Colorado hot springs: Soak, relax and recharge, even during the pandemic

October 13th, 2020
woman sitting in a colorado hot springs
Colorado hot springs provide a respite from the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Getty Images.

Naturally hot water soothes your body and mind as aspen and pine trees surround you and Rocky Mountain peaks tower overhead.

From aptly named Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Pagosa Springs to Ouray and Buena Vista, Colorado is home to stunning natural hot springs where you can soak, relax and recharge, even during a pandemic.

Colorado’s hot springs have enticed people since Native Americans first used these natural areas. Fed by geothermic heat generated deep underground, natural hot springs warm sections of rivers and human-made pools throughout Colorado and the West. Now, it’s easier than ever to find your perfect Colorado soaking spots, thanks to the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop.

The 720-mile loop highlights a variety of scenic spots from tiny private baths to the world’s largest mineral hot springs.

When the coronavirus first swept the country earlier this year, Colorado’s stay-at-home orders meant that developed hot springs had to close. Since then, most have reopened. As with all recreation activities during the pandemic, you’ll need to plan ahead before you visit. Most hot springs resorts require a reservation to minimize crowding and to keep people safe. But, outdoor areas give you a great option to find some Zen moments during a challenging time.

We’ll offer some high points on the 720-mile hot springs loop, starting from the north and venturing clockwise to the south and back up north again.

Colorado hot springs

Steamboat Springs

Among Colorado hot springs, Steamboat's Old Town Hot Springs is one of the most popular.
Steamboat’s Old Town Hot Springs is one of the most popular of Colorado’s hot springs. The center features multiple pools with varying temperatures. In the fall, gold and orange aspens surround the pool. Photo courtesy of Old Town Hot Springs.

You have two options here.

The simpler choice is a beautiful option.

Old Town Hot Springs is non-profit recreation center, hot springs and water park located in the heart of Steamboat Springs at the corner of Lincoln Avenue (the main thoroughfare through town) and 3rd Street. The history of this area is rich and in the lobby, you’ll see some fun vintage photos of how the natural hot springs have evolved over the years. Pools have rejuvenated people here for more than 100 years. The Ute Indians, who first settled the area, used them as medicinal springs and considered the water sacred for its power to physically and spiritually heal people.

Kid climbing on the rock wall of Old Town Hot Springs in Steamboat.
Climbers in Steamboat love to ascend a rock wall, then fall back into a warm pool. Photo courtesy of Old Town Hot Springs.

Today, natural springs feed the center’s pools, which range from the hottest of soaking pools to a much cooler lap pool. Kids love Old Town because the center features an aquatic climbing wall, where you can climb out of the water, clang a bell at the top and splash back into the pool. (The center also features a water slide, but that is closed due to the pandemic. Click here for COVID-19 updates.)

During the summer, adults can tune out their troubles while gazing at slopes full of wildflowers. In the fall, aspen trees paint the hillside yellow, while snowflakes melt peacefully into the hot water in the winter.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs is located seven miles north of Steamboat Springs along pools carved out from the aptly named Hot Springs Creek.

Once upon a time, Strawberry Park was a warm spot in a bend of the creek. It’s now more developed with options to camp or stay in cabins nearby. You won’t have as many choices in the temperatures of pools here. But, if you want a natural vibe and don’t mind the drive, Strawberry Park is worth a visit.

Be prepared for a tough journey in winter when you’ll either have to take a shuttle or you’ll need a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Parking is limited. And reservations are required during the pandemic.

Chaffee County

This area at the base of spectacular Collegiate Peaks including Mount Princeton, Yale and Harvard, is also home to the headwaters of the Arkansas River and towns including Salida and Buena Vista. (If you’re new to Colorado, be sure to pronounce it like a local: “BEW-na Vista,” not the Spanish “BWAY-na Vista.”)

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs is popular among Colorado hot springs
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs features multiple pools that cater to people of different ages. Photo by Scott Peterson, courtesy of Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop.

Here, one of the top attractions in Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, where you can enjoy multiple pools and views of the 14,000-foot peaks that jut up from the springs. In the summer, kids will love a water slide that is built into a hill. In the summer, after the icy runoff from the high peaks has eased, you can find warm spots in the creek. And, in the winter, you can enjoy a serene soak as the snow falls.

Other hot springs in the area include: Salida Hot Springs Aquatic CenterCottonwood Hot Springs and Antero Hot Springs Cabins.

Bonus activity in the area. Check out one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado, St. Elmo. It’s located about 12 miles west of Mount Princeton Hot Springs.

Pagosa Springs

Surrounded by more than 3 million acres of national forest and wilderness areas in Colorado’s stunning San Juan Mountains, Pagosa Springs is home to all sorts of outdoor adventures including hiking, fishing, rafting and cycling.

The town’s natural hot springs are among the biggest attractions. Even Oprah Winfrey and her best friend, Gayle King, paid a visit during their national road trip, dubbed “Oprah and Gayle’s Big Adventure.”

The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs is one of several Colorado hot springs.
The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs boasts the world’s deepest aquifer. Photo courtesy of Visit Pagosa Springs.

The friends wanted to experience the mineral-rich springs that the Southern Ute Indians discovered and used for thousands of years. Pagosa Springs brags that it is home to the world’s deepest geothermal aquifer and that the springs offer healing powers.

The Springs Resort & Spa is located on the banks of the San Juan River in downtown Pagosa Springs. The developed hot springs resort has 23 naturally hot therapeutic mineral pools and a mineral water lap pool fed by the aquifer.

Other hot springs in Pagosa Springs: Overlook Hot Springs Spa and Healing Waters Resort & Spa

Ouray

In some of Colorado’s hot springs, you’ll notice a distinctive sulfuric odor. Not in Ouray, which bills itself as the “Switzerland of America.” The springs here are blissfully free of any strong scents. And swimming and soaking while enjoying views of the stunning 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains that surround Ouray make a visit to these hot springs a treat during any season.

Ouray's hot springs pool at night with mountain peaks in the background.
Surrounded by lofty peaks and full of soothing, natural water, the Ouray Hot Springs Pool is one of the most popular hot springs in Colorado. Photo courtesy of the Ouray Tourism Office.

The Town of Ouray runs the fabulous Ouray Hot Springs Pool, which has operated here since 1927. The center features two water slides, an obstacle course, a climbing wall, a 75-degree lap pool and a 104-degree adults-only area.

All the pools are fed by sulfur-free mineral water that includes iron, manganese, zinc, fluoride and potassium. Fun fact: when the water comes out of the ground, it’s a scalding 150 degrees. Town managers mix the hot water with much colder spring water to create a perfect blend of hot and cold.

Bonus activity in the area. During the summer, be sure to visit Box Cañon Falls, a stunning waterfall and park that the Town of Ouray also operates. In the winter, check out the town town’s famous Ice Park, a human made park where climbers scale frozen walls of ice in a natural mountain gorge.

Other hot springs in the area include: The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & LodgingsBox Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs,  Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs and Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, north of Ouray.

Glenwood Springs

Easy to access, right off of Interstate 70, Glenwood Hot Springs may be Colorado’s best known hot springs resort.  The resort advertises itself as “the world’s largest pool,” and has been operating between Vail and Aspen since 1888.

Along with the pool, the center features a spa, hotel and workout area. (Check ahead for any COVID-19 restrictions.)

Glenwood Springs is one of Colorado's oldest hot springs.
Glenwood Springs bills its hot springs pool as the longest in the world. Photo courtesy of Glenwood Hot Springs Resort.

Train lovers can enjoy a scenic journey from Denver to Glenwood Springs. Cyclists can enjoy a great bike ride along the path through Glenwood Canyon. And rafters will love a day on the Colorado River followed by an evening of soaking in the pool.

Other hot springs in the area include Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which boasts 16 soaking pools, a freshwater family pool and a jetted spa. You might also want to check out the Yampah Spa Hot Springs & Vapor Caves.

 

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About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.