With the mad rush of the holiday season in full swing and the dreary and oppressive winter weather gaining more momentum, many Eugenians take in some much-needed relaxation time by checking out of town and heading to the woods. Here they make amends with the cold and rain by stripping down to little more than their goose bumps and take advantage of one of the great northwest natural wonders, the hot spring.
A hot spring is created by the natural flow of groundwater near recently formed, high-temperature underground rocks. Since the land that makes up the western part of Oregon is rich in underground volcanic activity, the state has its fair share of the natural pools, a majority of which are found in the Willamette Valley. Most hot spring locations are located near their groundwater origin; usually a river or stream running by the pool, and a popular activity for hot spring fanatics is to soak themselves in the shockingly cold water in between hot pool soaks. This certainly constitutes as a natural and therapeutic way to revitalize one’s system before the start of the next workweek. Some springs even provide a bucket to make the process that much easier.
The Willamette Valley area hot springs are a great place to visit if you want to get away from it all, or a fun place to take an afternoon trek with some friends. One of the fun parts of relaxing at the springs is that you never know who you are going to meet. It often ends up being a scantily clad trucker taking a quick dip between stops on his route, but the conversation always proves to be memorable. Keep in mind that although some people do wear bathing suits, hot spring dwellers like to make their visits as natural as possible.
- Terwilliger Hot Spring (Cougar Hot Spring)
- McCredie Hot Spring
- Umpqua Hot Spring
- Onsen Spas
Just under an hour north of Eugene, Terwilliger hot spring, often referred to as Cougar hot spring, is a welcoming spot maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manage the nearby Cougar Reservoir, and local volunteer groups who are interested in keeping the area sanitary and beautiful. The upkeep maintained by these groups provides the spring with clear trails, bathroom facilities and clothing racks to keep your gear off the wet ground.
A path from the road and parking area leads to the springs, situated under a heavy canopy of mossy firs and towering cedar trees. Cougar is made up of four pools cascading down a rocky slope and offering visitors a choice for their bathing pleasure. Most people head directly to the boiling temperature in the top pool, but if that one is overfull, bathers can wait in simmering, heated or lukewarm temperatures in the other three. Any way you go, you come out cooked.
Since Cougar is maintained by the government, a ranger may show up while visitors are enjoying their bath to check that everyone is getting along and especially to make sure that everyone paid their parking fee. Don’t take this guy as a buzz kill though, the visitation fee at Cougar provides the funds needed to keep it open to the public.
Camping is not allowed at the springs, which are closed after dark, but a campsite is located nearby for those who want to turn relaxation mode into a weekend experience.
Directions: From the Eugene and Springfield area, go east on Highway 126 (McKenzie Pass Highway) for about 50 miles. Just past the sign for the Blue River Campground, watch for the sign to Cougar Reservoir on the south (right) side of the road. Follow Forest Service Road 19 for 7.5 miles to the trailhead. The reservoir dam is four miles from the intersection of Highway 126 and Forest Service Road 19. At the dam, turn right (do not take the dam road on the left). Continue for 3.5 miles to a small lake on the right with a waterfall at the far end. Just past the lake, park in the large parking area on the left side of the road and walk back to the north side of the lake. There is no sign to the springs, but a nearby sign notifies visitors that the area is for day use only. However, the trail is obvious and an easy quarter mile long. (It can be a little damp in the spring.)
Due to its proximity to the road and very short and easy path from the parking lot, McCredie hot spring is one of the more visited spring locations near Eugene. The pool at McCredie is much larger than those at Cougar and has a sandy bottom instead of rock. Finding a place to sit in the McCredie pool is no problem, just mosey in and plunk down. The water origin begins at one end of the oval pool and flows out to the other, providing a drastic temperature change from one side to the other and making it easy for all visitors to enjoy their soak. A few smaller pools are located in the area for those visitors who are interested in marinating with a little privacy.
McCredie is open to the elements, which can include a refreshing shower, or, on a clear night, a very impressive view for stargazers. A large cold-water stream runs right by the pool and can provide a cool drink or a surging wake up call before the 45-minute drive back to Eugene.
If a visitor does not intend to make the drive back to town when the sun begins to set, they can spend the night at a campground less than a mile down the road, and grab some grub in Oakridge, 11 miles west of the springs.
Directions: From Eugene, drive east on Highway 58 for about 40 miles to Oakridge. Continue on Highway 58 for 11 miles and watch for the Blue Pool Campground. Just past that, about a tenth of a mile, look for the large parking lot on the south (right) side of the road. (Do not be tempted by the small road just before that.) Park your car and look for a short trail at the east end of the parking lot which leads to the springs.
Umpqua hot spring is nearly two hours away from Eugene and is worth turning into an overnight trip. The spring is surrounded by year-round camping areas that allow fires, although winter visitors may have a tough time rustling up some dry wood.
The hot spring is located on the edge of a cliff overlooking the rushing Umpqua River 150 feet below. One deep pool is the main tub at Umpqua. It can fit around seven people and is covered by a wood canopy and surrounded by hooks and benches for clothing removal. Two other pools are situated above on rocky ledge and can fit no more than two very friendly people at a time.
There are a mix of bathing suit wearers and those who go without at this location, so a visitor might want to come readily equipped just in case. The spring is not open at night, and a visitor would not want to risk the venture up a very steep and slippery trail in the dark, guardrail or not.
Directions: From Roseburg drive east on Highway 138 toward Toketee Junction. At the junction, turn left on Forest Service Road 34 (Toketee Rigdon Road). At the Y intersection, bear left and drive past Toketee Lake Campground. Continue for a little over two miles and then turn right onto Forest Service Road 3401 (Thorn Prairie Road). It’s two miles from there to the parking area. The trail crosses a bridge and joins the North Umpqua Trail to the hot springs.
The natural outdoor springs are not for everyone. Some are far away by car and hard to locate by foot. Most are characterized by people of all ages and sexes who hang out in the buff, many of whom are not at all buff, which is a perfectly normal and acceptable way to enjoy the springs. There have been very few worrisome incidents at the Eugene area springs in the long time that visitors have been enjoying them, but privacy is something that can never be guaranteed. If your home bathtub doesn’t cut it however there is another option for warm water relaxation.
Onsen spas in Eugene offer hourly hot tub rentals in a peaceful and natural setting. Each of their 14 tubs are enclosed on all sides and remain open to the fresh Willamette Valley air. The rooms come complete with a covered dressing room and a cool shower for rinsing when finished. Onsen is located just off Franklin Boulevard across from the University of Oregon, making it a very short drive and merely a few steps from your car to your tub and into a very low stress, languid peace of mind. Rentals are $14 for two people and $4 for each additional person on weekdays. On weekends the initial cost for two people is $16.
Location: 1883 Garden Ave., Eugene, OR 97403