The Making of Hot Springs
During the Earth’s water cycle (evaporation-condensation-
precipitation-collection), rain and other surface water percolate through the surface. As the water descends, it’s heated by the rocks and underlying magma. In general, the Earth’s temperature increases three to five degrees for every 300 feet of depth.
The heated water then begins to rise. It will follow cracks to the surface and it can pick up a host of minerals such as sulfur, silica, calcium, potassium, etc., along the way. If the water retains heat, it emerges in the form of hot springs.
REJUVENATE WORN MUSCLES AFTER AN ACTIVE DAY IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS AT COLORADO’S HOT SPRINGS.
My first taste of Colorado’s hot springs followed a nine-mile mountain trek, a knee-deep water crossing, a surprise hailstorm, and camping next to a glacier. When my friends and I eventually reached the mountaintop springs – three soothing pools with jaw-dropping, 360-degree views of majestic peaks and valleys – the wearisome trip faded from our muscles and minds. Five years later, it remains one of my favorite Colorado experiences.
But you don’t have to strap on a 20-pound backpack to enjoy nature’s soothing warm waters. You can find them – in locations from rustic to refined – throughout the Centennial State. You just have to know where to look.
TAKE A DIP
Across Colorado, there are a number of the hot spots worth a dip.
Dunton Hot Springs
When a luxury travel magazine deems a location one of its favorite places on the planet, you know it’s special. Yet the word special seems an understatement when it comes to Dunton Hot Springs, located in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.
In the 1990s, investors spent more than $3 million to transform this former ghost town into a boutique luxury resort that caters to a maximum of 42 guests. In addition to the full-service spa, gourmet cuisine, and luxury cabins, there are the springs, of course – five in all, ranging from 85 to 106 degrees. Three springs, including one inside a charming 19th-century bathhouse, and two smaller outdoor pools are available to all guests, while two private springs are accessible to guests of specific cabins.
Welcome to the Wild West – with lavishness laid on thick.
Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool
A five-hour drive from quaint and quiet Dunton Hot Springs is the world’s largest and, perhaps, busiest outdoor mineral pool. The two-block-long Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool complex in Glenwood Springs caters to families with its 93-degree swimming pool, 104-degree therapy pool, diving pool, kiddie pool, and waterslides. There are also locker rooms, an athletic club, a snack bar, and geothermal-heated hotel rooms, not to mention the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves next door, where you can sauna inside a natural cave. The complex is so vast, in fact, that everything you need can be found on site. (Although if you do venture out, you’ll discover delights such as the Sunlight Mountain ski area, snowshoe trails, and cave tours at nearby Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.)
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Just seven miles south of downtown Steamboat Springs, the soaking pools at Strawberry Park Hot Springs offer a remote respite in the northern part of the state. Originating from a hot spring on the hillside, the 150-degree water flows down into the cooler creek. There, handmade pools divide the stream into two primary soaking areas – the hottest of which is 104 degrees. There’s also a “cool pool” for those who desire a chilly plunge.
Coinciding with the relaxing waters are on-property spa treatments, including the popular Watsu® warm-water massage. Although most people visit these picturesque creek-side pools as day guests, tent camping is offered during summer months. Rustic cabins, including a cleverly renovated train caboose, are available throughout the year.
The Springs Resort
If you’re looking for variety, you’ll be in seventh heaven visiting the 18 terraced pools overlooking the San Juan River at The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs. This collection of springs is produced by the Great Pagosa Aquifer, the world’s largest and deepest hot mineral spring. Although the sulfur smell can be distracting at first, the scent quickly fades, overpowered by the resort’s beauty and abundance of options.
Tub temperatures range from a lukewarm 83 degrees to a piping-hot 114 degrees, and, if you’re feeling brave, you can take a dip in the frigid river that runs alongside the pools. Also, you can stay at the resort’s accommodations so that you’re never far from the action.
Hot Sulphur Springs
Another location with a plethora of soaking options, Hot Sulphur Springs Resort & Spa is located 30 minutes west of Winter Park ski area. It’s an ideal après-ski destination for soaking sore, tired muscles.
The rustic mountainside resort has seven natural springs that route more than 200,000 gallons of water into the resort’s 22 pools every day. Controlled temperatures of 95 to 112 degrees can be found in pools both big and small, covered and uncovered.
Hot Sulphur Springs is also one of the country’s oldest hot springs destinations. The natural mineral water has been flowing here for more than 140 years.
HOT SPRINGS ETERNAL
Hot water has flowed from beneath the Earth’s surface for thousands of years, and it will continue for thousands more. As long as the core remains hot, it will warm the water that seeps far underground. So you still have plenty of time to enjoy them in your own style.
The featured locations struck my fancy. A little research will reveal the hot springs that best suit you.
Food and Lodging in Colorado’s Hot Springs Towns
Dunton Hot Springs
Dunton Hot Springs – gourmet cuisine prepared with ingredients grown on site.
Contact: (970) 882-4800, www.duntonhotsprings.com
Dunton Hot Springs – 12 exquisitely restored miners’ cabins.
Contact: (970) 882-4800, www.duntonhotsprings.com
Rivers Restaurant – enjoy a tasty trout dinner on the riverside deck.
Contact: (970) 928-8813, www.theriversrestaurant.com.
Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge – prime proximity and unlimited admission to the world’s largest hot springs pool.
Contact: (970) 945-6571, www.hotspringspool.com
Alley House Grill – fusion food served in a beautifully restored 1912 cottage.
Contact: (970) 264-0999, www.alleyhousegrille.com
Fireside Inn Cabins – cozy cabins with Western decor, full kitchens, and porches made for relaxing.
Contact: (970) 264-9204, www.firesidecabins.com
Winona’s – frosting-topped cinnamon buns are an absolute must for breakfast-lovers.
Contact: (970) 879-2483
Mariposa Lodge Bed and Breakfast – charming inn with friendly owners, gourmet meals, and nature at your doorstep.
Contact: (970) 879-1467, www.steamboatmariposa.com
Hot Sulphur Springs
Ranch House Restaurant at Devil’s Thumb Ranch – book a fireside table and sink your teeth into tender antelope steak or an organic beef burger.
Contact: (800) 933-4339, www.devilsthumbranch.com
Wild Horse Inn in Fraser – luxury lodge rooms and cabins, plus owners who will put together a daypack full of gourmet goodies for you.
Contact: (970) 726-0456, www.wildhorseinncolorado.com
Hidden Hot Springs
You can’t drive to all of Colorado’s hot springs. And sometimes that’s a good thing. You’ll have to get out and stretch your legs to reach these remote spots, but the trek is worth the extra effort. We promise!
Conundrum Hot Springs
Located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness outside of Aspen, the trail to Conundrum Hot Springs climbs for nine miles to an altitude of 11,200 feet. But what awaits you is an on-top-of-the-world campground and two of the highest hot springs pools in the United States. Water temperature ranges from 100 to 105 degrees – perfect for lying back and taking in the stellar views.
Piedra River Hot Springs
A journey for the truly adventurous, the trip to the Piedra River Hot Springs is not long (less than two miles from the Sheep Creek trailhead), but the lack of signage along the way makes the route tricky. (Hint: When the trail forks after the first half-mile, follow the path to the right.)
Those who undertake this hike through the San Juan National Forest south of Pagosa Springs, however, will be rewarded with secluded, sandy-bottom pools along the Piedra River’s shores.
Rainbow Hot Springs
Huff it five miles into the Weminuche Wilderness, and you’ll discover Rainbow Hot Springs – two sparkling rock pools alongside the San Juan River. These hot spots are crowd pleasers, so consider a midweek trip or go early in the spring for more privacy. Better yet, spend the night under the stars at the West Fork campground and get up with the sun for an early morning soak before the day hikers finish their coffee.