Oregon is known for its plentiful hot springs, but Paulina Lake Hot Springs may just be the most unique spot you’ll find in the state. Located near Bend, Oregon, you can actually dig your own hot springs tub in the volcanic sand along the shores of Paulina Lake, overlooking the surrounding pine tree forests and rugged mountains. Sounds like a dream come true? It totally is! Here’s everything you need to know about Paulina Lake Hot Springs, so you can enjoy its steamy waters all to yourself.
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The aptly-named Paulina Lake Hot Springs are undeveloped hot springs, located right on the shores of Paulina Lake in Oregon’s Newberry Volcanic National Monument.
They’re unlike any hot springs I’ve been to (and if you follow our blog at all, you know my husband, Justin, and I LOVE hot springs!)—the hot springs are literally dug out from the volcanic sand along the lake’s shoreline and oftentimes bordered with logs and rocks. These pools fill with a mix of cool lake water and geothermally heated water that feels perfect for relaxing in and taking in the surrounding alpine scenery.
As you might imagine, you will have to do a bit of legwork (quite literally!) to get to this magical spot, so let’s dive in!
How to Get to Paulina Lake Hot Springs
There’s two ways to get to Paulina Lake Hot Springs, which are located here—you can either hike in or, alternatively, boat in. Regardless of what method you use to get to the hot springs, you’ll need to start by getting to the Little Crater Day Use Site in Newberry Volcanic National Monument.
Located about 50 minutes south of Bend, this incredible monument protects 50,000 acres of obsidian fields, cinder cones, crater lakes, and other incredible volcanic remnants.
The Newberry Volcano and all of its geothermal energy goodness is actually the reason you can enjoy the toasty water in the hot springs today. About 500,000 years ago, the volcano’s core collapsed and its crater filled with water, eventually becoming the two lakes that stand here today—Paulina Lake and East Lake. These lakes were formed in a similar manner as the state’s most famed body of water, Crater Lake, one of the beloved 7 wonders of Oregon.
Geothermally heated underground water is still discharged up through the sandy bed of the lakeshore, which me and all my other hot springs-loving friends can enjoy as Mother Nature’s hot tub.
To enter the National Monument, it costs $10 per day per car or, alternatively, it’s free with an America the Beautiful Pass (which gets you into over 2,000 national parks and other federally managed lands for just $80 per year!).
From the fee station, you’ll drive about 3 miles along Forest Service Road 21 before turning left into the Little Crater Day Use Site. Unless you booked a camping reservation at the Little Crater Campground right by the trailhead (you smartypants, you!), you should park your car in the Day Use area.
Paulina Lake Hot Springs Hike
Before we get into the nuts and bolts, here are some quick stats about the hike, so you know what you’re dealing with:
- Length: 2.8 miles from the trailhead; 4.2 miles from the Day Use parking lot
- Elevation gain: 131 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Dog friendly? Yes, but they must stay on a leash
If you plan on hiking to Paulina Lake Hot Springs, from the parking area, you’ll head towards the right (if you’re facing the lake) and follow signs for the Little Crater Campground. You’ll follow the road that cuts through the campground for 0.7 miles until you reach the end of the road, with some rustic wooden benches and, beyond that, a trailhead sign for the Paulina Lakeshore Loop Trail.
From here, you’ll follow along the trail (see the trail map here), as it skirts the lakeshore, for 1.4 miles.
The hike is beautiful, with views of the blue water almost the entire time and through a dense pine tree forest. Plus, there’s a large section of the hike that’s COVERED with obsidian, which I’ve never seen on a trail before. Obsidian is actually not a rock and, instead, is a volcanic glass caused by rapidly cooling lava–pretty cool, huh?
As you head deeper along the trail, it’ll diverge from the lakeshore deeper into the forest. Keep an eye out for an offshoot to the left of the trail and a sign for the hot springs about 1.3 miles into the trail. From here, you’ll turn down this dirt path and follow it down to the lakeshore.
Boating to Paulina Lake Hot Springs
Alternatively, you can take a boat to Paulina Lake Hot Springs. There’s a boat ramp and dock at both the Little Crater Campground, on the east side of the lake, and the Paulina Lake Campground, to the west.
Just note that there isn’t a dock or ramp by the hot springs, so you’ll have to have another means of anchoring and launching the boat once you’re done enjoying the hot springs.
What to Expect from Paulina Lake Hot Springs
As mentioned above, these unique hot springs are dug into the volcanic sand along the lakeshore and bordered with rugged logs and larger rocks.
Because people dig new pools all the time, the size of the pools will obviously vary, based on when you visit. However, when we were there in the summertime, there were about five rather shallow pools that each fit about 1-2 people. I’d recommend bringing your own trowel so that you can dig and make your pool of choice a bit deeper if you need to.
The hot springs are usually a mix of the cool water from the lake that splashes into the pools and geothermally heated water that seeps up through the sand—making it often feel like your butt is quite toasty while the rest of you is more comfortable. Definitely a unique feeling! The hot springs usually range in temperature from 90-115°F.
Whenever you get too hot, it’s fun to jump into the lake to cool off a bit (at least in the summertime—I’d imagine it’s quite frosty in the winter!). There’s geothermally-heated water that’s discharged into the lake water near the shore, so it’s a lot warmer than most of the glacier-fed lakes I’ve stepped into in the Pacific Northwest.
When to Visit Paulina Lake Hot Springs
The best time to visit Paulina Lake Hot Springs is in the late spring through the early fall (May through September), when the water is at just the right level to fill the tubs but not submerge them.
Just be aware that it’s common for there to be wildfires in the area from as early as June through October, which can obscure the beautiful views and make it unpleasant, at best, for those who are particularly sensitive to air quality. You can probably tell from our photos that we went on a pretty smoky day!
During the rainier seasons, like winter and spring, the level of the lake rises so much that the pools are usually submerged under water—you definitely won’t have a toasty butt if that happens!
Additionally, the road is usually unplowed in the wintertime and sometimes can even close down, due to heavy snowfall. So before heading here in the colder months, be sure to check the Alerts and Warnings on the official Forest Service’s website. Even if the road is open during the period, it’s probably wise to come with a high clearance, all-wheel drive vehicle, in case you encounter snow and ice on the road.
Tips for Paulina Lake Hot Springs
- Wear hiking shoes. The hike to the lake is totally doable for all skill levels of hikers, but the trail is definitely still muddy, rocky, and full of tree roots in certain areas. Accordingly, I’d strongly recommend wearing proper hiking shoes (Justin has this pair of waterproof boots and this is the pair I use) to protect your feet against any water or mud you might encounter along the trail and to provide better traction on the uneven terrain.
If you’re visiting in the wintertime, it’s probably a good idea to come with microspikes to help provide additional tractions on icy and slippery rocks along the trail.
- There may be naked people. Listen, we have tons of posts all about the awesome hot springs we’ve visited in the Pacific Northwest and inevitably, we get asked the question “is nudity allowed here?”. If you’re new to hot springs in this corner of the country, most of the undeveloped ones are treated as clothing optional—meaning, it’s not unusual to casually see someone’s genitalia while you’re soaking in the pools.
With respect to Paulina Lake Hot Springs specifically, there weren’t any signs regarding whether clothing is optional one-way or the other and I can’t find anything online that confirms it either. I would note, however, that, because of its proximity to the campground, the springs are frequented by families—when we visited, all of the other soakers were families with little children—who, notably, were clothed. So I’d err on the side of (swim)suiting up!
On the other side of the token, don’t be surprised if you do see nudity at Paulina Lake Hot Springs—it’s kind of expected at natural hot springs in Oregon.
- Leave no trace. Please remember that the hot springs are undeveloped, so there’s no bathroom or trash cans here. Always follow the leave no trace principles when you’re visiting natural areas like this, like packing out whatever trash you create, peeing at least 200 feet from any water source, and following all fire restrictions. As always, please leave this unique place better than you found it!
Can you camp at Paulina Lake Hot Springs?
I’ve read some articles that have suggested that you can backcountry camp at the hot springs, but I confirmed with rangers at the Deschutes National Forest that wilderness camping is not permitted here.
However, you can, of course, camp at the Little Crater Campground, which is located right along the lakeshore. There’s 49 campsites (sorry, my RV brethren—there’s no hook-ups!), which you can reserve here.
If it’s full, Paulina Lake Campground is also located right along the lakeshore, just across the water from Little Crater and, fortunately for you, the trail makes a full loop around the lake. Alternatively, there’s two other campgrounds to choose from inside the National Monument.
Where to Stay Near Paulina Lake Hot Springs
Not the camping type? There’s plenty of cozy places to stay near the Newberry Volcanic National Monument, like:
- DiamondStone Guest Lodges: This lodge can either be rented out in its entirety or as separate private rooms. It offers big comfy beds, a fully-equipped shared kitchen, and a hot tub for relaxing in the evenings.
- Best Western Newberry Station: This hotel offers everything you need as your adventure homebase, from its friendly staff and convenient location to its numerous amenities, like free hot breakfast every morning and indoor pool.
Other Things to Do Near the Newberry Volcanic National Monument
There’s actually a ton to see in the National Monument itself, like the Big Obsidian Flow, a one-mile trail that winds through a huge field of obsidian rock and pumice, or the Lava River Cave, where you can explore a mile-long lava tube from 700,000 years ago.
But if you want to see some other things around Central Oregon, consider:
- Crater Lake National Park: If you’re in the area, it would be kind of wrong to not stop at this interesting national park, which is home to the deepest lake in the United States, with dark blue crystal clear water. You can even go swimming here in the summertime—but just be ready for the water to be chilly!
- More hot springs: If you’re a hot spring lover, there’s a ton of beautiful ones within a two and a half hour radius of the National Monument, including McCredie Hot Springs, Umpqua Hot Springs, and Terwilliger Hot Springs.
- Bend: This quirky town is one of my favorites in the entire country, with endless things to do. From a killer beer scene to some of Oregon’s best trails, like the Broken Top hike, you could honestly easily spend a week enjoying all that Bend has to offer.
- Waterfalls: Oregon is known for its beautiful waterfalls and central Oregon is no exception. Salt Creek, Tumalo, and Toketee Falls are all within a two hour drive of Newberry Volcanic National Monument.
I hope you enjoy the Paulina Lake Hot Springs as much as we did! Do you have any questions about visiting? Let us know in the comments below!