Colorado has been called the “roof of the nation.” We’re the only state in the country where rivers flow out and down in all four directions. And in some spots, those rivers are hot…not surprising, since it was volcanic activity that got us up here. Portions of Colorado riddled with calderas and geothermal hot springs, remnants of a violent geological past.
Pagosa Hot Springs, along the San Juan River. ©Kathryn R. Burke.
Colorado’s Native Americans knew the mystery and magic of those hot spots. The Utes, who dwelled here long before the white man arrived, soaked and dreamed and experienced mystical visions in the region’s “sacred mineral waters,” which they also used for ceremonial purposes. The deepest is the Mother Spring Aquifer in Pagosa Springs. At a depth of 1,002 feet, it has been certified by Guinness World Records as “The World’s Deepest.” The Utes called it pah gosah, variously translated as boiling or healing water with a strong smell. That smell is due to the water’s high mineral content, which they, and the Europeans who followed, believed makes soaking in it therapeutic.
The vapor caves in Ouray, accessible now at the Wiesbaden, were another popular hot spot for the native Utes, as were the springs at present-day Orvis and the hot springs pools in downtown Ouray, where waters range from 75 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 40 degrees Celsius). Hot springs—long established or newly discovered—abound throughout Ouray County, once the home of Ute Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta. Recently, a local rancher noticed his longhorn cattle refusing to drink from the ditch water running across his property. A heretofore unknown spring had erupted into the stream, giving it that unique mineral smell characteristic of Colorado’s natural hot springs. His cows didn’t like it.
What may be stinky to the rancher’s cows is often a soothing, relaxing, therapeutic experience for people who know where to find the region’s many secret springs. Above Chattanooga near Silverton, for instance, residents hauled up some old bathtubs to create their own soak spot. There are many other places, most on private property, where folks in the know can find a hot soak.
The easier-to-find public places, (and accessible on your digital devices), are Southwest Colorado’s commercial hot springs, some with accommodations ranging from five-star to no-star (and most are treated to remove the sulfur smell). Several facilities with lodging offer passes where people can use the hot spring-fed pools without having to book a room. Many also have off-season local’s discounts for overnight soak-and-stay packages. The Wiesbaden and others—like the Springs Resort and Spa in Pagosa, Durango Hot Springs Resort, and Glenwood Hot Springs—offer pampering spa packages with body and salon treatments. Some also have fitness facilities. All are no smoking and no pets unless otherwise noted. Please note: Pools are regularly closed for maintenance, so check first to make sure they’re open!
Ouray Hot Springs Pool. Courtesy photo.
Where to soak
• Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center. Springs: 5 separate geothermally heated public pools (75-104°F, 24-40°C, sulfur free) with mountain views. Adult-only section, activity pool, lap lanes, and work-out pool, two family and soaking pools. On-site massage. No lodging. Passes and memberships. Adjacent to Ouray Visitor’s Center.
• Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings. Lodging: rooms, suites, cottage, private home. Springs: outdoor pool with mountain views and untreated water (99-102°F); indoor Vaporcave (78°F) and 18-inch soaking pool (107-109°F); Lorelei (secluded outdoor private pool). Public passes available. No smoking or pets. Children under 6 not allowed in pools. Watch for Wiesbaden’s Silver Stage ad in February. 970-325-4347. wiesbadenhotsprings.com/