Area hot springs beckon
By Jessica Hirst
My first introduction to the joy of hot springs came in college, after a long New England winter. The snow had been beautiful at first, but that winter slowly devolved into dingy snowbanks, treacherous sidewalks and bare trees clawing at the sky’s meager light. I began to understand why the Puritans, with their sallow complexions, drafty clapboard houses and chilled bones, considered wintertime God’s way of punishing them for their sins.
In early spring, I bailed on it all for a camping trip in Arizona with some friends. While hiking through sunlit, amber-colored canyons, we happened on the smell of sulfur and a cluster of steamy pools. It didn’t take long for us to shed our heavy packs, our sweaty clothes and the last remnants of winter. Our toes squished into the thick ooze at the bottom of the pool, the hot water stung my skin and all was right with the world once again.
Because of western Oregon’s underground geologic activity, the Willamette Valley offers many opportunities for revitalizing yourself in mineral-rich hot springs after a long, grey winter. Whether you’re the ooze-between-the-toes type or the deck-chair-and-towel type, you can find hot springs that suit your style as long as you’re willing to drive for an hour or a little longer.
Below is a small sampling of several popular hot springs not too far from Eugene. One is located in a resort setting, and a few are in natural settings with easy access to a creek or river. In these cases, you’ll want to be careful of the nearby current, which can be swift, and of hot spots within the pools, which can be scalding. Also know that many visitors to the natural hot springs get in the spirit by going au naturel — in the buff — themselves.
McCredie Hot Springs
McCredie is just off Highway 58, about 50 miles from Eugene and 11 miles from Oakridge. The five pools here are close to the road, and there’s ample parking. The pools are traditionally nude, but they’re screened from view by foliage. You’ll find several pools on both sides of Salt Creek, and if the creek isn’t too high it makes an excellent cold dunk.
Here, you’re just as likely to find truckers soaking their stiff backs as dreadlocked couples showing off their tattoos. The pools, which are open to the elements, are very hot at the spring source but get cooler farther down.
Cougar (Terwilliger) Hot Springs
This popular spot is located in the Willamette National Forest, near the Cougar Reservoir and about 50 miles east of Eugene. Its five pools are set into the hillside and surrounded by large boulders and evergreens. Due to high water flow, the pools are clearer than many other natural hot springs. Birthday suits abound here, and the pools have a reputation for being popular with the Rainbows. There’s also a swimming hole nearby.
After you park, you’ll find a steep quarter-mile hike to the hot springs. Before you begin hiking, be sure to pay the $5 day pass to avoid being hassled by one of the ever-present forest rangers.
Belknap Hot Springs
If you prefer constructed pools and bathing suits, consider taking a trip to Belknap Hot Springs and Lodge. Belknap is located about 60 miles from Eugene on the McKenzie River. Even if you don’t stay in the lodge, you can still soak in the spacious lower pool for $7 per hour or $12 per day.
Belknap’s mineral hot springs pools are frequented by locals of all ages, especially the silver-haired set. The water in the lower pool, which is about the size of a typical motel swimming pool, is warm enough to loosen up your muscles without being too hot. Bobbing blissfully on a Styrofoam noodle is all the rage here, so bring yours along if you have one.
The vibe at Belknap is friendly and relaxing, and the rushing sound of the nearby McKenzie River will sooth your psyche as you relax on a deck chair after your soak.