A winter visit to Bagby Hot Springs

by Kim on January 6, 2012 · 17 comments

Bagby Hot Springs in Oregon

Communal soaking tubs. Photo courtesy of the Bagby Hot Springs Website

I’ve been dreaming of going to Bagby Hot Springs in Mt. Hood National Forest since I first heard of it’s magical waters five years back.  An acquaintance had mentioned her visit in passing.  It’s beautiful, she’d said, and it wasn’t her underwhelming adjective that got my attention but the way she delivered it, all star-eyed and dreamy and far-away breathy.  I was sold.  So I filed Bagby away in my head as a place I must absolutely visit someday.

The trouble with Bagby is it’s got a pretty bad reputation.  Packed bath houses, litter-lined trails and redneck meth addicts causing trouble at the springs are well-known and well-documented disturbances .  Stunning but ruined was a phrase I’d heard more than once.  But, still.  I had to see for myself.

We headed out to the hot springs on a Thursday morning in December, hoping that the springs would be uncrowded and potential troublemakers would still be sleeping off their hangovers.  It was cold and raining and slightly miserable, which I took as a good sign.  Please don’t be crowded, I chanted inside my head.

From the parking area it’s a 1.5 mile hike to the springs and right off the bat the scenery is stunning.  The well-worn trail makes for an easy stroll through the forest along the bank of the Collawash River.  We encountered a few other hikers headed to the hot springs but for the most part the trail was all ours.

The trail to Bagby Hot Springs

The Collawash River from the trail to Bagby

After about 30 minutes of walking we spotted the bath houses through the ghostly mist.  The place appeared magical and otherworldly as a  few lone laughs rose up out of the main bath house.  Brian and I looked at each other in awe.  We’d never seen anything like it.   

The shared bath house (left) and the private tub bath house 

View of the private tub bath house

There are three bath houses at the site.  The main bathhouse has five cedar log tubs in private rooms.  The lower bathhouse has four round tubs located on an open deck.  This area is known as the communal deck and soaking with others is expected and recommended.  The upper bathhouse is located 100 yards from the other bathhouses and has one large tub on an open deck.  This tub was closed when we visited which is too bad, the view from this tub was especially amazing.

Brian and I snagged a cedar log tub in a  private room.  There was no wait for the tubs when we arrived and we quickly went about filling our log tub.  To do this we simply pulled a handmade wooden plug from the back of the tub and the 136 degree (58 Celsius) water from the springs, which is piped in through an open-air system that resembles wooden gutters, began to flow.  Because the water is so hot there is also a cold natural spring on the deck of the bath house in which you can fill up plastic buckets (provided) of cool water to add to your tub.  

A view of our private cedar tub.  Unfortunately, graffiti is prevalent at Bagby.

When our tub was full we stripped down and hopped inside.  Nudity is allowed and common at Bagby, though bathing suits are worn by some.  

The cedar tubs are long and comfortably fit two people.  Brian and I were both able to stretch out and close our eyes.  I lay my head back and allowed the cool rain to fall upon my face through the open air roof.  Pure heaven. Neither Brian or I could keep the goofy grins off of our faces.  We both agreed that Bagby felt like a magical place.  

The view from our private tub at the hot springs

After about an hour and a half of soaking a line had formed outside on the bath house deck and we knew we should pack up and let someone else get their chanceWe reluctantly drained our tub, dressed, and put our dogs back on their leashes.  (The dogs lay in the room with us as we soaked, happily resting in the rain).  

The entrance to the bath houses

The hike out was just as beautiful as the hike in though this time we passed quite a few hikers headed to the hot springs.  We were glad to have arrived early and avoid the crowds.  I can imagine that the place is quite packed on nice days and the weekends.  

Beautiful scenery along the trail

A few notes if you’d like to visit Bagby Hot Springs

Bagby is open 24 hours a day and is free to visit, though the standard $5 Forest Service fee is charged to park your vehicle.  

Camping is not permitted at the Hot Springs but the Shower Creek Campground is located a quarter mile up the trail.  

Alcohol is not permitted but there are very few who follow this rule.  If you can drink responsibly and carry out your litter I can think of nothing better than a cold beer while soaking in the springs.  

Well-behaved dogs will handle the hot springs well, as long as they are willing to lay down and rest while you soak in a nearby tub.   

Driving directions from Portland to Bagby Hot Springs

From Portland, take Exit 12 off of I-205 in Clackamas.

Drive east on highway 204 for about 44 miles through Estacada.

Just beyond the Ripplebrook Ranger Station the road becomes Forest Service Road 46.

Continue on Road 46 about 3.5 miles, then turn right on Forest Service Road 63 and drive for 3 miles.

Finally, turn right on Road 70 and drive 6 miles to the trailhead on the left.

The Forest Service Roads to Bagby are well maintained (no potholes) though not plowed in the winter.  Our little Nissan Altima did just fine but it was raining, not snowing.  The Bagby parking area has a history of car break-ins so don’t leave anything of value in your vehicle.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmel January 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Well, adding that to our list of “Must Dos”. I love this freaking state.

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Kim January 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

You really should, it was truly magical. I recommend going during the week and also during the rainy season- if for no other reason than to avoid the crowds.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 7, 2012 at 7:01 am

You’ve inspired me to head to the mountains!

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Kim January 7, 2012 at 9:22 am

Ah, I’m so glad!

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Sarahsomewhere January 9, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Sounds like a really interesting place Kim, I love the idea of hot spring water! I don’t even have a bath at home, but love nothing more than a hot soak! I guess it’s going to be a long time before I’ll experience something like this, but after your beautiful posts about Oregan I would love to visit.

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Kim January 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Oh, you should, Oregon is absolutely beautiful (all of the Pacific Northwest is amazing). If you ever plan to visit I would love to annoy you with all of my suggestions. I am very passionate about this place.

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Vax January 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Does anybody know how the roads are now? Was thinking about heading up there tonight with the better half, curious if chains will be needed for my little car or if I should even borrow a 4-wheel-drive truck.

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Kim January 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hi Vax, I had friends that went on 1/1/12 and they said the roads were a little icy but no snow. The elevation isn’t much up there but I don’t know if there is snow or not. I’d say at the very least bring chains but if you can get the 4-wheel drive that might be even better. You could also call the Clackamas Ranger Station and ask them about road conditions:503-630-6861.

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Vax January 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

Thanks for the info! We ended up not going last weekend but are considering it in the upcoming weeks, so it’ll be handy to have the ranger station’s number.

Hoping to make it up to Mount Hood for some snow shoeing this weekend! =)

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Kim January 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

I’d love to hear how the roads are this time of year (after some snow/rain) so if you have time I’d love it if you would leave a comment. Have fun snowshoeing… love it!

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Vax January 23, 2012 at 11:15 am

We made it! Got to the parking lot around 6pm Saturday, left around 1am. Believe it or not the roads were plowed with only minimal snow and ice up until the last 3 miles – after that it’d be best to have 4-wheel drive as there is just a single lane of tracks. Fortunately we didn’t run into anybody coming or going, but trying to get around someone could be tough without good clearance.

There was a younger group that made it all the way to the parking lot in a newer Jetta then got stuck turning around and were trying to get their chains on. We made it in our Ford Focus with good tires, didn’t have to use the chains, but another inch or two of fresh powder and we probably would have.

The trails were packed with about 3 – 8 inches of snow throughout, although there are some areas where the streams and snow melt create a bit of mud (there’s about a 30-foot section of trail that’s under about an inch of moving water), so make sure to wear water proof boots with good traction.

Overall a wonderful experience, but (for anyone else that may read this) I wouldn’t recommend it as a first trip to Bagby, especially if you aren’t comfortable and experienced with driving and hiking in snow and ice. The conditions definitely take it from a novice / intermediate difficulty to a solid intermediate.

Lisa Wooder January 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm

It seems that everyone want to have a winter visit to bagby hot springs. I think that everyone wants to enjoy the experience of going into a hot spring. I am also excited to visit Bagby hot spring and enjoy its feeling.

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Evan February 5, 2012 at 9:01 am

Katie and I are headed up there right now! Thanks for the great info! Hope you guys are well!

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Kim February 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Nice, Evan! Going on Superbowl Sunday is the best idea ever!

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Vax March 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm

We were thinking about heading down tonight but the flooding on the way to Estacada worries me…

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Jen January 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm

New tubs in the public area but a $5 per person fee in place now, and wristbands required. Not cool.
Bagby is a neat place, but not the best hot springs in Oregon. Try Breitenbush.

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Kim January 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Nice! Thank you for sharing the info. I think it will help others that are wondering if they should tackle the roads to Bagby in the winter.

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