One of the highlights of our Oregon trip was always destined to be Terwilliger Hot Springs, otherwise known as Terwilliger Hot Springs. Nestled away in a remote part of Oregon (1 hour from Eugene), Cougar Hot Springs comprises of 6 cascading hot pools surrounded by towering trees and nothing but miles and miles of wilderness.
This is everything you might expect, and more, when you think of remote, wild hot springs in North America. While many of our hot springs in Canada have been turned into swimming pools, the remote Oregon wilderness never fails to deliver on hot springs.
So as we mentioned, Cougar (or Terwilliger) Hot Springs are a wonderful oasis in the forest, but on arriving in the parking lot, we realised that we probably wouldn’t be alone.
After the short walk in, we were disappointed to see the hottest pool was already full of bathers, several of whom were completely butt naked. This always comes as a bit of a shock to us; most of the hot springs in Canada require you to wear clothing, and we’re never quite prepared for the pasty white rears that are quite literally thrust in our faces at American hot springs.
For what it’s worth though, the nudity doesn’t really affect our experience at these hot springs, but it is something to be aware of!
For obvious reasons, the top pools is always the most popular as it’s the warmest and in this case, also the biggest. For that reason, it was quite full when we arrived, so we decided we’d head a bit lower to find ourselves our own pool.
And in fact, past the top pool, the 5 other pools were actually completely empty, and more importantly, hot. According to the Forest service website, temperatures range from 112F in the top pool to 85F in the lower pool, so the pools in the middle are easily warm enough to enjoy.
The water was the perfect temperature, so it was here that we decided to settle in. After such an early start, the warm water and dim light was the perfect place to relax, and as more and more people started to trickle in we were glad of our decision to head off before the crack of dawn.
After you’ve driven the bumpy trail and have reached the Terwilliger Hot Springs carpark, the hot springs are a short 5-10 minute walk through the forest (1/4 mile), depending on your pace. The trail winds gradually uphill, but it’s not particularly strenuous. This seems like a fairly easy place for thieves to break in, so make sure you don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle.
Terwilliger (or Cougar) is another clothing optional hot spring, so of course many of the bathers were nude. Bear this in mind if you have a fragile disposition! According to the forestry website, nudity is permitted as long as there’s no visible nudity from the road….so I guess don’t walk the quarter mile from your car in your birthday suit!
There are no changing rooms at Cougar, so there’s nowhere to hide as you change, but there is a covered shelter at the springs to leave your belongings in.
Technically Cougar is also not a free hot springs, and it costs $7 per person or $66 for an annual pass.
The car park has some pit toilets that were actually in fantastic condition. These are the only toilets you’ll find in the area, so don’t wait until you reach the hot springs. It’s clear that some people don’t realise this before they get there because I almost stepped in some human poop by the lowest spring. Be careful where you walk!
Cougar hot springs are officially closed from sunrise to sunset (and Thursdays 8am-12pm for cleaning), so in an effort to avoid the crowds, we aimed to arrive just as the sun rose at 7am. That meant setting off a little after 5.30am from Eugene (a 1hr 10 minute drive), factoring in the short walk from the trailhead.
We’d heard that Cougar hot Springs tended to be quite crowded, so our early start was an effort to beat the rush. Even when we arrived though, there were already half a dozen cars parked in the lot. Not a great sign, but you can’t always have hot springs to yourself!
Make sure you poke your head over the edge of the car park and check out the incredible reservoir below!
Overall, Cougar Hot Springs are absolutely beautiful, and getting there earlier or later in the day would be our recommendation. If you’re making a day of it, it would also make sense to stop in at Bigelow Hot Springs around 32 minutes away.
Not too far away, you’ll find a few other amazing things to do, including more hot springs (Umpqua), Toketee Falls and Crater Lake. If you drive a little further you’ll also be able to check out Portland, the Columbia River Gorge and the Mount Hood Region.
If you like hot springs, check out our post on 19 amazing hot springs in Oregon that you won’t want to miss!
Also, check out our Hot Springs page for all our favourite hot springs experiences around the world!
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