SALEM, Ore. — If there’s a better way to escape the rainy-day blues than a dip into the magic waters of Oregon’s hot springs, I’ve yet to experience it.
Geothermal activity creates pools of relaxing glory that are particularly welcome when the temperatures dip and rain falls across the mountains.
The hot springs in the Beaver State vary considerably. Some are wild outposts with naked hippies running around, others are pricey retreats and some are little-known secrets.
To keep hot springs an enjoyable experience, it’s important that visitors not trash them. There’s a disturbing history of people acting poorly at hot springs in Oregon and ruining it for everyone else.
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Remember, while clothing might be optional, acting like a jerk is not. Wait your turn, clean up after yourself and enjoy the soothing waters.
Here’s our roundup of the best hot springs in Western Oregon — and a couple across the Columbia River in Washington — including five public destinations and four private resorts (where prices aren’t as bad as you might expect). For more information, see books such as “Touring Washington and Oregon Hot Springs” and “Hiking Hot Springs in the Pacific Northwest: A Guide to the Area’s Best Backcountry Hot Springs.”
PUBLIC HOT SPRINGS
These hot springs are located on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. While generally cheaper than private hot springs, they often have larger crowds on weekends and nudity.
Bagby Hot Springs
Perhaps the most beloved hot springs in Northwest Oregon is reached via a beautiful trail through old-growth forest 40 miles southeast of Estacada.
The hike is 1.5 miles (3 miles round-trip) and leads to the main bathhouse and surrounding cabins. As you hike up, steam rises from the ground as the 136-degree hot springs flows down the hill and into tubs that range from hollowed logs to whiskey barrels.
Located off Breitenbush Highway 46, the hot springs are open all year but snow sometimes blocks access in winter. A $5 fee is required.
Directions: From Detroit, Ore., follow Breitenbush Highway 46. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 63 for 3.5 miles, then turn right onto Road 63 for six miles to the parking lot and trailhead.
Note: The hot springs is more commonly reached from Estacada, via Highway 226. However, Highway 226 is currently closed from milepost 31 to 36, meaning a major detour is required to reach Bagby. Snow usually makes Highway 46 impassable by late November or into December.
MCCREDIE HOT SPRINGS
Located just off Highway 58 in the recreation corridor heading to Willamette Pass east of Eugene, McCredie Hot Springs is open year-round and features a large 15-by-20-foot party pool along with quieter rock-lined pools.
Temperatures range from 95 to 105 degrees and the pools sit alongside Salt Creek. You can access the quieter pools, on the south side of the creek, either by crossing the creek or on a different access trail (see directions).
Swimsuits are rare and truckers often stop here. So, leave your modesty at the car door.
Many great activities beckon nearby, including Salt Creek Falls, Oregon’s second tallest waterfall, 10 miles up the road.
Directions (main parking area): From Eugene, Ore., follow Highway 58 east to milepost 45 and 46. There is a sign pointing to McCredie Station Road. The parking lot is next to the sign, on the right.
Directions (south side pools): Continue a short distance up Highway 58 to Shady Gap Road, cross the creek on a bridge, go right and park at the first wide spot. A 0.3-mile path leads to the south shore pools.
DEER CREEK AND COUGAR HOT SPRINGS
This duo of hot springs is along the McKenzie River.
The smaller and arguably more pleasant of the two is Deer Creek Hot Springs, a free collection of pools along the literal banks of the McKenzie River. At high water, the springs sometimes wash out, especially in spring. The trail to the hot springs is short but the pool only has room for half a dozen people.
A more popular and larger destination is Terwilliger Hot Springs, also known as Cougar Hot Springs due to the proximity to Cougar Reservoir. A fee of $5 per person is required. Hike a half-mile trail to the reservoir’s shore and a stair-stepped series of hot spring pools, which have room for dozens.
There have been some issues with falling rocks here, and recently some of the upper pools were closed, though the lower pools remain open.
Directions (Deer Creek): To find Deer Creek from Salem, take Highway 22 past Detroit 32 miles, go right at the Santiam Y junction for 3 miles, veer left onto Highway 126 toward Eugene for 14 miles, and turn right on Deer Creek Road across a McKenzie River bridge. Park on the far side of Deer Creek Road’s bridge and hike down to the left (downstream) 200 yards to the hot springs.
Directions (Terwilliger / Cougar): From Eugene, follow Highway 126 to between mileposts 45 and 46. Turn south at a “Cougar Reservoir” pointer onto paved Auderheide Drive 19. After half a mile, at a fork keep right to stay on Auderheide Drive 19. Then continue another 7 miles to the Terwilliger Hot Springs trailhead on the right. Parking is a few hundred yards farther up the road, on the left.
UMPQUA HOT SPRINGS
Whether you’re finishing a mountain-biking trip on the North Umpqua Trail’s famed Dread and Terror section, or just exploring the waterfalls of this beautiful Southern Oregon canyon, Umpqua Hot Springs always makes for a great stop.
Swimwear is not common so, as always, prepare for a naked buttock or two.
Two trails begin from the Umpqua Hot Springs Trailhead. One leads up the beautiful Dread and Terror section of the NUT, while the other crosses the river, turns right and heads up a steep but short trail to a collection of small hot spring pools.
If you go midweek, there’s a fair chance you’ll have a pool to yourself but on weekends this is less likely.
On the drive in, make sure to check out Toketee Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Oregon.
Directions: From Interstate 5 in Roseburg, take Exit 124 for Oregon Highway 138. Follow signs for Diamond Lake through downtown Roseburg and follow Highway 138 east for 59 miles. At milepost 59, turn left onto the Toketee Lake turnoff (Forest Road 34) and proceed 2 miles up the paved road. Then turn right onto gravel Forest Road 3401 (Thorn Prairie Road) and follow it two miles to a large and obvious parking area on the left.
Not everyone enjoys soaking in the nude or the sometime raucous and crowded atmosphere at public hot springs.
If so, consider a few of these resort pools with pay-to-soak systems. Many are quite reasonable.
BELKNAP HOT SPRINGS
A concrete swimming pool sits along the McKenzie River and an upscale lodge here.
The 102-degree riverside swimming pool is open 365 days a year 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pay $7 for an hour or $12 for the full day.
There are tent sites, cabins and RV sites to rent as well.
Directions and info:belknaphotsprings.com.
BREITENBUSH HOT SPRINGS
This wonderful spot northeast of Detroit is a favorite among Salem residents and those seeking to unplug.
The Meadow Pools are lined in smooth river rocks and four spiral hot tubs offer varying temperature.
Day use is offered for $15 to $28 per adult. Reservations must be made in advance by calling 503-854-3320.
Directions and info:breitenbush.com.
CARSON MINERAL HOT SPRINGS
This resort is actually on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, in the small town of Carson, along the Wind River.
After a chilly day rafting or kayaking the Wind or White Salmon, consider a quick stop here for hot springs baths that go for $20 to $25 for a 25-minute soak and 25 minutes in a hot towel.
Directions and info:carsonhotspringresort.com.
BONNEVILLE HOT SPRINGS
Legend has it that Native Americans traveled to these healing waters up to 10,000 years ago.
Whether or not this is true — and how much healing power can be had in these waters is up for debate — what’s not is that Bonneville Hot Springs makes a nice stop on the Washington side of the Gorge.
A 25-minute soak and 25-minute wrap goes for $30 to $40.
Directions and info:bonnevilleresort.com.