I don’t remember exactly when my affection for hot springs began. It’s an unlikely attraction, considering I have always been a “shower person” rather than a “bath person.” Sitting in a bathtub with nothing to do bores me to tears. But put me in an outdoor setting in nature, and I can slip into a state of nirvana for hours. Something about stepping into a pool surrounded by flora and fauna, submerging my body up to my ear lobes in water warmed from the womb of Mother Earth is quite pleasing to me. That’s why I have joked before that I need a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Hot Springs.”
In searching back for my earliest memory of falling in love with the whole hot springs experience, it was not all that long ago. In 2007, my brother Don invited me to join him in San Miguel de Allende, a place which we both quickly became enchanted. One of the local attractions there, La Gruta Hot Springs gets its name from a long tunnel leading to the hidden “grotto” ergo the Spanish name for grotto, “La Gruta.” There, one can stand beneath a plume of hot water gushing from a pipe in the dome ceiling at a pressure of a dozen massaging hands on the neck and shoulders. It has become a longstanding tradition over the past decade of visits to San Miguel. If you can catch it on a rare slow day these days, it’s just magical.
One year later during my two week vacation, I joined Don for a portion of his driving trip through Guatemala. One of the highlights of the trip was a day trip to Fuentes Georginas, (pronounced “Hero-HE-nas”) a natural hot spring left over from the Zunil volcano. Up into the hills so steep that clouds roll through the valleys below, we found an unlikely tropical paradise with hot pools of steaming water at over 8,000 ft elevation. Back in 2008, Fuentes Georginas was a little known destination, so we practically had the place to ourselves.
In 2011, again at the recommendation of Don, I visited the remote, magical island of Dominica (Dom-e-KNEE-ca, not to be confused with Dominican Republic) where there are a reported 365 waterfalls, one for each day of the year. There, hot waterfalls blend with cool waterfalls to make the perfect temperature soaking pools along the river. I spent an unforgettable day there soaking in the warm pools beneath a soft, steady rain shower.
In the past decade, I have longed to repeat those experiences, or at least a close representation. Colorado offers a variety of hot springs opportunities, so I set my sights to visit as many as possible this summer. But in addition to pools natural and man made, big and small, the state also holds claim to “The World’s Largest Hot Springs Pool” in Glenwood Springs. But it was a bit too far west from my planned route. So do you think I would drive 140 miles out of my way, 5,000 ft down the mountain into 90 degree weather just to visit a hot springs? Of course I would.
Although the large, square pools of Glenwood Hot Springs are not typically “my kind of hot springs,” I still want to visit. I much prefer smaller, less crowded, less structured, more natural rustic setting. But when it’s “World’s Largest,” I need to at least have a dip.
It’s not as bad as it looks in photos, though. Being so large, over 400’ x 100‘, the giant million plus gallon pool is sectioned off according to interest. At the far end is the smaller, hottest “therapy” pool at around 104° for soaking. Next comes the largest middle section, which has the most moderate of temps at around 90°. This is where you find most families, but the pool is so huge that it’s easy to keep one’s distance. Then comes the lap pool, followed by the deep end for diving. By the time you spread the crowds over the 400 ft length of this pool, it doesn’t seem so bad.
But once I arrive in Glenwood Springs, I discover my hot springs reference book is outdated. Just two miles away from the “worlds largest” is the new kid in town, Iron Mountain Hot Springs, only open since 2015. This is one nice set of soaking pools. Clean and new, though made to look natural, with views overlooking the Colorado River. And beautiful locker rooms with rain shower heads that hang down overhead from the ceiling. Unlike most hot springs who “nickel and dime” you for the 50 cents for their irritating coin-operated lockers, at Iron Mountain, there is no additional charge for their combination lockers. (It’s the little things!)
They have a separate large chlorinated fresh water pool for the families, which leaves the other 16 mineral pools of varying temps blissfully designated as “The Quiet Zone” with zen-like music playing. And the best part, children under 5 are not allowed in the Quiet Zone! And children over 5 must be accompanied at all times by an adult. Any wonder why I loved this place?
Although both of the springs complexes have that subtle sulfur smell due to the sulfate, one of the 14 minerals found in the source springs, I have grown not to mind. I would rather smell sulfur than chlorine. If I am advised to “Remove all jewelry before entering pools, as minerals will tarnish,” I feel more like I’m in a true mineral hot springs.
I didn’t know much about the town of Glenwood Springs before I came here for a soak. The town was packed, even though the temperatures were over 90, and a smoky haze hung over the valley like a shroud. I asked the woman at the Visitor Center if crowds and the high temps were typically at this time of year. Why are there so many people here, when it’s a cool 70 degrees just up the mountain? She told me it’s the start of high desert where Colorado is concerned where lower elevation means higher temps, and even though it’s hot, it’s also “Vacation Central.” There are certainly lots of outdoor activities in the area, from the hike to Hanging Lake to the beautiful Glenwood Canyon Bike Trail. There’s also the Rio Grande Trail which follows the Roaring Fork River all the way from Aspen.
But in August? I think I’ll wait until the weather cools and the smoke clears, thank you. As for August, I got my late evening and early morning dips in, and got out…