Three Nights, Three Kids, Three Hot Springs
Hot Springs Near Central Oregon That Offer Fun for the Whole Family
By Nicole Vulcan
| Photos by Rebecca Price
The kids wanted a fall vacation that included splashing and swimming. We, two station wagon-driving, thrift-minded moms, knew that Disneyland, indoor water parks or warm environs were too far out of our budgets. Still, a late 90’s station wagon is just about the right size for packing up three kids for a foray into the numerous hot springs of southern and eastern Oregon. It was too cold for outdoor swimming, but hot springs, with their bathwater-warm temperatures, sounded just right.
Our mission: locate springs that were large enough to allow the kids space to splash and swim, while, at the same time, finding serenity, scenery and amenities. With those three criteria in mind, we embarked on a tour of three hot springs, with three kids in tow.
Crystal Crane Hot Springs; Crane, Oregon
Located along Highway 78 about three hours southeast of Prineville, Crystal Crane Hot Springs pops up from the sage-heavy prairie, truly an oasis in this parched part of the state. The most notable sight upon arriving: the skeletons of the resort’s tipis, one with a large metal trough that serves as a private. At $65 a night, the tipis offer a unique way to sleep and soak at Crystal Crane. We opted to set up our own sturdy tent in the wind-whipped camping area, but were also tempted by the small cabins that encircled the soaking pond.
But for the steam rising from the soaking pond–and the heads bobbing in it–you might mistake it for any other pond reserved for local cattle. With a mud bottom and a gravelly beach at its approach, Crystal Crane’s pond is the most rustic of the three we visited. Still, the pond’s size and temperature make it perfect for meeting the kids’ requirement of plenty of room to play. While horseplay is not usually welcome at any hot springs, the pond’s size makes it possible for more mellow adults to give the kids their own portion of the pond.
Outside the pool, winds were so ever-present that they mimicked a person we’d gossip about around the campfire. “Did you see what she did today? Unbelievable!”
With that to contend with, the resort’s common area with a big flat screen TV, fireplace and the community kitchen mode camping in a tent a lot easier to bear. Heated bathrooms and private soaking tubs adjacent to the pond also make getting in and out of the pond in the cold weather more comfortable.
What the adults liked: The large, comfortable pond that gave the kids something to do all day.
What the kids liked: The temperature of the pond.
What we didn’t like: The Ever-Blowing Wind made making s’mores over the fire difficult.
What we’d do differently: Come when the tipis are open (they’re only open seasonally) and then rent the one with the big private tub.
Hunter’s Hot Springs; Lakeville, Oregon
Southeastern Oregon’s vistas go on forever, with nearly nothing but sage, sand and the occasional mountain view. Still, surprisingly, the area offers plenty to do. After cruising through Diamond Craters, an area of strange lava squishes dotted among the sage, we found it hard to keep a steady pace on the road.
On Highway 395, leading into Lakeville, the shouts of “Let’s stop here!” were evenly distributed among the adults and kids. First rolling sand dunes, then fields of climbable boulders conspired to keep us from checking into our next destination before dark. After enduring the sand and wind in the tent, we were ready to sleep in beds.
Satisfying that need was Hunter’s Hot Springs, a historic hotel in Lakeville, originally built as a sanitarium taking advantage of the healing waters. Before that, the Paiute people used the area as a center for birthing and healing. Today, its owner is slowly fixing it up, adding more rooms and a lounge and restaurant. We checked into a basic room with king and queen beds and cable TV — a dose of luxury compared to the air mattress in the tent.
Hunter’s also boasts Oregon’s only geyser, Old Perpetual, which blows on schedule every 50 seconds or so (the kids counted). The hotel’s concrete hot spring pool is surrounded by walls on three sides, and a viewing wall on the fourth.While the wind still manages to enter that sanctum, it’s certainly tempered a bit — perhaps aiding in making Hunter’s the hottest of the three hot springs we visited. Its adjacent changing rooms make it simple to get in and out, and also give day visitors somewhere to stash their stuff or take a shower.
Hunter’s Hot Springs offered basic, clean accommodations when we needed them. As an up-and-coming hotel, we recommend it as a respite from camping. What the adults liked: Breaks from the wind and proximity to town – by this time we were in acute need of food not cooked on sticks or scrabbled together in a single pot.
What the kids liked: Warm beds.
What we didn’t like: The kids thought the pool was too hot, but it’s easy to alter the temperature. The owner did so the next morning, making it possible for us to soak for a longer period than the night before.
What we’d do differently: Get up earlier so we could have more time for soaking before checkout.
Summer Lake Hot Springs; Paisley, Oregon
There’s a reason that the phrase “the clouds parted” is used so often. When we pulled into Summer Lake Hot Springs along Highway 31 just outside of Paisley, the clouds did indeed part, and the sun and welcoming atmosphere made for an excellent final stop.
Summer Lake Hot Springs has a little of everything. There’s a large, bathwater-hot indoor pool, complete with changing rooms. Outside, rock-lined tubs offer a dose of tranquility among the high clouds, with views of the Summer Lake salt flat in the distance.
The resort’s cabins sleep between two and six people, each featuring unique woodwork, vintage and antique decorations, and floors heated by geothermal energy. Camping is also welcome. Little details such as well-placed Buddha statues and rustic art underline the care the owners have taken with the site’s aesthetics. If the theme here wasn’t three kids, three nights, we could have stayed for 13 nights.
What the adults liked: Indoor as well as outdoor pools. (Read: space to let the kids be kids, while we got some peace.) Lots of open space so the kids could play frisbee or just run around. Well-decorated spaces.
What the kids liked: Cool cabins, nice to soak out of the wind.
What we didn’t like: A little pricey for camping with kids, advertised at $20 a head. Still, the managers gave us a discount for the kiddos.
What we’d do differently: Bring more (adult) friends and take over all the cabins at once.