Hot Springs Near Steens Mountain, Oregon
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 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 neat hot springs there!
Barnes Warm Springs, a.k.a. Frenchglen Warm Springs
The town of Frenchglen, about 340 miles from Portland, is one of the largest towns—population about 12— in the Steens Mountain wilderness, and one of the few where you can get gas for miles. Barnes Warms Springs is a free spring that’s pretty close to town. From Frenchglen, travel south for a quick minute before hanging a left onto the Steens Mountain Loop Road. Shortly after turning you’ll see another dirt road to your right; turn there and park by the closed gate. After a flat 0.9 mile walk down an old 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.
I remember reading that this spring used to be 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—hence the name warm spring. This spring is pretty secluded, and probably the least visited of the three that we found. It likely would have been our favorite hot spring if we hadn’t been attacked by all the bugs—WOW! Considering that it’s in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge it’s not surprising to find lots of insects, but we truly didn’t understand the magnitude or quantity we’d encounter here in early July! Be sure to pack the bug spray with super DEET for this hike. 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. 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! 2021 update: We’ve been back to Steens, this time in early September, and we did not experience crazy mosquitoes.
Alvord Hot Springs
The Alvord Hot Springs are sandwiched between the Steens summit and the Alvord Desert, which provides a stunning backdrop for a soak. Located along East Steens Road, these privately owned and maintained springs collect into two concrete pools, one of them is out in the open, and the other is 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 for hot springs: seclusion. This high trafficked area (it’s right on the edge of the Alvord, on one of the only roads around) brings a good number of visitors to the hot spring. We stopped by 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—we think that’s probably the best way to enjoy Alvord Hot Springs.
A store, reception center, and restrooms are available onsite at the Alvord Hot Springs. This is also where the day soakers, tent campers and bunkhouse guests check-in. They have these neat old M.A.S.H. bunkers you can camp in, no joke! 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 get on the Alvord Desert, most of them are only passable for high clearance vehicles— not our Honda Civic, so we found it well worth $10 to access this sweet, ancient 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 soak, but it was absolutely worth the seven-mile drive down a road that looks more like an old four-wheeler or horse trail. We actually missed the road the first time we drove past because it’s not labeled. Fortunately we had picked up a map locally, and on it I could see a road shoot off from a severe bend on East Steens Road (a righthand turn if you’re traveling north, lefthand turn going south). After realizing we had already driven around that turn, we back-tracked and this time paid better attention at the curve—and BOOM, found it! After driving for what seemed like the longest seven miles ever, on what we weren’t even sure was the correct road, seemingly out of nowhere appeared a sign that read, “Mickey Hot Springs: Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”
Supposedly there’s one pool here that has a temperature low enough that it’s safe for soaking, but honestly, after seeing hot springs, bubbling mud pots and hissing pools reminiscent of Yellowstone, it didn’t seem like a good idea. 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 East Steens 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 that it’s right here in Oregon!
Check out the Bureau of Land Management website for more information about Mickey Hot Springs. Depending on the time of the year, the hot springs can be pretty active but at other times not so much. Apparently there was even a geyser here at one time!
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! I know I said we prefer remote, secluded hot springs but Crane is our exception. 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 pond all night. The temperature of the pond ranges from 99 to 102 degrees, but is hottest around the fountains where water enters the pool. The pond can reach about seven feet deep in the middle, but you can touch the bottom around the majority of it. There are plenty of picnic tables surrounding the hot spring so we just left our clothes on one of them and hopped in. Bathing suits are required in this public space, in contrast to most of the wild springs found around the state. Adjacent to the pond sits a marsh full of migrating birds that come through the wildlife refuge—that was kind of neat to watch. Although it’s not secluded, we found that the pond is large enough that it never really felt too crowded. On our first trip to Crane, about ten of us were in the pond at sunset. For sure, Crane Hot Springs was the most relaxing of the hot springs that we visited, and an amazing way to end a camping road trip.
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, trendy lighting, and it’s own private soaking tub that was difficult to leave! The private court yard was outfitted with a few comfy lawn chairs, picnic table, charcoal barbecue and a fire pit. The soaking tub, which is a literal trough (don’t worry, it’s cool) that can be filled with mineral hot spring water on demand. There’s even a window next to the tub, which we propped open to see the desert landscape and starry night sky: seriously, magic! The only drawback of this site is that there’s no bathroom, but it’s only a short walk away at the neighboring bathhouse.
In addition to the three glamping teepees, overnight accommodations include plenty of tent and RV campsites, various sizes of bunkhouses, cabins and apartments. There is a camp kitchen onsite that guests are welcome to use; it has a refrigerator, stovetop, oven, microwave, sink, barbecue grills, ALL the utensils and cookware, and I’m sure tons more that I’m forgetting. It’s stocked! The reception building includes a gift and supply store, and a cozy shared-use lounge for the guests. We 10/10 recommend Crane Hot Springs; it’s a must-stop if you’re traveling anywhere near Burns, Oregon.
2021 Update: In the fall of 2020 we returned to Steens Mountain, and just as we planned, we started and ended our road trip at Crane Hot Springs! We love it so much. They were just finishing up work on a new bathhouse that’s closer to the teepees, it may be open by now. We stayed in one of the little bunk houses next to the pond, which had air conditioning that came in clutch during the hot weather. This time, because we were conveniently located next to the camp kitchen, we used it to cook a full meal. It had everything we needed and it worked perfectly! Heading out of town we stayed there again, but this time in our tent in the campground. We were surprised to still find campsites available last minute on Labor Day weekend. Because we made our reservations so late, we wound up in the overflow section which is up on a little hill. I think this is the best seat in the house for the sunset, which has been a banger every time we’ve stayed at Crane Hot Springs.