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A change in ownership transformed humble Trimble Hot Springs into world-class Durango Hot Springs Resort & Spa.
With an Olympic-size pool and two hot soaking tubs, century-old Trimble Hot Springs had long offered greater appeal for local families than traveling glitterati. But when that swimming pool fell into a state of disrepair in the winter of 2018-’19, a trio of investors offered to revive not just the pool but the entire property. “Our vision is to be a wellness facility that can compete on the national and global scene,” says Bryan Yearout, one of the purchasing partners. After executing a complete overhaul of the facilities, located eight miles north of Durango, the ownership team opened Durango Hot Springs Resort & Spa in August 2020 with a swimming pool, four hot pools, and a promise that more was to come. Now, Yearout and company’s grand vision is nearing completion. Boasting 40 soaking tubs (an adult soak is $39), plus a swimming pool, reflexology path, and rain tower—all complemented by a day spa, clubhouse, and an outdoor stage and amphitheater—Durango Hot Springs has broadened its appeal.
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On Tuesdays and Thursdays in the warmer months, bands from the local music scene take to the stage. The tunes can be heard from each of the soaking options, most of which are adult-only and nestled among the hills or set amid gardens that make Durango Hot Springs look like a botanic park.
Further separating this steamy destination from others in the Centennial State and around the world, its source water contains very little sulfur, has 34 different minerals, and is enhanced by two technologies that are, so far, unique to Durango Hot Springs. One treatment infuses the spring water with nano-size oxygen bubbles that are tiny enough to be absorbed by the skin’s pores. (Oxygen rebuilds muscle and could even enhance your mood, with some advocates claiming it reduces stress and promotes sleep.) The other treatment changes the molecular structure of the water’s minerals, causing them to bind together so they remain in solution and feel soft, rather than sticky, on soakers’ skin.
Durango Hot Springs didn’t stop at fancy water, though. The wellness theme continues at the newly built spa, where a meditation garden offers bodywork clients an outdoor relaxation area in addition to an indoor lounge. Guests can opt to purchase the Trimble Day Club pass, a $150 option that provides access to a separate facility with a sun deck as well as private changing rooms and the opportunity to claim one of eight cedar soaking tubs. “We appeal to the whole spectrum of hot springs lovers,” Yearout says. “People who want solitude, people who like a social scene, and parents with kids. We have a way to please all of those guests.”
Bigger and Better—But Still Perfectly Weird
Desert Reef’s recent improvements didn’t alter its personality.
“Development” can be a dirty word among hot springers, who often prefer a light touch when nature’s plumbing gets upgraded. The makeover at 37-year-old, clothing-optional Desert Reef near Florence follows this philosophy. The just-completed renovation refurbished the existing 36-by-50-foot pool, added four new pools to the main area, and created five smaller ones, which can be privately rented. Visitors can now sleep on-site in one of five vintage Airstream campers or five tiny homes, the latter of which are outfitted with private pools. Says co-owner Chris McLaughlin, “We’re letting more people in, but we’re staying small, because nobody enjoys a crowded pool—or, at least, we don’t.”
Fortunately, crowding has never been an issue at this tucked-away, attention-shy resort, where a weekday soak runs $25. Not only has Desert Reef limited the number of swimmers at any given time since its early days, but the refuge has also kept itself so secret that many residents of Florence don’t even know about it.
Despite the recent improvements and the addition of overnight accommodations, Desert Reef has held tight to its eccentricities. Although the facility is working on a liquor license, for now it’s BYOB. Cell phones are forbidden in the pool area. Males (solo or in groups) aren’t admitted unless accompanied by their partners or women. Youths under 18 years old can only enter if they book a private hot spring rental. To preserve a tranquil vibe, guests can’t drive to their units, so visitors tote their luggage in carts. But if you dig the idea of keeping quirky places weird, you’ll love this clandestine getaway—not despite its idiosyncrasies but because of them.
The Naked Truth
Skinny-dipping in a San Luis Valley hot spring taught me the beauty of being au naturel in nature.
I was looking for a place to camp on the way home from a wedding in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There was to be a total supermoon eclipse that September night, and my husband and I are just woo-woo enough to be into such things. So, when I found Valley View Hot Springs, a campground with six natural soaking holes and three human-made pools tucked along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, my toes tingled in my Birkenstocks. Then I read the fine print: Owned by the nonprofit Orient Land Trust, Valley View’s 2,200 acres are entirely clothing-optional.
Were we hippie enough for that? I was a little apprehensive, but I booked a site and figured we’d find out. After arriving, we pitched our tent and explored our options, hiking from one pond to another. The people we encountered walking around were clothed, something of a necessity given the late fall chill. Most of the folks soaking were not. But we soon realized it was like being in a yoga class: No matter how self-conscious you feel, no one’s paying attention to you. Especially in a place where the stunning landscape gives you something to ogle instead.
As dusk fell, we found a little soaker occupied by just one other couple. We made small talk while we shyly disrobed and slipped in. The giant moon rose over a peak to the east and slowly turned red-brown as it passed through the Earth’s shadow. Watching, I felt truly one with the surrounding terrain—nothing separating my skin from the warm mineral waters, the gravelly bottom, and the bats swooping inches from my face to snap up insects from the cool night air. I decided it wasn’t weird at all to be sans swimsuit but, instead, the most natural thing in the world. —Jessica LaRusso
Improving Upon Perfection
The already über-luxe cabins at Dunton Hot Springs get a face-lift.
It’s a rare occurrence that someone leaves Dunton Hot Springs feeling like the property fell short. But that’s precisely why this all-inclusive luxury resort near Telluride is refreshing all lodging interiors and remodeling some of its 1880s-era cabins: There was nothing wrong with the existing window treatments, towels, and furnishings, but here, “nice” simply isn’t good enough. Since 2001, when this former mining village got upcycled into high-end lodging, dining, and soaking facilities, the destination has devoted itself to delivering spectacular service and aesthetics. So, in fall 2022, Dunton began redecorating the guest accommodations, and one of them—New House—was remodeled to make it accessible to guests using wheelchairs. “Everything should feel new,” says Dunton Hot Springs spokesperson Christina Rossi.
With that in mind, Dunton also added a “new” cabin to its portfolio this year, for a total of 14. A 19th-century building called Chuck’s that had been used for staff housing is now a four-bedroom guesthouse catering to families and groups. The basement bunkrooms are perfect for tykes and teens. On the main and upper levels, you’ll find two bedrooms, one with a queen bed and one with a king. And the location is prime: One of only two Dunton accommodations to sit right on the banks of the babbling West Dolores River, Chuck’s includes a deck that overlooks the water.
Dunton’s saloon and dance hall are also slated for an expansion, to be completed by late 2023. Yet embracing the new has never prevented this property from appreciating what’s old—including the cabins’ hand-hewn logs and Butch Cassidy’s signature carved into the antique wooden bar. The kitchen’s creations have earned Dunton admission into the Relais & Châteaux network of epicure-pleasing properties (and Bon Appétit has ranked this getaway among America’s top five foodie destinations), but it isn’t the house-made granola or the iron-skillet lamb loin that makes Dunton Hot Springs revered among jet-setters: It’s that the nearly 200-acre property includes steaming hot springs that bubble up beneath staggering views of the jagged San Juan Mountains.
Most guests take the waters—soaking is included with your stay—at the bathhouse, which has floor-to-rafter windows that provide views of 14,256-foot Mt. Wilson. Two more plein-air pools (at the 107-degree source of the springs and beside the bathhouse, where the water is closer to 103 degrees) promote sky-watching. And two cabins feature private soaking spots: Well House includes an indoor spring that’s available year-round, while Dunton Store has an 85-degree outdoor soaker that’s open in summer. So, while the cabins’ sunflower showerheads feel great and the museum-quality art gratifies the eye, what guests truly cherish is the Earth’s watery embrace.
Mining for Heat
Have all of Colorado’s hot springs already been discovered? Far from it, says Steve Beckley, who developed Glenwood Springs’ Iron Mountain Hot Springs and is planning to launch a new hot spring destination in Utah. We asked him what it takes to discover new sources of steamy satisfaction.
5280: How do you know where to look for new hot springs?
Steve Beckley: I worked in geology for many years. After graduating from Colorado School of Mines with a degree in petroleum engineering, I went into the oil and gas industry and eventually moved to Glenwood Springs to build Glenwood Caverns. So, I have that background, but I also did a lot of research into geothermal studies of Colorado.
Can anyone do that research?
Yes. The Colorado Geological Survey published a bulletin called “An Appraisal of Colorado’s Geothermal Resources.” It was intended to explore the potential for energy production and identified bright spots where people might be able to make steam and turn a turbine. But you can also look at those bright spots to see which ones are relatively accessible and which ones might supply a usable flow of water.
And there’s untapped potential?
Sure, because most of the recent geothermal exploration hasn’t been for wellness like it was in the 1800s, when a lot of America’s hot springs were developed as healing centers. Since then, Western medicine has dominated our approach to health, but over the past decade I’ve seen a greater interest in the wellness potential of mineral springs, and I believe there will be a lot more hot springs developed in the future.
A Glenwood Springs–based hot springs resort isn’t kicking out the kiddos—it’s just making more room for the grown-ups.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs opened in 2015 with 16 little soaking ponds, a jetted spa, and a freshwater family pool that made for a more intimate experience than that at its sprawling neighbor, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. When the cozy concept proved to be even more popular than anticipated, Iron Mountain’s ownership increased the property’s soaking capacity for adults—without changing its commitment to the kiddie crowd.
To be fully completed by summer 2023, the 21-and-older-only expansion will boast 10 additional small dippers plus a 55-degree cold plunge feature and a pair of two-tiered freshwater ponds connected by a waterfall. “We reproduced the most popular features from the original layout,” says general manager Aaron McCallister. Guests loved the two riverside pools and the ones with rounded, foot-massaging stones embedded in the bottoms—so all of the new pools have reflexology floors and sit beside the Colorado. Plus, the area’s new Sand Bar cafe will serve several frozen cocktails, which guests can sip while soaking or on the heated patio.
Iron Mountain is also growing its experience program, which re-creates the mineral makeup of famous hot springs around the world: The sulfur- and silica-rich potion found at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, the therapeutic mineral blend from Kinosaki, Japan, and the skin-nourishing springs of Amman, Jordan, are among the 10 rotating recipes that let bathers sample something different. Not that Iron Springs’ wells, which are high in relaxation-inducing sulfate and iron and include 12 other minerals, aren’t perfectly restorative.
A timed reservation system ensures the complex never feels overrun—with adults or children, who are still welcome in the original footprint. (Kids under five are limited to the Family Pool.) Still, weekends buzz with bathing and imbibing because the existing cafe was already popular for the quality of its food and beverage offerings: Thin-crust pizzas use a cauliflower dough that’s adored by both sides of the gluten-free fence, and batch-made cocktails only add to the relaxation quotient. Winter specials include cider spiked with Stoneyard Distillery’s Cinnamon Fire. That, plus the 108-degree water, can thaw the deepest chill.
Rampant abuse prompted “No Trespassing” signs at Rico Hot Springs, where owners devised a friendly way to minimize unruly swimmers.
Dave Bulson, who has lived near Telluride for three decades, recalls the glory days of the state’s undeveloped hot springs. “I remember Colorado before the internet,” he says, “when you could only hear about hot springs by word-of-mouth.”
Things are different now, of course. But Bulson still likes taking the waters so much that, in October 2020, he and his wife, Michelle Haynes, purchased land beside the Dolores River where molybdenum prospectors had punctured a warm artesian spring, which now breaches the earth in several spots along the waterway. Known as Rico Hot Springs, the couple’s milky, mineral-laden spring emerges at 109 degrees and collects in a travertine-lined pool four feet deep and 10 feet around before flowing through a wooden flume that feeds a 106-degree secondary pond.
Tucked beneath an embankment flanking CO 145, Rico Hot Springs was easy to reach—for those in the know. For a long time, that consisted of the 250 Rico residents who cherished their local secret. But as social media spread the word, litter proliferated. Then, as the pandemic wore on, more visitors arrived and created conflict. “People took up residency there,” says Bulson, who had been happy to allow responsible locals to use his springs. But when squatters and human feces proliferated, sanitation became a concern. Multiple incidents of assault and drug use prompted calls to police, but with the nearest law enforcement station located 90 minutes away, regulation was scarce.
“The last thing in the world we wanted to do was to put up a big fence,” Bulson says. But in 2021, the couple installed a gate and “No Trespassing” signs. They also drew up a legal waiver that locals could sign and submit to visit the spring at will. Although he’s received a few complaints about the closure, he says most people understand the change was warranted. “They may not like it, but they understand,” he says. Compliance is “pretty good,” he adds, because locals are educating outsiders about the change in policy.
“In our own imperfect way, we’ve preserved what we feel is an important aspect of hot springs in Colorado,” Bulson says. Developed soaking spots abound, he says, “but it’s different when you walk through the mud and the willows to find a hot spring, and those places are disappearing.”
Undeveloped soaking spots in Colorado remain at South Canyon Hot Springs, located four miles west of Glenwood Springs beside South Canyon Creek Road, and at Penny Hot Springs south of Carbondale, near mile marker 55 on CO 133. If you’re willing to hike, try Piedra River Hot Springs west of Pagosa Springs. Starting from the Sheep Creek trailhead, it’s a 1.4-mile hike downhill to the rock-lined riverside pools. All of these sites are experiencing increased visitation and misuse à la Rico. If you go, bring respect for the landscape and future visitors along with you.
A New Romance
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs adds steamy accommodations perfect for couples who want an escape.
Like a well-loved summer camp, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs has a comfortable, timeworn feel. Given that the resort dates back to 1897, that’s not a huge surprise. Now, though, glittering new on-site lodging options have boosted the getaway’s style points and created romantic cocoons for couples looking for some sizzling alone time. In spring 2022, 10 suites with leather couches, marble bathrooms, and balconies overlooking Chalk Creek came online; then, this winter, another creekside building (comprising 10 suites) joined the fold. Upper-level units feature vaulted ceilings, gas fireplaces, and kitchenettes with stainless steel appliances, while ground-level accommodations have microwaves and minifridges.
The so-called Creekside Suites sit near the property’s growing network of recreational trails, which becomes all the more compelling when you learn that each night’s lodging fee includes two days of complimentary mountain bike, fat bike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski rentals. Hot springs also sit just beyond your door. (A weekday adult soak is $35.) The Creekside Hot Springs in Chalk Creek are completely undeveloped, so soakers can stack or remove stones to adjust the temperature (the hottest flows measure a scorching 120 degrees) in the sandy-bottomed, one-foot-deep pools.
A five-minute walk from the Creekside Suites leads to the resort’s main concentration of spring-fed pools, including a lap pool, soaking pool, and water slide as well as an infinity pool framed by 14,275-foot Mt. Antero. You can even claim some of those pools for yourself: Since 2019, guests have been able to rent one of several soaking spots for private use, typically after the springs close to the public. (Times vary and rates start at $125 for 90 minutes.) Choose from the cascading spa pools, the infinity pool (which can be paired with a reservation for the 400-foot water slide), or the Creekside springs. Between that exclusivity and the cozy new couples’ nests, Mt. Princeton is now a roosting spot for lovebirds.
Go It Alone
The state’s hottest geothermal pocket underlies Mt. Princeton, and these dreamy Chaffee County getaways let you savor that energy within your very own hot spring.
If waving a magic wand could create your dream getaway, it would probably look like one of these three rustic-chic log cabins, each graced with its own spring-fed hot pool in back. The two-bedroom Cottonwood cabin and its hand-hewn square timbers housed the Cottonwood Lakes post office in 1900; now, its hand-built, quartz fireplace and backyard hot spring warm chilly travelers. The three-bedroom Hortense cabin dates from 1920, but its kitchen was remodeled in 2021, and the spacious Chalk Cliffs Chalet sleeps groups of eight comfortably. From $325 per night
Whimsically painted wood shingles, chinked logs, and natural-log railings make Holloway Cabin (which sleeps four) adorably Instagrammable. The Merrifield Cabin offers groups with children more space. The rentals have well-stocked kitchens, outdoor grills, and share a backyard hot spring, which is perched above a rushing mountain stream. From $450 per night
An elevated round house with expansive windows that admit 360-degree views of the surrounding tree branches, this unique rental contains five bedrooms and five bathrooms—and a ground-level swimming pool that’s fed by mineral spring water that guests can make warmer or cooler using the handy thermostat (between 98 and 104 degrees). From $495 per night