3 places around Portland to take the healing watersBathing's not just for hygiene. For millennia, people have sought water cures for health and relaxation. Modern Portlanders keep the tradition alive.
Bagby Hot Springs
If you don't have a bathing suit – or you just don't want to wear one – Bagby is calling your name. This funky hot springs, 67 miles southeast of Portland in the Mount Hood National Forest, is also the budget option on our list. Pay a five dollar parking permit and you can spend the day hiking and bathing.
It's a 1.5-mile trek to the old house-of-card bathing kiosks. Each private space has an individual log with very hot water piped in. Buckets are provided for adding cold water so you don't turn into soup. This is a beautiful natural setting, but be prepared for potential anarchy. Nobody is in charge, and I've been there when people took a looong time in their logs, oblivious to the growing line of would-be bathers. If you want to give your uptight relatives from back east a memorable Oregon experience, drive them to Bagby on their next visit.
Carson Hot Springs
The old hotel dates back to 1901 and the bathhouses to 1926. A recent renovation has made Carson a bit more upscale, but some of the historic charm remains. You can bathe in sulfurous water in an old clawfoot tub in the bathhouse. After your 25-minute bath, an attendant wraps you in hot towels and you relax on a cot for another 25 minutes ($25). Or pay ten dollars per hour to relax in a communal indoor hot mineral pool with a view of surrounding mountains. If you get too hot you can dip in the cold plunge pool. Costs are higher on weekends and holidays.
The newest spa in town attempts to bring a hot springs feel to the middle of the city. Located on the fifth floor of hulking new building The Yard, bathers look out over the Burnside Bridge, the Steel Bridge, I-5 and, if they squint, they catch a glimpse of the Willamette River. It feels decadent to be relaxing in hot water while watching thousands of people scurry by in cars, buses and light rail.
As soon as you walk in, Knot Springs whispers, "Spaaaahhh." Its signature scent mixes fir, cedar, grapefruit and bergamot. Bathers dry off with colorful Pendleton towels. The official 10-step spa ritual is posted on walls, and describes using tepid, hot and cold pools, and dry and moist saunas in a prescribed order for maximum relaxation. It works. But at a hefty price-- $55 for two hours.
Teresa Bergen is a Portland-based writer who specializes in travel, fitness and lifestyle. She operates the site Veg Travel & Fitness, is the author of Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide and is currently working on a book about easy outdoor adventures around Portland.