Winter is coming, and in Portland, that means plenty of rain. But that doesn’t mean you have to hide from the drizzly gray skies the city is known for. Au contraire—wet weather is perfect for fully appreciating a steamy dip in Mother Nature. Sitting in a warm pool while cool, fresh drops of rain splash your face is downright ethereal. And even though it’s perfectly legal (in most places) to strip down and soak, the process feels as risqué as an after-hours skinny-dipping adventure. Numerous natural hot springs are scattered around the Portland metro area, and they’re worth the short car trip to get there. Check in advance for inclement weather and road conditions before heading out on a mini road trip. And if you’re looking to maximize your time, consider renting a cabin for a leisurely and cozy getaway.
The closest cluster of hot springs is located just under two hours away from Portland in the lush Mt. Hood National Forest. Popular year-round, Bagby features several bathhouses and bathing options. After a 1979 fire burned down the original bathhouse, a new structure was built in its place that houses five private stalls, each with a tub. Below the main bathhouse, a large round wooden tub can comfortably fit a handful of friends, and tubs made of logs fit single bathers. The rustic tubs are filled from nearby hot springs, and because the temperatures are typically scalding, bathers must fill and carry buckets of cold water to get the baths to a comfortable warmth. Clothing is rare, and late in the evening, it’s been known to get unpleasantly rowdy. Since the springs are only accessible by a 1.5-mile hike, it’s best to arrive with plenty of time (or flashlights) to make it back before dark. Bring $5 cash for parking.
The quickest route to Breitenbush will take 2.5 hours from Portland, but if you’re looking for a full day (or more) of relaxation with the works, this is the place. This majestic center located on the Breitenbush riverbank feels like camp for new age adults. The expansive facility offers several options for hot springs including three natural, stone-lined pools with one designated tub for silence; four spiral tubs of varying temperatures; and a cold plunge nearby. Indulge in daily wellness offerings, such as mindful meditation, ayurvedic yoga, and deep-tissue massage. When you’re hungry, you can nosh on entirely organic vegetarian meals. Reservations are required for all visits. You must typically book well in advance to enjoy this retreat beyond a day, but daily passes are also offered on a $20 to $36 sliding scale. Because of the lack of cell service, it’s especially important to check and note directions before driving down.
If scenic, Instagram-worthy settings are your passion, Cougar Hot Springs (also known as Terwilliger Hot Springs) should be at the top of your list. After a nearly four-hour drive from Portland and a quick quarter-mile hike from the parking lot, you’ll find six tiered pools separated by chunky rock walls that range in temperature from 112F in the highest pool to 85F in the lowest pool. Take in views of the stunning Rider Creek waterfall while you soak. Clothing is optional, and most enthusiasts opt for birthday suits, but it’s okay to go either way. Each person must pay a fee of $6 before entering; this helps maintain the pools, which are closed for cleaning every Thursday morning.
The smallest and most rustic of the bunch, Bigelow sits right against the winding and rushing McKenzie River. Also called Deer Creek Hot Springs, this tiny natural spring is off the beaten path, about 20 minutes from Cougar and a quick walk from a nearby trailhead. The pool only fits two to four people comfortably, and it was admittedly lukewarm on a recent visit, but slinking into the cave can increase your exposure to warm spurts and will make you feel like a sleek amphibian in your habitat. (The water temperature is warmest in summer and fall.) Clothing is up to each bather, and since the pool is mostly private, you won’t have to succumb to peer pressure either way. Keep in mind that adventurous kayakers often float along the river, though, so if you’re busy snapping away for a photoshoot, you’ll probably have an audience.