I have been visiting Colorado with my family since I was a child. I’ve come to know the state from many angles of adventure, and last summer’s visit was no different — beginning with stand-up paddling in Boulder and ending with an exhausting hike up the tallest dune in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Through the years, I’ve stumbled across a few natural hot springs, which range from hippie, clothing-optional pools to family-friendly resorts. But it wasn’t until my most recent trip that I realized how much soaking is part of Colorado culture.
“People like to soak after an adventure,” said Deborah Frazier, author of “Colorado’s Hot Springs.” “They’re a great tonic after a terribly physically fit day.”
A 722-MILE SCENIC ROUTE
With the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, the Rocky Mountain State has made it easy to plan a hot-springs visit. The 722-mile scenic route features hot springs in five regions of Western Colorado, each with its own culture and vibe. Some soaks are serene, set under the stars, while others are lively, with water slides and Marco Polo players.
Hot springs are linked to claims of therapeutic benefits from their geothermally heated groundwater and all but guarantee that you’ll leave rejuvenated and free of stress. As locals explain, members of the Ute Indian Tribe would travel for days to reach what they considered to be miracle waters; some springs are still used for ceremonial purposes.
Colorado has hundreds of hot springs, Frazier said. Of those, 19 are in the loop, which makes a circle through five areas: Chaffee County, Pagosa Springs, Ouray County, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs. Many are surrounded by national forests or wilderness areas, and all are near ski destinations and hiking trails, making them perfectly situated for relaxing after an active day.
Keep in mind that these 19, which all have a day-pass fee or a resort fee, are fairly accessible by car compared with some other hot springs, which may require hikes. Hot springs come in various flavors, and with a little research, you’ll find a good match. Many are located at resorts with full spa and dining services, but others are bare-bones.
HEAVEN IN WINTER
Among the 19, many are family friendly. Glenwood Hot Springs Resort is located between Aspen and Vail on the Colorado River and claims to have the world’s largest hot-springs pool — 405 feet long and 100 feet wide. At 90 degrees, it’s warm for swimming laps (I tried after kayaking) but heaven in the winter and — with two water slides — a fun spot for kids.
The Historic Bath House at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, just south of Buena Vista, also caters to kids, with a 400-foot water slide, a big outdoor fireplace and a 90-degree exercise pool. The resort also has a soaking pool, kept at 105 degrees, and creekside hot springs, a more private option where you can enjoy starlight soaks.
For utter privacy during your soak, head to Chaffee County, which includes Buena Vista, Nathrop and Salida, and runs along the Continental Divide. Here, you will discover three of the most secluded hot springs open to the public: Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, a vacation home surrounded by ponderosa pines and the Chalk Cliffs; Antero Hot Springs, with two log cabins and a larger mountain chalet, all with private soaking tubs; and Creekside Hot Springs cabin and soaking pool, both of which can accommodate eight.
ENJOY THE VIEW WHILE YOU SOAK
You’ll find more traditional clothing-optional soaking at Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, which has several ponds and waterfalls strategically positioned. Four of the seven soaking areas are outside, so you can enjoy views of soaring Mount Sneffels.
A few Colorado friends agreed that Strawberry Park Hot Springs, just outside Steamboat Springs — and adults-only after dark — is among the favorites for what one pal calls “textile-free” soaks. The setting is rustic, and you can choose from a number of pools. An icy cold creek on the opposite side of a rock wall can be refreshing after a hot soak.
Before May and after November, you’ll need a vehicle with four-wheel drive and snow tires to reach Strawberry Park, and they only accept cash and checks for payment. It’s on the list for my next visit. There, visitors can take the plunge with something called Watsu aquatic therapy. My own private massage therapist in a hot spring? Sounds like a fine way to end every physically exhausting day.
IF YOU GO . . .
The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop is a circle of 19 hot springs along 720 miles of Colorado Scenic Byways in the western part of the state. Many are surrounded by national forests or wilderness areas, and all are near ski destinations and hiking trails. A map of the loop and details on each of the hot springs can be found at colorado.com/hotspringsloop