Routes, The West Coast (CA,NV,WA,OR) » Hot Sisters Hot Springs Routeby ScottM
The Hot Sisters Hot Springs route highlights singletrack, hot springs and mountain climbs (on foot) all through the central Cascades in Oregon. It starts and ends in Bend, Oregon.
Core loop = red, alternates = cyan
The route traces a primarly singletrack circle around the most prominent landmarks in the Oregon Cascades — the Three Sisters. The Sisters are volcanoes that sit at over 10,000 feet. Views of the Sisters can be found from all over the route. While making the circuit, the route brings bikepackers to seven natural hot springs, all exquisitely soakable. In the trail department, some of the finest and most famous singletracks in Oregon are featured. On the western side, it covers the three major river drainages (and trail systems): the North Umpqua, Middle Fork of the Willamette and the McKenzie Rivers. On the east, Newberry Crater, Metolious Windigo and Mrazek are a few of the highlights.
List of trails used (in order):
Swamp Wells, Newberry Crater Trail, Peter Skene Odgen, Metolius Windigo, Waldo Lake, Oldenburg Lake, North Umpqua, Middle Fork Willamette, Salmon Creek, King Castle, McKenzie River, Santiam Wagon Road, Dark/Scout/Suttle Lake, Lake View, Sisters Tie, Peterson Ridge, Mrazek.
Every effort was made to maximize rideable singletrack on this route. There is still a fair amount of dirt road riding, but over half the route is on singletrack, and hike-a-bike is very minimal, especially compared to other classic bikepacking routes.
Most of the dirt (and paved!) roads are low traffic, though they can climb a lot!
Core loop mileage: 460 miles
Singletrack mileage: ~245 miles
Elevation gain: 42,000 feet
Hot Springs: 7, on route (or requiring short hikes from the route)
Lookout/Mountain climbs: 10, including alternates
Developed campgrounds: 50+ on route
Dispersed/freecamping: available on most of the route
Longest stretch between resupply: ~70 miles, primarily on forest roads
McCredie/BunchGrass – An advanced option with minimal resupply that adds a hot spring, a mountain climb, a lookout and several thousand feet of climbing
Crater Lake Spur – A 30 mile primarily off-road route to the rim of Crater Lake (National Park)
South Sister Climbers Trail – A 12 mile spur to free camping available at the South Sister trailhead (Devils Lake). From there it is a 6 mile hike, up 5000 feet, to the summit of South Sister at over 10,000 feet. This is the culminating hike of the trip, surveying all of the terrain on the route.
Olallie Lookout / Singletrack descent – A 3000 foot climb on graded roads leads to a high pass bordering the Three Sisters Wilderness. From the pass a 2.5 mile hike leads to the Olallie Lookout in the Wilderness. Going the other direction, with bikes, features some overgrown contour riding that culminates in the fast and fun Olallie descent — a classic trail.
GPX data is here!
Hot Springs Guide
Finding natural hot springs is often a bit of an adventure. The waypoints file has the locations of them all, but part of the fun (and reward) is seeking them out. Here are some details for the springs on the route.
East Lake Hot Springs – East Lake is one of two natural lakes formed in the Newberry Caldera. On the southern shore, past the lodge and boat ramp, a small and sometimes steep trail of use leads to an area where rocks line a number of small pools that are in the lake.
Paulina Springs – requiring a 2 mile mostly flat hike, this hot spring is a little more secluded than East Lake. Hot water emerges from the thermals below the western lake in the Caldera. Look for signs of hot water and small trails of use dropping off the main trail, down to the lake shore. This one is a fantastic soak.
McCredie Hot Springs (on McCredie alternate): A number of nice pools are found on the south side of Salt Creek. Cross to the south side on the car bridge, then follow a semi-rideable trail west along the banks until it drops to the creek about 0.4 miles from the road.
Umpqua Hot Springs – A popular but exquisite soak perched on the rocks above the Umpqua River. It is a very short hike off the main trail. In past years it has been a zoo of folks living nearby, but in 2016 camping nearby has been prohibited, in an effort to keep better care of the area.
Wall Creek Warm Spring – Although only 98 degrees, this is a very comfortable soak in a beautiful and private forest setting. From the first switchback on FR 1934 follow the trail that leaves from a pullout/campsite about a quarter mile from the road. You’ll find a couple of warm and bubbling pools of clear water. Camping is possible off the bike right near the springs.
Terwilliger Hot Springs – One of the best hot springs in Oregon, this one is popular for a reason. There’s a $6 per person fee and a half mile hike up to the cascading pools. Clothing is optional, and there is quite a mix of soakers. Not to be missed! It is pretty easy to ditch bikes in the woods somewhere near the trailhead.
Belknap Hot Springs – part of a lodge and resort, this is the least primitive spring on the route but still a nice one. A small fee gives access to the hot springs fed pool as well as the showers. The gardens on the grounds are nicely kept, and poking around can lead to finding several sources of the hot water (but nothing soakable).
Bigelow Hot Springs – A small grotto along the McKenzie river provides a killer soak at a nice temperature. It can be a little hard to find — use the waypoint to get near and look for a trail below the McKenzie River, going south from a bridge over the river. Don’t miss this one!
The route gives close access to a number of mountain climbs and fire lookout towers. These can be excellent breaks from pedaling and always give impressive views sometimes absent from the heavily forested trails on the route. We highly recommend carrying a pair of shoes suitable for short hikes (for the hot springs, as well).
The tops of accessible mountains are noted in the waypoints file. In most cases the route should be pretty straightforward.
While the route doesn’t have many of the usual challenges that bikepacking routes have, like high altitude, rough terrain, extended hike-a-bikes, etc, there are a few challenge unique to the Pacific Northwest. Specifically:
Bugs – Depending on the season, mosquitoes can be pretty bad in certain areas of the route. Consider bringing a tent. On the exploratory ride we probably only had 3-4 buggy nights, but we were grateful for a tent on them.
Poison Oak – This plant is present at lower elevations on the route (particularly lower Umpqua River Trail). Consider bringing creams for either pre-exposure application, or post-ride cleansing. We used the former and had no issues or rashes. Also jump in rivers and hot springs whenever possible!
Trees – Blowdowns are a constant struggle on some of these trails. We found it to not be an issue riding even somewhat early season. Luckily there is a core of dedicated volunteers (mountain bikers!) in the area.
For the (brilliant) idea of a hot springs themed bikepacking route, we owe thanks to Casey Greene of Adventure Cycling.
Thanks to Gary Meyer for his help scouting the route, and for route suggestions throughout. Steve Westberg also provided valuable route beta, poison oak potions and a place to stage the exploratory ride on the route. Jolene Carpenter gave us much enthusiasm as well as route beta along the way. Thanks to GOATS/Sisters Trails/Bend Trails groups for all the trail work and clearing. And most of all, thanks to Ez for being the best riding (and hiking, soaking) partner ever.
For more photos, with captions and overview text, visit Scott’s blog: