No matter the source of your exhaustion — a day on the trail or slopes or simply a day of living — nothing soothes weary muscles like a soak in a natural hot springs.
“The hot springs are great,” said Launa Shepherd of Colorado Springs, on vacation with her three sisters at The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs. “We’re all in quite a bit of pain and it does take the pain away.”
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The volcanic and seismic forces that made the Colorado Rockies are mostly silent these days, but thanks to the faults leftover from mountain building, volcanically heated water rises to the surface in select spots.
The sulphury mineral water draining away Shepherd’s exhaustion came from 1,002 feet underground, making it the deepest hot spring aquifer in the world, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. (It actually comes from much deeper; that’s as far as the hydrologist could measure.)
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This may be the best spot in Colorado to enjoy this gift from down below, with 23 pools that make up a warm-water park in the San Juan Mountains. But there are many more, from nondescript pools along the highway to backcountry oases that require long journeys into the wilderness.
You owe it to yourself to get out there and enjoy a soak in the mineral goodness that lies beneath Colorado’s surface. Consider this your guide.
In 1858, explorer Capt. John N. Macomb happened on the spot along the San Juan River that would become Pagosa Springs.
“It can scarcely be doubted that in the future years it will become a celebrated place of resort,” he noted. How right he was.
The Springs Resort & Spa gets 175,000 visitors a year, and all its pools are fed by the ultra-productive Mother Spring, which gushes water to the surface at 120 to 140 degrees. It’s then distributed to pools ranging from pleasantly tepid to downright scorching. Landscaping gives many pools a natural, rocky feel.
Many believe the springs, with their high mineral content, have curative powers.
“To me, I feel better when I get out. I don’t know if it heals sicknesses or not. I know a lot of people have come here for healing,” said sales director R.D. Whittington.
“It’s so natural. That’s what’s really nice. We love it here,” said Abby Hunter, on vacation from Utah.
Is there a healing power?
“I think it’s good for our hair,” laughed her mother, Mandy Hunter.
Earn your soak: In winter, Wolf Creek Ski Area boasts the most powder in Colorado; you’ll be ready for a soak.
In summer, the Weminuche Wilderness is the largest in Colorado. Spend a long day, or several days, hiking the Continental Divide Trail through this wild country.
Find the quieter hot springs: Overlook Hot Springs Spa is a “locals” spot, with five indoor pools and scenic rooftop tubs.
Swim in a 90-degree pool, play on the water slide or enjoy one of 30 small pools along Chalk Creek (closed during spring runoff) at this hot springs resort near Buena Vista. Overnight guests get access to their own “relaxation pool.”
Earn your soak: In winter, ski local favorite Monarch Mountain or drive 8 miles to access hundreds of miles of cross-country skiing trails.
In summer, nothing will make you feel like you deserve some relaxation more than climbing a 14,000-foot peak. The trailheads to Mount Princeton and Mount Antero are just a few miles from the hot springs.
Admission: $15 weekends, $12 weekdays
Find the quieter hot springs: Joyful Journeys Hot Springs, about 60 miles to the south in Moffat, is a rare hot springs without the sulphur odor or the crowds of other resorts. Closer to home, the Cottonwood Hot Springs inn and spa has several pools along Cottonwood Creek surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest.
There’s a reason they named it that. This northwest Colorado town boasts two world-class hot springs facilities.
The Old Town Hot Springs is an in-town water park sure to please the kids, with two water slides and numerous pools and soaking tubs.
Earn your soak: Nothing will relax you more after a day of skiing the famous tree runs at the Steamboat Ski Resort.
In summer, Routt National Forest is a hiking wonderland. Try the 6-mile round-trip hike to Rabbit Ears Peak from the top of Rabbit Ears Pass. Or rip Steamboat’s expanded mountain bike trails.
Admission: $15, $6 more for water slides
Find the quieter hot springs: Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 7 miles north of town, offers hot springs in a natural setting, so much so that you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle or a shuttle service to get there in winter. It’s clothing-optional and adults only after dark.
This marvelous hamlet at the gateway to the San Juan Mountains boasts several large hot springs pools, two water slides and soaking tubs for when the crisp mountain air gets a little too brisk.
Earn your soak: In winter, try your hand at ice climbing at the world-famous Ouray Ice Park.
In summer, hike the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail, which climbs 4 miles past old mines through a gorge so steep it’s hard to believe they built a trail there. Or get on your bike and ride through forests so beautiful they’ll take your breath away.
Find the quieter hot springs: Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings has an outdoor pool, “vapor cave” and private tub.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Not all hot springs have been commercialized. Though more difficult to reach, here are a couple worth hiking to.
This may the highest hot springs in America, at 11,200 feet. These pools, reached by a 9-mile hike into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, are incredibly popular; you can expect to find crowds on summer weekends.
Call the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of White River National Forest about conditions this summer before heading out; 1-970-963-2266. No dogs or campfires.
To get there: From Aspen, go a half-mile west of town on Colorado 82 and turn onto Castle Creek Road at a roundabout. After 5 miles, turn right onto Conundrum Road and park at the trailhead after another mile.
RAINBOW HOT SPRINGS
If the crowds in Pagosa Springs are too much, hike 4 miles to a series of small pools along the west fork of the San Juan River in a remote area of the San Juan National Forest. Camping is allowed in designated campsites only. Don’t camp near dead trees, as spruce beetles have killed many in the area and they’re vulnerable to falling.
To get there: Take U.S. 160 over Wolf Creek Pass and turn right at the sign for the West Fork Campground. From the end of the road follow a Jeep road until you reach the trailhead. Go left at a junction where the trail to the right is closed, pass several campsites and look for an access trail to the river below.
Look for “Colorado’s Incredible Backcountry Trails” by David Day for details and photos, as the hot springs themselves can be difficult to locate from the trail.
This resort on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains isn’t close to anything, but the man-made pools and four natural hot springs pools a short walk from the resort are your rewards for the long drive. The best is the Top Pond, a natural pool 10 minutes’ hike up from the resort with great views of the San Luis Valley.
This is a clothing-optional resort owned by the Orient Land Trust.
To get there: From Cañon City take U.S. 50 west through Salida and turn left onto U.S. Highway 285 south at Poncha Springs Turn left on County Road GG 4 miles south of Villa Grove.