Belknap hot springs beckons

McKenzie River hot spot is perfect outing for a miserable day

By Alandra Johnson / The Bulletin

Published Apr 2, 2014 at 12:11AM

If you go

What: Belknap Lodge & Hot Springs

Cost: $7 per person for one-hour soak

Getting there: From Sisters, follow U.S. Highway 20 over the Santiam Pass and turn left onto the McKenzie Highway 126 (follow signs for Eugene) then turn left again to stay on the road. From there, it’s about 18 miles to the turnoff for Belknap. Look for signs on the right-hand side of the road. The lodge is right off the highway.

Contact: www.belknaphotsprings.com

It was one of those drizzly, chilly, gloomy days that March specializes in — the kind of day made for snuggling under a quilt while sipping some tea.

But you can’t always do what a day demands.

Sometimes, even on gray, blustery days, the urge to get outside becomes a compelling need that can’t be ignored. In this case, the need to go outside did not come from some internal desire, but rather was thrust upon me by a stir-crazy 3-year-old. (I could have stayed snuggled in with a book for hours, go figure.)

But what to do when it’s sopping wet in town and no better in the mountains? Where do you go when even the Badlands are blustery? I talked with a friend about this conundrum, and she had what I thought was a genius suggestion: hot springs.

So we packed up the car and headed out. We opted for some less wild, clothing-required hot springs on the west side of the Cascades and headed to Belknap.

Belknap Lodge & Hot Springs is a small resort just an hour west, about equidistant between Eugene and Bend (a perfect stopping point if you are headed that way.) The lodge has rooms for rent as well as cabins and camping sites along the McKenzie River.

It also has a hot springs-fed pool open for day use. An hour soak is $7 per person.

We arrived just shy of noon and opted to hike about the ample grounds before taking a dip.

We donned raincoats and headed out. The weather was a bit warmer than it was in Bend, but just as gray and windy. The rain had died down, but we encountered sprinkles and drizzle throughout our outing. My mom and stepdad, who live outside of Springfield, met us for the day.

Just past the lodge is a bridge across the river, which leads to a series of paths. A left turn would lead to a path through the wilderness. Instead, we turned right, which led to the gardens and camping sites.

The gardens at Belknap are highly planned, yet surprising. The well-groomed path we walked along quickly split as trails wove around a series of man-made ponds surrounded by large trees and fields of bamboo. We crossed bridges made of logs and passed a worn pagoda that was being repaired.

My stepfather, George Baskerville, knew of a secret garden and, sure enough, after about 15 minutes of walking, we entered a large circle with a big grassy area surrounded by series of intricate concrete and stone paths, steps and ponds. Pillars in the background, with green moss beginning to scale up the sides, and a fountain in the center gave the garden a formal, Roman appearance.

We left the garden on a small path that followed along a little creek.

It was too early for most of the flowers to be in bloom, save for a few daffodils, but I liked the natural green vegetation just the same. Everywhere we looked was a different shade of green.

We walked along the path up to a gazebo perched above the gardens and stared out at the land below. I turned to my daughter, Phoebe, and asked her, “What do you like best?” With a voice both sweet and serious she said, “The world.”

Phoebe was overjoyed to be out of the house, out of the car and into this lush, alive landscape.

After the gazebo, the environs turned more natural, filled with tall trees, moss-covered rocks and the sound of the rushing river. Phoebe took it all in. Standing in the middle of a thick, forested area, we looked up at the tops of the trees. “Hi, trees!” she said. As we passed a large rock covered in lime green moss, she took time to pat and hug the rock. “I love you, moss.”

She joyfully stomped in puddles, grabbed big sticks and raced along the paths.

After about an hour, she was ready to be done and we headed back to the lodge.

The soak

Back at the lodge, we changed in the locker rooms and then headed outside to the pool. Steam was rising slowly off the water, meanwhile, raindrops splashed onto the surface.

We waded into the pool and kind of let out a collective sigh. The water was warm — like a hot tub. Phoebe couldn’t stop smiling. The soak felt perfect in the cool, drizzly weather. I don’t think I would have appreciated the heat had it been warm outside. Instead, it felt just right.

Even so, after about 30 minutes, we were all ready to leave the pool. Little ones, especially, shouldn’t soak too long, and we made sure Phoebe drank lots of water. After a few snacks, we climbed back into the car for our drive home.

Within a few minutes, our girl was enjoying a richly deserved nap. And I was happy I had left the quilt behind and ventured into the wonderful, miserable outdoors.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, ajohnson@bendbulletin.com