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Cougar Hot Springs / Terwilliger Hot Springs

Cougar Hot Springs Near McKenzie Bridge in Oregon

Deep in the thickly wooded canyons of central Oregon are the remarkable Cougar Hot Springs, also known as “Terwilliger Hot Springs.”

These springs are so close that most Oregon visitors, even those in Portland, can take an overnight trip to the area (six hours round trip from Portland, two hours from Bend).

Cougar Hot Springs Pictures

(Some of the above photos are courtesy of Alison Catanese Tompkins)

To visit Cougar Hot Springs, you’ll need to drive one and a half hours east of Eugene or two hours west of Bend, Oregon. Both roads will wind through Willamette National Forest until you arrive on the banks of the Cougar Reservoir. From there, you’ll park, pay a $7 cash fee for a day pass, then hike 0.4 miles (0.6 kilometers) to the hot springs.

There are four cascading pools, ranging in temperature from 85°F (29.4°C) to 112°F (44.4°C) degrees. Because the hotter cools when it cascades down the hillside, the top pool is the hottest while the bottom pool is the coolest (though still warm). The pools are closed by sunset and max out at 50 people, so you’ll want to arrive as early in the day as possible, ideally on a weekday and between April and September.

Seasonal Access Information

Willamette National Forest has rain, snow, and sunshine, making it a fascinating place to visit, so long as you prepare for the weather. The best time to visit Cougar Hot Springs is between April and September when temperatures are mild and there is less rain. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 90°F degrees.

However, this forest has many environmental hazards that you should be aware of, including heavy rain, snow and snowmelt, and wildfires. Any of these hazards can create an impassable or dangerous condition for driving or hiking.

  • Wildfires (typically June through October): This forest has experienced many forest fires, including three in July and August 2021. Be sure to review the Fire Danger Rating on the Willamette National Forest website and check the federal fire incident website, Inciweb. Even if there are no nearby fires, the air may be smoky.
  • Rainy and snowy season (typically November through March): For several hours and up to a few days after heavy rain, there is an increased chance of rock slides or mudslides, which can also cover the hot springs. Stay aware of all landslide risks.

You can also visit the hot springs in the off-season (late fall, winter, and early spring). However, the roads may be closed due to heavy rain or snow, so this time of year is best suited for locals who already know the area and can safely traverse the closed roads to the hot springs.

Driving Directions

Driving to Cougar Hot Springs is straightforward, but you should check for any road closures or detours before your trip.

If you’re traveling from Portland or Eugene, you’ll need to take the Oregon Route 126 East outside Eugene for about 38 miles before turning right (south) on National Forest Route 19, also known as Cougar Dam Road toward Cougar Falls.

If you’re traveling from Bend, you’ll need to take U.S. Route 20 West toward Sisters Salem, which turns into Oregon Route 126 East. Just beyond McKenzie Bridge, you’ll turn left (south) on National Forest Route 19, Cougar Dam Road.

Drive a short distance down National Forest Service Route 19 (Cougar Dam Road) and turn right (west) on Aufderheide Drive. Travel on this road for 5 miles until reaching the hot springs parking area.

Hiking Directions

Park at the small lot on Aufderheide Drive, pay the day-use entrance fee, then hike on the well-marked path past Rider Creek on your left for approximately 0.4 miles (0.6 kilometers) until you get to the cascading hot springs pools, which are also well-maintained with rock walls. The trail is almost all flat and should take about 15 minutes.

Cougar Hot Springs Map

How to get there from Blue River: Travel east 4 miles on Highway 126 from Blue River and then take Forest Road 19 AKA Aufderheide Drive 5 miles to the signed Terwilliger Hot Springs parking area. Hike 1/4 mile west on Rider Creek Trail #3319 to Terwilliger Hot Springs.

Accommodations

Though you aren’t permitted to camp near Cougar Hot Springs, many local campgrounds are nearby. You can reserve a site at the closest, Cougar Crossing Campground where half of the campsites are first come first serve and the other half are reservable. Cougar Crossing is open year-round and only five minutes from the hot springs. Cougar Creek costs $15 per night and has limited first-come, first-served sites. A more popular choice only 10 minutes from Cougar Hot Springs is Slide Creek Campground, which costs $18 per night and is only open between April and September. Half of the Slide Creek campsites are reservable and the other half are first come first serve. Other seasonal campgrounds include French Pete Campground and Hard Rock, a group campground.

If you prefer more comfortable or warmer accommodation, you’ll want to stay in nearby Blue River or McKenzie Bridge.

Amenities

Cougar Hot Springs is in a deep forest, miles from even the local gas station, so plan as if you’ll be off the grid. The nearest amenities are in the tiny unincorporated community of McKenzie Bridge, which is at least 30 to 40 minutes of driving on winding roads. The only gas station is a Chevron, and the closest grocery store is McKenzie General Store, three miles down the road from Chevron. Fuel up and bring food and water.

Visiting Rules and Nudity

Cougar Hot Springs has a strict and enforceable list of behaviors, including no alcohol, no visible nudity from the highway, no camping or visiting overnight, and no pets allowed in the hot springs. In addition, you should always take out your trash, wear sunscreen, sun protection, and drink water to avoid dehydration. What is allowed is nudity. If you are uncomfortable with seeing naked people, we don’t recommend you visit Cougar Hot Springs. Of course, you are always welcome to wear a swimsuit.

Cougar Hot Springs Video

 

A profile on Terwilliger Hot Springs in Terwilliger, OR.

Terwilliger Hot Springs Music Video

 

Video series about Cougar hot springs, Oregon. Piano music “Summer Stream” by Bill Pease. The place never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

Cougar Hot Springs Soak Stats:

Season: Late Spring, Summer, Early Fall (check road conditions during winter due to frequent closures)
Type: Hike
GPS (Hot Springs): 44.08323660495977, -122.23842745217146
GPS (Trailhead): 44.08386856275806, -122.23291283041254
Map Quad: MCKENZIE BRIDGE 15 or Willamette National Forest Map
Elevation: 1,749 feet (533 meters)
Land: Willamette National Forest
Fee: Yes ($7/day or $60/year)
Restrictions: Nighttime closure, only 15 people allowed at the hot springs, max soak time is 2 hours, closed Thursday mornings for cleaning
Usage: High
Visibility: Moderate
Temp: Between 85°F (29.4°C) and 112°F (44.4°C)
Water Clarity: Clear
Odor: n/a
pH: n/a
Area Features: Cougar Falls, Lowder Mountain, McKenzie River, Blue River Lake, Belknap Covered Bridge
Nearby Hot Springs: Belknap Hot Springs (27 miles), Bigelow Hot Springs (31 miles)
Closest Food/Gas: McKenzie Bridge, OR (18 miles)
Trash: Moderate-Low
Bugs: Moderate-High (seasonally)
Wildlife: Moderate
Camping: Nearby Cougar Crossing Campground, Slide Creek Campground, French Pete Campground, Hard Rock Campground, no on-site camping
Dogs: Yes, on a leash (but not allowed in the hot springs pools)
Clothing Optional: Yes
Pit Toilet: Yes, near the hot springs
Instagram #CougarInstagram #Terwilliger
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53 thoughts on “Cougar Hot Springs / Terwilliger Hot Springs”

  1. I will be in Oregon in March and I want to know if there are any changes, new rules, or new fees I should be aware of. Thank you so much.

  2. I went here on a Saturday in mid-march and it was fairly crowded. About half nude and half clothed. The water wasn’t as warm as I expected and the bottom pool was completely cold. Decent drive in though the roads are narrow on a semi windy road. Beware of deep potholes right past the “Loose Gravel” sign. Nearly took off our front bumper. Beautiful scenery and great experience though.

  3. went today around 3pm-5pm. It was fairly crowded, the trail was somewhat muddy. With a small group of friends it was fun, however, the largest and warmest pool was overcrowded with nude people, which was fine, but not our style. The water was kind of gross but could have been worse.
    Overall enjoyable experience, would have been more fun without the nude crowd, but we knew what we were getting into.

  4. Not really into being totally naked around strangers but met some nice girls , who were, and had a good time talking to them and visiting with the crowds that started filtering in. The water was a little cooler than say Bagby but it was good clean fun, no drugs or effing on site which was nice. Very ideal picturesque nature area, sad that there are so many dams out there, but its not as overran as Mt Hood National forest tends to be and there are some good fishing runs down there.

  5. Just what’s up there this weekend and the road is still closed they haven’t even started to move it rocks out of wood be a couple months

  6. Access to Cougar has been CLOSED winter and spring 2018 due to a massive rockslide on access road Jan 2018.
    Here is latest from FS https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/willamette/recarea/?recid=4391

    “3/26/2018: Access to Terwilliger Hot Springs and the west side of Cougar Reservoir and from Forest Service Road 19 (Aufderheide Scenic Byway) remains blocked due to rockfall. There is no safe way to reach the hot springs at this time. Forest Order 06-18-01-18-06”

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