A winter visit to Bagby Hot Springs

by Kim on January 6, 2012 · 20 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.