Portland Winter Escapes

Sometimes a Great Soaking
  |  Gorp.com

Nothing brings karmic closure to an exhausting winter tromp like a hot bath and steaming cup of cocoa. It's with apple-red cheeks and feet sore from hours of sweat-soaked abrasion that we appreciate the simple luxuries of applied heat. That said, it's easy to see why one of the best kept secrets of visiting the fallout shadow of America's largest active volcano range is that the luxuries of civilization need not lurk behind closed doors. Scattered across the greater Cascades are numerous hydrothermal springs gushing from granite grottos—seasonal oases amid snow-dusted ravines—and with a little know-how the less trafficked of these spas can be yours for the soaking.The Wind River runs cold and fast for 20 steep miles from an obsidian basin south of Mount St. Helens down abrupt drops and hardwood ravines to co-mingle with the Columbia River on the north side of the Gorge. The drainage is a well-known destination for hard-core whitewater enthusiasts and in-the-know steelhead fishermen, but the Wind offers treasures for lay outdoor-persons as well, with spectacular hikes and river-side hot springs.

From a small private parking lot near Carson ($10 per car plus two passengers, $2 per extra person) it's a half-hour trek upstream along moss-slickened boulders and steep cliffs to two natural pools tucked beside some rapids. Bathing apparel is strictly discouraged, and each knee-deep percolator can accommodate up to six (though more likely than not you'll prune sans company). Water temperatures range from tepid to comfortably hot, depending on location in the pools and recent weather (rain seeps in, cooling the waters). Carry in a towel, plenty of warm, dry clothing, and a canteen of hot chocolate, if you so desire.

To reach the Wind River Hot Springs from Portland, take I-84 east 44 miles to Bridge of the Gods, cross to Washington route 14, head east four miles past Stevenson to Berge Road, and left again one mile north on Indian Cabin Road, which meanders two miles downhill to the parking lot.

If Wind River whets your hot water whistle, Hiking Hot Springs in the Pacific Northwest, by Evie Litton (Falcon Press, $16.95), offers descriptions of little-known gems like Bigelow Hot Springs to the southeast, nestled between crowd-choked Bagby and Cougar.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 16 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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