Guide HS-002

Cougar Hot Springs

Willamette National Forest, OR

A woman and her dog named Paco walking from the parking lot on the east side of Auf. Mem. Dr. to the trailhead on the west side of Auf. Mem. Dr. Behind in her in the shadows is the Cougar Hot Springs Area "Swimming Lagoon."
A different woman sitting on a rock in the parking lot overlooking Cougar Reservoir.
Adjacent to the hike in.
A Swedish man in the woods on his way to the springs.
The Wooden Locker Room
Pools one, two and three.
An Adam and Eve reenactment party with a plastic pail.
Cole Maness, Corn Doggin'.
Pool four.
Pool number one, near the source springs.
A naked man climbing into a cave at the base of a spectacular rock formation.
From L-R pools six, five, four, three and two.
A Swedish man basking in the early morning light preparing to yodel and howl.
Inside the Wooden Locker Room.
Corn Doggin' on the banks of the "Swimming Lagoon."

Cougar Crossing Campground

A Wilderness Survival Instructors relying, for the moment, on external sources of heat - the sun.
Cole Maness preparing breakfast - bacon and eggs and various vegetables in an Everything Must Go Style omelette.
Washing dishes (with Dr. Bronners) in the South Fork of the McKenzie River.
A Swedish woman relying on two external sources of heat.

The End

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Words by Daniel Wakefield Pasley. Photographs by Daniel Wakefield Pasley and Emiliano Granado.


According to the United States Forest Service, Cougar Hot Springs is actually called Terwilliger Hot Springs. According to the rest of the world, as well as our collective consciousness, Cougar Hot Springs is in fact called Cougar Hot Springs. This may be because after the geothermal hot spring water in question emerges from a "spectacular rock formation,"1 which formation is basically a cave in the side of a wooded hill, it cascades through a series of progressively cooler (in temperature) aftermarket-but-natural-looking pools,2 before funneling into a creek, which creek is watershed to a swimming lagoon, which swimming lagoon eventually empties into Cougar Reservoir. Which namesake reservoir, incidentally, is long, narrow, extremely blue (in color) and overlooked by the Cougar Hot Springs parking lot.

The USFS claims Cougar sees "heavy use," and the FOC reports that "typically 5-20 people" can be found soaking at any given time.

The easy, quarter-mile long hike-in ends in an open, fully-functional wooden (artisanal) locker room or Hot Spring Fort. Because the water really does emerge from rocks in a hill, and because it really does cascade through six whatever-the-pixie-version-of-feng-shui-is-having pools, and because all of this takes place in a wooded ravine in the primordial section of the Willamette National Forest, the vibe at Cougar tends toward the magical: painterly colors, steamin'-and-streamin' early morning sunlight and naked centaur-like forest creatures3. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the film Fellowship of the Ring. Now imagine Rivendell, the Elf city built into a bodacious waterfall. Clearly, most of Rivendell is upper–middle class, the neighborhood and it's surrounding features are essentially pristine or pristine-plus. But what if there was a more chill side of town? The "other" Rivendell, the working class or Elven blue collar side of town, which side of town, FTR, would still be remarkable by our 'real world' standards, still full of myriad resplendent natural features/wonders.

And imagine if in that part of town there was a community swimming pool: Cougar is that swimming pool.

In fact, Cougar Hot Springs is magical enough to inspire poetry in its visitors, i.e.

On Mental Flexibility
by Paul

The human mind, when set free
Becomes a wandering rhapsody,
Now, crossing limits, unsure of bounds,

from mountain

        to mountainside resounds.

Then down the hill and through the glen
It gathers strength, repeats again,
But this time with variation,

    From subtlety to alternation,

Then with a shout of jubilation

    It leaps beyond imagination.

Excerpt courtesy the Friends of Cougar.


Words by Moi Medina.

On Subduction, Historical and Tectonic. History is an elusive creature. What we know of it is often times mired in hearsay, educated postulation, and faith, faith that what we know of a time past is an unvarnished truth.

In 1592 the Spanish explorer Juan de Fuca sailed north from Acapulco, Mexico in search of the ‘Northwest Passage’- a long sought after route that would connect economies and cultures of the Atlantic with those of the Pacific, and save the perilous effort that sailing through Tierra del Fuego, Chile would take. The Greek born Juan de Fuca (Ioánnis Fokás) would explore the costal areas of the Pacific Northwest and believed the Peugeot Sound to be the long sought after ‘Northwest Passage’. His adventure, however, would soon turn folly, as claims of his discoveries were challenged and his existence disavowed for 300 years- mostly by the English who sought to claim historical precedence over the area.

The irony is that the name given to the last remnants of the vast Farallon Plate is Juan de Fuca. This ancient tectonic plate, that once split open Pangaea, is responsible for much of the geothermal activity in the Pacific Northwest. Bullied to near extinction by the Pacific Plate, the Juan de Fuca Plate now finds itself pushed under, hidden, and erased beneath the massive North American Continental Plate. Just as Juan de Fuca- the historical figure- was by history. But yet even still the tectonic and historical figure remains.

Geothermal energy can manifest itself in various forms. From the mercurial geyser, the ominous steam vent, or the innocuous ‘hot spring’, the Earth’s core reaches, reverberates, a violent millennial history long since consumed and crust over by a habitable planet we suffer, sin, and survive on. An elusive history is all we are left with. A history that hides in remote areas attainable only to those who are engaged enough to stop, listen, and feel for a past that at times seems to want to do anything but be discovered.

But yet discovered some of these places are. Lying on the western slopes of the Cascade Range the Bagby, Cougar, and Umpqua hot springs caress, flirt, with the Pacific Ring of Fire- a global chain of volcanic and geothermal activity zones. Life of course has been drawn to these portals of the past for centuries. Oceanic and terrestrial hot springs create the chemical and environmental conditions to create life. Cultures across the world have used hot springs as Lazarus pits. The Umpqua band of the Coquille people (who the hot springs are named after), drawn for it’s physical and meditative powers, practiced communing with both the past and the present here. Native Americans also frequented the Bagby hot springs long before Bob Bagby happened upon the site in 1880, and the waters themselves were mastered over into log baths and tubs.

The hot springs that dot the Cascade Ranges are historical reverberations manifested as geothermal energy that will not let Juan de Fuca Plate die. As a historical figure he was erased from history, subsumed, subducted, just as his namesake plate is. The hot springs of the Cascade Range, however, reach and scream his name with every foot that is dipped in unprepared for the temperature of the water. Historical retribution for those that succumb to hubris… like nautical Icarus diving too close to the center of the Earth.

  1. USFS []
  2. "The pools were renovated in 2009. A group of volunteers, led by a Eugene-based stonemason, removed concrete and built pools using a natural mortar. The new walls will be more stable and easier for volunteers to clean. The renovated pools, the construction of which cost an estimated $40,000, are expected to last for generations." The Eugene Register Guard []
  3. Otherwise known as non-violent tax accountants, all-natural pipe-using plumbers, hummus pioneers and footbag purveyors visiting from nearby Eugene, Oregon. []