Calming waves of hot mineral water envelop the body. Relaxed eyes gaze at mountains and forest. Nothing but sky hangs overhead. Simmering in an outdoor pool of earth-heated water may be the hottest way to enjoy Colorado’s wet side.
The state offers at least 47 natural hot springs ranging from therapeutic resorts to wilderness soaking holes. Some feature mega-size pools, while others require tub-squeezing friendliness. A few are geared for adults and others, such as Ouray Hot Springs in southwestern Colorado, remain family friendly.
“We’ve got a gym. We’ve got a slide. We’ve got a volleyball area,” says Liz Gracesun, Ouray’s director of Parks and Recreation. “We’re a very family-oriented facility.”
Ouray’s pool holds more than a million gallons of water, divided into three temperature ranges. The soaking section offers a soothing 104-106 degrees, a warm-water play area features temperatures between 96-98 degrees, and there’s a cold water section maintained at a tepid 80 degrees. The water is virtually sulfur free, so it doesn’t smell like rotten eggs, and it won’t turn silver jewelry black.
“Things may come out a little bit orange, though,” Gracesun says. “We have a very high iron content.”
The pool sits beside U.S. 550 in one of Colorado’s grandest, box-canyon mountain towns. Nicknamed “the Switzerland of America,” Ouray bears scant resemblance to anything European. Instead, the town flaunts a mining-era heritage with brick storefronts lining Main Street and Victorian homes peppering side streets.
The town serves as a convenient base for exploring the northern San Juan Mountains. Silverton, Durango and Telluride lie short drives away. Four-wheelers can motor the Alpine Loop, a rugged route connecting Ouray with Silverton and Lake City, or the road into Yankee Boy Basin, an alpine valley bursting with summer wildflowers. Hikers will find trails to tread and summits to scale, including Mount Sneffels, one of Colorado’s famed “fourteeners.” There’s also plenty of mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing and golfing opportunities to be enjoyed.
No matter what the activity, when the day is over, it’s time to head back for a fatigue-fading soak. After all, that’s what hot springs are for.
If You Go
For more information, contact the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, 800-228-1876 or ouraycolorado.com.