Best Public Hot Springs
One benefit of living in the Pacific Northwest is our access to public hot springs. There are dozens of hot pools speckling the region from Washington to Idaho to Oregon. Read on to learn some of the best places to take a warm dip in nature any time of the year.
While some are part of private resorts and hotels, numerous other hot springs are accessible to the public at low or no cost. Some are popular oases, and some are lesser known and more secluded places where you’ll feel like the only person or couple on Earth.
As logic suggests, the more private hot springs tend to be harder to reach. So, we should offer the important caveat that people planning a day or overnight hike to one of the Pacific Northwest’s natural hot springs should call ahead to see if the trails and springs are open and make sure to pack sufficient water, snacks and proper clothing.
Those precautions aside, taking a dip in one of the area’s hot springs is an idyllic experience, even in winter. Picture icicles clinging to pine needles while steam floats over a 140 degree natural pool surrounded by stones. This little spot is all for you (at least until other travelers happen upon the space).
Goldmyer Hot Springs
In Washington, about 45 minutes southeast from Seattle along I-90 and off exit 34 sits Goldmyer Hot Springs. Goldmyer takes some work to reach but is beautiful. The setting reminds me of a Bob Ross painting. The hot springs are accessed via a 12-mile paved and 6-mile unpaved forest service road. The unpaved stretch is suitable in the winter months for larger SUVs and trucks with high clearance, but not regular cars. Keep in mind you will have to hike 4.5 miles along a rugged trailhead to reach the springs.
Park at the trailhead and take your supplies along the path through the woods, walking along the frosty Snoqualmie River. Although the hot springs are owned by a nonprofit, there is public access for a fee. Reservations are required. The caretakers most likely will turn away those without an appointment. The springs have a 15-person daily limit. Walking the path, you’ll have to cross footbridges and some difficult terrain, including traversing a narrow log.
But the work is worth it during any season. Upon reaching the hot springs you’ll find three cascading pools. You can try each (the hottest is the topmost cave, coolest is the bottommost). If you’re lucky enough to be the only ones there, take a moment to bask in the solitude.
Other Washington Hot Springs
Goldmyer, however lovely, is not the only delightful spot to visit in Washington. There are other hot springs in beautiful locations. Another is Darrington’s Sulphur Creek hot springs, which is found by entering the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
To get there, most people will drive to the Sulphur Creek Campground and then trek about 4 miles over bridges and brushy hills. Once you arrive, you must fill the pool manually from a nearby pipe, which can take about 20 minutes.
Another spot is the Olympic Hot Springs, located in the Olympic National Forest (not to be confused with the private Sol Duc Resort nearby). There are more than 20 pools of varying temperatures surrounded by pines. Visitors need a National Park Pass to enter.
Normally, the springs are accessible via a mostly paved road that leads to the trailhead. Hikers can then traverse a roughly 3-mile path beginning at Olympic Hot Springs Road. However, the Hot Springs Trailhead has recently been inaccessible due to a road washout. That has required hikers to park at the Madison Falls parking area and walk nearly 8 miles along the road to reach the trailhead.
Others notable hot springs in Washington include the difficult to reach Gamma Hot Springs; and the dog-friendly Baker Hot Springs, which aren’t open in winter.
Idaho Hot Springs
Idaho has numerous hot springs and, in the northern section of the state, two stand out. The first is Weir Creek Hot Springs, which is free to enter. The area is remote, however. There is limited cellphone service, so make sure you have your directions written down.
The trailhead location for the Weir Creek Hot Springs can be found just after mile marker 142 on U.S. Highway 12. Camping near the trailhead is permitted and includes fire pits. After a 10-minute hike along the trail, you can find the elevated hot springs near Weir Creek, which is part of the Lochsa River.
Another great option in northern Idaho is the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, which are located within the Clearwater National Forest and not too far from the Weir Creek Hot Springs.
With three separate spring sources, the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs is one of Idaho’s most popular natural destinations. So, be prepared to meet travelers from all over the globe. The pools are open for year-round soaking, and the spot is easily accessible. To find these hot springs, take the roughly 1-mile hike along the trail to the waterfall. Make sure to depart before nightfall, however, as the pools are off limits after dark.
Oregon Hot Springs
Southward in Oregon are several dazzling hot springs. One of the most popular and easy to find is Bagby Hot Springs, which are located in the Mount Hood National Forest about 90 minutes southeast of Portland. The hot springs are open so long as they are accessible to the site managers. People are discouraged from driving to the springs once the snow covers the road. Note that Bagby Hot Springs has recently been closed due to forest fire damage to its access roads.
The Bagby springs offer bathhouses to go along with their popular waters. Also included are private stalls that feature hand-carved cedar log tubs with waters piped from the pools. To reach Bagby, hikers follow a path for 1.5 miles along the Collawash River after parking at the trailhead. The day fee is $5, and camping is available to visitors about a quarter mile beyond the hot springs.
Another popular place in Oregon is the Umpqua Hot Springs, which is as picturesque as any and located in Douglas County in the Umpqua National Forest. Three royal blue soaking pools cascade from this location (not unlike the Goldmyer Hot Springs). Clothing is optional at these waters, which are located a short but steep quarter-mile hike from the nearby parking area. This is a popular spot, so don’t be surprised to see other folks enjoying the waters year-round here near the famed Crater Lake National Park.
Central and Eastern Oregon
Not to be outdone, the beautiful Paulina Hot Springs are located near Bend, Oregon in the Deschutes National Forest near the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The location is perfect for a well-earned soak. Hikers can find the pools via a 2-mile walk along the shoreline of Paulina Lake. Great views abound.
Visitors can camp overnight at the nearby Little Crater Campground. Other options include Terwilliger Hot Springs, accessible after a 0.25-mile hike in the Willamette National Forest, where five basins are filled from the McKenzie River.
And Bigelow Hot Springs, which is located some 60 miles east of Eugene. This small pool is maintained by a manmade rock circle that butts up against the river. There’s also McCredie Hot Springs, located about an hour from Eugene. These modest pools span both sides of the adjacent Salt Creek. These pools are easy to find but, admittedly, are not the most glamorous locales.
Finally, for those not of the faint of heart, there is Hart Mountain Hot Springs, which are found on a high desert plateau in a remote region of Southern Oregon and are operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These are less popular due to their secluded location, but if you can make it, it’s paradise.
–Written by Jake Uitti
–Top photo is of Bagby Hot Springs in Oregon by David Silverman/Flickr