Alaska Railroad

A Spa in the Woods: Dip into Northwest Hot Springs

by Lauren Braden on October 28, 2009

in Trip Ideas


It’s hard to believe, but fall and winter are the quiet season at Northwest natural hot springs. Even when the temperature outside is chilly, these pools are nice and hot. After a day of brisk autumn hiking in the Northwest backcountry I can think of few things more satisfying than dipping into a steaming vat of mineral water.

Fortunately, the Pacific Northwest is pretty close to paradise when it comes to natural hot springs, and you can dip into most of them year-round. To reach the most remote mountain hot springs set in lush coniferous forests,  one must travel by foot. Trails to popular primitive hot springs are some of the most well-trodden paths in Washington or Oregon, and there are entire books written about hiking to primitive hot springs.

Some hot pools are much more accessible, with onsite lodgings and even restaurants that make for an easy, mineral-soaked getaway. And there are steamy springs to satisfy everyone, from the hippie hiker who prefers to dip au naturel (try Breitenbush) to the luxury traveler in search of a spa resort experience (try Bonneville).

Here are a few fun overnight destinations for natural hot spring dipping.

Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR

Breitenbush CabinsBreitenbush Retreat Center is a worker-owned co-op community on 154 acres of wildlife sanctuary in the Willamette National Forest of Oregon. They offer seven unique relaxing pools, a steam sauna, yoga and meditation sessions, verdant hiking trails–all ensconced in a mellow Oregon vibe. Accommodations are simple and rustic, but not uncomfortable. Lodging ranges from dormitory-style bunks to cabins with private baths, and rates are $56+ PER person, which includes all meals (organic and vegetarian), yoga and 24-hour access to the hot springs. Bring your own bedding, robe, towels and toiletries, and leave pets and laptops at home. Reservations are required.

Good to know: The pools here are clothing-optional and many people choose to soak in the nude. If you prefer a bathing suit, by all means suit up. Breitenbush has a respectful atmosphere-this is not a flirty pick-up joint. It’s also an alcohol-free zone. They don’t serve coffee for breakfast, either, so pack some Via instant if you’re like me and absolutely must start the day with a cup of joe.

Info: | (503) 854.3320

Belknap Hot Springs, OR

Belknap LodgeBelknap Hot Springs and Lodge is set among lush, mostly manicured gardens by the McKenzie River in the Oregon Cascades, and the prescriptive vibe could not be more different from mellow Breitenbush. Belknap offers variety when it comes to lodging choices (pick a cabin or lodge room, park your RV, or go for the best value and pitch a tent in one of their walk-in campsites). There’s no variety in pool temperatures–both pools are about 103 degrees. However, the pools are quite large and you can actually swim in them, which is unique for hot spring pools. Rates are $12 for day use (open 9am – 9pm),  $25-$35 for camping, and start at $100 double occupancy for a very basic lodge room or small cabin. Bathing suits are required here.

Info: | (541) 822-3512

Carson Mineral Hot Springs Resort, WA

Take a step back in time at this funky resort. Located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, the Carson Hot Springs Resort is no-frills, and the towels aren’t particularly generous or fluffy, but the water is full of healing minerals and the soaking tubs are private.  Yes, you read that right-the mineral water is pumped into actual old-fashioned clawfoot tubs in a bathhouse, which is quite a different experience than soaking outside under the stars but evidently the way local folks have been soaking for more than a century. There’s a sauna, a golf course, and you can book a massage. A king-bed room here is just $75, double occupancy, though that does not include use of the bathhouse. For an extra $20 you can get a mineral soak followed by a hot towel wrap.

Info: | 1 (800) 607-3678

Bonneville Hot Springs Resort, WA

Are you a luxury traveler? Bonneville Hot Springs Resort near Stevenson is one of the most extravagant hot springs lodges in the Northwest. Visitors are greeted with landscaped gardens and cascading waterfalls, and just inside the classic lodge lobby is a  30-foot-high river rock fireplace. The luxury ambiance is nice, but its the spa-soaking bliss that really draws you in, as the pools and balcony hot tubs are all filled with mineral water from the nearby hot springs. Spa services include massages, facials and manicures. Rooms start at $159, and include use of the pool facilities. Day use of the pools are $15-$25 per person.

Info: | (866) 459-1678

Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, WA

Spend the night in a charming, rustic cabin in Olympic National Park, just steps away from a steaming vat of hot spring water. Start your day with a hike through the moss-draped rain forest of ancient trees, then hit the pools, finding the temperature that feels just right. While you soak your sore muscles in the pools and tubs here, listen to the sounds of the Olympic rain forest all around you. There’s no other hot springs experience quite like it anywhere else.  Accommodations are cute cabins, some more rustic than others and some with kitchens, and they start around $145 a night.

Info: | 1 (866) 476-5382



So, where’s your favorite Northwest hot spring?

Photo: Breitenbush hot spring pool by Los Paseos and cabins by Wonderlane. Belknap Lodge by Don Hankins.
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