It’s nature’s other champagne, springing from the earth, from the depths of its lava-heated heart, summoned to the surface, where we (made of ninety-eight-point-six-degree water) sense the greater warmth, the minerals, the solace, the comfort, and immerse in Oregon’s hot springs.
Early hot springs users called it Medicine Springs. In 1843, explorer John Fremont renamed it Summer Lake, and his team took in the healing benefits of the area’s hot springs before continuing on their journey. In 1997, Duane Graham founded Summer Lake Hot Springs, a small eco-friendly resort here.
A main feature is a 1928 timber and corrugated metal structure enclosing a large pool, offering year-round soaking in the mineral water that ranges from 106 to 113 degrees. Standing under the four-inch pipe that fills the pool, and letting it cascade over your neck and shoulders is said to be one of the best ways to melt away tension. The water comes from an aquifer nearly a mile below ground and is channeled into several outdoor rock pools. The high silica content of the water makes it feel silky and soft. The resort, with its group areas for workshops, massage, healing arts, geothermal floor heating (also great for yoga), and restaurant with locally grown food, strives to provide an ancient sense of oneness with the earth and healing.
With no light pollution for fifty miles in any direction, plan on stargazing from outdoor rock pools or meditating amid the profound silence.
Fee: Day Use $10
Etiquette: Clothing Optional after 9 p.m.
Style: Earthy, Holistic Healing
The term “desert oasis” takes on new meaning at this rustic retreat in Eastern Oregon’s outer reaches, twenty-six miles east of Burns (population 2,700), praised for its prime location in the middle of nowhere. An outdoor pool scooped out of the earth and filled with the area’s geothermal water is surrounded by several cabins, and a small inn and ranch house. For a private soaking experience, the wooden bathhouse features rooms with private, Western-style metal soaking tubs, suitable for a hard-riding cowboy or other travelers. Camping, RV hookups and in warmer months a teepee outfitted with a metal soaking tub round out the options.
Crystal Crane touts the water as being rich in calcium sulphate, magnesium and silica, minerals that guests claim help joint, muscle and back aches, arthritis and skin conditions. They cite clinicians who believe that thermal springs stimulate the pituitary gland, which secretes pain inhibitors such as cortisone. The heat and relaxing effect also helps to relieve muscle spasms and inflammation to allow healing.
Even if you’ve nothing to complain about, getting up early to soak in water that can reach 102 degrees, watch the sun rise and listen to coyotes howling in the distance can be good medicine. The area also attracts hundreds of bird species. In March, look for violet-green swallows and white pelicans, and in April, snowy egrets and black-chinned hummingbirds. At night, grab a s’mores kit from the retreat store and roast them at the fire pits while stargazing at the Milky Way.
Fee: Day Use $3.5; Lodging $45 and up
Etiquette: Bring suit for the common pool
Style: Remote and rustic
Willow Creek Hot Springs
Remote and muddy bottomed, with rock
Echo Rock Hot Spring
A manmade pool and hot
Alvord Hot Springs
Natural, remote soaking experience—
In the 1800s, prospector Bob Bagby was looking for precious silver or gold to boost his lot in life. One could argue that he struck it rich in a different way when he found the springs, widely regaled for their rejuvenating effects. Fans of these springs insist that the one-mile hike through the Mt. Hood National Forest, amid towering firs present since Hood erupted in the 1790s, is all part of the experience. The loud rushing of the Collowash River subsides at a secluded tributary beside the hot springs.
Wooden structures create a historic, rustic atmosphere. The Bagby Guard Station cabin, hand-built with hand-cut cedar by four men in 1913, is considered one of the best preserved Forest Service Guard Stations in the Pacific Northwest. The main bathhouse has five hand-hewn cedar log tubs, each in private rooms with nary a chrome fixture in sight. A lower bathhouse has three log tubs and a round tub on an open deck. The upper bathhouse about 100 yards away has a large round tub on an open deck.
Nudity is allowed on the bath decks, but not in the open areas around the bathhouses. Since 2012, the Forest Service has contracted with a company to clean and maintain the facilities. Local law enforcement officers and Northwest Forest Conservancy volunteers periodically visit to ensure a positive atmosphere prevails. The wait for a soaking tub varies and is longest on summer weekends and holidays.
Fee: $5 for ages 12 and up
Etiquette: Nudity is allowed on the bath decks, but not in open areas around bathhouses.
Style: Popular, historic
Walk the quarter-mile trail enshrouded by moss-covered trees until you hear the sound of a waterfall and notice tendrils of steam rising from a ravine. Here you’ll discover an enchanting hot springs that is anything but undiscovered. The six-tiered, rock-rimmed soaking pools fed by the Rider Creek waterfall are indeed inviting, hence their popularity. Sample the varying temperatures of each pool while unencumbered by swimwear.
One benefit of this spot’s large fan base is that it has spawned volunteers who have helped the U.S. Forest Service improve and maintain the area over the years. Relax with the knowledge that the springs are closed for cleaning every Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon. There is also a covered area near the pools for keeping your towel, clothes, shoes and bags out of the rain.
This is particularly helpful because, although clothing is optional in the pools, nudity is not permitted beyond that area. That policy, as well as the hours, from sunrise to sunset, are strictly enforced by the Forest Service.
Fee: $6 per day
Etiquette: Clothing optional
Here you’ll find a portrait in contrasts—old growth forest surroundings, yet easily accessible from the road, adjacent to the cold and fast Salt Creek. The springs, that are at times seriously hot, attract truckers and other travelers as well as the earthier set from Eugene.
The area is undeveloped but has a history of resorts and spas. In 1914, a resort hotel was built here. It became a baseball team camp and then a bordello. In 1958, it burned to the ground, then was walloped by a flood. Today the natural pool, about two feet deep, can be dangerously hot, reaching 110 degrees. Snow or a flooding creek will bring the temperature down in the two connected pools.
Expect nudity at this popular spot, where soothing warm water could be the perfect après ski activity following an outing at Willamette Pass ski area seventeen miles to the east. The Blue Pool Campground (open mid-May through September) and a sprawling creekside picnic area, with fire stoves built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is a half mile east of the springs.
Etiquette: Clothing optional
Style: Accesible, popular, storied
Breitenbush Retreat and Conference Center
Natural hot spring pools, tiled tubs and steam
Belknap Hot Springs Resort
Two spring-fed swimming pools, dining and
Wall Creek Warm Spring
A single, rock-rimmed pool amid old growth forest,
Whether you’re climbing peaks, hiking to waterfalls or mountain biking in the Umpqua National Forest, the hot springs here will reward you afterward. The main tub, about three feet deep and five feet in diameter, is hewn from the travertine deposits and fed by the 108-degree springs that emerge from a bare rock face a few feet away. The tub is covered with a rustic log pavilion, the interior of which soakers have adorned with colorful quasi-psychedelic art.
The water cools as it flows into a series of tiered pools below. Whichever you choose, you can slip into a meditative state, looking out over the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River 150 feet below and Surprise Falls on the opposite bank. Nudity is common, yet the site attracts a range of visitors, from families to adventurers.
On your way to the springs, stop at the two-tiered Toketee Falls. At Toketee Lake, try for rainbow or brown trout, or listen for beavers slapping their tails on the lake surface.
Fee: $5 per day for parking
Etiquette: Clothing optional
The rugged and diverse terrain supports more than 300 wildlife species including antelope, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mule deer, sage grouse and redband trout. Equally important is its creature comforts: hot springs to soothe the bodies of explorers of its austere beauty in this high desert wilderness.
One of the few marks of humans here is the rock-and-concrete wall around the pool, which protects the animals at the top of the food chain from wind and sulphur aromas. A ladder descends about five feet into the pool, big enough for about six people to unwind in the roughly 103-degree spring water rising from the pool’s gravel and bedrock bottom. Some say that a rancher discovered the water emerging from a rock and created the pool with the help of a stick of dynamite. In any case, it is the place to go after hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and photography, fishing, rockhounding or hunting.
The therapeutic qualities of a soak may help spur you on to see the dramatic cliffs, steep slopes and knife-like ridges of this 278,000-acre refuge. From the top of Hart Mountain, three-quarters of a mile above the valley floor, take in spectacular views of the Warner Valley Wetlands, rolling hills and sagebrush-grasslands. You’ll likely spot hang-gliders, the only visitors with better views.
Thirty primitive campsites (no drinking water, firewood, etc.) are free, with access only by graded roads. The nearest source of gasoline and groceries is twenty-five miles west in Plush.
Etiquette: Observe quiet between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Pack out what you pack in.
Style: Wild and free
American Indians considered Ashland’s hot springs to be sacred, common ground accessible to all tribes. In the early 1900s, the lithium, sulfur, and soda springs and their healing properties were compared to that of famous European spa towns. Lithia Springs Resort is updating this era, tapping into the springs 500 feet below and piping it to luxurious jetted tubs in twenty-six suites and bungalows.
The water has long been purported to help heal skin diseases, digestive disorders, arthritis, sore muscles, and poison oak, relieving stress, while bringing rejuvenation and calm to those who partake. The resort attributes this to a high density of positive ions, similar to sea water. The resort’s Waterstone Spa offers herbal and mineral water soaking treatments, massages and facials.
The natural and cultural history is acknowledged with a library devoted to Southern Oregon and the power of healing water. The resort was renovated with modern décor and reopened in mid-2012 by the acclaimed Ashland Springs Hotel. Think clean lines and mixed textiles, including natural wood, glass, and metal, warmed with quality fabrics and pops of color. Relaxed by the mineral soaks, stroll the resort’s four-acre English-style gardens and take in the fragrance and bright hues or ornamental and edible plants amid fountains, pools and ponds. In spring, expect to see the rhododendrons, azaleas, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips in bloom. Twelve new rooms and a swimming pool are expected to open in June.
Fee: Rooms starting at $139
Etiquette: As you wish
Mickey Hot Springs
Boiling hot, for viewing only, in remote southeastern Harney
Hunters Hot Springs Resort
The 104-degree mineral pool and the viewing area for Old
Luce Hot Spring
Remote, natural hot springs feed into two pools near Crane.
What better way to connect with the volcanic landscape than to get inside a crater filled with lava rock-heated water? Paulina Lake is in the caldera, the collapsed crater of Newberry Volcano, shaped by more than 500,000 years of volcanic activity. Instead of having an inlet stream as lakes commonly do, it is fed by rain, snowmelt and the hot springs, which summon soakers.
The springs emerge from gravel on the lake’s northeastern edge, about a mileand- a-half from the trailhead at Little Crater Campground. Typically bathers place logs to capture the hot water and keep it separate from the cold water of the lake. The temperatures vary, from scalding at more than 110 degrees, to a tepid 100 degrees, depending on how much lake water has entered the pool.
Evenings, you can bask in profound solitude, in this caldera that is nearly five miles in diameter. As your muscles unwind in geothermal-induced bliss, gaze across the lake to snow-dusted ridges on the opposite shore. If you want to earn this reward, mountain bike around the crater or to Paulina Creek Falls just west of the lake.
Note: Few attempt venturing here until May, as the thirteen-mile U.S. Forest Service road leading to it is usually not plowed until then.
Fee: $5 per day, May 1 – Sept 30
Etiquette: Clothing required
East Lake Hot Springs
Not easy to find on the southern shore of this lake, a
Juntura Hot Springs
An island hot spring encompassed by the Malheur
Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa
Family friendly, with a 184-foot-long slide into the double