By Jared Fiel

Everybody should have a goal. Shauna Gray and her husband Dave Clapsaddle of Laporte have a great one. 

“We have a lifelong goal to sit in every hot springs in Colorado and we often travel specifically to try out a new pool,” Gray says. “There is an element of adventure to scoping out new pools you’ve never been to, especially the unmaintained ones. It’s like following a map to a hidden treasure.”

How much do they love hot springs? “We love soaking so much, we were married at The Saratoga Inn & Resort Hot Springs in Saratoga, Wyo., in 2007. We try to revisit there once every couple of years,” she says. 

“Sitting in every hot springs in Colorado is a difficult goal because many of Colorado’s pools are in the far southwest part of the state and a number of them are attached to private lodging accommodations (and thus can be extremely expensive),” she says. “We’ve joked about updating our goal to be to sit in every free and unmaintained hot springs in Colorado.”

And they are not alone. Lots of people have discovered hot springs. Gray says she has seen a lot more people at the springs over the last 15 years. Northern Coloradans are very fortunate in this area because we are in the middle of some of the best hot springs in the country, many easily taken in on a day trip.

So, what is so attractive about natural hot springs? If you look online there are lists upon lists of the healing and regenerative qualities of some of the minerals in the water for everything from headaches to rashes. Sites mention how the waters restore chemical imbalances and improve your sleep cycle and all that. 

But, c’mon, you are basically in a natural hot tub in the mountains! How cool is that?

“Since hot springs are formed in geothermal conditions, they are typically more common in mountainous areas. The awe of the natural beauty that the pools are surrounded by is part of the allure,” Gray says. “We often meet and converse with interesting people along the way, as well.”

Where to go

With more than 90 hot springs just in Colorado, you have a lot of options. 

If you are looking for non-maintained hot springs off trails and needing a little bit of a hoof, Gray recommends the guide “Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest” to see all the non-maintained hot springs in the area (there is also one for Northwest). 

Her other advice: “Bring flip flops, a headlamp, a stocking cap, don’t forget your towel and just relax.”

If you are looking for a day trip to a hot springs that is maintained (meaning the temperatures are marked and access is controlled. And there is usually an entrance fee), you have a choice of going north to Wyoming and South (and a little west) into the mountains. Here are some of the more popular hot springs close by (be sure to check the website for COVID-related protocols which vary from place to place):

Saratoga, Wyo. (about two and a half hours from Fort Collins)

• The Saratoga Hot Springs Resort has membership options to allow visitors to use the springs. Otherwise, you need to book a room. 

The Hobo Pool, which is located near downtown, is open 24 hours a day and it’s free. “If we are driving through Saratoga and don’t plan to stay, we always stop for a soak,” Gray says.  Hot Sulphur Springs (under three hours from Fort Collins)

• Hot Sulphur Springs was used by the Ute tribe, who believed in the healing properties of the water there. • The Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa has 23 different pools of varying temperatures as well as a spa with massages available. 

Steamboat Springs (a little over three hours from Fort Collins) 

• The Old Town Hot Springs has soaking pools and even waterslides. Admission is $25 for adults, $19 for kids and $22 for seniors. 

Strawberry Park Hot Springs is one of the more popular spots in all of Colorado. It is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day (no kids after dark because that’s when it becomes clothing optional) and the cost is $20 per person (cash or check only). In the winter, you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get through. Make reservations due to COVID restrictions. 

Buena Vista, Nathrop and Salida (three to three and a half hours)

• Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn and Spa in Buena Vista is a favorite of Gray’s. The day rate is $20 for adults on weekdays and $24 on weekends. Rate includes the use of the dry sauna. No alcohol is allowed. 

• Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort features several pools and a water slide (in the summer). Cost is $30 for adults during the week and $35 on weekends. Use of the pools is free for hotel guests. 

Glenwood Springs 

(almost five hours so we recommend an overnight stay) 

• Iron Mountain Hot Springs has 16 different soaking pools open all year. Cost is $35 for a two-and-a-half-hour soak. 

• Glenwood Springs Resort has a large soaking pool and a lap pool for those who actually want to exercise. Day rates are around $30 but change based on dates so check the website for details. 

• Yampah Spa also includes hot springs vapor caves. Access and costs are based on what you want to do at the site so check online.  

 

What is a hot spring?

For the uninitiated, hot springs are a unique natural benefit of living in an area with mountains created by tectonic shifts.  Basically, the mashing of all that rock created faults and fractures that allows rainwater to seep deep down into the ground. Along the way, it adds minerals from the rocks like sulfur. As it goes deeper the pressure and the proximity to the earth’s mantle heats the water. The water goes up the fault lines and into natural springs. The quicker it rises to the surface, the hotter it becomes.

Most of the natural springs in the area are around 100 degrees, but some, like the main one for the Glenwood Springs Resort, are actually about 122 degrees. The folks there cool the water down for use in their spa and big pool. Because of the minerals, hot springs have a very distinct smell that most people don’t even notice after a few minutes (sitting in soothing warm water tends to eliminate most concerns, including a slight “egg” smell).