Most hot springs resorts offer little in the way of a wilderness soaking experience. This rustic resort in the San Luis Valley is an exception. With a dozen pools scattered over a hillside, including some that require a 15-minute hike, solitude within the bounds of a resort is not only possible, it’s likely. You can drink in the view of the valley from the top ponds, make new friends in the Party Pool (not its official name) or catch some rays around the man-made swimming pool. And no other resort embraces the “clothing optional” ethos like Valley View. From the second you arrive at the gate (7 miles down a dirt road up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains), you’re likely to encounter nude hikers, campers and sunbathers, at least in warmer months. Long known as a hippie hangout, it has a different vibe today, where urban professionals from Denver mingle with skiers from Salida and yoga instructors from nearby Crestone. They’re not swingers. They just don’t like to wear bathing suits.
When Neil Seitz came here in the mid-70s, the historic hot springs was in disrepair, owned by a rancher who couldn’t afford to keep it up. He eventually bought the place and over the next 25 years, he and his wife Terry, whom he met at the hot springs, restored old mining cabins into guest lodging, repaired and updated the pools, built a unique sauna and made Valley View a place where people have been coming for generations. He could have sold it for millions but instead turned it over to a nonprofit on retiring to ensure it remains locally managed and clothing optional for all time.
- It’s okay to wear a bathing suit if you want, though once you’ve soaked au naturale in a natural, geothermally heated pool while gazing at the Rocky Mountains, you may never want to again.
- Pay a $35 annual membership fee to make reservations in advance, which given Valley View’s popularity, is usually necessary in summer just to get in and is necessary most of the year to get a room, cabin, or campsite.
- In summer, make time to take the 1.5-mile hike from the resort to the former Orient Mine, where at dusk you can watch 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats emerge in a single flight, one of the most stunning spectacles in Colorado.
Recommended season(s): Every season is unique at Valley View. Spring can be a little buggy but not too hot. In summer, you can enjoy a hike to the bat cave or watching the fireflies around the pools; yes this is one of the only places in the Rockies with fireflies. Fall brings cooler temperatures and scenic fall colors. Winter offers solitude, an often snowy landscape an amazing place to wrap up a day skiing at nearby Monarch Mountain.
—R. Scott Rappold