From mild and wild to hot and steamy, the ultimate water-centric Colorado outdoor experience begins with a drive along the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop for a Centennial state combo that features the best of whitewater rafting with geothermal soaking.
After a bountiful winter of heavy precipitation, snow in the high country is finally melting. With each passing day, spring run-off is swelling rivers—the Arkansas, the Colorado, the San Juan, the Yampa, and the Uncompahgre—creating a whitewater rafting season that by all indications looks to be a banner year.
In addition to the iconic mountain and canyon scenery associated with a river rafting trip, the western half of the state is sprinkled with geothermal hot springs, many in convenient proximity to members of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. In fact, rivers and hot springs often occur in tandem in nature. In Glenwood Canyon, for example, and in spots along the San Juan River, hot springs bubble up within the river. For the enjoyment of their guests, rafting and guide services often create makeshift pools with river rock walls for impromptu riverside soaking. Unfortunately, soaking in wild springs is usually limited before it’s time to hop back aboard the raft for the remainder of the trip.
To thoroughly enjoy and plan for both—rafting and hot springs soaking—take a drive on the newly created Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop. The 720-mile loop drive connects the state’s best rafting outfitters with 19 hot springs attractions in five Western Colorado towns. Spend a week or more exploring them all or, make jaunts on the route for a shorter excursion, either way, rafting and hot springs are a classic Colorado combo and the CHHSL bundles both neatly for easy vacation planning.
Chaffee County, Colorado
Snowmelt from the Collegiate Peaks where an abundance of the state’s famed 14,000-foot peaks are located, swells the Arkansas River creating prime conditions for Colorado rafting. The towns of Salida, Nathrop and Buena Vista are home to a concentration of river guides and outfitters. Rafting highlights in this part of the state include paddling the Arkansas River through Brown’s Canyon National Monument. Class III rapids, Pinball, Zoom Flume and Staircase are a rollicking good time for beginner and intermediate river runners.
Chaffee County is also home to diverse hot springs that run the gamut from a community pool in an artsy mountain town to a new-age mountain hideaway surrounded by tall pines and an upscale luxury getaway to cozy cabins with private hot springs soaking tubs.
Mount Princeton Hot Springs at the base of the Chalk Cliffs, offers a variety of soaking experiences including creek-side hot springs. There’s also a spa, 400-foot (122-meter) waterslide and a lazy river in summer.
Historic Cottonwood Hot Springs is situated off the beaten path in the serenity of the San Isabel National Forest. The soaking experience focuses on peace, tranquility and healing.
Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center is a community pool and the largest indoor hot springs facility in North America. It features lap lanes, a smaller communal soaking pool and private soaking pools.
Antero Hot Spring Cabins feature three unique cabin accommodations. Each charming cabin has a hand-crafted private hot spring pool just outside the door.
American Adventure Expeditions
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
One of the state’s most scenic hamlets, Pagosa Springs is all about water-based recreation and relaxation. Its spring skiing is among the best in Colorado. Come May and June, the San Juan River which runs through town is churning with whitewater thrills. Among the most popular excursions is a trip through Mesa Canyon. Later in the season, the river mellows and is ideal for family-friendly floats and carefree tubing trips.
Any Colorado town with “springs” in its name is a water-worthy destination and Pagosa Springs is no exception to the rule. It boasts three geothermal attractions, all very different, yet collectively relaxing experiences. A fun fact: the town also holds the record for the deepest hot spring ever recorded!
The Springs Resort & Spa is open to lodge guests 24 hours a day and features 23 therapeutic mineral hot spring pools overlooking the San Juan River.
Overlook Hot Springs has rooftop soaking tubs with unimpeded views of the San Juan Mountains, the river and downtown Pagosa Springs!
Healing Waters Resort & Spa welcomes visitors to relax and soak in its therapeutic warm springs that are 100 percent natural mineral water with nothing else added.
Ouray & Ridgway, Colorado
The dramatic landscape in this neck of Colorado only adds to the adventure inherent in a whitewater rafting trip. Craggy cliffs, tight canyons and roiling rapids are the ultimate Colorado adrenaline rush. As you paddle and float for miles, take in panoramas of the majestic San Juan Mountains, expansive mesas and historic ranchlands.
The towns of Ouray and Ridgway are ground zero for geothermal activity as well. Between the two, there are five different locations for a soothing après-river soak. A modern new pool is a central feature in Ouray, but visitors can also seek out more off-the-beaten-path locales including one in Ridgway that is clothing optional.
Ouray Hot Springs is ideally suited to both family fun and relaxing soaking. It features a slide, rock climbing wall and lap lanes; a hotter pool set away from the splash zone is the perfect spot for a quiet soak.
Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa is a full-service spa and home to hot springs and a rare vapor cave amenity tucked deep inside the mountain. Private soaking is also an option.
Orvis Hot Springs in nearby Ridgway is beautifully landscaped and open 24-hours a day. It retains an ultra-relaxed vibe with its au naturel clothing-optional policy.
Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs. Situated on a terraced hillside, the soaking pools are built into the stair-stepped wooden deck that overlooks the town.
Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs is one of the few places that also offers hot springs soaking in both outdoor and indoor settings.
RIGS Adventure Company
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Blessed with the fortune to have not one, but two rivers that converge on the hot springs town, rafting is a warm-season activity that tops the list of visitor activities. For one of the best sight-seeing tours of Glenwood Canyon, a river rafting trip is hard to beat. The Roaring Fork River also offers seasonal opportunities for rafting with views of Mt. Sopris to the south.
With three hot springs attractions from which to choose, visitors can warm up and relax by either immersing themselves in the soothing hot springs water or, alternatively with a mineral-rich, geothermal steam bath.
Glenwood Hot Springs Resort is an historic resort and famous as the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool. The resort is also home to the Sopris Splash Zone, a family-friendly aquatic park at the west-end of the property.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs boasts 16 natural springs soaking pools and a freshwater family pool terraced on the bank of the Colorado River.
Yampah Spa & Vapor Caves is a rare place where you can go underground for a natural, geothermal steam bath. The mineral-dense vapors have a detoxifying effect.
Blue Sky Adventures
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Flowing through downtown Steamboat Springs, the Yampa Rivers swells during spring runoff season creating perfect conditions for paddling on Class III and IV rapids. As flows taper off later in the season, outfitters switch from rafts trips to renting inner tubes. Paddle or float, either is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day in Colorado.
In addition to river adventures, experience all the other things this authentic Western town has to offer from balloon tours to pro rodeos. Plan to also visit the geothermal springs; Steamboat offers two locations for taking a hot springs dip.
Old Town Hot Springs is operated by the City of Steamboat as a recreational facility and welcomes one and all for a soak in its beautiful, newly remodeled multi-use complex.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs is located outside of town. Small, rustic and a little bit quirky, it’s built along the banks of Strawberry Creek. After dark, it becomes clothing optional.
AVA Rafting & Ziplining