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Terwilliger Hot Springs, Oregon, Report.

April 2004

Recently I was able to stretch out a business trip to the Pacific Northwest to give me a few days to goof off. Since many of the hot springs in Washington were still snowbound I decided to head south to Oregon. Staying in Portland, I visited the Inner City Hot Tubs, a clothing optional spa and sauna place located in a very cool neighborhood, hiked to Bagby Hot Springs, a subject for a forthcoming trip report, and had my second visit to one of my favorite spots, Terwilliger Hot Springs, also known as Cougar Hot Springs.

Terwilliger is located east of Eugene making it about a 2 1/2 drive from Portland. As I was still on east coast time I set out early, avoiding the worst of the rush hour traffic around Portland. With a Starbucks latte in hand the drive down Interstate 5 to Eugene was an easy one except, of course, for the seemingly ever-present rain. After the snow melts there are several more interesting routes available from Portland, including one that takes you past Bagby and Brietenbush Hot Springs. But as many of the roads through the mountains don't get plowed the scenic route wasn't an option on this day. Once you get to Eugene/Springfield head east on Hwy 105 into Springfield. At the end of 105 turn left onto Hwy 126. If you need water, food, or gas the plaza on the south east corner of this intersection is a good place to stop as for the rest of the journey you'll only pass the occasional gas station or general store.

Leaving Springfield, follow 126 for about 50 miles until you reach the turn off to the Cougar Reservoir, Forest Service Road 19. Follow this road south past Cougar dam to the trailhead for the hot springs, a 7.5 mile drive. On the left side of the road just past the trailhead is a parking area. Pull in and gather your gear for the walk to the springs. If needed, there are pit toilets available for use here as well as at the springs. At the opposite end of the parking lot is a bulletin board and a permit box. Before leaving take a permit and put your $3 into the slot. Although the rangers didn't show up while I was there I've been told that they do come by regularly to check for permits. The fine for not having one is $50.

One pleasant aspect of Terwilliger is that it is one of the most accessible natural hot springs you'll find. It is an easy 10-15 minute walk from your car to the springs. If you don't have a car you can even take public transit to turnoff to the reservoir then walk or hitch in from Hwy 126. This makes the area popular with students attending University of Oregon in Eugene. There is also lots of camping nearby although the area immediately surrounding the springs is for day use only, a policy enforced by the rangers.

The trail to the springs can be a little bit mucky but, considering all the rain they receive, is in pretty good shape. While walking the trail be sure to take in the lush, dense forest. The trees draped in thick moss is amazing, especially to an easterner like me not used to the moist climate. You'll know you're near the springs when you see the steam rising up. The area around the springs has been built up to deal with the amount of use it receives while minimizing the impact to the surroundings. Wooden railings keep you on the trail and a couple of racks are provided to hang up your clothes and gear.

The springs themselves consist of several pools created using strategically-placed rocks. The pools are fed by wonderful hot spring water flowing out of a cave, water that then cascades from pool-to-pool. The water was about 107 F as it came out of the cave then cooled a couple of degrees each time it moved down to the next pool. This natural temperature regulation let you choose the water temperature that was most comfortable for you. The cave itself is also just big enough for 1 person to crawl in should you want a natural sauna experience. The spring water is very clean although a bit sulpherous. On the day I visited some volunteers also arrived early to scrub out the pools to remove any accumulated algae.

I soaked in the water for well over 4 hours. Another fellow had arrived at 5:30am and put in a good 8 hours before leaving! During that time many people came and went but there were always at least 10 people at the springs; weekends see even more people visiting. The age of the crowd on this day ranged from 7 to 70, with couples, families, and singles of both sex. Most were nude. A number of us were hot springs aficionados and I enjoyed sharing stories about the springs I've visited. Several people also took advantage of the cold stream flowing next to the springs to douse themselves with cold water, usually letting out a scream when the water hit them, before heading back into the pools for more soaking.

During both of my visits to Terwilliger there has been one or two people that we're not quite "there". On my first visit there was a fellow just released from spending a couple of years behind bars for a drug offenses. When he asked for my home address in case he needed a place to crash I politely changed the topic. This time, as I was walking in I passed a guy on his way out (literally and figuratively) who asked me if I was a member of any police or intelligence gathering organization as well as other questions about my relationships with "the hidden element", whatever that means. Maybe its the Oregon counter-culture or perhaps the effects of not-so-legal weeds harvested in the lush Oregon forests that bring out these wackos. In any case, with the number of people at at the springs, the proximity to the road, and enforcement of the day-use only policy make this a very safe and friendly place to visit. There are enough friendlies around to manage any problems that come up.

For maps and a virtual tour of the springs visit the hot springs section on my web site, http://www.reith.ca/.

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