If you love the wide-open spaces of cowboy movies, you’ll love Willow Creek Hot Springs in the high desert area, the Alvord, of southeastern Oregon. There are no human touches anywhere near this soaking opportunity with minor exceptions, and locals prefer it that way.
Antelope hunters and desert campers are as likely to be visiting as spring seekers, so if you run into some company, you can be sure they have some stories to tell.
Originally known as the Whitehorse Ranch Hot Springs, Willow Creek sits on a historic cattle ranch started in 1869 and continues to this day. One count estimates it’s made up of 63,222 acres of deeded property and grazing rights as well as 287,205 acres of public range land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. There is also a private airstrip onsite.
Of course, before that, the land was used by Native Americans from the Northern Paiute tribe. Between the creek as a water source, the warm and healing hot springs, and an abundance of wildlife for food, it’s not hard to see why it was a fitting place to live.
Sometimes you’ll still hear the hot springs referred to by the name of the ranch it sits on.
The Pools and Other Activities
Grassy brush runs as far as the eye can see in every direction around Willow Creek. There are a few craggy rock formations towering over the landscape, and they only add to a horizon perfect for watching the sun set.
In fact, it’s so isolated that there have been many reports of animals like coyotes enjoying a soak when it’s empty of humans. Keep this in mind when you come here, and be prepared. The nearest gas station is in Fields, OR 34 miles away. That means you’ll need to bring your own snacks, too.
The single pool is deep (about 30-inches) and wide, split down the middle by a concrete wall. It has a soft muddy bottom and sits at about 102℉ (39℃) on one side and 85℉-95℉ (29℃-35℃) on the other. There are boulders immersed in the warm water that are perfect to sit on and relax but that can be slippery when getting in and out.
You won’t find any shade here. Just bluebunch wheatgrass, sagebrush, and sunshine flowers. Bring shelter or an umbrella if you need it during hot, sunny days. You won’t find cell service, either.
While there are plenty of places to hike and fish, wildlife watching can be especially exciting in this area. Other than coyotes, people have spotted rabbits, wild horses, deer, and pronghorn antelope!
To make a day of spring-hopping, check out nearby Alvord Hot Springs as well. And two other geo-thermal springs that aren’t for soaking in the Alvord Desert are Borax Lake, and Mickey Springs, which are are too dangerously hot.
There are no hotels near the springs, but camping is an option. The nearest spot to pitch a tent is Willow Creek Campground, right on the creek bank. In fact, free access is allowed on a first-come, first-served basis anywhere on the public land surrounding the springs as long as you are 100 feet from the water.
The campground is open year-round but has reduced services between mid-October and mid-May. Amenities are basic–no water or electric hookups and a single vault toilet–but the view is anything but.
From Fields, OR, go south on OR-205 for about eight miles. Veer left on Whitehorse Ranch Lane and continue until you see a dirt road on your right. You’ll be on a dirt and gravel road most of the way. Don’t go in rainy weather, as the last 2.5 miles are solely dirt and can get washed out with rain.
If you’re not planning on spending the night, park in the gravel area by the campground pit toilet just past the hot springs.
Address: Whitehorse Ranch Lane, Fields, Oregon 97710
Season: Year-round, though the best time to visit is March through October