Visiting Oregon’s Terwilliger Hot Springs

Just over an hour’s drive from Eugene into the heart of the Willamette National Forest, Terwilliger Hot Springs is a popular day trip destination for hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and tourists.

Terwilliger Hot Springs is also commonly called Cougar Hot Springs, as it is located within the heart of the stunning Cougar Reservoir. Use caution as you follow signs to the hot springs, as Forest Service Road 19 is windy, steep, and washed out in a small portion.

Ranger Station and Trailhead

Friends of mine have joked about “cougar” sightings at Terwilliger Hot Springs, and I should have heeded their urban-dictionary inspired word of caution before visiting with my mom (awkward) and children (parenting fail) this past weekend.

To begin, clothing is completely optional at Terwilliger (but not permitted until the main road is out of site). A covered (but open) changing structure keeps backpacks and towels protected from the rain. Vented pit toilets are located up the trail and a designated dog tie up area keeps Fido nearby, but not in the water.

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Dog Tie Up Area

Cascading-style pools range in temperature from 112 degrees to 84 degrees and are separated by rock walls and water travels in a downward (hot-to-cold) direction. The hot springs are open from sunrise to sunset; nighttime visitation is strictly forbidden (and monitored) by signs warning security cameras are hidden in the woods.

Inside the pools, water depth averages around chest height, with a rocky/sandy bottom. Some bathers were filling up buckets of cold stream water (running down the mountain just adjacent to the springs) as a way to cool down and clean up.

While the mere idea of woodland spy cameras is motivation enough for me to wear a bathing suit out of the 1930s, many (about 25%) of the people were taking advantage of the permissible nudity.  The area is closed for cleaning between 8am to 12pm each Thursday. According to the ranger, our Sunday afternoon visit was during a time of time of relatively clear/clean soaking conditions.

Covered Changing Station

Also worth noting were the number of cell phones, selfie sticks, and bloggers (me) with cameras. While I did my best to avoid capturing faces (and smudging people out in my published photos), consider the idea that cameras are allowed and gratuitous photography is discouraged but not monitored or censored.

Looking Up from the Bottom (Coldest) Pool

A $6 daily admission is charged for anyone visiting Terwilliger Hot Springs (state and national park passes do not apply). My kids (age 11 and 10) were admitted for free, but I’m not sure what the age-cutoff is between an adult and a child (perhaps 13). Annual admissions are available for $60.

Finding the hot springs involves a 1/4 mile hike from the gravel parking area, past Rider Creek Falls, and left at the ranger fee station. Expect pockets of mud and wear something sturdier than inexpensive flip flops.

Rider Creek Falls

Keep your receipt as proof of admission (you may be asked to show a self-paid receipt on the trail or at the springs if an attendant is not present). Alcohol is not permitted and smoking is discouraged near the springs (that said, we passed many people smoking marijuana in both directions).

Overall, I would like to visit Cougar Hot Springs on a Thursday afternoon or Friday morning without my kids or mom in tow. A much better option for families is Belknap Hot Springs another 30 (or so) minutes in the direction of Bend.

For more information, visit the official Terwilliger Hot Springs website.

Eager to explore more hot springs? Check out this blog on 5 hot springs swimming pools for families.

Happy trails!

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.