Oregon Outback: Summer Lake Hot Springs

Highway 31 is a scenic byway through the Oregon Outback. The Great Basin between Lapine and Lakeview features several geologic wonders and the history here is as rich as the sky is big! The earliest evidence of human inhabitation was found in this area, grass sandals at Fort Rock Cave and coprolite (fossilized poo) in The Paisley Caves. Fort Rock is a naturally occurring fortress of stone. The walls were created when an ancient volcano erupted under the muddy bottom of an ancient lake. The debris from the Volcano fell down around the spray of lava and created a giant ring in the middle of the lake. Waves from the surrounding lake eroded the rock walls and southerly winds eventually wore one side completely away. The site is now a State Park, you can walk a trail around the interior of the rock wall and imagine life 13,000 years ago when most of this land was a lush wetland.

Fort Rock, Oregon
Fort Rock

Fort Rock, Oregon from road

The highway continues on through the unincorprated community of Silver Lake. Here, on Christmas Eve 1894, 43 people lost there lives when a fire broke out during a community dance.  Silver Lake is also home to The Cowboy Dinner Tree, a good ol’ fashioned, family-style Chuck Wagon experience!

Near the Summit of Picture Rock Pass is a Petroglyph site. It is unknown who carved these glyphs and what they could mean, most speculate they had something to do with hunting. They are dated between 7,000 and 12,000 years old. There are 10-figures on the rock, mostly human(like) and some animal forms as well.

Petroglyphs at Picture Rock Pass
Petroglyphs at Picture Rock Pass

Dropping down into the Summer Lake Basin is a sight! Impressive Winter Ridge and it’s snow capped rim loom over Summer Lake. These sites were named by early American explorer Captain John. Fremont after he and his men had drudged through a terrible winter storm to the edge of The Ridge. There, standing in three feet of snow, they looked down upon a large prairie land and lake free of ice and snow. They exclaimed then the names Winter Ridge and Summer Lake. You can visit Fremont Point from a road starting in the tiny community of Silver Lake. The viewpoint was previously the site of a lookout but was burned down during a fire in 2002. A new shelter is currently under construction.

Silver Lake, Oregon
The Town of Silver Lake, good coffee here
Cows on road, Government Harvey Pass
Cattle on road to Fremont View Point
Fremont Viewpoint
Fremont Viewpoint from old lookout spot.
New Lookout from old Lookout spot

Below Winter Ridge, just before the town of Paisley is Summer Lake Hot Springs! An Oasis in the desert, an ancient artisan Hot Springs piped up a Volcanic fault to a bath house surrounded by rock pools. The springs have been flowing for thousands of years and has been long revered as a sacred place of healing. Summer Lake Hot Springs is now an 145- acre resort, featuring geo thermally heated cabins, guest houses, and campground. This is an incredibly inspiring and rejuvinating place, I feel at peace when I am here. The Springs fluctuate between 106-118 degrees and have a rich mineral content. Despite it’s many health benefits the water does not taste too terribly good, so bring your own.

Summer Lake Hot Springs
Bath House at Summer Lake Hot Springs, constructed in 1928
Rock pools at Summer Lake
Outdoor Rock Pool Hot Springs
Hot Springs
Outdoor Rock Pool at Summer Lake Hotsprings

Water, gas, beer and more can be found a few miles down the road in Paisley. The town, pop. 243, is the largest between Lapine and Lakeview and home to The Mosquito Festival. The festival features a car show, dance and parade and is held the last full weekend in July. Visit the Pioneer Saloon for amazing pizza and friendly conversation. This is a small community, supported mostly by cattle ranches, and folks here are quick to tell fantastical stories of things encountered in the desert…

Pioneer Saloon, Paisley Oregon
The Pioneer Saloon, Paisley Oregon
Paisley Caves, Oregon
View from The Paisley Caves where oldest Human DNA in America was found
View of Summer Lake from Government Harvey Pass

I find it is only a matter of time before I wander down this way and melt away in the Hot Springs. There is so much to explore in the area, and the land between is wide, so until next time…..

2 responses to “Oregon Outback: Summer Lake Hot Springs”

  1. […] spaces of open pines and scattered grass meadows in his diary. Fremont was traveling south to The Oregon Outback and Summer Lake having just completed work on The Oregon Trail. He was traveling at the time with a group of 25 […]


  2. […] secret, and like all things ‘Oregon’ they are pretty trendy. My favorite hot springs (Summer Lake) are now really popular. 😦  My first few visits will live on in pleasant memory! The only other […]


%d bloggers like this: