Penny Hot Springs

Penny Hot Springs are hidden in plain sight. “A little-known haven right below the highway” is the description by Atlas Obscura, the online source for quirky attractions. But the internet age has stripped the soaking spot of its obscurity. The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce’s website, among others, proudly advertises the springs beside Colorado 133, south of the town south of Aspen. Still, with good timing, you could bask in unique serenity.

“Utes, miners, cowboys, hippies, and skiers have found delight on the banks of the Crystal River,” Deborah Frazier writes in one edition of her quintessential guidebook, “Colorado’s Hot Springs.” The skiing masses today take advantage of this free rejuvenation accentuated with views of soaring peaks and canyon walls. The hippies came at the historical crossroads of Penny Hot Springs, named for hotelier Dan Penny. His bathhouse drew au naturel soakers, which a nearby rancher didn’t much appreciate, Frazier writes. As bulldozers threatened, a rally was led by “hot springs folk hero” Roy Rickus, who was known to bathe in only his turban. The tumult ended with Pitkin County acquiring the springs, and Rickus’ “guardianship prevails,” Frazier writes.

The fight against trash continues with the springs’ wide discovery. Winter is the busiest time, when it’s hard to find a spot in the shallow pool 20 feet across, enough room for 10 or 12 people, Carbondale’s Chamber of Commerce says. Tourists are advised to turn if they see more than four parked cars. Spring is a less-than-ideal season, when freezing snowmelt dominates, rushing over the hand-crafted rock walls.

Rules: Nothing written. “Common decency” requested. Pack in, pack out.

Getting there: From Carbondale, go south on Colorado 133. About 15 miles from town, before Redstone, see mile marker 55 and the parking turnout to the left. The springs are down the hill.

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

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