South of Buena Vista is Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, popular among traveling families, who stay the night in a lavish hotel and soak in concrete pools or vie for a natural spot along the riverbank below. In contrast and in the opposite direction of town is Cottonwood Hot Springs. Some locals claim these gravity-fed, geothermal pools as their own, preferring Princeton to keep funneling the tourists.

None of those frills are found here. The rooms of the inn built near a craggy hillside are accessed from the outside and have no TVs, phones or internet connection. Other lodging options include creekside cabins with private springs. On a budget and don’t mind sharing space? Reserve a bunk in the dorms, one of which is women-only.

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The accommodations are a departure from Cottonwood’s beginnings. In 1878, a hotel complete with a library, parlor and dining hall announced the arrival of the resort that was formerly the sacred property of the Utes. According to the first resident physician, “almost certain restoration to health is assured” by “the life-giving waters.”

Surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest, the stone-formed pools range in temperatures between 94 and 110 degrees. Greater healing is discovered in the spa, where recently a therapist has practiced Ashiatsu, walking on patients’ backs, while others have opted for deep tissue massages and hot stone treatments.

Rules: Suits required. No glass around pool. No alcohol and no smoking. No kids younger than 16 allowed in the pools after dark.

Address: 18999 County Road 306, Buena Vista, 81211

Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until midnight Friday-Sunday

Contact: 719-395-6434 or 719-395-2102, cottonwood-hot-springs.com

Getting there: Go west on U.S. 24, following to the light in Buena Vista. Go right, staying on 24 and turn left at the sign for Cottonwood Pass. Go about 18 miles to the springs.

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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