Hot springs in Oregon and other states are sacred places, unique in that they are enjoyed by all walks of life, shapes and sizes. They are present and historic places of peace. In other words, enjoy the comradery of your fellow soak seekers, who are inadvertently in the same exclusive club as yourself.
Of course, this guide is just the very beginning. If you wish to go beyond roadside hot springs you need to take into consideration where you’ll be going, for how long, and all of the items that may potentially need to be brought.
What should I bring to the hot springs?
Now that you’ve researched your geothermal destination and have checked road reports, trail and hot springs conditions with the corresponding public lands office (see below) it is time to load up your backpack with the essentials.
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Oregon Hot Springs Checklist
- Guidebooks and maps – You need to know where you’re going… don’t you? Or, at least help you regain your bearings when you wander too far if that’s possible.
- Oregon Gazetteer – An excellent map of Oregon that includes Forest Service and BLM roads and trails. Perfect for marking up the locations of your favorite hot springs. Great for keeping in your vehicle.
- Roadside emergency kit – Also for your vehicle.
- Backpack – To carry everything in. Keep one loaded with your towels, suits and garbage bags for those spur-of-the-moment trips.
- Towel – Very important, especially in the winter months. Pro Tip: microfiber towels dry so much faster.
- Swimsuit – Dedicate a suit specifically for soaking and wash sparingly to keep detergent out of the hot springs.
- Back-up set of clothing – In case you need to change your wardrobe due to unforeseen circumstances like falling into a hot pool with all of your clothes on.
- Packable rain parka/jacket – Well let’s see – IT’S OREGON!!
- Water – And plenty of it. Pro Tip: Consider a water bottle with a built-in filter.
- Thermometer gun – This helps to ensure you don’t get into something too hot or cold. During winter, it’s often challenging to tell what the pool temperature is by touch alone. FYI, these floating duck thermometers work exceptionally well.
- First aid kit – Self-explanatory, it’s just a good idea.
- Headlamp or flashlight – For those early morning/late evening soaking opportunities.
- Crank flashlight, radio and phone charger – Need more be said?
- Garbage bags are a definite item to bring.
To pick up trash so all can continue to enjoy the area. If everyone leaves the place of beauty in better shape than when they arrived there will be less to continually pick up. This also means leaving the plants, trees and animals where you found them.
Garbage bags double as a protector for your clothes and other items in case it rains/snows. At many springs the ground around them is wet, so the bags help keep everything nice and dry. They also work great as a floor mat to stand upon while changing, keeping your feet clean and dry.
Other important items:
- Dry sack – Put things in here that you want to keep dry like your phone, towel and a spare change of clothes.
- Packable chair – A good lightweight and packable chair is hard to find and oh so valuable.
- Waterproof shoes – These are a necessity when hiking. Your feet have to last your whole life; the better you take care of them, the better they’ll take care of you. Plus glass and rocks are notorious for running a good backcountry soak. Hiking out with your feet cut up is pretty awful.
- Portable clothesline – Super helpful for drying things like clothes, towels and swimsuits.
- Snacks – Try something with a good mix of carbs and protein to help stave off that too tired to hike, backpack or drive feeling after becoming incredibly relaxed. If need be, take a nap.
- Waterproof camera – To capture nature’s scenic beauty. Pro Tip: Carry a special front pack to house your camera to enable easy access when that perfect shot is revealed.
- Sunglasses and sun hat – For those desert or summery soaks in the hot sun.
- Trekking pole or hiking staff – You want the top of the pole or staff to hit your armpit to find your ideal length. These are must-haves for river fords and elevated hikes.
- Waterproof notepad and pen – Just in case you are inspired.
- GPS unit
- Knife or multi-tool
- Biodegradable TP and small plastic shovel – You know. Dig a hole, let it flow, fill the hole back up with dirt.
- Biodegradable wet wipes
- Water filter or purification or LifeStraw
- pH test strips – For testing water quality. You can also buy these strips from a restaurant supply store. Make sure to purchase the type used for testing commercial-grade dishwashers.
- Quart container – For testing hot springs flow rate. Time how long it takes to fill and divide by 15 to get gallons per minute.
Keep in mind, all you truly need is yourself and a good frame of mind.
Soak Safety – What to Consider When Visiting a Hot Springs in Oregon
- Road and travel conditions – Always check Oregon road conditions prior to departure in order to avoid closures, heavy traffic, accidents and inclement weather conditions. ALWAYS!
- Alcohol consumption and dehydration – Drinking and soaking get you wasted fast because hot springs dehydrate the body. Many have drowned or fallen off a ledge while hiking due to mixing alcohol and hot springs together.
- Soaking in the sun without replenishment – The sun and hot springs can sap the juice right out of your body quickly; keep water, electrolyte drinks and sun protection handy.
- Avoid visiting popular hot springs at the most popular times, unless that’s your thing – We’ve heard plenty of horror stories about visiting a popular hot springs on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
- Snakes – This is generally not a concern, but a few hot springs feature nearby thermal vents that provide year-round habitat for snakes and lizards. If you leave them alone – they’ll leave you alone.
- Hunters – Don’t forget about hunting season! Wear bright colors if you plan to head out into the backcountry during this time, keep in mind that you’ll be sharing campsites and hot springs with ’em too.
- Adult situations – That’s right, unfortunately. For some reason, people think that popular hot springs are a good place to get their freak on. Not such a great idea. And really, how would it feel to get busted by little Tommy or Suzy with their family in tow, or a dozen drunk people? Let’s also not forget the very real danger of the many tiny creatures that live in hot springs gaining access to your inner workings.
- Spring runoff – Even small creeks and rivers experience large undertows during spring runoff. Don’t try to cross anything fast-moving until spring runoff is over, which is usually around late June to early July depending on elevation.
- Wildfires – During Summer and early Fall, check the latest wildfire information to see if fires have impacted your route or access to your destination.
- Pets – Soaking with Fido can be an enjoyable experience, but the majority of hot springs are NOT dog-friendly for a variety of obvious reasons.
- Vandals – Lock up and hide your gear when at popular hot spring parking areas.
- No Glass Containers – This one is pretty self-explanatory and very important; glass gets broken – people step on it in and around the water.
- Spider mites – A few hot springs in Oregon are known to be infested by red spider mites.
Leave No Trace Oregon Hot Springing Ethics
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into groups of 4-6.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rocks, gravel, dry grass or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
In Popular Areas
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activities in areas where vegetation is absent.
In Pristine Areas
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the hole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.