Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Courtesy photo

Plan a Winter Road Trip on the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop

In Attractions, Health & Wellness by Aimee HeckelLeave a Comment

There are two ways to handle Colorado’s snow: Play in it or run from it.

When most people think of a winter vacation in Colorado’s mountains, they think about skiing and snowboarding. But there’s another way to dive into Colorado’s natural wonders as the air grows chillier. And it doesn’t involve cold fingers or toes.

Warm (to very hot) thermal waters naturally flow throughout western Colorado and bubble up, forming hot springs. Our favorite healthy Colorado road trip, whether in the summer or winter, is along the Historic Hot Springs Loop. This drive brings you to five different locations in the Colorado mountains:

  • Chaffee County
  • Ouray County
  • Pagosa Springs
  • Glenwood Springs
  • Steamboat Springs

In total, the loop covers about 720 miles, with only several hours of driving between the destinations that you can knock out in the morning, leaving plenty of time for relaxation. Do the trip in five days — one day per area, with multiple hot springs at each stop — or take your time and stretch it out over several weeks.

In total, this loop will offer at least 19 different hot springs spots, from underground vapor caves to a clothing-optional Garden of Eden, from family-friendly swimming pools with water slides to private tubs perched on the side of the mountain. Whether it’s the boiling “lobster pot” to a cool kiddie pool, or whether it’s in a wild river in the middle of a forest or a modern hot tub at a high-end resort, Colorado’s hot springs are all mineral rich, with a history of healing powers.

Along the way, you’ll find incredible food, local beer (some even made with the help of geothermal heat from the springs) and wine, beautiful hotels, fun hikes, loads of history and culture and cozy hotels.

The Historic Hot Springs Loop

Here’s how to plan the perfect hot springs loop through Colorado this winter.

Mount Princeton Hot Springs in the winter. Courtesy photo

Chaffee County

Where is it? Two hours and 40 minutes from Boulder.

Stay here: Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista. This remote motel, tucked against the mountain, is nothing fancy and it’s totally off the grid. But that makes it the perfect start to your road trip. No phone calls, no email and several geothermal, gravity-fed mineral pools are right outside your front door.

These pools were historically used by the Ute Native Americans that lived in this area. Cottonwood Hot Springs is remote and quiet, unlike some other hot springs you will find along the way.

Claim to fame: This part of Colorado is located on the Continental Divide, an area rich with hiking, biking, skiing and more. This area boasts more fourteeners (mountains that are 14,000 feet above sea level or higher) than any other county in Colorado.

Don’t miss this: While the Cottonwood Hot Springs are convenient for guests staying at the hotel, don’t miss the short drive to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, in the nearby town of Nathrop. You can stay here too, in a hotel room or log cabin, and enjoy the five different pools, spa, fitness classes, club and even touch your toes in the creek.

Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Courtesy photo

There’s even a cliffside lodge. Bonus: Mount Princeton’s hot springs don’t have a ton of sulfur so they don’t smell like eggs. Did we mention the 400-foot waterslide, lazy river and creekside hot springs? Also experience the bathhouse, built in the 1800s.

Water temps here range from 75 to 107 degrees.

Inside tips: At Cottonwood: No alcohol allowed. No food on site, other than a few snacks in the lobby, so either plan on eating in town or bringing a cooler with sandwiches and salads.

At Mount Princeton: If you have kids, the family-friendly pool is entertaining. If not, it’s totally worth it to upgrade your pass so you can go to the quiet pool and private tubs across the river.

Eat here: Dine with a view at the Princeton Club Restaurant. Get a table on the deck, if weather allows. Head to the Buena Vista House Rock for lunch and visit the popular Asian Palette for dinner. This area also has its own brewery (Eddyline) and distillery (Deerhammer). Don’t miss the Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar, located inside an 1800s jailhouse, serving rotating taps of craft beer.

Also in this area: Other things to explore in this area: Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center, Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, Creekside Hot Springs Cabin, Antero Hot Springs Cabins, the St. Elmo Ghost Town and Browns Canyon Aerial Adventure Park. Hike the Whipple Trail. Ride horses by the Browns Creek Waterfall. If the Cottonwood Pass is open, you can make snowballs up there even in the summer.

Pagosa Hot Springs. Photo by Aimee Heckel

Pagosa Springs

Where is it? Just under three hours from Buena Vista, in the middle of the San Juan Mountains.

Stay here: High Country Lodge, located just outside of the town on the side of the mountain, on 15 wooded acres. Stay in a cozy room or in a private cabin. There’s a private hiking trail right on site, plus regular hot tubs, if you haven’t soaked enough. In the winter, go tubing down the hill and warm up in the sauna. High Country Lodge does not have its own hot springs on site.

Claim to fame: Pagosa Springs is located in the heart of more than three million acres of national forest and natural areas. Pagosa Springs is located near the Wolf Creek Ski Resort, which boasts 430 inches of snowfall and cheap lift tickets in the winter.

Pagosa Springs is home to the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring, located at the Springs Resort & Spa.

The Springs Resort and Spa. Photo by Aimee Heckel

Don’t miss this: There are multiple hot springs in Pagosa Springs, but our favorites are the Springs Resort & Spa and the Overlook Hot Springs Spa, for totally different reasons.

The Springs Resort is modern, with 23 different pools of varying temperatures located on the banks of the San Juan River. Due to its size and jaw-dropping views, complete with waterfalls, an island, a lap pool and a separate, adult-only area, the Springs is always pretty busy.

Just across the street is Overlook, a hidden gem designed to feel like an old Victorian bathhouse. Pick from different tubs with different temps and moods: dim indoor pools, small, private tubs (with individual temperature controls) in the outdoor terrace and even rooftop pools overlooking the town. There’s a private tub room, too. It’s perfect for après-ski or just to warm up and treat yo’ self.

Inside tips: You can get wine and beer at the Springs and sip it in the tub while watching the river rush by. If you are brave and conditions are safe, you can dip your feet in the frigid river. Some people even go swimming in it.

Eat here: Riff Raff Brewing Co., which makes beer that is powered by geothermal heat. The food is surprisingly delicious, too. Mmm, burgers.  

Also in this area: The Healing Waters Hot Springs, more than 650 miles of rails, the Chimney Rock National Monument.

The mountains around Ouray, Colorado. Photo by Aimee Heckel

Ouray

Where is it? Just under three hours from Buena Vista. Find five different hot springs in this area.

Stay here: Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs. The rooms here are nice but still casual, but the real scene-stealer is the mountainside of small hot springs pots, right off the deck. Pick a small redwood tub and look out over the town. Not only is this the best view in town, but it’s also the most relaxing.

A hot tub at Box Canyon Hot Springs. Photo by Aimee Heckel

Claim to fame: Ouray is one of the most scenic small towns in Southwest Colorado. It’s called the “Switzerland of America,” because it’s perched in the valley of dramatic mountain vistas. The hiking here is incredible (including historic Native American trails), and in the winter, you can ice climb the waterfalls in the Ouray Ice Park. Downtown Ouray and nearby Ridgway are lined with Victorian buildings.

Don’t miss this: Our favorite hidden gem hot springs in the entire loop is located in Ouray at the Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings, 625 Fifth St. Under the building, you’ll find a small, extremely pure (as in, you’re not allowed to go in if you smoke tobacco) hot springs vapor cave. Imagine sitting in near pitch darkness in a serene, mineral-water-filled cave in total silence, underground. The minerals here are so strong, you’ll feel them more than anywhere else. Even 30 minutes will transform your body and mind.

There’s also an outdoor swimming pool with views of the mountains and a private outdoor spa.

Orvis Hot Springs in the winter. Photo by Brent Bayless

Our other favorite hot springs in Colorado is also located in this area, a short drive from Ouray, in Ridgway. Orvis Hot Springs is for adults only. It’s a clothing-optional hot springs, but even if you’re not a nudist, don’t let the idea deter you. First of all, you don’t have to go nude if you don’t want to. Second, Orvis has private hot springs rooms if you want privacy, or it has a variety of different outdoor pools located in a sprawling garden that feels like the Garden of Eden.

A sign on the grounds at Orvis Hot Springs. Photo by Aimee Heckel

Inside tips: Orvis Hot Springs has a hot springs pool designated for smokers. You can also stay on site or camp here. Orvis is open 24 hours. We love to come here at night and watch the stars from the large pool with its waterfall.  

Eat here: Taco Del Gnar, the best tacos we have ever had. This chill restaurant has an innovative menu. Everything is delicious, but we’re a sucker for the Korean Short Rib tacos or the Drippy Mitch, aka the “Sloppy Joe of tacos,” made with chorizo, potatoes, queso blanco, shredded cabbage, corn salsa and chimichurri sauce.

Also in this area: The Ouray Hot Springs. For the springs’ 90th birthday in 2017, it got a $10.6-million facelift. Now, you will find an inflatable volleyball court, terraced pools with an infinity edge waterfall, an inflatable obstacle course, climbing wall, splash pads and more.

Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. Courtesy photo

Glenwood Hot Springs

Where is it? About three hours from Ouray.

Stay here: Hotel Denver, a beautiful and elegant historic hotel located across the river and walking distance to the main hot springs park. It’s also a short walk to many of the town’s best restaurants.

Claim to fame: Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, which claims to be the world’s biggest hot springs pool.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs in winter. Courtesy photo

Don’t miss this: While Glenwood Hot Springs is the most popular (it’s always pretty packed), don’t miss Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which we actually prefer. This modern, clean destination is built on the banks of the Colorado River with amazing mountain views. Iron Mountain offers 16 different pools, a freshwater pool and cafe where you can score wine, cocktails, food and more.

Near Glenwood Hot Springs is also the Yampah Vapor Caves with more underground steam baths.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs has a great view. Courtesy photo

Inside Tips: Request a room in the hotel facing the park. Check out Iron Mountain’s new Rejuvenation Station, with outdoor rainfall showers; a cold shower and hot plunge are supposed to be good for your circulation.

Eat here: Eat at Iron Mountain’s Sopris Cafe for something casual. For dinner, visit Co. Ranch House (you can walk there from Hotel Denver). The margs and burgers are incredible. Plus, visitors enjoy the Western-style decor.  

Also in this area: The mountain-top Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park (with North America’s highest-elevation roller coaster), famous Hanging Lake (visit that during the summer).  

Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat. Photo by the Colorado Tourism Office

Steamboat Springs

Where is it? Just over two hours from Glenwood Springs.

Stay here: We love renting a private chalet or penthouse from Moving Mountains when we visit Steamboat. Moving Mountains can connect you with luxurious, independent homes that you could never otherwise access. Plus, your rental comes with a concierge with upgraded options, like a private, in-home chef, grocery shopping and more.

For something fun, stay in a train caboose, cabin or wagon at Strawberry Hot Springs. The renovated caboose even has its own fireplace, shower and a kitchenette. It’s easily the coolest (and probably the most popular) place in town to stay.

Claim to fame: Steamboat is best known for Strawberry Park Hot Springs, natural springs tucked away in the forest outside of town.

However, Steamboat is home to about 150 total hot springs, not just Strawberry Hot Springs.

Steamboat is also a popular ski destination and the geothermal waters are the town’s best after party.

Don’t miss this: Everyone loves Strawberry Park, but don’t overlook the Western-vibe Old Town Hot Springs. Old Town has two waterslides, a climbing wall, multiple pools, a fitness center, cabanas to rent, a party deck and more. It’s ideal for families. 

Inside tips: After dark, Strawberry Park is a nude destination, so you can sit in the valley surrounded by rocks fully nude and watch the moon travel across the sky. Get bodywork in a separate pool. Change in the teepee.

Eat here: Our favorite restaurant is Aurum Food & Wine, located on the banks of the river. The food couldn’t be tastier, the view couldn’t be better and the service is top-of-the-line. After dinner, enjoy dessert or a drink by the crackling bonfire on the outdoor patio to live music. 

Also in this area: Steamboat is home to Howelsen Hill, the oldest continuously used ski area in the state (since 1915) and North America’s biggest natural ski-jumping destination.

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