The Best Hot Springs in Colorado Itinerary: The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop
Geothermal hot springs flow abundantly throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Five premier hot springs destinations in the western part of the state are top soaking spots—Glenwood Springs, Ouray, Pagosa Springs, Chaffee County and Steamboat Springs. They form the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, a 722-mile route that includes Colorado Scenic Byways. The road trip starting from Glenwood Hot Springs Resort in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, take a week to 10 days to really experience a vacation getaway like no other. As you hot springs hop, you’ll travel through some of the state’s most scenic areas—past iconic fourteen-thousand foot peaks, sprawling ranchlands, the orchards and vineyards of wine country and through breathtaking canyon country.
Begin in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
If you’re wondering where to begin your geothermal jaunt, Glenwood Springs is the best place to start. It’s centrally located and easy to drive to year-round via I-70. Traveling westbound from Denver, you’ll pass through some of Colorado’s most spectacular scenery, including the ski towns of Summit County and Vail. The final approach to Glenwood Springs is through Glenwood Canyon, a breath-taking 16-mile stretch of roadway that snakes along the Colorado River. This portion of the drive is so stunning that the Amtrak Vista Dome railcar was created expressly so rail travelers could view the soaring cliffs. Glenwood Springs offers visitors a variety of geothermal options. To check the first of three very different experiences off your list, start your soaking sojourn at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort.
A Relaxing, Adventurous and Convenient Way to Explore Colorful Colorado
The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop is an ideal way to experience Colorado at its finest. Each town is surrounded by National Forests with majestic mountain ranges and cascading waterfalls that provide gorgeous scenery year-round. In addition to soaking, there are endless opportunities for exploration: trails for hiking, biking and four-wheeling; rivers for fly fishing, tubing, kayaking, standup paddling and whitewater rafting; snow-covered mountains for alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing and snowmobiling. After playing outdoors, relax with Colorado’s best après activity—a soak in a soothing, healing, restorative hot spring.
• Abundant Lodging
Glenwood Hot Springs is a full-service resort, complete with a 107-room lodge and an award-winning spa. Lodging at the world-famous hot springs always includes admission to the pools and a full, hot breakfast in the morning. As a traveler on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, you’ll find great accommodations choices all along the route—everything from historic lodging properties in each of the towns to hotels that cater to comfortable family stays and romantic couple’s getaways where privacy and attention to detail are paramount.
• Local Food
Like other locations along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, Glenwood Springs is a delight for foodies. Seventh Street has been dubbed Glenwood’s “restaurant row,” and is conveniently close for visitors to Glenwood Hot Springs. Stroll across the Pedestrian Bridge for a delicious array of dining choices. Colorado, with its abundance of microbreweries, is a leader in brewing craft beer. Aficionados can taste seasonal and award-winning beers at several locations in Glenwood Springs and all along the Loop.
• Native American & Western History
A connection to Native Americans is very strong throughout this area, including in Glenwood Springs where the Ute Indians once used the hot springs during their summer migrations through the area. Working ranches keep Colorado’s Western heritage alive and well. Agritourism gives visitors a taste of country living. Mining and trains shaped all these communities. Ghost towns dot the landscape and make for picturesque photos.
• National Parks
Western Colorado is home to four National Parks—Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison—all within proximity of the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop drive. There are also six notable National Monuments near the route: Browns Canyon between Buena Vista and Salida, Chimney Rock by Pagosa Springs, Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep in the Four Corners area, Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction and Dinosaur in the northwest corner.
Health & Wellness: The Lure of Geothermal Hot Springs
Visiting the best hot springs in Colorado has health benefits. Soaking in super-heated water saturated with minerals is an age-old practice with its roots in ancient cultures from around the world. Hippocrates, known as the “father of modern medicine,” was the first to reference healing water as early as 500 B.C. The practice of soaking for therapeutic reasons continues today. Balneology is the art and science of bathing in natural mineral waters for purposes of health and wellness. Also called hydrotherapy, hot springs soaking is known to revitalize the skin, calm nerves and detoxify the body. It is also effective in reducing the symptoms of chronic ailments such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and depression, as well as locomotor and circulatory diseases. The high mineral content absorbs into the body, helping to eliminate toxins, increase blood flow and boost metabolism. The warm water has a relaxing, soothing effect on muscles. The best soaking experiences, however, encourage visitors to relax and rejuvenate from head to toe—body, mind and soul.
Let’s get started with the road trip…
1. GLENWOOD SPRINGS
Glenwood Springs is one of Colorado’s premier hot springs destinations—a health and wellness retreat that attracts visitors from around the world. For over 130 years, since Walter Devereux envisioned a world-class hot springs resort, visitors have been trekking to the river and mountain town to soak in the world’s largest hot springs pool. The geothermal spring that feeds the enormous pool bubbles to the surface at 122°F (50°C) at a prolific rate of 3.5 million gallons (13.2 million liters) per day! The geothermal water fills the resort’s two pools. The Therapy Pool is cooled down to a still toasty 104°F (40°C) temperature. It’s designed for leisurely soaking and lounging with steps along two sides for easy entry. Submerged benches and a bank of bubble chairs edge the remainder of the pool. The “big pool” is the size of an American football field and is kept at a bathwater warm temperature of 93°F (34°C). The world-famous hot springs pool is an aquatic playground where kids and adults can play, splash, walk, swim laps and show off their best dives or cannonballs in the deep end.
In addition to the geothermal water, visitors keep coming back to Glenwood Hot Springs Resort for the unrivaled historic ambiance. The red sandstone bathhouse, resembling a European castle complete with turrets, is the centerpiece of the resort. It houses the Spa of the Rockies, an award-winning spa, and the Athletic Club, a state-of-the-art fitness center and health club. A 107-room lodge welcomes guests to stay in style and comfort. Lodge guests enjoy unlimited admission to the hot springs pool and complimentary hot breakfast at the Grill, the resort’s poolside restaurant.
There are two other geothermal destinations located in Glenwood Springs. Iron Mountain Hot Springs is a smaller facility that features 16 individual soaking pools and a fresh-water family pool. Water temperatures range from 98-108°F (37-42°C). The Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, located within walking distance of Glenwood Hot Springs, was originally used as a sweat lodge by the Ute Indians. Steam from the geothermal springs fills three underground chambers. The naturally-occurring mineral steam baths are a rare phenomenon. Like soaking, steaming is considered a health-boosting wellness ritual.
West Elk Loop Scenic Byway: When leaving Glenwood Springs for the next leg of the Loop, head south toward Carbondale and take Highway 133 where you’ll connect with the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. Along the way you’ll see magnificent Colorado scenery, including majestic Mt. Sopris, the Roaring Fork River and the coal mining town of Redstone, now a hamlet of gentrified Victorian cottages. Look for the Redstone Castle, also known as Cleveholm Manor—a 42-room mansion once occupied by the town’s founder. Next, head over McClure Pass toward the towns of Paonia and Hotchkiss; these farming communities are home to thriving orchards and vineyards. If time permits, take a trip through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. No other gorge in North America combines the narrowness, depth and sheer drop offs of the Black Canyon. Continue toward Montrose and onto the hot springs destinations of Ouray and Ridgway.
2. OURAY COUNTY: Ouray, Ridgway
The scenery in Ouray County is among the most iconic in Colorado, with vast mountain vistas and deep canyon trenches. Ouray, known as the “Switzerland of America,” welcomes visitors with a friendly and charming downtown district filled with locally owned shops and countless opportunities for experiential adventures. Ornate Victorian buildings adorn the town and jaw-dropping scenic byways crisscross the region. Trails for hiking, biking, climbing and Jeeping are all close by the town’s hot springs and accommodations. Several local attractions worth noting include historic Native American trails and mining roads, wildflower meadows and the Ouray Ice Park in the winter. Amid all the adventure are five local hot springs. As soaking aficionados know, most hot springs have an egg-like odor associated with them. Ouray County’s thermal waters, however, are sulfur-free and therefore odorless. Neighboring Ridgway is a quiet western town with a rich history of silver and gold mining. Located at the foot of the San Juan Mountains, the town provides a base of operations for all sorts of outdoor adventures from fly fishing to mountaineering and hot air ballooning to hot springs soaking.
While there are several places in Ouray to take the waters, the most visible location is the Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center in the center of town. This city-run facility received a multi-million-dollar transformational renovation in 2017. There are also four other developed hot springs in the region, several associated with hotels, inns and lodges. Underneath the Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings is a vapor cave where water pours over a large mineral deposit formation into a shallow soaking pool deep inside an underground chamber. For complete solitude, rent the Lorelei outdoor enclosure. In the 1800s, Ute Indian Chief Ouray used these waters for their curative powers. Guests of Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs have exclusive access to wooden tubs that stair-step the hillside. Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs also provides steamy pools for its guests. Orvis Hot Springs in nearby Ridgway has created a geothermal oasis with lush landscaping. Several ponds and waterfalls are strategically positioned throughout the property. No swimsuit? No problem. Wearing clothing is optional at this hot spring.
San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway: Leave Ouray via the steep ascent of US Highway 550. Originally built in 1883, the highway slices through rock, skirts cliffs and soars to an elevation over 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) at the summit of Red Mountain. The San Juan Skyway from Ouray to Durango is considered one of the Colorado’s most beautiful drives. Take it slow though; the road is a combination of hairpin turns, avalanche tunnels, steep grades and no guard rails. The snowplow drivers who clear the road in winter are considered local heroes. To fully appreciate the spectacular scenery, there are several safe places to pullover for breathtaking, Instagramable photos. As you drive, you’ll pass by Silverton, a mining town and National Historic Landmark. In the summer, the town is the destination of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a popular attraction based in the college town.
Another scenic drive:
From Durango take US Highway 160 to Pagosa Springs. While not an officially designated Colorado Scenic Byway, the drive travels through Colorado’s ranch country and offers a glimpse of the southwestern countryside. One of the highlights is Chimney Rock National Monument. Visitors with an interest in America’s western history and Native American culture won’t want to miss this stop on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop. Once home to the Ancestral Puebloans, visitors can take tours and see archeological ruins dating back over 1,000 years, including a great kiva, a pit house and a Chacoan-style great house pueblo. After Chimney Rock, it’s not far to Pagosa Springs, another hotbed of geothermal activity in Colorado.
3. PAGOSA SPRINGS
Pagosa Springs is surrounded by the Weminuche Wilderness and the San Juan National Forest. Visitors can expect to see soaring cliffs, ragged peaks, magical alpine pools, undisturbed wilderness and cascading waterfalls in this area of Colorado. Pagosa Springs is also home to Wolf Creek Ski Area; this resort receives an average 430 inches (1,090 cm) of snow per year and owns the bragging rights for the “most snow in Colorado.” It’s usually the first ski resort to open and one of the last to close in the spring. In addition to some of the best skiing in the Rocky Mountains, Pagosa Springs is also known for its geothermal hot springs. In fact, “Pagosah” is the Southwestern Ute word for “healing waters.” The Guinness World Records officially designated the town’s mother spring as the “Deepest Hot Springs Aquifer in the World.” It is the source that supplies the Springs Resort & Spa as well other hot springs amenities in the mountain town.
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 (43°C). Mineral deposits have built up for centuries creating huge iron-colored formations. Certain pools are for those over the age of 21 where adults can enjoy a beer or cocktail while soaking. Hotel guests can take a dip any time with 24-hour access. For a hip vibe, go to Overlook Hot Springs Spa. Inside, ornate architectural moldings and soaring ceilings surround large soaking tubs and a cold plunge pool. Rooftop tubs set this spa apart from all others. Healing Waters Resort & Spa offers a large pool and hot tub, along with indoor baths for concentrated mineral immersion. Affordable, family-friendly motel rooms are onsite.
4. CHAFFEE COUNTY: Buena Vista, Nathrop, Salida
Sitting on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, Chaffee County is home to majestic views and outdoor adventures. Between the towns of Salida, Nathrop and Buena Vista, there are countless recreational activities and opportunities. The Collegiate Peaks mountain range dominates the landscape in this part of the state. This region of Colorado has more 14,000-foot (4,276 meters) peaks than any other in the state and is perfect for hiking and backcountry exploration. In the summer, visitors can enjoy whitewater rafting and kayaking down the Arkansas River, while winter guests can make fresh tracks on nearby Monarch Mountain. After adventure-filled days, tourists and locals alike seek out diverse choices for night-time soaking in nearby hot springs. Chaffee County has an eclectic assortment soaking spot options and wellness retreats, some targeted to families, others to couples looking for a romantic getaway.
Outside of Buena Vista, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort is a full-service health and wellness retreat with five geothermal pools, a spa and club, 30 log cabins and 40-plus hotel rooms. Wade into Chalk Creek to access the natural in-river hot pots. The rock-lined pools at Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn & Spa first opened in 1878, historically noted for their medicinal and therapeutic value. Clothing is optional in the evenings. One of the largest indoor hot spring pools in the country, Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center features clear, aroma-free water in the zero-depth-entry pool, lap lanes and private baths. It’s perfect for splashing and playing with the kids. For a completely private, highly romantic hot springs experience, make reservations at the cozy Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, Antero Hot Springs Cabins or Creekside Hot Springs Cabin.
Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway: Leaving Chaffee County northbound on US Highway 24, the Colorado scenery from Salida to Leadville offers travelers a “peak” viewing experience. Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado at 14,433 feet (4,402 meters) and the second tallest in the continental U.S., towers over Chaffee County. As you admire the scenery, keep in mind the same volatile geological movement that created Colorado’s famous “14ers” (14,000-foot peaks) also forged the deep-earth geothermal aquifers that supply the region’s natural mineral hot springs.
The drive to Steamboat Springs along US Highway 40 passes by what’s been called “Colorado’s Most Hikeable Volcano.” The crater—or maar, as it’s known—doesn’t have the drama of Mt. St. Helen’s, but it’s a good reason to get out of the car and go for a short hike if you need to stretch your legs. As you approach Steamboat Springs, you’ll travel through Toponas, Yampa and Oak Creek—sleepy little towns where Western roots run deep.
5. STEAMBOAT SPRINGS
Steamboat Springs is an outdoor hub for year-round recreational activities and adventure famous for its fluffy snow and hot springs amenities. There are so many things to do, including tubing, rafting, fly-fishing, boating, motorized water sports, swimming and canoeing in the warm weather months. 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! In town, you’ll notice almost immediately a true Western vibe in Steamboat Springs. Feel free to channel your inner cowboy or girl.
Steamboat Springs boasts two of the best hot springs facilities in Colorado—each one offering something unique for hot springs enthusiasts. Centrally located Old Town Hot Springs is a city-run, multi-use complex with numerous hot pools, two waterslides, a climbing wall, massage therapists and a fitness center. The water here comes out of the earth at a perfectly soothing 103°F (30°C). For a remote and rustic wilderness setting, soak at the creek-side Strawberry Park Hot Springs, built using unique stone masonry. Away from the lights of town, this is an ideal soaking spot for star gazing. If you want to spend the night, book a stay in a secluded cabin, sheepherder caravan or a riverside campsite. In the evening, with the cover of darkness, this hot spring is clothing optional.
One Is Never Enough
The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop is one of the best Colorado sight-seeing tours you can take. Not only will you be deeply immersed in the quintessential Colorado landscape, you’ll also be able to experience the best hot springs in Colorado. Whether you prefer summer travel with countless opportunities to explore the outdoors or want to combine your visit with a Colorado ski vacation, incorporating soaking in the state’s amazing hot springs will take your Rocky Mountain vacation up a notch—from lukewarm to sizzling! Start your geothermal journey at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort in Glenwood Springs, then make tracks as time allows to other Colorado hot springs.