How much do you love hot springs? This is a question you must seriously ask yourself before embarking on the Conundrum Creek Trail in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Near 11,200 feet, at the end of 8½ miles, lies the steamy destination that has become a bucket-list item for Coloradans. It is a long, hard journey gaining about 2,500 feet. But the soak should relieve the aches and pains, and the naturally heated waters paired with the epic, rugged beauty should inspire gratitude. You are in one miraculous state.
Also, the adventure might make you realize our wilderness problem.
The Boulder-based Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics calls the area a “hot spot” — and that has nothing to do with the springs, said to be 102 degrees. That has everything to do with the rising degree of harmful, human impacts.
“This special place needs your help,” says the voice in the video posted to the camping reservation website, recreation.gov. At the trailhead outside Aspen, where parking is limited, rangers try to keep wag bags stocked, hoping people pack out their waste. Bear canisters are required, and campfires are banned. A ban on dogs by the springs is another attempt to prevent contamination.
Expect to get cozy with strangers in the summer — and don’t expect them to necessarily wear suits. Though visitors rave about the hot springs in fall and winter, summer is the recommended time to go. The road to the trail can be inaccessible after storms, avalanche danger exists in the valleys, and snow can make the trail tricky to find.
An overnight is recommended, though plenty of able bodies start early for the 17 miles out and back. Reserve a campsite months in advance if you’re trying for the summer.
The trail ascends through meadows and aspen stands before entering the pine and pond-spotted forest. Have extra socks, as creek crossings will wet your feet, especially one crossing that will have you wading after spring and summer runoff. That’s some cold water before the hot prize.
FYI: 20 designated campsites, each allowing different-sized groups of two to six people. $6 to reserve at recreation.gov/permits/273336.
Contact: White River National Forest’s Carbondale office at 970-963-2266. More information at bit.ly/2PDlKjZ.
Getting there: From Aspen, follow Colorado 82 west to the traffic circle. Take the third exit onto Castle Creek Road and drive about 5 miles to the slight right turn for Conundrum Creek Road. Follow to the parking lot; no parking on the narrow road.
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