that Anna and I got to do everything we wanted to do in Iceland (see the Northern Lights, bathe in a hot spring, experience nature, eat Icelandic food, and have a unique experience) all in one hike.
Finally we dragged ourselves out of the water and started to hike back. We had headlamps, but didn’t use them that often so we could continue to see the stars and the Northern Lights. When the sky was looking particularly beautiful we’d stop, sit on the ground, and look. At one point we did get to see the Northern Lights dance, just like I’d seen so many times in videos before. It was awesome to see it in person.
When we got back to the hotel we made Úlfar take a selfie with us. Anna and I stayed up even late gushing about how wonderful the tour was. We said we could go home happy having just done that. We promised each other we’d come back when she’s 50 (and I’m 53) and do it again. (During the tour Úlfar had said by that time his baby nephew would be doing the tours.) I high recommend this tour and Iceland Activities. In fact, I can’t recommend it enough. It was personal, fun, informative, and special. Really, truly special. They also have other hiking and biking tours too. Please check them out if you’re planning a trip to Iceland!
Thanks also to Úlfar and Anna for taking some of the photos I’m using in this post.