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