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The Rivanna River Sauna • Kath Eats

The Rivanna River Sauna • Kath Eats

A group of friends and I went to a private session at the Rivanna River Sauna. We alternated between a hot steam sauna and the icy Rivanna River. Here’s the recap! 

Smile everyone!

Saunas are having a hot moment

Saunas are definitely having their year! I’m seeing more and more sauna houses pop up, and we now have three sauna spots you can visit in Charlottesville – the Rivanna River Sauna, Fire & Ice at the IX park, and Reset in Crozet (Thomas has been). Plus the saunas at the gyms and spas. A few of my friends have put them in their houses, and of course you know I love my sauna blanket. 

The Rivanna River Sauna

The Rivanna River Company built their sauna in 2022 on a 20-foot tiny house trailer. It is so cute! There is a hot sauna room, a small lounge / entryway, two exterior changing rooms, and plenty of decking to spread out by the fire pit. There are bucket showers (included) and clawfoot tubs (an add-on) for nearby plunging. And of course there is the Rivanna River flowing nice and chilly right beyond the fence! 

Sauna season

Sauna season runs from the fall through March. I would totally do this year round so I hope they will consider opening up more times and months! The second we all left the property we were ready to book it again, but from what I can tell all private sessions are full. 

How to book it

If you live in Cville, you can use the sauna in a few different ways: buy purchasing slots in community sessions (with people you might not know), women’s only sessions, or booking a private session for up to 10 people. We loved making this a social event with a bunch of friends from our gym! Including an added tub of ice and snack boards during social time, the cost was just under $40 a person for the 10 of us. 


Our session started at 6pm, and we met in the Cantina where the previous group was finishing up. There was a sweet puppy there to greet us!


We were given a short orientation to go over the best ways to use the features. We had a REALLY cold day – it was in the 30s – so unfortunately being outside was really cold! I was really doubting I’d get hot enough to touch that ice bath at the start. I do think this experience would have been ideal on a warmer day where we could have used the fire pit and chairs more, but since the sauna was so hot, it didn’t matter all that much. 

Ice Bath

How cold does this look? I was planning to just use the cold air for my “plunge.” Getting in a river scared me, and I just didn’t know if I’d be able to handle ice! I did want to try it, and I was pleasantly surprised with how I did. Our friend Emily said we would really want to add on an ice bath for the convenience of not having to go to the river (which was maybe 30 yards away?) She was right, and we actually wished we had paid for two at the end of the night. The tubs were $40 to add on. It was really great to be able to go 10 feet instead of the long walk to the river because that walk was pretty cold! So definitely get your group a tub!

The Lounge

The entryway lounge was very cute with room to put your clothes and anything you wanted handy but didn’t want to take into the sauna – water bottles, phones, flip flops. They also had essential oils to put on the rocks.

Destiny was so smart and brought her robe:

The Hot Room

The sauna was about 175 degrees and was plenty hot to start. The longer the night went on, the more we opened and closed the door and let heat out. Next time we will be smarter about the door. But it was still very hot in the sauna, and our goal of a great sweat was achieved. They recommend staying in about 15 minutes per round, but I could have used more to get really super hot. It takes longer for me to sweat than most people. 

Most of us had heart rate monitor watches on. I noted my heart rate would get between 120 and 140 when I was ready to get out. We loved putting eucalyptus on the rocks. And we also had a phone near the floor that wasn’t too hot (since heat rises!) so we had some tunes and a “hot and cold” playlist. The top shelf was the best spot, so we rotated up and down as needed. Bring plenty of towels to sit on and more to wipe your face! 

The River

For our first plunge, we went to the river because the river temperature was reported to be 47 degrees vs. the ice bath being 32 (I’d assume). 47 seemed easier to get in! By the time I had make the trek to the river, I was plenty cooled off, so I put my feet in and that’s it. I knew I had to get even hotter in the sauna first if I was going to get IN the river! 

Thomas got in though- whole body down. By the end of the night he had dunked underwater!

The second time I went to the river, I ended up sitting down in the shallow end. Apparently one secret to cold plunging is leaving your hands and feet out, so I sat down and tried to submerge as much of my core as I could by kept my feet out by doing a “boat pose” from yoga. I set a 1 minute timer and did it! 

Back in the Sauna

After each plunge we went back in the sauna to hang out until one-by-one we left to cool off. We did a lot of chatting and laughing. 

The Ice Tub

Emily and Matt win for most enthusiastic about the ice tub. They went for it right away! Emily stayed in quite a while until she started growling (haha!) It’s so crazy that the air was 32 degrees and they were in ICE! Matt looks thrilled here: 

Aaron wins for most ambitious ice user. He took his plunges very seriously! (He loves ice and hates heat.) He even dunked his head under! 

And he was calm enough to take this pic, feet in and all: 

Julie won for longest plunge! While her arms and feet were out, she was in there quite a while….

Long enough that other people had to join her to get in! 

My Turn

I finally got brave enough to try the ice tub on my last round. You can see how hot I got first by how red my face was! Emily came with me for moral support. With both of our feet out, we looked like a woman giving birth to a giant – LOL! I think the pain level was on part with midway through labor contractions. It is very similar to try to breath through the pain discomfort. Haha.

How was it?

It was cold, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be! Partly because some of the ice had overflowed and I’m sure the water was a little warmer and lower then when the night started. And partly because my feet and shoulders were out (although I sort of wished I could have had my legs in more). I stayed in a full two minutes, and I probably could have done a little longer! 

How did I feel?

When I got out, my whole core was definitely trying to shiver. I felt a little woozy, like I was drunk or floating for a few minutes. It took about five minutes back in the sauna to feel normal again. It was kind of fun though! I would definitely do it again.

Sidenote: as someone who is always cold this time of year, I cannot fathom cold plunging without a sauna to warm up in before and after. The people I see who cold plunge without heating up first are hard core! 

Times Up!

Our session was 90 minutes long, and honestly we could have stayed another hour! I did three rounds of hot + cold (split about 20 minutes of hot and 10 of cold and transition) and would have done one more for sure. They gave us a 15 minute warning and no one wanted to end without a final warm up. It was weird to go from soaked in sweat to dry clothes without a cleansing shower. Bring a third dry towel for this purpose! It was SO cold out we didn’t even want the fire pit – we wanted to go inside! 


Since we had 10 people, everyone scattered to change. The lounge would have made a great place for either all the men or ladies because it was somewhat heated, but we didn’t use it. Instead we took turns freezing our feet off in wet bathing suits in the changing rooms on the back of the building one to two at a time. Changing was the worst part of the night! 

The Cantina: Social Time + Cheese Boards

Back in the Cantina by the wood stove, we were ravenous! I drank a full 32 ounce water bottle during the 90 minute session and two cups of tea after. 

We had pre-ordered boards of cheese, crackers, and apples plus smoked salmon and sausage for our social time. They also had ginger tea with lemon and honey. It was great to be able to relax and debrief what we loved and what we would do differently next time (keep the door closed!) 

Pounding the delicious cheese! 

We all agreed how much fun it was and how we’d love to do it again soon. RRC, please open more months up! 

Hogwaller Brewing

Hogwaller Brewing is right next door, so we headed there after for some beers and burgers. 


Are you a sauna person? Have you ever cold plunged?