Hot Springs in Oregon and Washington with Kids

Northwest hot springs with kids

Northwest hot springs with kids

If you were a miner back in the 1880s, how did you get really clean? You planned a trip to the closest hot springs.

Hot spring trips have long been a traditional pastime in the BC-Washington-Oregon region, says Jeff Birkby, author of Touring Washington and Oregon Hot Springs, a history-rich guidebook to hot springs in the Pacific Northwest. Hot springs are formed when ground and rain water sinks below the Earth’s surface, then heats in volcanic pots deep below the surface. The mineral-infused water springs back out once it’s at a boiling point, then cools in pools.

“Hot springs were social centers,” Birkby says of olden-days hot spring spots. The hotter the springs ran, the more popular they became in winter. Posh ladies booked a room for a week or more to shake the chill and recover from a host of maladies. And back in pre-plumbing days, hot springs (whether in a resort, in a simple a-frame building or on undeveloped property) were the only clean-up spot available to miners.

Unfortunately, few of the grand resorts still stand today. Most (constructed of wood) burned to the ground long ago. However, families looking to enjoy the magical heat of warming waters find plenty of places to soak their bones.

And with an extra-cold winter approaching, you may want to reserve your getaway now.

Hot spring resorts

For families, an established resort offers the most amenities and secure surroundings. Differing pool temps mean that you can get your extra-hot tub experience while the kids enjoy cooler pools.

In Washington State, Bonneville Hot Springs Resort provides a family-friendly atmosphere and spa treatments. It’s located about 40 minutes east of Portland, Oregon. If you continue east along the Washington side, Carson Hot Springs is a historic property — but a little ragged around the edges.

Near the Seattle area, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is Birkby’s pick. The resort, nestled in the Olympic National Park, offers a retreat for all ages and waters between 94-104 F. “Sol Duc has really nice campground,” Birkby says, “It’s great for kids, great waterfall, cabins and a restaurant.” However, Sol Duc closes on October 23 and reopens in May 6, 2011; the nearest year-round hot springs is Harrison Hot Springs, located about three hours north in British Columbia.


Oregonians can try central Oregon’s Kah-nee-tah Resort, just over Mt. Hood (about two hours from Portland). “There are a lot of wonderful kid-friendly pools,” Birkby says, such as one with bear statues spouting mouthfuls of water.

The new-agey Breitenbush Hot Springs is two hours southeast from Portland, and offers vegetarian meals in a forest setting. Birkby says it’s a fine resort if you don’t mind the clothing-optional tubs, and as long as parents check out the workshops going on. Don’t bring kids when there’s a couples-only weekend retreat.

And finally, Belknap Hot Springs, Lodge and Gardens offers day-use passes and overnight stays (lodge rooms, RV, cabins or tent sites). There are several affordable options at this central Oregon resort, where rooms range from $65-$250 in dreary November.

Undeveloped hot springs

Of course, there’s also the age-old tradition of jumping into a “wild” hot springs – the kind that bubble up in the midst of a forest, clearing or rocky scrub. These undeveloped hot springs, whether on public or private land, don’t come with a lifeguard or resort atmosphere. In exchange, the only price paid is the day-use pass. There aren’t mobs of tourists in these springs, often only known to locals.

Families can ease into the Cougar Hot Springs at Terwilliger, which offers a changing area and an alcohol-free atmosphere.

At Terwilliger — and most undeveloped hot springs — there’s an interesting dilemma: “Birthday suit or bathing suit?” Most established hot spring resorts in the Pacific Northwest ask everyone to keep their clothes on, with the exception of Breitenbush. But in undeveloped hot springs, you’ll often find a liberal, back-to-nature attitude toward clothing. What’s the expectation? First one in the pool sets the standard, says Birkby. If you arrive and everyone’s in a bathing suit, that’s the dress code (for now). However, it’s unlikely that anyone would look askew at someone wishing to wear a suit (particularly if it’s your kid).

Undeveloped springs can attract car theft. Just don’t leave valuables in sight. If you’ve gone hiking or camping, you already know this. At some hot springs, there may be drug or alcohol use; read up on the springs via online sites like Hot Springs of Oregon or in Birkby’s book and make sure you’re comfortable with the scene.

Family considerations at hot springs

“At any major resort, the big pools are comfortable, but the smaller, hotter indoor pools I’d be cautious about,” Birkby says. A comfortable zone is around 100 to 104, but anything over 104 feels too toasty, he adds. Ask at check-in for the pool temps and stay aware, particularly with younger children under age 12. Keep a cool head – don’t let anyone in your party submerge in hot springs water.

Parents of young children should also ask about the swim-diaper scene. Some resorts required children to be toilet-trained and do not allow swim dipes, ever.

And finally, in undeveloped hot springs, bring flip-flops or aquasox (to protect against jagged rocks), never let the kids drink unchlorinated natural hot springs water (blech) and stay close to children, as the water can be murky.

But your feet will finally feel warm.

Have you visited a Washington or Oregon hot spring destination with kids? What’s your favorite way to warm up in rainy, cold weather?

Win a free Suncadia family stay

As you may recall, I recently visited Suncadia Resort in Washington State.

Would you like to go, too?

Suncadia has offered our readers an exclusive one-night stay in a Lodge one-bedroom, which can be used any time in the next year – excluding all holiday weekends and weekends in July and August.

Still, that leaves you plenty of time to try one of Washington State’s newest family resorts.

Want to enter? Go visit the Suncadia page (or my previous post here about Suncadia) and tell me what you and the kids would like to do at Suncadia or in nearby Roslyn, and what time of year you’d like to visit.

The winner will be drawn at random.

You have three ways to enter this drawing:

  1. Read any of my articles on Roslyn or Suncadia or visit the Suncadia resort site and tell me what you want to do in the area. Leave a note below.
  2. Sign up for the mailing list (enter at right) and come back and tell me you did so (leave a comment.
  3. Tweet this contest. Come back and tell me you did so (leave a comment).

Please be patient when waiting for your comment to appear. I have to hand-approve all comments. If it doesn’t come up in 4-5 hours, e-mail me.

See you at Suncadia!

Contest Rules:

This contest begins today, June 30, 2010, and ends at 11:59 pm Pacific Standard Time on Tuesday, July 6, 2010. On July 6, 2010, the winner will be selected at random from all eligible entries received on this page’s comments, using Random.org. The winner will be notified by e-mail on or around July 7. Please ensure that you have entered the correct e-mail address in your entry. Your e-mail will not be sold or displayed.
If no response is received from the first-drawn winner within one week (7 days), the first winner will forfeit the prize and another entrant will be selected at random using Random.org. The value of the hotel stay is $215+ and the Suncadia Resort will provide a gift certificate for the giveaway.
The prize is valid for one night in a Lodge one-bedroom room. Prize is valid for one year from start of contest. Redemption is subject to availability and excludes weekends in July and August and all holiday weekends. Other restrictions may apply.
Please reserve your room as soon as possible. The prize information must be presented when making reservations. There is no cash value. There are no substitutions. The prizes are not transferable. The winner is solely responsible for any national, state, provincial or city taxes incurred.
Sweepstakes void where prohibited by law. Entrants must be age 18 and over and residing in the U.S or Canada.
If a resident of Canada is selected as a winner, they will be required to correctly answer, without assistance of any kind, whether mechanical or otherwise, a timed, mathematical skill-testing question (3*6)+(12/2)-8 to be administered by Lora Shinn by e-mail before the awarding of the prize.
By participating in the “Suncadia Giveaway” giveaway, you release and agree to hold harmless CascadiaKids subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, (collectively, the “Released Parties”) from any liability whatsoever for any claims, costs, injuries, losses, or damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the Seattle getaway or acceptance, possession, or use of any prize (including, without limitation, claims, costs, injuries and losses related to personal injuries, death, damage to or destruction of property, rights of publicity or privacy, whether intentional or unintentional), whether under a theory of contract, tort (including negligence), warranty or other theory. CascadiaKids is not liable for technical error, omissions or Internet inaccessibility.
I did not accept money, services or gratuities in exchange for this giveaway. I requested the giveaway prize, because I like the hotel and think it’s a good match for CascadiaKids readers.

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Cle Elum Family Vacation

Families Travel! Harrison Hot Springs with Kids

As you probably remember from last week, we interviewed Sarah Reese, a Washington mom to 11 natural, adopted and step-children. This week, she tells us what she loves about BC’s Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, located 90 minutes east of Vancouver, BC and three hours Northeast of Seattle. First Nations peoples discovered the springs thousands of years ago; The springs have been soothing tourists since 1886, after one of the region’s first resort communities was established.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs BC

Four of the kids at Harrison Hot Springs

Tell me about how your family of 11 stays at Harrison Hot Springs?

The older part of the hotel has the lowest prices. They also have family suites that have two rooms and a bathroom in this part of the hotel: One room with a double bed and the other with two single beds. We try to always book a deal for a weekday off-season in the older part of the hotel. We’ve managed to get each room at a good cost with free breakfast buffet included for the adults.

The west and east wings of the hotel have nicer interiors, but cost a bit more. The resort has several small cabin rentals that aren’t available online. These allow families to bring along a pet to the hotel.

The hotel also has a game room, lovely coffee shop, exercise room and beauty salon. During the summer months there is an outdoor tennis court and spray park right on the property as well.

kids harrison lake at the family-friendly harrison hot springs

Catching a ride along Harrison Lake BC with kids

So, what are the resort pools like at Harrison Hot Springs Resort?

The resort has five hot-spring fed pools, open year round. Outside, there’s a family pool, lap pool and adult only pool.

Inside is an indoor pool and VERY hot “hot tub.” Inside they also have men’s and women’s lockers with eucalyptus steam rooms. Be sure to bring your bathing suit, water bottles, bathrobes for the kids and flip flops for all.

There is a public pool that is hot spring fed, but we found the first time that we went there that by the time we paid for everyone to get into the public pool we could have paid for one hotel room. Only hotel guests are allowed to use the hotel pools.

What do you do for family dining at Harrison Hot Springs?

There are two restaurants — The Lakeside Cafe which serves beautiful buffets overlooking Harrison Lake and The Copper Room which has five course dinners and fancy brunch on the weekends and holidays.

The resort hotel also has a bar and a large lounge area inside where they serve tea at 4pm each day. Every guest room comes with bathrobes (for the adults), so almost everyone just goes around the hotel with their bathrobe covering their swimsuits. This takes a bit of getting used to, but the kids think it’s the best thing ever! Of course for dining you would want to wear proper attire, but for tea, it’s nice to sit in front of the fireplace and have your tea and cookies.

In the mornings, we have the older children and Dad go for breakfast while I have breakfast in the room with the younger children, then we all go for an early morning swim.

For dinner we usually have pizza or other take out in the room from local places we can walk to. Or if it’s nice out we walk and eat by the lake. Most of the rooms have a small fridge.

What else can families do? Are there many kid-friendly options near Harrison Hot Springs?

Locally, there are many other things for families to do including Bridal Falls Water Park, the amazing Minter Gardens, Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park and visiting the Fraser River and Hell’s Gate Airtram.

family-friendly resort in the lower mainland bc

Kids along Harrison Lake, BC with kids

You can walk along the lake and each fall there’s a sandcastle competition (From Lora: check out this YouTube video of the totally amazing sculptures). Of course there is tons of fishing, boating and camping opportunities as well.

It’s really a great place to go without kids for romance, or a “girls get-away” with friends. Just one night at Harrison Hot Springs Resort feels like a week away.

Find out more about kid-friendly Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia at the Tourism Harrison website or this great article, Weekend: Harrison Hot Springs, BCat the Canadian Tourism Commission.