Families Travel! Breitenbush Hot Springs with Kids

Over the 2010 Labor Day Weekend, Portland mom Jennifer and her husband Tony (owners of Portland’s Milagros Boutique) took their two children to Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit, Oregon. This resort, founded in 1977, is old-school crunchy Oregon, through and through. It’s a worker-owned cooperative featuring geothermal heating, eco-conscious structures and an off-the-grid lifestyle (no phone, no TV, no wi-fi).

The laid-back attitude extends toward clothing, which is optional in the tub areas. “A family uncomfortable with nudity would not feel comfortable in the bathing areas of Breitenbush,” Jennifer says. “The majority of folks in the bathing areas are naked.” So this may not be a resort for everyone – it depends on whether you’re OK with the pool aspect. As you can see from the photo at right, the kids are wearing swimsuits — it’s up to you how to dress.

For many families, the real draw of Breitenbush Hot Springs is the secluded, peaceful atmosphere. To get a better understanding of this Oregon institution, let’s find out more from Jennifer and Tony.

Q: What did your family like about Breitenbush Hot Springs?

Breitenbush is a unique experience, it is a opportunity to step away from the busy day-to-day and reconnect with our individual selves and, in our case, together as a family. There is no cell phone coverage, no internet, no electronic media of any kind so the typical distractions and attention-pulling activities in our regular lives are just not available.

The setting is bucolic and welcoming.  We spent our days soaking in the hot springs, exploring the scenery, reading together, eating together, and relaxing.

The kids enjoy soaking in the springs, walking in the woods, climbing trees, playing instruments in the Sanctuary, connecting with new friends (kids are great at connecting with other kids), and letting their imaginations fly free.

Q: Describe the pools for us, please? Were they really hot? Were they fine for little kids or babies?

There are two sets of pools. All the pools are outside with views of the surrounding woods, hills and nearby river. The sacred pools are more natural in their design and setting. The spiral pools are more traditional tiled pools.

In each area, there is a progression in the heat of the water and each has a pool that is set at a temperature that works well for kids (at or below 100 degrees). And if you want it really hot, they have that too!

Parents need to actively supervise their kids in the pools. Making sure they are not getting over heated, keeping them hydrated, and having them by stepping out of the pool to cool off from time to time.

Q: How about the Breitenbush resort itself? Is it actually resort-like or more camp-like? Is there good food at the resort or did you bring your own?

Breitenbush is a very relaxing and enjoyable experience but Breitenbush isn’t for everyone. It is rustic and simple.  The setting is a lovely wooded preserve with a river running through it.  When we are there, most our time beyond eating and sleeping, is spent outside. They have a number of free programs and classes happening everyday for folks on personal retreats. In addition, body work (such as massage) may be scheduled for an additional cost. The cabins are basic but comfortable, some have bathrooms others are shared.  During the summer, tent camping is also available. Organic, vegetarian meals are served three times a day in the cafeteria. It is a self-serve buffet and the selection is always tasty.  They also offer alternatives for folks who are vegan or gluten intolerant.

We did pack some snacks to have on hand between meal times and a few other food items just in case our picky little eater didn’t find something he liked in the buffet.

Q. What else can you enjoy at the resort?

There are trails nearby for exploring. On this last trip, Tony walked a five mile loop through ancient trees and over rivers.  The kids joined him on a number of shorter jaunts into the woods. The lodge itself has an expansive deck and library for reading, visiting, and quiet contemplation.  Other facilities on the property include a sanctuary for making music and the labyrinth for a unique meditative walk.

The retreat is near Detroit Lake and other outdoor attractions but we never felt bored. As odd as it sounds, soaking, eating, sleeping, and exploring the grounds was more than enough on the to do list for both parents and kids during the five days we were there.

Q. Did you enjoy any of the classes/workshops/spa treatments at Breitenbush?

We haven’t taken in any of the many free classes and workshops and they always sound intriguing. Jennifer did enjoy a wonderful massage (the massages are 90 minutes!) during our first visit.  One challenge for our active participation in many of the classes (although some are family welcoming) is that there is no childcare available at the retreat center. Active supervision of the wee ones is expected, so it’s not easy to peel away for a class.

For us, a big attraction is the time together away from all other distractions in a natural environment. It is a rejuvenating experience physically and spiritually and it is one of the reasons we made a return trip and hope to go again sometime.

Thanks for telling us your story, Jennifer.

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • Gretchen Z

    Thanks for this post. I love Breitenbush but have yet to go there with my son. I’ve been wondering how it would be to visit as a family. Sounds like it would be great (so long as we can get through 5 hours in the car with a 1-year-old)!

  • Kristy

    Haven’t been to Breitenbush in years! Will have to put this on the Summer 2011 trip home list of things to do