Balknap Hot Springs is one of three Central Oregon hot springs within an easy one-hour drive of Eugene. Located on the McKenzie River, the springs were discovered and initially developed by R.S. Belknap in 1869. Visitor’s to today’s Belknap Hot Springs, Lodge and Gardens can camp, rent a cabin, book a room in the lodge, or simply purchase a day pass to enjoy the lower pool and hiking trails.
Drawing tourists to the “mineral spa” since the late 1800’s, framed black and white photos displayed in the modern day lodge give visitors an idea of how the property has evolved over the years. That said; note that Google Maps still describes the location as a “rustic retreat with spring-fed pools.”To find Belknap Lodge, take the McKenzie Highway (126) up from Eugene/Springfield just past the town of McKenzie Bridge. You will be into the Willamette National Forest at this point and looking for Belknap Hot Springs Road. Turn left and travel towards the river about 0.5 miles (the road makes a dead end at the main lodge parking lot).
Our family visited Belknap on a Sunday drive in late April. We purchased day passes to use the lower pool and hike on the property’s network of kid-friendly trails. We brought bathing suits, towels, and sandals and changed in the small changing and showering facilities (Note: You can stash your dry clothes in small, unlocked, metal baskets in the changing rooms or just walk everything back to your car).
Day rates are $7 for an hour or $12 for the full day (9AM to 9PM, year round). Overnight guests can stay in the pool until 10PM on Friday and Saturday evenings and also have access to the smaller, upper, pool located in the campground. The water temperature for both pools is 104 F and minimal chlorine is added to the water (babies under two and swim diapers are not allowed in the water). The hot water inlet is located on the river-side of the pool and (with kids) we hung out on the opposite (cooler and shadier) edge. Also, as one might anticipate in the great outdoors, the occasional bug meets its maker in the toasty water—just swim around the entomological carnage.
Worth the price of admission is the journey on the pedestrian bridge over the McKenzie River and into the maze of hiking trails. While you can secure a map from the front desk, we still became disoriented in our attempt to find the illusive “hidden garden”.
Stay determined, however, as your reward will be an encounter in a cleverly disguised, perfectly serene space. Seriously, I bet fairies live in the shadows and then come out to dance in the moonlight!
Hungry from our Family Circle like journey through the trails, we sprang for ice cream at the lodge store and then tried not to leave a total mess in the patio picnic area (hint: grab some paper towels from the changing room bathrooms). Not yet open for the season was a concession stand that likely serves hot dogs and other snack foods. While a family could easily save money and pack a cooler, we did not regret paying extra for the convenience of enjoying frozen treat.
Before we headed home, we wandered around the upper campground. Sites range from wooded tent camping to more open, grassy, RV spots. Cabins and vacation homes of varying size and layout are also available for rent (and are scattered on both sides of the river). We spotted the upper pool just behind the bathroom and laundry building. If you walk far enough, you may also discover the manicured Asian Lawn with trails and benches around two small ponds.
On the surface, the facility is clean and well maintained. We’re planning a trip back this summer to camp and partake in whitewater rafting on the McKenzie River. High County Expeditions is the resort’s on-site outfitter.