Hot Springs

A Soak at Bonneville Hot Springs

Banish stress at one of the Columbia Gorge's most deluxe day spas—just an hour from Portland!

By Regina Winkle-Bryan September 30, 2016

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My bath attendant has a blonde braid down to her waist, gentle eyes, and wears a sharp, black uniform. She lines up essential oils along the counter: lavender for tension relief, spruce for circulation, eucalyptus for respiration, and three more. I feel briefly overwhelmed by the choices and wonder: what is it that I really need? I go for eucalyptus because I feel congested and then follow her into a hushed area for a bath and wrap.

“Wear your swim suit or your birthday suit, either is fine—it will be dark in there anyway,” she says, handing me rubber sandals and a fluffy terrycloth robe. She waits outside while I get ready.

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Like most of the guests at Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa, I'm primarily here for the waters, which are said to aid in soothing eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, indigestion, general stress, and even fibromyalgia. Bonneville sits atop a natural hot spring rich in silica as well as sulfur, but without the rotten-egg perfume common in other sulfury springs. The resort opened in 2002, but people have been using the springs for their medicinal properties for centuries. The Calapooia, Klamath, and Makah people all bathed here, and in 1880 a settler by the name of Moffett claimed the thermal waters and created Moffett Hot Springs with a 96-degree swimming pool and a handful of cabins.

I follow my bath attendant to a spacious room illuminated by the orange flicker of a dozen candles. She lets me choose between a shorter tub, good for staying seated, or a longer option, ideal for lying back. I go for the latter, a pristine clawfoot soaker almost six feet long. She opens the faucet and shows me how to adjust the temperature, then adds the eucalyptus oil to the water and disappears behind an elegant cloth and wrought iron screen. Peaceful piano music floats in, but it’s a bird outside the window singing that provides the best meditative soundtrack.

There are other bathers in the room, but their presence isn’t intrusive—each of us is cloistered in our own private space. Downy towels are in just the right spot for a neck rest, and a washcloth is provided to cover the eyes. The scent of eucalyptus is pungent and invigorating. When I start to feel a bit overheated I reach for the ice water and chocolates that have been left on a bath-side table. (I’ve never thought about eating chocolates in the bath, but it turns out to be a good idea.) There’s also a carafe of water from the springs and when I sample it I can taste the sulfurous, eggy flavor. It may be good for me, but it’s no La Croix. I eat another chocolate to get rid of the taste.

Twenty-five minutes later my attendant is back, cloaking me in a robe and whisking me into another dimly lit room. Single beds are lined up in two rows and I can see that a few of them are occupied by women who resemble mummies. 

“How would you like your wrap: loose, medium, or burrito?” whispers the attendant. 

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I opt for the medium, settling into the crisp bed sheets. A hot towel imbued with Kneipp eucalyptus warms my lower back as my attendant tucks layers of sheets and blankets around me. It’s a little claustrophobic at first, having my arms and legs confined, but it’s not so tight that I can’t wiggle out. I’m feeling warm and starting to sweat when she places a cool towel across my brow, immediately taking my body temperature down a few degrees. I breathe in deeply and notice the Yonka essential oils, a mix of lavender, geranium, rosemary, cyprus, and thyme.

The bath and wrap at $40 ($30 midweek) is the real “must” at Bonneville. After an hour of being steamed like rice and rolled like sushi I feel thoroughly relaxed and adequately pampered. Piggybacking a massage on the end of a bath results in a truly deluxe stress-blasting experience. My attendant gently extracts me  from my cocoon and passes me into the capable hands of a veteran massage therapist who works over my neck, shoulders, and back with hot and cold stones for 50 blissful minutes. I never want it to end.

The Back Stone massage ($130) is over too soon, one of nine massage possibilities offered at the spa, including Reiki. Also featured are an array of wraps (seaweed, French green clay), exfoliation and body buffing, paraffin sessions, waxing, facials, and a $30 Bright Eyes treatment to soothe and tone the eye area, wiping out fine lines and wrinkles.

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I finish up with a dip in the spring-fed hot tub, one of three communal bathing pools, and the only one off-limits to children (all pools and the sauna are adults-only from 7:30–10 p.m.). A large fountain resembling the many waterfalls dotting the Gorge cascades alongside the pool. The view is of the manicured courtyard featuring secluded reading nooks and a manmade stream, but bathers have privacy behind a veil of firs, maples, and pine trees. The pools are treated with chlorine, but I’m able to rinse off in the spa’s well-appointed dressing rooms. 

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Being steeped and kneaded into relaxation can work up an appetite, so it’s wise to plan treatments around lunch or dinner, served at the resort’s leafy courtyard eatery. Or, grab a glass of chardonnay and kick back next to the stone hearth in the hotel’s cozy lounge. As I leave Bonneville, the setting sun casts a warm blush over the Columbia River. Glancing at the clock, I realize it’s only been a few hours since I arrived. And yet, I feel as rested as if I had taken a whole weekend away. 

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