Intrepid travelers trek to the Alvord Desert in Southeastern Oregon for wildly different reasons: to break a world land speed record, to fly a hot air balloon, to do yoga or let their dogs run or to grab some photos of the 12-by-7 mile dry lake bed in the shadow of the Steens Mountain range.
Our personal favorite reason to visit, however, is to soak up the tranquility of the space from one of the two personal soaking pools at Alvord Hot Springs.
Managed by a private caretaker, the pools are accessible for a $5 fee. They’re enclosed in rustic huts that offer some privacy for couples or small groups, with an ideal year-round water temperature of between 100 and 110 degrees. There’s no sulfur smell here, no noise, just the feeling of utter bliss and relaxation.
To spend the night, the campground accommodates tents, cars and RVs. But in the winter time it’ll be cozier to reserve space in one of the new heated “M.A.S.H”-style bunker units, each with beds for four, electricity and access to the bathroom and other amenities. A gift shop sells water and snacks, and the caretaker is a wealth of knowledge about the area (and a budding geologist — ask to see her collection). Visitors should fully stock up on supplies (and gas) as soon as possible in Harney County before making the trek to the Alvord Desert.
Not far from Alvord Hot Springs is Mickey Hot Springs, but you’ll need a Bureau of Land Management map to find it, since it’s off the main highway and not on any GPS. An active geothermal site, the boiling mud pots are evidence that the 10-foot deep azure pool is too hot for soaking. But in the winter, the icy landscape — framed by the ever-present sagebrush and towering Steens Mountain — is one you won’t find anywhere else. If conditions allow, it’s worth the detour to spend a few moments and marvel in the raw beauty.
Next, head about 90 minutes north to the tiny town of Crane, literally an oasis in the desert. The visitor-friendly Crystal Crane Hot Springs is 25 minutes southeast of downtown Burns, the biggest city in Southeastern Oregon.
Here, visitors from all over the world come to find serenity in the restorative hot springs, which are just steps from the cabins, teepee, RV park and campground on site.
Year-round, the family-friendly public pond (clothing required) hovers at a comfortable 101 degrees, perfect for floating or wading in morning, noon or night, under the stars. Sunrise or sunset soaks are unrivaled.
For more privacy, a try one of the cedar-enclosed soaking tubs in the bath house, with a natural hot water tap that can be filled to the temperature of your liking. At $7.50 an hour or $4.25 per person for the soaking pond, you’ll wonder why you don’t get out here more often.
When you get hungry, the Steens Loop area has some charming options. Grab a country omelet at the Crane Store and Cafe for breakfast, and a burger and famously thick shake at The Fields Station in Fields. For dinner, head to Burns for a much-earned McCoy Creek Scottish Ale by Steens Mountain Brewing Company and a hearty salad and lamb gyro at Rhojo’s family-owned restaurant, one of several tasty options downtown.
On your way home, stop for a souvenir at Oard’s Gallery, a third-generation family-owned museum and cultural gift store that’s been around for 135 years. Find a collection of Native American paintings and other artwork from nine local tribes, handmade furniture and jewelry, arrowheads, coins, clocks and even a collection of ages-old barbed wire.
If you’re not quite ready to leave yet, extend your happy vibes at Summer Lake Hot Springs, two hours southwest of Bend on Oregon Outback Scenic Byway. Cozy guest cabins and tent and RV sites are available for overnight stays at the resort, which also hosts workshops, festivals and other events. The geothermal pool is said to hold sacred healing powers; at $10 per visit, we think it’s worth investigating.