Breitenbush Hot Springs: A Retreat Center to Sooth the Soul

by Nancy Zaffaro

The pace really is slower at Breitenbush Hot Springs. I’m guilty of arriving from the two-hour drive from Portland a bit anxious to get on with it; to check into my lodging and take a dip in the hot springs. But while I arrive with a go-go-go attitude, it’s not long before (even I) settle into the vibe of the place and relax and slow down.

Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat & Conference Center is one of my favorite places. It sits on 154 acres of forest on a rugged mountain in the Oregon Cascades’ Willamette National Forest. It’s a worker-owned cooperative that is an “intentional community” for those who live and work on the property. You can visit on a day-use or overnight basis, staying in a variety of housing. The Retreat is off-the-grid; powered by hydroelectric power from Breitenbush River and heated from the underground waters.

One of the Meadow hot springs.

The Retreat Center’s “alternative” reputation is well-earned—and much loved.

The Hot Springs

The natural beauty of the property is a perfect example of the best of the Pacific Northwest, but it’s the soothing, healing natural hot springs that most draw visitors.

I enjoy each trip to Breitenbush. I love going with friends and family, and especially enjoy bringing first-timers. While most of my friends and family are happy with a wide variety of types of travel, I do have those in my life whom I simply can’t picture at Breitenbush—not because of the “hippie vibe,” but because the bathing areas are clothing optional. This includes the areas right at the hot springs and the sauna. Bathing suits are welcome, and you may see some, but they’re not the norm.

You’ll hang your clothes and a towel just steps away from each spring or hot tub, and I can say it’s 100% modest and respectful—but I realize it’s not for everyone. Personally, I love the chance to be outdoors, even briefly, without clothes. And I won’t say I don’t “look;” you can’t help but take some notice. I love it that all ages and body types come together in such a quiet, peaceful and healthy way.

Down a path in the Meadow, three smooth river rock-lined hot springs await.


Closer along the river, three “spiral” hot tubs increase in temperature. A fourth tub is available for those willing to brave a quick dip in ice cold water.

The geothermal-heated cedar cabin steam sauna is simply my favorite sauna ever.

Breitenbush Hot springs sauna

The sauna. Breitenbush’s beauty changes with the seasons.

The sauna in spring.

Is Breitenbush Hot Springs Remote?

Remote? Well, that’s relative of course. You’re less than two hours from Portland, and just 10 miles from the town of Detroit, so no, the locale is not remote. But there’s no cell service. GPS will not guide you on the final leg; in fact, it tries to get you to turn off the wrong road. One of the two possible routes to get there is closed in winter. In winter, you’ll want 4-wheel drive for that final steep climb up the gravel road. And once at Breitenbush, there is no internet available.

Expect a different movement of time. The mission statement at Breitenbush is to “provide a safe and potent environment where people can renew and evolve in ways they never imagined.” Personally, my mission statement is too often to check off things I have to accomplish from my list. Remote? Sort of; that’s the idea.

The Pace of the Day

Everyone’s pace and activities will differ. But the options are many. Days at Breitenbush are punctuated only by the three meal times; the rest of your day is spent at your leisure.

Sleep. Eat. Bathe in the hot springs. Chat with other visitors and with the villagers; you’ll hear some great stories. Walk in the woods. Sweat it out in the sauna. Hike. Meditate. Read. Make art. Breathe, move, or wander. Repeat.

Daily, there are free classes to attend; yoga or tai chi, perhaps. At night, there might be a sing-along or a dance party at the Fire Circle.

At night, gather at the fire circle.

There are trails to hike. Or wander over to the river.

Breitenbush River, which provides the electrical needs of the Retreat Center.

breitenbush officeStop by at the Office. Artwork, clothing, books and gift items such as prayer flags are available in the shop.

Enjoy a walking meditation by walking the labyrinth. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth’s path takes everyone along the same route, leading you to the center, where you can pause before going on and winding your way back out to the entrance from where you began. You can go in to clear your mind, or go into to focus on a particular problem, concern, or question you may be dealing with, or perhaps to walk in gratitude.

breitenbush labyrinth

Workshops and Wellness Programs

Breitenbush is host to year-round workshops and retreats from outside holistic educators. The list of workshops is long; a few include Loving Kindness: A Practice for our Time, 8 Limbs Yoga: Advanced Training Retreat, and Awakening the Creative: The Painting Experience.

Schedule a massage and other healing therapeutic modalities during your stay.

Lodging Options

There are numerous lodging options at Breitenbush Hot Springs. The rustic wooden cabins, originally constructed in the 1930’s, are my personal favorite. The cabins have beds (bring your own bedding or rent theirs), a table and a chair or two, geothermal radiator heating, and basic electric lighting. Some of the cabins have plumbing (a sink and toilet) and some don’t. (There are bathroom and shower cabins nearby.) A few of those with plumbing have a second bedroom. There are some clothes hooks, and a broom to sweep out the pine needles that inevitably find their way into the cabin. Don’t expect to get a key upon check-in; there are no locks on the cabin doors.

Cabins are simple and rustic, heated by geothermal energy.

Walking back to the cabins in light snow.

One of the lodge rooms at Breitenbush.

There’s a dorm cabin; one for men and one for women, each with four dorm beds.

There are also two rooms in the lodge, each with a single double bed. You’re clearly warned against possible lodge noise, but being in the lodge has advantages. Again, the rooms are clean, but spare.

For campers, there are platform tents which come with a couple of foam mattresses, as well as a separate area for bringing your own tent and another for vehicle camping. Camping is seasonal and there are no hookups.

Semi-permanent tents on raised platforms are available.

Meal Times

Three mostly organic vegetarian meals a day are included in the price of your stay. Meal times are signaled with a 10 minute-warning bell, and then again once the dining room doors are open and you’re free to go through the buffet line. Think updated, ethnic-food friendly Frances Moore Lappé style of wholesome, hearty meals. Think fresh vegetables and varied grains. A daily soup. There’s a varied salad bar and always, dessert. They accommodate wheat, egg, dairy, and gluten-free needs. There are daily beverages served with meals as well, like hibiscus iced tea.

Herbal teas and hot water are available all day. (Many people bring their own coffee and if you do, you’ll join the line-up of those making pour through coffee near the hot water spigots. I’m there and bring my own coffee and a few teabags.)

Take a seat, indoors or out, communally or alone. If you’re on a silent retreat, you can take your food to the library.

The food is really good, and I always seem to overeat and enjoy every moment of it. When you leave, bus your plate and things and don’t forget to thank the cooks.

The Community Village

What makes Breitenbush run? A community of men, women and children of all ages live at Breitenbush, most on the other side of the river in “the Village.” I once accidentally stumbled upon it while hiking, but guests are not supposed to enter unless invited in. This is, after all, their home when they’re not on the clock.

These are the people who greet you, unload the supply trucks, prepare the meals, clean, build/rebuild, clean and check the temperature and PH levels of  the hot springs, set up the tents, maintain the hydro-electric power equipment that provides power to the property (I once was given a tour of the system; fascinating!), and all else.

Noticeable Change Each Visit

“Those crazy hippies get things done,” a friend of mine said. Each visit, some new improvement is evident. New lighting here, new cabin siding there, perhaps new signage, or even a new building for meeting space. On my last visit, a kid’s play area was added just away from the lodge.

Breitenbush play ground

The latest? They recently added the ability to place reservations online. Before this, fans of Breitenbush laughed off (sort of) how difficult it was to reserve space. You rarely got hold of anyone by phone the same day and you might wait days for a phone call back. Miss that call and it could be a week or more before you reserve. You could see availability on the website, but the information was woefully outdated. And they often are at full capacity anyway, so coordinating a trip with friends was especially difficult. The new system makes booking a stay much easier.

The Lodge in winter.

Breitenbush Hot Springs is a special place for to get away, relax, rejuvenate, spend time a little closer to the natural world, eat well, and care for your body as well as your mind. I’m grateful to have it so close to where I live.


The writer, with her daughter, on a summer visit during a Women’s Weekend.

For More:

  • Breitenbush Hot Springs, Retreat and Conference Center,
  • Costs range from $74.00 to $132.00 per person, per day, depending on the type of lodging. Meals are included. Day use rates available.

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Hannah Denton May 10, 2017 - 1:23 am

This is everything I love about a relaxed weekend! The hot springs look beautiful. Great post!

Nancy Zaffaro May 10, 2017 - 8:06 am

So glad you like, Hannah. Feel free to share some of your favorite places as well!


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