The cold weather has kept you inside far too long and cabin fever is making you cranky. You need a road trip.
Bundle up with your sweetheart and load up the Honda for a day trip to Bagby Hot Springs in Mount Hood National Forest.
Bagby Hot Springs is a United States Forest Service park located about 80 miles from the Portland State campus. The springs there feed mineral-rich, steaming-hot water into a plethora of wooden tubs in three rustic lodge buildings.
Visitors get to kick back in a hollowed out cedar log tub and soak in a 125 degree bath under the open Oregon sky among the Mt. Hood Forest pines. Winter provides icy air, the perfect contrast to the relaxing hot tub.
The bathhouses are three separate lodges: buildings two and three are side by side as you come off the trail; one house occupies five separate private tub rooms; the second holds several shared public tubs in one large open area. The open area tubs are round and seat four or five at close range. Building one is about 100 yards further along the trail and holds a larger tub on an open deck that seats six to 10.
To get there, it’s a three-hour cruise out of Portland. The destination is a parking lot and trailhead just 1.5 miles from the hot springs site.
“When you start turning onto the forest roads, the final turn has a giant sun that says, ‘Bagby’ painted onto the road. Don’t turn unless you see that,” said park visitor Ian Moore.
The walk through the woods to get to the springs was just as beautiful as any other aspect of the entire trip. The hike from parking lot to bathhouse is a twisty-turny trail alongside the Collawash River. You cross a few bridges over rushing rapids among majestic pines. The snow only adds to the beauty but makes the walk a touch slippery, especially at night. Keep in mind you’ll need to make the return hike in cold air after soaking in a hot tub.
There is no cell service whatsoever in the miles surrounding the springs, so be sure to bring along your own printed map of the area and location of the trailhead.
Visitors pay a park fee of $5 (cash only) per person and hike the trail from the parking lot to the baths. If you come at night, stuff your payment into the provided envelope and box it for the park rangers.
Park Ranger Kathy Arendt said the baths can get busy, especially on weekends and holidays, so there can be lines.
“This is when it’s important to keep your soak down to a reasonable 45 minutes and be sure to clean it out for the next camper,” Arendt said.
What to bring: If you go in winter, you’ll want decent traction for hiking through the snow, so consider your footwear. Bring an extra dry everything, especially socks and a snow beanie. If you’re going to be out after dark, you’ll need a flashlight or headlamp—preferably not candles or open flame.
“Since a visitor burned one of the tub lodges down due to careless candle attention back in 1980, it would be irresponsible to suggest tea lights for atmosphere, but man, they were a nice touch,” said hot tub enthusiast and PSU student Harles Meloy.
Do use the available brushes to scrub the tub before and after use. Wooden stoppers provide plugs for the tub drain and hot water spigot. Buckets are also available for carrying cold water from the creek up to the scalding tub water. Even five or six buckets of cold creek water will still leave your canoe tub piping hot.
Don’t leave anything behind. Leaving litter is particularly reprehensible in such a pristine setting.
Do treat the site with respect. In both private and shared areas, clean up after yourself and leave the place in better condition than when you arrived. Rumors fly that the free-spirit of Bagby Springs could soon be under the specter of privatization, so appreciate the freedom and behave accordingly.
Don’t be obnoxious. Families go there with youngsters, although there is a clothing-optional area. The posted rules for the park state no alcohol and no smoking. People were obviously skirting the “guidelines” in a few instances, but use discretion for Pete’s sake.
After dark, the tone of the park takes a more adult turn. What happens at Bagby, stays at Bagby.
Be careful, be safe and enjoy this natural hot-springs wonder.