The Hot Springs at Mount Princeton and Pagosa Springs Are Awesome!
By Tab Hauser
Senior Travel Writer
There is nothing better than soaking in a natural hot spring. It is soothing to the body and soul. It also makes your skin feel so good. The Colorado Geologic Survey says there are 92 known thermal areas where hot springs can be found. We had the very wet pleasure of visiting two of Colorado’s best hot spring resorts south of Denver.
The Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort is a little over a two-hour scenic drive south of Denver. The resort sits at the base of the impressive Chalk Cliffs in the foreground and the snowcapped 14,204-foot Mount Princeton in the background. This makes for some scenic soaking.
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort was established in 1879. It is spread out over 70 acres, split in the middle by Chalk Creek. To the north of the creek are the seasonal 400-foot waterslide, infinity pool, and Biergarten. Closer to the lodge is the historic bathhouse and relaxation pool.
On the south side of the creek is their spa building with a relaxation pool large enough to do laps.
Next to it are three cascading hot spring pools with different temperatures. Day pass guests have access to the infinity pool (seasonal) and the relaxation pool at the bathhouse. Overnight guests have access to anywhere. There are changing rooms with lockers in the Old Bath House or spa building.
Chalk Creek Soak
Soaking in Chalk Creek is an unusual experience. Set on the north side of the frigid flowing water are manmade rock pools about 18 inches deep. Bubbling up from under the sandy creek floor is water averaging 140 F. You can feel the heat by sticking your fingers three inches into the sandy bottom.
What makes bathing unique is that the hot water seeping from under the river mixes with the cold creek water. Bathers can sit closer to the dammed large rocks for a cooler experience or stay close to the middle or wall for a warmer one. It is all very comfortable. During our visit, we saw people bringing their favorite canned beverages and having a good time.
Hot Springs Accommodations:
There are six types of lodging at Mt. Princeton. We opted for the newer Creekside side suites. This is a spacious two-room unit with a gas fireplace that warmed the place during our cool winter night.
What I liked about the Creekside suite was keeping the bedroom balcony door open a few inches to hear the soothing sounds of the river as I fell asleep.
Other accommodations include Cliffside units that are close to the springs and offer beautiful mountain views. The main lodge has nine unique rooms to choose from and is across the parking lot from the springs. For something rustic, try one of their 27 log cabins that are available in one or two bedrooms. They have a fireplace, stovetop, and spa bathrooms.
Larger groups can rent a three-bedroom house 1.5 miles away. For the budget conscience, there are lower-priced motel-type rooms in their Hillside building. It should be noted that various accommodations are distanced differently from the pools. Some are a short walk while others are a two-minute drive. A good tip when visiting is to bring a bathrobe to get to and from the hot springs when the weather is cool.
Overnight guests get 10% off on spa treatments and two days of access to all the hot springs and creek. There are complimentary fitness classes and free use of mountain bikes, cross-country skis, or snow shoes.
Mount Princeton’s website details its hot springs, mineral content, lodging, and activities at https://mtprinceton.com/
Mount Princeton has a full-service restaurant with a nice bar. They serve three meals a day. We had a good lunch on arrival. There is a market next to the lodge for basic needs.
Buena Vista is a pretty mountain town 9 miles north of the resort. You can find a dozen places to dine. We chose Simply Eatery for its simple style and well-priced good food.
We ordered at the counter their sliced steak stroganoff and grilled trout with a salad and a glass of wine for $70. While waiting for food to be brought to you, stroll the outdoor store it is attached if it is open. https://places.singleplatform.com/simple-eatery–spoon-it-up/menu?ref=google
The Springs Resort and Spa at Pagosa Springs
The Springs Resort and Spa is located in the town of Pagosa Springs. Getting there is a beautiful 3-hour drive south of Mount Princeton or a five-hour drive south of Denver. The road takes you through pretty valleys and over mountain passes two miles high. On the way, there will be a few old Colorado towns worth a stop for breakfast or a stroll.
The location of The Springs Resort and Spa is where “the Mother Spring” is located. The mother spring is the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring with water coming out of the ground at 140F. From this spring, water is piped to other pools and used to heat the lodge and area buildings. Pagosa Springs was used for centuries by the native tribes of the area. The first bathhouse was built in 1881.
White settlers took to the springs quickly. As reported on November 19th, 1890, “The cures reported by those who have been afflicted are wonderful. Rheumatism, stomach trouble, kidney disease permanently relieved by the use of the water without the aid of a doctor”.
Today, the hotel states that “the springs and its 13 minerals promote healthy skin, lower blood pressure, strengthen bones and muscles and increase energy and more”. I can attest that after two nights here I was feeling pretty good with the most relaxed muscles I have had in months.
The Pools at the Springs Resort
Adjacent to the mountain lodge and the San Juan River are 25 individual small pools. Each has a name with its water temperature recorded on it. Some pools sit up higher, while others are closer to the river.
There is a heated swimming pool called the Blue Lagoon to float around in or do laps. One small pool is set aside as a cold plunge. Overnight guests have access to all the pools 24 hours. There is an area with several pools set aside for resort guests only.
During our time there we followed the resort’s soaking guide by starting at the 99F pool. I was able to work my way to 105F while other guests seemed to be able to stand the heat in the “lobster pond” at 110F. Each day a staff member would lead people into the cold plunge of the river and ask them to endure a few minutes. This really invigorates your body.
For long-term soaks, we spent much time in the pools ranging from 99F to 101F. It kept us warm during our early winter visit but did not overheat us. The staff says there is a soak for everyone.
With a 24-hour soak policy, it was fun scampering out quickly in the cold night air in our bathrobes and easing into a 104F pool. We had the night sky and the place almost to ourselves. Overnight guests can start soaking when they arrive and enjoy the place after check-out time. No one rushes you here.
Wellness Activities Included
Guests are entitled to take any of nine wellness activities. These can include yoga, stretching, and aqua sound bathing to name a few.
We chose to stay dry with the morning Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”. This is actually an 80-minute hike in the forest to the top of Reservoir Hill Park next to the resort.
During our walk, our guide taught us how to be in tune with the sounds and smells of the forest. At the top of the hill, we took in the view of the town and the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. We ended the morning with a warm soak to warm up.
At the end of each day, the resort hosts a 15-minute “Gratitude Ceremony” at the Mother Spring.
This is a quiet event where guests learn about the Mother Spring’s history and are asked to reflect upon what we are grateful for. Participants are given a freshly filled glass jar of Mother Spring’s water.
Rooms are available for different budgets and needs. The Spring Hill Inn Motel is easiest on the cost having classic motel rooms. These are closest to the hot springs.
The deluxe rooms are located near the Mother Spring and feature a kitchenette with microwave, mini-fridge, coffee maker, toaster, and dishes. We splurged and stayed in the Mountain Lodge. This has 29 spacious suites having views of the pools, river, or mountains. They have a kitchen adjacent to the bedroom.
Guest rooms come with a Sleep Ritual Tray featuring all of the essentials for a restorative deep sleep experience like eye shades, scents, ear plugs, and a Deep Sleep Guide. Guests at Springs Resort are treated well. Their front desk staff always greet you with a smile and will exchange wet towels and robes anytime.
Resort Food and Drink
There is a café and grill that serves the pools where you can get breakfast, lunch, or snacks up to 8 PM. Servers come around to take orders for food, cocktails, mocktails, and energy tonics delivered poolside. In the Mountain Lodge is an atrium with a cozy bar. Music is played on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. We loved the country–rock band.
For complete information on the hot springs’ mineral content, activities, and lodging go to www.pagosahotsprings.com
Pagosa Springs Dining
Chavolos, just five miles west of Springs Resort, was recommended by staff and local soakers. This is good Mexican food. We shared freshly made guacamole with house-made chips, a single order of parrillada,(think prepared fajita) a 16-ounce margarita with fresh squeezed lime juice, and a Mexican Coke for $55. https://chavolospagosasprings.com/
Meander River Side is a mile away. It has a seasonal menu. Our order of braised rabbit haunch with market vegetables, bacon vin, and sherried onions along with a cast iron chicken scarpariello, rigatoni, and sausage was excellent. Try the crisply fingerling potatoes as a starter or one of the creative salads. Dinner with craft cocktails for two was $150 https://www.meandereatery.com/
The Pagosa Baking Company is a 10-minute walk across the bridge. Their fresh breads change daily. They have quiches, pastries, breakfast burritos, sandwiches and wraps. https://www.pagosabakingcompany.com
Almost Flowers and More in Del Norte on the way to the springs is a must-stop for their Amish-made fried fruit pies