There’s no shortage of things to do in Colorado. From biking (mountain and road), hiking, kayaking, rafting, horseback riding, climbing, and more in the summer to skiing (downhill, cross-country and backcountry), snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and more in the winter, there are a plethora of outdoor activities to keep you busy in this active state. But once your day is done, Colorado also has something that makes recovering from those adventures even more enjoyable: natural hot springs.
Soaking in natural mineral water is a time-honored tradition: People all over the world have practiced balneology, the art and science of baths and bathing in natural mineral waters for wellness. Coloradans are no strangers to this idea, either — some natural pools, like the Trimble Hot Springs in Durango, have been popular since 1000–1200 A.D. Many facilities, like the Glenwood Hot Spring Pool, have been hopping for more than a century as people traveled hundreds of miles for the mineral benefits, reducing the symptoms of arthritis, rheumatism, and even circulatory diseases.
Though most people simply enjoy a good soak instead of traveling for therapy, hot springs are hot destinations: the 720-mile Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop was created in January 2016 to bring attention to five hot springs destinations in the western part of the state. The Colorado Tourism Office’s website lists 30 different hot springs scattered across the state, but even this is not a comprehensive list. Suffice it to say — there are plenty of spots to take a soothing soak.
So if you’re ready to start on your hot springs adventure, here are a few to put on your radar. Yes, it’s called the “loop,” but if you don’t have time to drive the 720 miles, create your own personal trip to bliss.
There are several options for soaking in Pagosa Springs; the town’s name is one clue. While both Overlook Hot Springs Spa and Healing Waters Resort & Spa are excellent destinations, the jewel of the town is The Springs Resort & Spa. With more than 20 soaking pools, five of which are adults-only and one that’s considered the world’s deepest geothermal spring, The Springs is a destination in and of itself. Some pools are located near the river for an icy plunge, while the views of the San Juans will keep others soaking until prune-y.
Glenwood Springs has been a hot spot for soakers for centuries: Members of the nomadic Ute tribe were the earliest known people to soak in the healing hot springs. While the Glenwood Hot Springs pool remains the grande dame in town (it’s considered the largest in the world at two blocks long), check out the new Iron Mountain Hot Springs for a relaxing dip. What was formerly a primitive site with no amenities, Iron Mountain Hot Springs opened with locker rooms, a café, heated walkways and more. Its situated along the Colorado River with 18 different pools, 16 of which are right on the bank. The springs are all of different sizes and temperatures, allowing guests to play Goldilocks and find the perfect pool.
Situated on the banks of the Crystal River, Penny Hot Springs remains a primitive hot springs experience. There’s no cost use the springs, but there re also no amenities, for a true out-in-nature experience. There’s a large parking lot on the east side of Highway 133 for access and, from there, it’s a short hike to the pools. Dress comfortably and you can go from the hot springs into town for a drink or dinner.
Ouray is not only known for its spectacular ice climbing, but also for the hot springs that are available nearby for relaxing after a satisfying day. For a unique experience, venture underneath the Historic Weisbaden Hot Springs Spa to the vaporcave where a shallow soaking pool sits deep in the underground chamber. For an open-air experience, there are hot springs on the surface too. Also in Ouray is the Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center which just finished a major renovation in May.
Tips for hot springs visits
Each hot springs experience is different so it’s a good idea to know the amenities offered (changing rooms, spa treatments, etc.) and the restrictions before you go.
- Getting there: While some hot springs are centrally located and offer large parking lots, others are more remote. At Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, reserving the Hot Springs Shuttle is your best bet as parking is limited and four-wheel drive is required to navigate the windy, often slippery road. Research options before you go to ensure the most relaxing experience.
- When to go: Hot springs are not an undiscovered treasure in Colorado. If you want a more tranquil experience at the more established springs, head up on a weekday morning. Après is a fun time for socializing (like at Iron Mountain Hot Springs) but it can get crowded. Even primitive spots, like Penny Hot Springs in Carbondale, have their limits (about 12 people), so timing can be everything.
- What to bring: Some hot springs provide towels, others rent them. Bringing your own is often a safe bet; if you’re staying in a hotel, bring the cozy bathrobe for an upgraded experience. Footwear for navigating the pools, as well as warm, dry clothing and shoes for the ride home are also key.
- Speaking of clothing… some pools become “clothing optional” after dark. Knowing the clothing policies not only allows you to get the kids home early, but saves you from unexpected surprises.
From rustic hippy dips to five-star resorts, there are hot springs scattered across Colorado with waters just waiting to revive you. So bundle up and strip down: these pools are perfect for pampering.
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