The Rivanna River Company’s new riverside sauna, located just five minutes from Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, opened in 2023 as Virginia’s first public wood-fired sauna. Guests take part in the ancient practice of sauna, a Finnish tradition dating back thousands of years. Mirrored in the sweat practices found in many other cultures worldwide, this simple process of heat, cold, rest, and repeat invigorates the body and calms the mind. While many sauna enthusiasts take part just because it makes them feel good, medical science is now showing the many benefits of sauna and cold exposure.
The Rivannna River Company team is particularly excited to offer a new way for people to connect with nature and with community during the cold-weather months when this can be more difficult. Amazing things happen between people when they plunge together in a winter river and sit together in the heat and steam of the sauna. And the ability to soak in a river in the midst of winter (knowing that the hot room is waiting for you), is a uniquely invigorating prospect. The sauna allows people to embrace the elements in all seasons.
The sauna is available for Community and Private sessions, all of which are 90 minutes in length. This time allows for three generous rounds of hot, cold and rest. After the session, guests are welcome to hang out in the cozy Tea Room (also wood-stove heated) for snacks, charcuterie, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.
The sauna features a 7’x10′ hot room paneled in Eastern White Cedar from North Carolina and heated by a Kuuma sauna wood stove built in northern Minnesota. All the heat comes from very local firewood, most of which staff gather and process themselves. Guests do not need to add wood or mess with the stove, but they can enjoy a view of the flames through a glass viewing window on the front of the stove. The hot room capacity is comfortable for 8 and cozy for up to 10 friends.
The changing room/lounge is a rustic but comfortable space with bench seating which maintains a nice temperature even in winter. A curtain provides a private changing room, and the space can also be used for relaxing in. If cooler air is preferred, our deck has many comfortable chairs for taking in the crisp temperatures outside.
The primary cold plunge is the river. Stairs and a landing that are used in the summer river outfitting season make for easy access to the water. The water at the base of the stairs is typically no more than 3′ deep, perfect for sitting down for a cold plunge. If river conditions are not conducive to river plunging, a bathtub-style plunge is set up. Bucket showers are always available for those wary of the full plunge! There are lots of ways to cool down, and sudden cold may not be appropriate for all guests. Simply relaxing on the deck for a length of time can be enough to cool down.
The Rivanna River Company team strives to make the sauna welcoming for everyone, no matter their background. By providing orientation and support, staff make sure that first-timers have a great experience. Guests can come alone, with a friend or partner, or with a whole crew of buddies or co-workers. Gift certificates and memberships are available for purchase online.