Call it a watery quest.
We soaked in round wooden tubs, swam laps in the world’s largest hot springs pool, cold plunged in a vintage bathtub, submerged in the Earth’s deepest known geothermal source, gadded about among 24 terraced pools with evocative names, inhaled mineral rich vapors in an ancient cave, bathed in muddy ponds, marinated in rivers, hiked to hidden water holes, walked labyrinths, slept in cabins, posh hotels, historic lodges, a yurt, tents and cabanas, and ruined scores of swimsuits—all in the state of Colorado.
On a two-month pilgrimage to get waterlogged in every single healing, natural basin in this geothermal-rich, mountainous state, my husband and I, escorted by two dubious canines, steered our rickety van around untold hairpin turns, up steep slopes, into be-flowered meadows and through late spring snowstorms. With the official Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop map as our guide, we dipped into scores of curative springs. Like human divining rods, we sought the myriad water sources that pepper the (mostly western) part of the state.
Undeterred by wrong turns, misread maps, kaput GPS, and cryptic signage, we soldiered on, smelling of sulphur. We wore our messed hair, relentlessly damp swimsuits, and wrinkled clothing like a badge of honor. We allowed lithium, silica, phosphate, calcium, potassium, fluoride, arsenic (and more, all known to be curative in small doses) to imbue us. When our mission ended, we’d dunked into far more than the 19 steeping locations showcased on the Hot Springs Loop’s dedicated and informative map. We’d found many other salubrious swimming holes, as well. The result? We’d relaxed, re-energized, recalibrated, rehydrated, and renewed every aspect of our beings—even our relationship with one another. That sulphur smell does linger a bit, maybe forever. But, it’s worth every sniff.
Hanker to take a plunge? Here’s a drench-worthy Hot Springs Loop cheat sheet.
Despite its name, there’s no place to embark by water vessel in this northwestern Colorado mountain town. Apparently, early settlers christened it thus for the sounds they heard emanating from the area’s 150 geo-thermal springs, noises that sounded like the shush of steamboats working their way across a lake. Today, flanked by untrammeled nature and remote ranches galore, truly genuine Steamboat gets high marks for its adjacent ski area and authentic mountain town main street. Splash at Old Town Hot Springs , a family-oriented balneotherapy park, complete with slides, kiddie pools, and adult areas. Eight miles north Strawberry Park Hot Springs‘ rustic experience feels like a stumbled-upon secret, hewed into the mountain.
Where to Stay: Wriggle into a train caboose or covered wagon at Strawberry Hot Springs. For in-town accommodations, choose from a variety of cottages and homes offered by Retreatia, a rental management company.
Where to Spa: Waterside Day Spa on the banks of the Yampa River downtown boasts Steamboat’s only salt therapy suite.
They call it the Switzerland of America, but quirky Ouray and its jaw-dropping, multi-hued box canyons, stands alone. In southwestern Colorado, the town invokes nostalgia with its locally owned businesses and decades-old storefronts. Hike across the top of a waterfall, then recover in the vapor cave at The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings. Soak in wooden tubs set slope-side at Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, Join the throngs at Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center, a kid’s fantasyland, or get naked (demurely) at Orvis Hot Springs, located a few miles out of town in Ridgeway.
Where to Stay: Box Canyon Lodge takes the prize for its mountainside locations and funky wooden barrel tubs.
Where to Spa: Do your own hydrotherapy treatment at the Weisbaden, where you can rent the Lorelei Suite, a private hot springs, ideal for honeymooners.
Surrounded by three million acres of national forest and wilderness ideal for sports enthusiasts, Pagosa Springs, near Wolf Creek Ski Resort, has a timeless, old-school retreat vibe. Blessed with the world’s deepest geothermal aquifer, a source discovered by the Ute Indians, the San Juan Mountains-ensconced hamlet draws soakers year round to its three diverse immersion points. Most festive, The Springs Resort & Spa overlooks the San Juan River downtown, offering 23 terraced-sited pools, varying in temperature from 87 to 114 degrees. Overlook Hot Springs Spa lies in a Victorian house, brandishing rooftop tubs, while Healing Waters Resort & Spa, a local favorite, comprises a lap pool and old-fashioned, European-style, male/female bath houses.
Where to Stay: Go for The Springs Resort & Spa. Guests have 24/7 access to the pools.
Where to Spa: Try the Pagosa Stone Massage, which uses stones smoothed by the San Juan River at the Pagosa Spa, located at The Springs Resort & Spa.
Between Aspen and Vail, this long-beloved mountain town is renowned for the oversized Glenwood Hot Springs pool, considered the largest geothermal swimming hole on earth. You’ll swoon over its legendary, old-time bathhouse. President Teddy Roosevelt swam here, but the Ute Indians discovered the healing waters first, calling the springs “Yampah,” which means “big medicine.” Recently renovated to include a splash zone, waterfall, and river ride section, the more than century-old pool draws crowds of all ages throughout the year. While in town, don’t miss Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves, a subterranean natural steam bath that emits more than 30 airborne minerals, from zinc to potassium. Newly minted Iron Mountain Hot Springs hovers on the shore of the Colorado River with a contemporary ambiance, on-site bars, a cafe, and 16 soaking pools.
Where to Stay: For a connection to the past, Hotel Colorado, circa 1883, fits the bill. Its location across the street from the pool can’t be beat.
Where to Spa: Haven-like Spa of the Rockies, part of Glenwood Hot Springs pool complex has a Rocky Mountain Mud Wrap, which uses black mud, procured from the springs.
Down a remote road in the middle of what seems like nowhere in Chafee Country, this Rocky Mountain wonderland dates back to 1867. Straddling Chalk Creek, stretching up some slopes, crossing the road, the delightful retreat incorporates the original bath house and pools, plus creekside, rustic nooks, a modern complex across a bridge, and a huge family-friendly pool, anchored by its 400-foot slide. With water that comes from the ground at 120 degrees, Mount Princeton’s cooled pools vary from hot to very hot. In the vicinity, various other springs beckon. Individual cabins, such as Antero Hot Springs Cabins, sport their own water source, suiting romantic travelers, while laidback Cottonwood Hot Springs near Buena Vista, has cabins and its own hippie-esque pool complex. Lap swimmers won’t want to miss the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, the largest indoor hot springs aquatic pool in the country.
Where to Stay: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort has history, a range of suite options, a general store, restaurant, and scenery.
Where to Spa: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort Spa’s first-rate menu offers guests a ten-percent discount on treatments such as the Colorado Special, a massage with hemp-derived CBD oils.
Bonus:These Aren’t on the Colorado Hot Springs Loop List
There’s something for everyone in Durango, which manages to feel both college town hip and gloriously quaint. In southwestern Colorado, it has just one beloved hot springs, located seven miles from town. Once known as the Trimble Spa, new owners have renamed the historic property Durango Hot Springs and Spa.
Where to Stay: The Rochester Hotel invokes old-house sense of place, serves gourmet breakfast, and has the friendliest staff in the USA.
Where to Spa: Make it easy and book a massage at Durango Hot Springs & Spa to be enjoyed after you soak.
Dunton Hot Springs
A springs-brimming, refurbished miner’s ghost town set atop an array of healing hot sources of mineral rich H20, Dunton Hot Springs is an uber-luxury hideaway occupying a remote spit of land near Telluride. Collapse into artfully adorned cabins after long days submerging and exploring the terrain’s largesse. All-inclusive gourmet meals are a highlight.
Where to Stay: The cabins vary in size and theme. Choose Dunton Store, the camp’s original general store, decorated to emulate the era.
Where to Spa: Take the waters in the Well House, and across the property. For a treat, indulge in an Alpen Glow Body Scrub (peppermint/lavender to energize and relax simultaneously) in the dedicated Spa Cabin.
Near Carbondale, poised on a creek, this family-owned sanctum has the coolest cabins, a coterie of animals, some retrofitted gypsy-style caravan suites, and three hot springs on site.
Where to Stay: If you’ve brought your dogs, camp out in #4. The Dog House, a savvy two-person cabin, comes replete with canine themes.
Where to Spa: Spend an entire day at True Nature Healing Arts, a spa, yoga center, and wellness sanctuary in Carbondale. Take a yoga class, wander the Peace Garden, and enjoy a Mahamarma Point Therapy Ayurvedic treatment.
Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa
In the San Luis Valley, near Great Sand Dunes National Park, this den of tranquility sits amid farmland. Yurts, tipis, a small campground, and some charming hotel rooms flank a healing hot spring.
Where to Stay: Choose one of Joyful Journey’s comfortable yurts, with views of the mountains and high-altitude prairie.
Where to Spa: Joyful Journey specializes in holistic, therapeutic massage.
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.