“I love this place but it isn't for everyone and there are a few things you must be careful about”
I've stopped over at this warm spring (the water comes out of the ground at 97 degrees, and it has to be heated up to 104 in the spa area) on the way through Ashland up/down Oregon for the last four years running, and I was also here once about 20 years ago. I love the place, but concede that it isn't for everyone and that there are a few things you have to be careful about.
What I love about it: the huge warm mineral springs pool and the spa, the location so close to Ashland, and camping. I've learned quite a bit about the place over the years, and last Monday, lucked out into having a conversation with the water quality engineer for the place as he and another man were doing their Monday work of cleaning and then refilling the pool and spa.
The water is a real, as in genuine, warm mineral spring. The pool water is never chlorinated. Instead, they literally pull the plug on the pool on Sunday night, drain the pool and the spa, clean both of them, and refill both of them from the big warm spring reservoir out back. You can go see it, it's behind a chain link fence with blue pool bubble insulation over it to keep the water clean and warm. The water does have some weird gooshy things floating around in it, and those are mineral-ly clumpy things, not human snot. They are a good thing, in other words. The water is high enough in sulfur to turn sterling silver black in an instant but not so high that it smells like rotten eggs. You can tell the water is more dense than H2O by how easy it is to float in it.
If being in the springs is your priority, as it is for me when I'm not seeing a play or attending a play-related lecture, then it's important to pay attention to the fact that it's closed as of midnight Sunday to 6 PM on Monday, when it opens for Ladies Night. The first time I was there, I went to sleep anticipating an early morning swim -- only to find the pool drained. I was crushed!
I would put Breitenbush, Harbin Hot Springs, and Jackson Wellsprings in the same continuum of mineral springs, ranked as listed by how professionally they are run. Breitenbush is clearly the leader - very professionally run and maintained, it is a solidly craftsmanlike place that has worked through all its rebuilding/zoning issues with its municipality. Harbin years ago left its funky hippie antecedents in the past and all its facilities have either been refurbished or rebuilt in solid craftsmanship with an artistic eye to details. Jackson Wellsprings has been working for years towards upgrading its facilities and it has made huge progress, although there is still work to be done.
One does well to think like an water quality engineer, a city planner, a safety engineer, a resident, and a worker in re these places. Only then, I think, do you "get" the challenges inherent in running a hippy-ish mineral spring. I will go on about this at the end of the review, because it's interesting, I think, and important, but first to a less detailed and more visitor-view look at the place.
Tent camping is $20 and you don't need reservations, ever, which is great. You can put your tent up in either of two areas to the right (north) of the main office. My recommendation is the smaller area west of the parking lot (e.g., on the same strata as the office) because it's a little bit quieter at night. There is noise from both I-5 and 99. Wellsprings is right off 99. The tiny cabins have been closed for years. They are at the center of discussions with city personnel about 100-and 150-year flood zones. You can park between the cabins in some cases. There is elec for people who camp in vans but I don't know more about it than that it exists.
The main spa bathhouse was rebuilt, oh, gosh, 10 or 12 years ago? They close at midnight when the pools close. The things to be careful about: I had something stolen from a closed but not padlocked locker in the main spa bathroom. I am pretty sure it was stolen by a young man that I saw slinking out of the women's locker room. I will never leave anything in there unlocked again. Take it with you outside or bring a lock. There are signs EVERYWHERE warning against leaving valuables unlocked and pay attention to them. Always lock your car. I've never heard of anyone breaking into a car or a tent but if unlocked and an easy crime of opportunity presents itself, there are people taking long hiatuses from employment who will take advantage.
There is now a push-pad lock on the women's bathroom, none on the men's, for the night time camper's bathrooms. The night bathrooms are decidedly funky, but as of this year, they are clean, or as clean as they can get given the funky tile, minerals in the water, etc. Last year, the bathrooms were plain dirty, but that's not the case now - KUDOS! As I understand it, there is a large community of residents behind the pools, along the various gravel roads, and they are kind of hidden to us overnighters. Some of the residents were using the bathrooms, and not taking much care in keeping them clean. Also, there was a small population of mostly young-male crashers who were throwing down sleeping bags after midnight and picking up and vanishing at dawn, also who weren't too concerned with keeping the bathrooms clean. I am under the impression that they'd use whatever bathroom was closest at 2 AM if nature called. The point of is, this seems to have stopped, and that's a good thing for visitors. I always close/lock the women's bathroom now, and so do others (wasn't the custom before). I didn't use the after-midnight showers, but I peeked in and they looked clean. There are now signs up directing one to the laundry room next door that has a large "shop" sink and dish drainer. I never knew before this year that there was a large sink to use or a laundry room! There are other signs about keeping the doors closed, etc. and this also has contributed to keeping the bathrooms clean. There is funky, and there is filthy - these bathrooms are funky, but not filthy.
The water is a real mineral spring, and the minerals do "eat" metals and leave stains. I recognize that, and so should you, and don't be horrified at stains in the sinks and toilets. There is little to be done for it short of tearing down the entire bathroom area and rebuilding it. I am certain that they will get to it eventually. It will be the most challenging thing for them to accomplish in terms of city planning, zoning, and so on.
The main office was just rebuilt, like, JUST. It looks great! The organization is putting a lot of time/energy/work into creating community areas for workshops and festivals. As a camper, this can mean that you luck out into being able to float on the big pool and watch the moon while listening to quite good reggae that is not too loud from the big performance tent next door or the newish performance/festival area behind the springs reservoir. During the day, the performance tent can be used as a place to hang out and use the Internet. It has chairs, couches, etc., and there is a kitchen/restaurant, although I've never gotten anything there. (I"m a fan of the Ashland Food Co-op.)
Someone commented about the pool looking funky. It isn't because it is unclean. The weekly draining and refilling of the pool means it is undoubtedly much cleaner than your average municipal pool. The combination of the minerals in the water and the fact that the warm spring is literally bubbling underneath the area of the pool = cracks from the movement of the concrete, all of which is parged and resurfaced regularly and some discoloration of the concrete. It is not an even blue like a city pool and the water is not completely clear. This is what makes it so special and terrific IMHO, but I can understand that this might squick some people.
If you like the place, ask where the gardens are, and spend some time wandering around them, enjoying the plants, flowers, bees.
The gigantic mineral springs pool makes this an extraordinary place, and if you understand what to expect in re camping and the nighttime camper's bathrooms, I think you'll see the magic of it. Highly recommended.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.