I was about ready to give up and walk back to the car.
It was snowing — like a lot — and I was stepping into piles of it that sometimes went all the way up to my knees. I’d stupidly forgotten to grab my water bottle from the car and I wasn’t even sure we were headed in the right direction. It was cold, the skies were grey, but I was sweating from the hike and was certain I’d get sick from a chill. It felt like we’d been trekking for nearly a half hour, and there still wasn’t a sign of any pool.
And just as I was about to suggest to my dude that we seriously consider turning around, it appeared behind a large, jutting rock in the distance: Seljavallalaug.
Up until that point, I’d seen so many pictures of Seljavallalaug, Iceland’s oldest swimming pool that you can still visit and swim in today. I’d looked at photos on some of my favorite bloggers’ sites and on Pinterest, and I had been so intent on visiting it that I got that kind of feeling you get when you’re meeting a celebrity you really like. You’re just so dern excited that the moment is perfect. And even though I had completely sweated through my base layer and my gloves were absolutely drenched because I fell in the snow, my day suddenly became brighter.
And it literally did get brighter, actually. It seemed that the moment we arrived, the snow stopped and the grey skies went away and it was beautiful and lovely. Even though the water wasn’t quite as warm as we’d hoped, we both understood that we did not just hike a half hour in angry snow to witness the skies part and the sun shine for nothin’.
I was actually a bit of a wimp when it came to getting in the pool. I’d been anticipating it so much, you’d think that I would have just jumped right in, but I’m a little weird with pools and bodies of water. It’s completely ridiculous, but basically I don’t like 1) not being able to see my feet in the water and 2) touching anything slimy/icky/gross in the water. The pool was literally crystal clear, so I only had to worry about the latter. I decided to graciously let my dude get into the pool first and then proceeded with a short interrogation: Is it warm? Can you touch the bottom with your feet? Can you touch the sides with your feet? Is it gross? etc. etc. etc.
Of course, the more I just stood around outside the pool, the chillier I got, so ready or not I had to get in or get clothed. I stepped down the ladder, one rung at a time until just a little bit of my neck and head were floating above the surface.
I wish I could tell you the water was like a warm, soothing bath. Because we were visiting in January, one of the coldest months for Iceland, the water was a bit lukewarm. It wasn’t completely un-swimmable, though. The heated water flows into the pool in one corner (conveniently the corner with the ladder), so we pretty much stayed with one foot and hand each on the ladder as we felt currents of hot water flow by us followed by currents of cooler water. Just being in the pool was exciting enough for me, but then you get the luxury of looking around and seeing beautiful Iceland and its gorgeous landscape surrounding you. While you’re comfortably nestled in this little valley in the middle of nowhere listening to water trickle into the pool, you can look around and see jagged rocks, a tiny little stream, and looming mountains.
After about 5 minutes we both started to feel a little chilled, and so we hopped out, changed, and started the walk back to the car (which, by the way, was about 500 times easier when it wasn’t snowing). The rest of the day I was so content to have made it to Seljavallalaug and gotten to swim in it, even if it was for just a few minutes. I think of the number of people who’ve gotten to experience going there in the same way we did, and it’s probably pretty small. It certainly wasn’t what I’d imagined it would be like, but I personally think it was perfect.
Here’s how to get there and what you should know about visiting Seljavallalaug:
* Take the 1 to 242 (it will be a small road called Raufarfellsvegur). You should see a sign that says Seljavellir and you’re heading in the right direction! The road takes you to a pool that you park right by, but this is not Seljavallalaug as you’ve probably already guessed. When you hop out of your car you head further (past one or two small houses on your left) and you’ll be walking deeper into the valley. You’ll pass a small waterfall on your left about 1/3 of the way there, and you’ll have to cross over the stream a few times as well. The pool won’t appear until you’re very close to it.
* Your walk will be at least 15 to 20 minutes, and longer if the weather is unfavorable (like it was for us). I imagine getting to Seljavallalaug in the summer months when it isn’t snowing furiously in your face is easier.
* It may have been because there was so much snow covering the ground, but it was a little hard to tell where exactly to walk. There isn’t really a designated or marked path. There was a part of the “trail” that seemed to head up and over the river and another part that seemed to walk alongside it. My dude and I decided to take the one that went up higher, and this was a poor choice — we ended up having to go down a very steep area to get back to where we should have been walking all along. Stay close to the stream and you’ll be heading in the right direction.
* You will cross over the water a few times, so wear waterproof shoes if you can. My boots are waterproof-ish and only go up to right above my ankle so I had to be careful where I stepped. Waterproof boots will make your trek to Seljavallalaug much easier.
* Remember to bring water! It’s not a terribly long trek out there (although it definitely felt like it when I went), but even on small hikes you really should never be without it.
* There are changing rooms but they weren’t in good condition when I was there. As far as I understand, the pool is maintained by volunteers, and since there are fewer visitors in the winter months they may not tend to it as often. Go expecting that you’ll just have to change out in the open.
* If you change into a swimsuit, bring a plastic bag to put it in afterwards.
* Below is a map of the exact location of Seljavallalaug, or click here to open it a separate browser.
Have you ever visited a secret or hard-to-get-to attraction?