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Ritter Hot Springs: far away in time and distance

E.J. Harris

East Oregonian

Published on June 17, 2017 10:42AM

Last changed on June 17, 2017 11:00AM

Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisRitter Hot Springs sits in bend of the Middle Folk John Day River near Long Creek in northern Grant County.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisRitter Hot Springs sits in bend of the Middle Folk John Day River near Long Creek in northern Grant County.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisRitter Hot Springs main attraction is its spring-fed swimming pool where guests can soak in the 80 plus degree waters piped in from the hot springs.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisRitter Hot Springs main attraction is its spring-fed swimming pool where guests can soak in the 80 plus degree waters piped in from the hot springs.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisAn old cash register sits on a table in the dance hall of the hotel at Ritter Hot Springs.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisAn old cash register sits on a table in the dance hall of the hotel at Ritter Hot Springs.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisGuests can also use one of four individual soaking pools overlooking the resort.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisGuests can also use one of four individual soaking pools overlooking the resort.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisThe Middle Folk John Day River offers anglers a pristine opportunity for fishing.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisThe Middle Folk John Day River offers anglers a pristine opportunity for fishing.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisSpring fed showers overlook the Middle Fork John Day River offer a relaxing hot shower to guests before taking in one of the soaking pools.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisSpring fed showers overlook the Middle Fork John Day River offer a relaxing hot shower to guests before taking in one of the soaking pools.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisA self-pay box sits unattended in the Ritter stage stop for guests to drop off their payment during their stay.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisA self-pay box sits unattended in the Ritter stage stop for guests to drop off their payment during their stay.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisAn old fuel pump and car frame sit in a field above the hotel at Ritter Hot Springs.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisAn old fuel pump and car frame sit in a field above the hotel at Ritter Hot Springs.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisRitter Hot Springs has been a destination for more than a hundred and fifty years.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisRitter Hot Springs has been a destination for more than a hundred and fifty years.

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Staff photo  by E.J. HarrisA cabin still sits on the original site homesteaded by William Neal McDuffee.

Staff photo by E.J. HarrisA cabin still sits on the original site homesteaded by William Neal McDuffee.

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Staff photo by E.J. Harris
Ritter Hot Springs sits in a bend of the Middle Folk John Day River, near Long Creek in northern Grant County.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Ritter Hot Springs sits in a bend of the Middle Folk John Day River, near Long Creek in northern Grant County.


If you are looking for a health spa with herbal wraps, cucumber water and Yerba mate lattes, then Ritter Hot Springs is not for you.

However, what Ritter might lack in posh accouterments, it more than makes up for with scenic beauty, a rich history and plenty of hot, healing spring water.

Ritter was first discovered and homesteaded by William Neal McDuffee in the 1850s and was originally named McDuffee Hot Springs. One of McDuffee’s original cabins can still be found on the site today. McDuffee was an interesting character, according to current Ritter owner Mike Tillay of Walla Walla. Tillay, who has studied the history of the hot springs, says McDuffee was miner, a watermaster and even spent time in prison for murdering a man on the property.

“(McDuffee) was an out of luck miner and he struck gold with hot water,” Tillay said.

Ritter was later renamed for the popular John Day Valley pioneer minister Rev. Joseph Ritter, who had bought the ranch where the springs are located.

The resort is ten miles west of Highway 395 on Ritter Road, along a meander of the Middle Fork John Day River in Grant County roughly 20 miles north of Long Creek.

The sleepy little alcove was once, and still is, a destination for people looking to reap the health benefits of the mineral waters found at the hot springs, according to Tillay. He said the water feels smooth due to its high alkalinity, close to a nine on the pH scale, which can be good for your skin.

“I have a lady staying here right now that takes a five-gallon bucket of it home and sprays it on her after a shower because it makes her skin feel smooth,” Tillay said.

A century old hot springs comes with a lot of upkeep and renovations seem to be constantly underway. Tillay, who is also president and CEO of Grab on Grips, a company that makes bicycle handlebar wraps, can be found working on improvements to the property most days of the week, although he has no plans to expand current operations.

While retelling an account for a guest, Tillay touched one of Ritter’s biggest charms — its remoteness.

“The absolute best thing about Ritter is that there is nothing to do,” Tillay said. “You can just put your mind in neutral. You can just chill.”





















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