No matter the time of year, there are times when you just need a good, long soak. And, I’m not talking your bathtub, even if it comes equipped with spa jets. Colorado may be best known for its ski slopes, 14ers and brew pubs, but when it comes to hot springs, we aren’t too shabby. In fact, the state’s hot springs are kinda cool.
The ultimate hot springs itinerary is a 720-mile route called the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop along several roads designated as Colorado Scenic Byways. Starting from any of the five resort towns, take a week to 10 days to really experience these special places.
From Denver, begin the trip in Chaffee County, the communities of Buena Vista, Nathrop, and Salida, along the Top of the Rockies and Collegiate Peaks byways. Then travel 140 mountainous miles south to Pagosa Springs.
After weaving through the San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway, in 130 miles Ouray and Ridgway are the next stops.
The West Elk Loop goes 175 miles through wine country, fruit stands, orchards, and organic farms on the way to Glenwood Springs. Finally, 114 miles of canyons and ranchlands to Steamboat Springs completes the journey.
All of these communities offer affordable places to eat, sleep and, of course, soak away your cares. Here’s what you’ll discover:
Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado at 14,433 feet, towers over Chaffee County. Fifteen “14ers” (14,000-foot peaks) dominate this area along the Continental Divide creating prime terrain for the eruption of hot water from the earth. The same topography formed the Arkansas, the state’s most popular whitewater rafting river.
Outside of Buena Vista, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort is a full-service retreat with five geothermal pools, a spa and club, 30 log cabins, and 40+ hotel rooms. Wade into Chalk Creek to access the natural hot pots.
According to Guinness World Records, the Great Pagosa Hot Springs is officially the World’s Deepest Geothermal Hot Spring. This mother spring not only supplies the resorts but is also a heating source for downtown sidewalks and several businesses, including a brewery.
Terraced along the bank of the San Juan River are the 23 mineral pools of The Springs Resort & Spa. Each spot is a different size and temperature. The Lobster Pot sizzles at 110°F. Mineral deposits have built up for centuries creating huge iron-colored formations.
The rope bridge over the pond allows close inspection. Hotel guests can take a dip any time with 24-hour access.
Ouray is a Switzerland look-alike. Brightly painted Victorian buildings line Main Street. Lodges resemble chalets. Ouray has earned the title of Jeeping Capitol of the World. And the Ouray Ice Park offers the best ice climbing in Colorado.
Odorless sulfur-free thermal waters bubble up everywhere. The iconic Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center provides family fun. This 90-year old facility just completed a major renovation.
At two blocks long, Glenwood Hot Springs Resort is considered to be the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool. The source, Yampah Spring flows at 3.5 million gallons of water daily. The award-winning spa and 107-room lodge are geothermally heated.
Doc Holliday came for the healing vapors to treat his tuberculosis. Fans pay homage to the dentist/gunslinger by making the trek to his memorial in Linwood Cemetery or by sipping a beer under the Doc Holliday Saloon neon gun sign.
There is a true Western vibe here so channel your inner-cowboy. For a rustic wilderness setting, soak at the creekside Strawberry Park Hot Springs built using unique stone masonry. Stay in a secluded cabin or campsite right on the property.
Float downstream on an inner-tube along the refreshing Yampa River. Festivals celebrate hot air balloons, rodeos, eats, libations, and tunes. Wintertime brings famous champagne powder to Ski Town, USA. Howelsen Hill is the largest natural ski jumping complex in North America and Colorado’s oldest ski area in continuous use for over 100 years.