One year ago we were packing the car and heading to the remote southeastern corner of Oregon to visit Steens Mountain, which turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the state, and Oregon is a pretty cool state! This dang pandemic has really put a damper on traveling, which has been a real bummer. Since we’re doing our part and social distancing, we’ll just write about our favorite trips instead. In honor of the one-year anniversary of our trip to Steens Mountain, let’s breakdown some of the areas neat hot springs!
Barnes Warm Springs, a.k.a. Frenchglen Warm Springs
About 340 miles from Portland, Barnes Warms Springs is a free and accessible spring in Frenchglen, one of the “biggest” towns around and one of the few where you can gas-up for miles. From Frenchglen, travel south for a quick minute before hanging a left onto Steens Mountain Loop Road. Shortly after turning you’ll see another dirt road to your right, turn there and park by the gate. After a flat and buggy 0.9 mile hike down a sandy dirt road, you’ll begin to approach some trees and vegetation. Look down to your left, and keep your eyes peeled for the small pool and a trail leading down to it’s base.
I remember reading that this spring was actually quite popular, equipped with bathhouse and all, but now I’m having trouble finding a source to corroborate that. The warm spring, which only reaches about 90 degrees, felt more like bathwater than a hot spring. By far, this was the most remote spring we found, and probably would have been our favorite if not for the bugs…WOW! Considering that it’s in the Malheur National Wildlife refuge, it’s not surprising to find tons of bugs, but we truly didn’t understand the magnitude or quantity! Be sure to pack the full-on super DEET bug spray for this hike, and for your Steens trip in general. You’ll want to stay submerged in the 20-inch warm pool so the mosquitoes can’t attack you, but they’ll be buzzing around your face so intensely you won’t want to hang around there all day either. Definitely make the easy trek in to explore Barnes Warm Springs, especially if you’re looking for remote springs without any company, just go prepared!
Alvord Hot Springs
The Alvord Hot Springs are sandwiched between the Steens summit and Alvord Desert, which provide a stunning backdrop for a soak. Located along East Steens Road, these privately owned and maintained springs collect into two concrete pools, one out in the open, and one that’s enclosed for some privacy. The water comes out of the ground at a scalding 170 degrees, but is mixed with cold water to cool before collecting in the soaking tubs. The water temperature can be regulated by spigots in each pool. Ten dollars gets you day access during business hours, and campers have 24-hour access to the springs, which I can only imagine is amazing at sunset, sunrise, and for stargazing. The Alvord Hot Springs were cool, actually hot, but they lacked what we loved most about Barnes, and what we hope for when hunting springs: seclusion. The relatively trafficked location brings a good number of visitors to the hot springs. We stopped in the middle of the afternoon and found several groups at the pools, along with several coming and going as we soaked. If you’re passing by, by all means stop to check out the Alvord Hot Springs. On our next trip to Steens Mountain we’ll be sure to camp there so we can stargaze from the pools and catch the sun set over the playa.
A store, reception center, and restrooms are available onsite at the Alvord Hot Springs, this is also where the day-soakers, campsite and bunkhouse campers check-in. There’s also a private access road to the desert that can be used for $10 per day. Though there are several free access roads to the Alvord Desert, most are only safe for high clearance vehicles, not our passenger car, so we found it well worth the money to access the old dried up lake.
Mickey Hot Springs
Mickey Hot Springs is like a baby Yellowstone, and just like Yellowstone there is NO swimming allowed! This was the only hot springs we visited where we couldn’t swim, but it was absolutely worth the seven-mile drive down a road that looks more like an old four-wheeler or horse path. We actually missed the road on the first drive by; it’s not labeled at all, and the only way we were able to find it was by following a map I picked up locally. I could see a road shoot off from a severe bend in the main road, so after realizing we drove too far, we back-tracked and looked for a road off of that curve – voila, found it! After driving for what seemed like the longest seven miles ever, on a “road” we weren’t even sure was the right road, we came upon a sign that read, “Mickey Hot Springs: Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”
Supposedly there’s one pool here that actually is cool enough to soak in, but honestly after seeing what resembles some of the coolest hot springs in Yellowstone, along with a few bubbling mud pots and hissing pools, it didn’t seem like a smart or responsible decision. The sign at the gate warns of hot water and thin ground surface that can break under your feet, so be exceptionally cautious around the springs. Leash your dogs, stay away from the edges and don’t linger too long on the fragile ground; seriously, this isn’t a place you want to get hurt because there’s NO traffic out here, little cell service and the main road is still seven miles back the way you came. Still, this was one of the coolest hot springs and it continues to blow our minds how diverse and amazing Oregon is!
Crane Hot Springs
Last but certainly not least, we finished our Steens trip at the Crane Hot Springs in Burns, Oregon. THIS PLACE IS AWESOME! The hot spring pond and private soaking tubs are available for day use and close at 10 p.m., but onsite campers can access the hot spring all night. The temperature of the pond, which is no more than seven feet deep in the middle, ranges from 99 to 102 degrees, but is hottest around the fountains where the spring water is routed into the pond. Plenty of picnic tables surround the spring so we just left our clothes (we had bathing suits on, clothing required here) on one of them and hopped in. Adjacent to the pond sits a marsh full of migrating birds, which was cool to watch. Although it’s not a secluded hot spring, we found that the pond was plenty big enough for the 10 or so of us soaking as the sun set. Crane Hot Springs was by far the most relaxing of them all and a great way to end our camping road trip. In hindsight, I wish we went back for a late night swim, but we had our own private soaking tub at our Tepee campsite that was hard to leave!
Crane Hot Springs was the last stop on a four-day camping trip, so we decided to treat ourselves to a “glamping” experience. We reserved the Running Horse Tepee, which had heating, a king bed, and trendy string lighting. Our private court yard was outfitted with a few comfy lawn chairs, picnic table, charcoal barbecue, fire pit and soaking tub, a literal trough (still cool) that can be filled with mineral hot spring water on demand. There was even a window next to the tub that could be opened to see the desert landscape and stars: seriously, magic! The only downside is that there’s no bathroom at the campsite, but it was only a short walk away at the neighboring bathhouse.
In addition to the three glamping sites, overnight accommodations include plenty of tent and RV campsites, along with various types of bunkhouses, cabins and apartments. The reception building sports a gift and supply store, and a cozy shared-use space for guests. Crane Hot Springs is a must-stop if you’re traveling to the Burns area. Next time, we’ll probably start and end our Steens trip there!