Go Natural: Conundrum Hot Springs
You have to earn the heights of this natural pool, but the rewards are worth the effort.
The warm water nearly lulls me to sleep. Did I dream that 9-mile, uphill-all-the-way hike? I open my eyes, and the stunning view at 11,200 feet reminds me that no, this is real. Mountain ridges of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness line my panorama of the descending valley that I spent the last five hours ascending near Aspen. As the sun sets, the cliffs fade to silhouettes, yet something is moving up there. I lift my head off the perfectly-angled rock I’ve been using as a headrest, and squint my heavy eyes. Those tiny dots, I realize, are bighorn sheep climbing up a sheer cliff. I’m humbled at what nature is rewarding me with: a soothing soak in a naturally 100-degree pool, an uncommon scene of wildlife finding a nightly resting place, and a vast view enjoyed only by those willing to work to reach it.
Even among Colorado’s many dramatic views and stunning alpine wonders, Conundrum Hot Springs is a rare gem. For this average-to-avid backpacker, the Conundrum Creek Trail’s 2,400-foot elevation gain is strenuous, especially in the final 2 miles. But the lush valleys, abundant wildflowers, vast aspen groves and a rushing creek will keep you motivated. That and the promise of soaking those tired muscles in glorious natural hot waters. No hot tub will ever again compare.
Know Before You Go
» Campsite reservation and permit required, which has helped to alleviate overcrowding in recent years.
» Dogs are not allowed at campsites or hot springs. A sign will mark the turnaround spot for you and your furry friend.
» Bear canisters are required.
» Clothing is optional.
» No bathrooms. Study up on backcountry bathroom etiquette to protect the ecosystem.
At the time this article was published, the Conundrum Creek Trailhead and parking area were closed due to avalanche debris, but the trail was open. Follow updates: recreation.gov
Go Local: SunWater Spa
I love soaking in hot water. And on this particular evening, with twinkling stars above to gaze at, I’m in serious love with the solar-heated water in my cedar tub at Manitou Springs’ SunWater Spa. It’s not the first tub I’ll soak in tonight, nor the last, as SunWater is home to eight such tubs filled with mineral-laden water from the Seven Minute Spring. Each offers a unique experience, thanks to varying sizes, temperatures, and views of the town and Red Mountain.
Soaking isn’t the only experience to be had here. I walk the river rock-bottomed meditation stream, swing back and forth a bit in a hanging chair, and watch as others float in the saline pool and test the cold plunge pool’s bamboo shower. But I’m quick to tuck myself back into the most secluded tub I can find. Silence may be golden, but silence with a dose of hot water is magic.
Go Under: Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort
I’m barely keeping my head above water—and it’s just the way I like it. Lying in a stone-lined pool on the edge of Cottonwood Creek, only my nose and mouth break the surface of the water.
It’s a busy weekend at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, but you can’t tell here beneath the flow. My senses are filled with the muffled babble, the cushioning of the sandy creekbed and the yin and yang of hot and cold here where the geothermal meet the currents of one-time snowmelt from the Continental Divide.
I’ll spend some time in the relaxation pool and hot tub-like cascading pools of the resort’s spa, where I bask in the sun’s late-afternoon glow painting the nearby peaks. There is no shortage of soothing options here for soaking, spa treatments, savoring a beverage from the juice bar or simply pressing the pause button on life. But it’s my submersive reverie in the creek that calls me back to an aquatic bliss.
Looking for More?
Read about another hot water getaway in Go Off the Beaten Path: Joyful Journey.