Bagby. Breitenbush. Cougar.
If you've been asking about hot springs in Oregon, these are the names likely to come your way. But beyond the crowded Western Cascades and the dripping skies exists a host of hot springs less traveled—some a bit more rustic, and with a far greater chance of seeing stars while you have an evening soak. Here's your itinerary for an Eastern Oregon hot springs adventure.
If your image of Oregon involves ferns and puddles, prepare to adjust. The state east of the Cascade Mountains is dry, dry, dry. So you won't need your raincoat and wellies. A swimsuit is all you need, really—but add a cozy robe, towels and a pair of flip-flops or river shoes and you're good to go. What Eastern Oregon lacks in rain it makes up for in wind, so trust us on the robe. A shovel is a nice thing to have at Paulina Lake. And if you're picky about the food you eat, best stock up in Portland or Bend, because grocery items will be more limited out east.
IDEAL VISITING TIME
See individual destinations.
Head east from Portland on US 26, over Mount Hood. At Madras, continue south on US 97 past Bend. Look for signs for Paulina Lake/East Lake Road south of Sunriver. After soaking at Paulina Lake, head back to 97 and continue south past La Pine, turning onto US 31 to head south to Summer Lake Hot Springs. Following that soak, continue south on 31 and then south onto US 395 to Lakeview and Hunter's Hot Springs. After your stay, go north on 395 (with a bonus trip to Hart Mountain by taking 395 to OR 140 and County 3-13, if you're really ambitious). Connect with US 20 and head east to Burns, continuing through Burns to Crystal Crane Hot Springs. Following that, head back toward Bend, going west on 20. Stop for hiking, biking, skiing or some local brews.
Paulina Lake Hot Springs
Seasons: Late spring, summer and early fall.
Stoke point: Amazing views of Cascade peaks, optional paddling adventure.
Wild cards: Requires bodily movement.
There's a saying among the outdoor set: "Earn your turns." If you follow that philosophy for skiing or snowboarding, then this is the soak that will most fit your vibe. Accessing Paulina Lake Hot Springs requires either a moderate hike—at an elevation of 6,350 feet—or a paddle across the span of the lake. But that's not all. Depending on whether anyone else is using the established pool enclosed by giant logs, you may elect to dig your own pool along the shores of the lake.
Paulina Lake is located adjacent to Newberry Volcano, part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and the Newberry Crater—a 1,200-square-mile volcano which, according to the U.S. Forest Service, is "very active to this day." Just east of Paulina Lake you'll see the Central Pumice Cone, just one of many cinder cones found in the monument.
Starting off at Little Crater Campground on the southwest side of Paulina Lake, walk north from the trailhead toward the springs, a hike of more than a mile from the campground. Look along the shores of the lake, where previous hot springs enthusiasts have laid logs, digging out depressions in the lake bed into which hot water can seep.
If you're one of the first to arrive in the spring, you may find logs from the previous year have been displaced. Thus, it's handy to have a small shovel to dig into the lake bed and allow hot water to bubble into your own "pool." Plus, this spot gets its fair share of use, so digging your own pool, thus avoiding other soakers, is a guaranteed path to serenity. Don't expect to swim and soak up to your ears in these pools, as you can in others along this route. Consider it a warm-up for what's to come.
Overachiever option: Want to boast "full stoke" status on this portion of the trip? Bring your paddleboard, kayak or canoe (or motorized boat, since they're allowed here, too) and paddle across yourself. You can also rent canoes and kayaks at the Paulina Lake Lodge.
Stay over: Stay in one of the cabins at Paulina Lake Lodge or the resort on nearby East Lake, which has its own, chillier hot springs, or camp at the Little Crater or Paulina Lake campgrounds.
Summer Lake Hot Springs
Stoke point: Both indoor and outdoor pools, a cool hippie vibe and a sweet playa.
Wild cards: Outdoor soaking pools can be limited in winter, and chilly in the frequent wind.
Did you think the word "playa" was the brainchild of Burning Man? Sorry, friend. It's actually a term referring to a dry lake bed. Visit Summer Lake Hot Springs during non-winter months and you'll have the benefit of gazing out at the white, dusty expanse that is the Summer Lake playa, home to abundant bird species and some killer sunsets. After all, what good is a hot springs adventure without plenty of time for pastoral contemplation?
Speaking of Burning Man, Summer Lake Hot Springs is indeed a gathering spot for people headed to and from Black Rock City at the end of August and beginning of September. While the spot boasts near-endless camping, consider yourself warned. Pay a small day-use fee ($10 for adults) to soak, or stay for the night and the fee is rolled in.
Perhaps the most iconic item here is the tumble-down sheet-metal barn, which houses the rectangular indoor soaking pool—we dare you not to take copious Instagram-worthy photos of this barn and its backdrop. Just outside the barn is a handful of outdoor soaking pools, offering that pastoral, playa-gazing opportunity.
Stay over: RV camping with full hookups is available for $45 a night for two, or tent camp for $20 per person per night. Stay in one of the individual cabins, or rent the Ranch House, which comes with its own private soaking pool.
Hunter's Hot Springs
Stoke point: The resort is cannabis-friendly. Yes, that means you can puff in the rooms, according to the staff. There's also an adjacent geyser view—no trip to Yellowstone necessary.
Wild cards: Hot, hot pool.
Drive through an agricultural zone or a garden-variety golf course community and you'll probably witness a decorative spout of water emerging from the middle of a lake. Most of the time, these require some type of man-made pump to make the magic happen. The Old Perpetual geyser in Lakeview, on the other hand, is powered by the same geothermal energy that heats the pool at Hunter's Hot Springs, adjacent to the geyser. You can check out the geyser straight from the highway—but soaking in the pool at Hunter's requires booking a room.
If you've thus far been camping along this hot springs adventure, let this be the stop where you regroup. As of this writing, only hotel guests can stay at this spot.
Hunter's was recently purchased by three new co-owners, including the former owner of recently closed North Portland dispensary Jeffrey's Joint. What that means for guests is that the hotel is OK with cannabis—a departure from the approach taken at most other hotels you'll find around the state. The new owners have big plans to renovate some of the currently unavailable apartment rooms and to open the onsite bar and restaurant to the public. For now, though, expect your standard-fare motel rooms, with the added bonus of having a hot pool in which to soak and catch views of that geyser.
The hot pool at Hunter's is fed directly from Old Perpetual, which boasts an average temperature of about 168 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the staff. It's no wonder the hot pool runs between 102 and 104 degrees, and often needs to be "cut" with cool water.
Stay over: Rooms run $80 a night.
BONUS STOP: Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
If the weather conditions aren't extreme—meaning snow or heavy rain and subsequent mud—make the super-overachiever stop to the hot springs at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. This is a roughly two-hour detour away from US 395 and onto county roads, but at the other end is a concrete pool, surrounded by a wind-stopping wall, that fits about six people at a time.
Since it's in a remote area, you might have the place to yourself—especially outside the summer months. It's free to stay at the campground, too, though pack in what you need and plan to pack it out again, because the facilities are limited to a couple pit toilets. In the summer, a camp host keeps the place maintained. As its name suggests, the remote location means you'll also get to peep some wildlife.
Crystal Crane Hot Springs
Seasons: All, but winter can be rough in the wind.
Stoke point: A big open-air hot pond; optional private tubs in rooms and tepees.
Wild cards: That wind, though.
Welcome to what remains one of the best and yet still low-key hot springs in Eastern Oregon. Located just east of Burns—yes, the town you probably heard about during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—this little gem is quietly expanding year after year. A work in progress, yet already worthy just the way it is, it's cowboy-rustic yet charming.
The big draw at Crystal Crane has long been the relatively large outdoor pond where there's room for all—and varying water temperatures for varying tolerance levels. Recently, the owners added a number of adults-only hotel suites with their own private tubs. Even cooler? The private tepees available for rent, which also come with their own tubs, heated floors and bedding.
As is the case in much of Eastern Oregon, the winds can wallop the landscape. Still, there's something about being able to actually swim in warm water while the weather does its thing that makes this a trip worth making nearly any time of year.
Popping up as an oasis in the stark landscape, Crystal Crane offers a mini store with a few essential items, a kitchen for campers and guests, and a cozy TV room. In addition to the hot spring pond, the site's bathhouse contains a number of private soaking tubs, available for rent by the hour. Day-use fee for the resort is $10 for adults.
Stay over: Crystal Crane offers every option of accommodation you might need, including camping—$30 for tents, $37 for full hookups—small cabins, motel rooms and both a "ranch house" and apartment-style space that sleeps six, with prices ranging from $57 for a small room to $220 for the full house.
by Nicole Vulcan