Travel: Some Like it Hot

Take a plunge into hot springs. Colorado abounds in hot springs that number in the hundreds and are located in the southwest quadrant of the state. Whether you’re seeking health, beauty or relaxation benefits, there’s no need to travel to Iceland, Germany, or Japan (where monkeys enjoy them) for the tranquil experience. Native Americans discovered the naturally occurring phenomena a millennium ago. Explorers and settlers in the 1800s immediately took advantage of the locations as they stumbled across them. Fans of Jane Austen and other English novelists know that the waters of hot springs have a long history of health benefits — some fantasy, others reality. Balneology (the scientific study of naturally occurring mineral waters) and hot springs therapy are more fully incorporated into medical care in Europe and Japan. Minerals in the water are touted for their benefits. In this country, the popularity of hot springs rests on their stress-relieving and beauty treatment propensities.

Indian Hot Springs is the closest to Denver, west on I-70 about half an hour’s drive in neighboring Idaho Springs. The first specific mention of these hot springs comes from the diary of George A. Jackson, the man who made the first discovery of placer gold in the Rockies. Miners of the surrounding area along Clear Creek took advantage of the naturally hot waters of the springs for bathing. The registers of the hotel contain names of the famous and infamous: Frank and Jesse James, Sarah Bernhardt, Walt Whitman, H.A.W. Tabor, the Vanderbilts, John Denver, Clint Eastwood and Bo Diddley, among them. This facility begins with a swimming pool fed with mineral water at 115°, open to adults and children. It continues with mud baths, outdoor Jacuzzi baths on a redwood deck and private indoor baths with single tubs. Geothermal cave baths, driven into the solid rock mountainside in the early 20th century, provide a unique addition. One cave is for men and another for women, each with several huge sunken walk-in tubs filled with naturally hot mineral water at temperatures from 104° to 112°. Children 16 and under are not allowed in the caves, as bathing is in the nude.

For information call (303) 989-6666 or visit

Colorado’s best-known hot springs is also the world’s largest. Glenwood Hot Springs (about two and a half hours from Denver) has a large pool more than two blocks long, containing in excess of 1,000,000 gallons of water kept at about 90°. Like the other locations in this list, it’s open year-round, so whether you dream of a steaming soak in the middle of a snowstorm or prefer the bright light of summer, Glenwood aims to please. You’ll see lots of kids in this family-friendly resort, and the wonderful if scary enclosed slide tempts adults as well as children. Also available are lap swimming lanes, shallow play areas, a kiddie pool, a diving area with springboards, steps with rails for easy entry and a separate therapy pool kept at a relaxing 104°. The pool and lodge blend the past and present in the facility. Spring waters located at the eastern end of the property continuously rise from deep in the earth at approximately 122° F. Considered a sacred healing spot by the Ute Indians for hundreds of years, the springs (originally called “Yampah” or“big medicine”) were discovered in 1860 by explorers. Twenty years later, investors bought the Yampah Hot Springs and set out to build the largest hot springs pool in the world. In l890, a red sandstone bathhouse fitted with tubs, Roman vapor baths, special accommodations for pool bathing and a neighboring lodge took shape. Visitors came by train from around the world. They included European royalty, U.S. senators, presidents and movie stars. During World War II the resort served as a U.S. Naval Convalescent Hospital, the only time in its history when the pool was closed to the public. At least three rounds of renovations occurred in the following decades, with another to be unveiled in late 2008, resulting in a wellness spa, massage therapy rooms and hydrotherapy room.

For information, call 1-800-537-SWIM or visit

The area of Buena Vista, just over two hours away from Denver, has two main hot springs facilities. Mount Princeton has higher-end appeal. Cottonwood, a few miles away, is more rustic and natural. Cottonwood Hot Springs calls itself an Old West-style country inn. Bordered by Cottonwood Creek and surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest, the geothermal, gravity-fed mineral spa retains the original historical structures of the lodge. Located five and a half miles west of Buena Vista, it is an adult-oriented facility that touts the healing aspects of the springs. Originally a hotel and sanitarium built by a minister and his wife in 1878, before there was local rail transportation, it stressed health benefits. Visitors frequently stay overnight in a cabin, dorm or camping site to fully utilize spa services, five stone soaking pools, a cold plunge, a private Jacuzzi tub and sauna, with temperatures ranging from 94° to 110° F. For information, contact (719) 395-6434 or go to Mount Princeton Hot Springs, close to Nathrop, also has lodgings, but its facility is larger and more modern, with a lodge and cabins. A natural oasis surrounded by towering peaks, geothermal springs in Chalk Creek are the heart of the resort. They supply clear, odorless water at 135° in creek-side pools. Man-made pools are maintained between 85° and 105°, with a 100° soaking pool. The lap pool hovers at 90°. Or share family time via a 300-foot-long water slide emptying into a cooler 75° pool.

In 1860, a way station, hotel and freight depot were built near the site of the present hotel to serve freighters
bound for the mines. A three-story hotel was built in 1879 by a group of mining men, and the facility changed hands and underwent physical alterations for more than a century. The current owners purchased the facility in 2004 and undertook a massive renovation and expansion of this historic property.

For information, contact (888) 395-7799 or go to

With a completely renovated facility, Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa contains 21 pools and private baths, which include a solarium pool, the therapy Elk Pool and a summer swimming pool. The facility’s atmosphere is definitely upscale, with more than a hint of the spiritual thrown in. The springs are located at an elevation of 7,600 feet, near Rocky Mountain National Park, in the mountain town of Hot Sulphur Springs, one hour and 45 minutes northwest of Denver. The water at these springs comes from 35,000 feet below the surface of the earth, from the heat of volcanic rock released through countless fissures. Seven natural springs above the largest fissure have been flowing constantly for hundreds of years, surfacing at about 104° to 126°F. Over 200,000 gallons of naturally mineral-rich water flow through pools and baths every day, at controlled temperatures of 95° to 112°F. In 1840, William Byers became the first white man to discover the hot water and recognize the economic potential of the baths and the surrounding area. The resort has been continuously operational for 140 years and in the 1920s to 1950s was one of the most popular hot springs resorts in the Rocky Mountain States.

For information, contact (970) 725-3306 or (800) 510-6235 or visit

The town of Salida, 25 miles from Buena Vista, boasts a large community pool in its year-round sports facility. Colorado’s largest indoor pool, with natural mineral water, originally was a 1937 WPA project. This is definitely a family-oriented public pool with many scheduled activities, such as lap swim, lessons and aquacize, scheduled. Another advantage if you’re on a family trip — Salida has lots of other activities and recreational opportunities. The sparkling clear and odorless water collects underground and is piped five miles from the source in nearby mountains, to flow continuously into the various Salida hot springs pools, refreshing and warming them naturally. A 25-meter, six-lane pool dominates a large portion of the building. At approximately 86°, this pool is delightful for swimming, diving and recreational play. Across a divider wall, a smaller 4-foot-deep pool holds water at approximately 95°, excellent for warm aqua-therapy, exercise and soaking. The Salida Hot Springs pool is located in central Colorado on Highway 50, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, next to the town’s Chamber of Commerce.

For information, contact (719) 539-6738;

Two books are good guides to Colorado’s hot springs: Colorado’s Hot Springs, by Deborah Fraiser, Pruett Publishing Company, 2003, and Touring Colorado’s Hot Springs, by Carl Wambach, Falcon Press Publishing, 1999. Concerned about committing a social blunder? Most hot springs are up-front about clothing or lack thereof and post signs in this regard. If you don’t see a notice, ask a staff member.

Alcohol is universally prohibited in hot springs for both health and safety reasons.


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