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The bee-hive shaped coal cooking ovens visible along Highway 133 past Carbondale near Redstone are what remains of the thriving steel industry in the Crystal River Valley.

Wandering Eyes: See Colorado Culture & History Up Close

Wandering Eyes: See Colorado Culture & History Up Close

Wandering in this case refers to the 800-mile Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, where in addition to soaking in the state’s geothermal waters, visitors can also get an eyeful of sights that add cultural and historical context to their hot springs vacation.

The Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop (CHHSL) is bubbling with things to do—besides taking a dip in the 23 unique geothermal springs in eight Colorado destinations, visitors can also fully immerse themselves in cultural and historical experiences of the region by exploring a mix of fascinating heritage sites all along the 800-mile route.

What is there to see? Plenty—everything from mining towns to natural wonders—and you won’t want to miss any of it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.” While the main attraction may be soaking in Colorado’s historic hot springs, these side trips offer a genuine sense of place and are worth a gander if you’re in the vicinity.

Steamboat Springs: Just 45 minutes from Steamboat Springs, Hahn’s Peak is a former mining village and a bona fide piece of living Colorado history. Explore 15 historic structures including a one-room schoolhouse, miner’s cabin and the history museum. You can also climb to the summit of Hahn’s Peak, elevation 10,839 feet above sea level, where there’s a fire lookout tower dating to 1912.

Glenwood Springs: Famous Old West gunslinger, John “Doc” Holliday died in Glenwood Springs on Nov. 8, 1887. Best known for his participation in the shootout at the OK Corral in Arizona and his skill dealing cards at the gaming tables, Doc arrived in Glenwood Springs to “take the waters” as a treatment for consumption. A pauper at the time of his death, he is buried somewhere in Linwood Cemetery, the resting place of Glenwood’s pioneer citizens. His memorial marker overlooks the town and is routinely decorated with decks of playing cards and coins left as a tribute.

Carbondale: The coal coking ovens visible along Highway 133 past Carbondale near Redstone are what remains of the thriving steel industry in the Crystal River Valley. Built in 1899, at the height of production, the bee-hive-shaped brick structures once produced an astounding 6 million tons of coking coal a year! A roadside attraction, they are a quick stop when visiting nearby Avalanche Hot Springs.

Ouray: Weather-beaten remnants are all that’s left in these ghost mines and towns that once flourished in the San Juan Mountains. Among the most photogenic is Yankee Girl, a gold mine in the Red Mountain Mining District, accessible by hiking or jeeping. Discovered in 1882, it was considered the mother lode and became one of the most profitable mines in U.S. history.

Durango: Hop aboard for a historic train ride through the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railway dates back to the 1800s and was built to transport ore between remote mountain mines and the bustling town of Durango. While the precious metal mines have long since shuttered, the historic train has been in continuous operation since 1882 and now offers riders a goldmine of photo ops on every trip.

Pagosa Springs: Ancestral Puebloan peoples made their home in the desert southwest, leaving behind archaeological remains like those preserved at Chimney Rock National Monument. These early inhabitants incorporated their knowledge of astronomy into the design of their community, using the natural chimney-like pinnacles to frame the heavens. Today Chimney Rock is recognized as one of the premier archaeo-astronomical resources in North America.

Saguache County: Baca National Wildlife Refuge spans 93,000 acres in the San Luis Valley. The refuge supports an abundance of wildlife through a diverse combination of shrublands, grasslands, wetlands and riparian corridors. With the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop, the landscape is a stunning setting for wildlife viewing.

Chafee County: Getting creative is easy to do in Salida. The town is home to the first designated creative district in the state which includes a thriving population of artists and makers of all kinds, as well as other types of creative entrepreneurs. A sampling of what you’ll find in Salida’s Creative District includes locally-owned restaurants, bars, microbreweries, a distillery, a film production studio, approximately 40 retail stores, a boutique hotel and 30 artist-owned or run galleries.

Saguache County: Stretched between Salida and Buena Vista, Brown’s Canyon National Monument is a destination dream-come-true for outdoor enthusiasts. To add on adventure to your hot springs vacation, head to the Arkansas River in Brown’s Canyon for exceptional whitewater rafting and Gold Medal water trout fishing.

If you’re ready to embark on a journey that will not only leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, but culturally enriched as well, keep Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop in your sights while vacation planning. It’s heritage tourism at its finest, where the present meets the past with a splash of excitement!


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