Remnants of the extensive pluvial lake ecosystem, Borax Lake Hot Springs is a unique geothermal area located in a flat high desert of the Alvord Basin. Majestic views of the vast terrain and mountains, steamy hot springs, and white borax soil makes this site very attractive for photographers.
Thermal waters are typically a result of volcanic activity and Borax Lake Hot Springs is no exception. The entire area of the Alvord Basin lies on the 30-mile long fault line between the Steens and Pueblo Mountains on the west and the Sheepshead and Trout Creek Mountains on the east. Steens Mountain was formed from this uplifted fault block. It is said to be millions of years old with eruptions dating back 17 million years. Though the fault's center is relatively far from Borax Lake, it still manages to heat its deepest waters to an impressive 300-degree Fahrenheit. Alvord Hot Springs and Mickey Hot Springs occur within the same fault zone.
The Borax Lake Hot Springs area includes the 10-acre Borax Lake (previously known as Hot Lake), ten to twelve hot springs, and a few dozen vents. The southernmost hot springs, located in the center of the lake, 100 feet below the surface, nurture Borax Lake with geothermal water that ranges from 104 to 300°F (40-140°C). The temperature of the water near the lake's shore can be between 61°F during cooler months and 100°F in the middle of summer. The overflow of Borax Lake feeds Little (Lower) Borax Lake.
The quantity and quality of the Borax water had changed since the beginning of the geothermal energy development project when a few wells were drilled near the lake. The water level of Borax Lake decreased and Little Borax Lake can be found dry during the hottest summer months.
Borax Lake Hot Springs gain unprecedented attention today for its unusual environmental profile and unique ecosystem. For these reasons, it makes the area very attractive to many scientific types of research.
The interesting fact: Borax Lake is home to only one type of fish, — the rare and endangered Borax Lake Chub. This fascinating cyprinid fish can only be found here. The chub is a miracle creature of nature, which survived, endured such a difficult habitat, and evolved within about 10,000 years. This fish prefers the lake's outflows due to their cooler temperatures - around 85°F. The temperature 93°F (34°C) is critical for the species. The chub is also found in Little Borax Lake but the fish population dies when this small lake is dry. To protect the exceptional Borax Lake chub, a restoration of Little Borax is extremely important.
Currently, the 640-acre area around Borax Lake is designated as a critical habitat and managed by The Nature Conservancy, BLM, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In 1993 The Nature Conservancy purchased 160-acre private land around Borax Lake and Borax Lake itself to save the endangered chub species and the unique environment.
Because Borax Lake is a biological preserve and the lake's shoreline is highly fragile which may be damaged by off-road vehicles, only foot traffic is allowed from the second gate to the Borax Lake (0.5 miles) and the hot springs (1 mile).
Soaking in the hot springs and swimming in the lake is not allowed. Often Borax Lake tempts visitors to take a quick dip in its warm water. The Nature Conservancy absolutely prohibits it to keep both humans and the fragile ecosystem safe.
After the winter and heavy rains, it doesn't recommend to drive to Borax Lake Hot Springs as even the toughest off-road trucks and SUVs can get stuck in the mud. The hot summer months are not the best time for visiting as well.
Further, this beautifully well-kept area is not all natural landscape. Visitors may also witness ruins of buildings near the site, which may appear odd in such a rural area. The ruins of the steel vats, remnants of the Borax workstation where borax was extracted that took place near the lake over a century ago. This unique site was discovered in 1856 with a high composition of borates, subsequently leading to a small-scale production project. Though the area continues to bear useful resources, there won't be any future productions on-site.
Imagine taking off on an adventure to one of Oregon's most interesting hot springs and being the only one there for miles. Surely, that would make for a truly unique and memorable experience.
Cautions. The extremely hot temperatures, steam, and fragile surface make grounds unstable, especially near the pools' edges. The posted signs warn about the dangers of this area. Watch your step, the thin ground surface could break under your weight and expose you to scalding water.
Borax Lake Hot Springs | Facts
Dangerously Hot for Soaking
Swimming in the lake is not allowed
Location: 7 miles north of Fields • Eastern Oregon • USA
Service: No services are available
Accommodations: Camping is not allowed within the Borax Lake Hot Springs area
Hiking distance: 0.5 miles
Road Access: High-clearance vehicle is recommended
Day-use fees: Free
Elevation: 4,054 ft (1,230 m)
- Head north 1.4 miles to the junction of Highway 205 and Fields-Denio Road (Folly Farm Road or East Steens Road)
- From the junction, bear right and go 0.25 miles to the power substation
- Turn right just after the power substation and follow about 2 miles the dirt road which is parallels the power lines
- Turn left and continue 0.9 miles to the first gate - open and close the gate
- Go next 0.5 miles to the second gate.
From this point, the road is closed to all motor vehicles. Park your car and walk 0.5 miles to Borax Lake. Borax Hot Springs are located northwest of Borax Lake.