Strawberry Hot Springs, Colorado
A storm looms over the westward sky and a new sense of urgency is palpable in the car as we
fly along the mountain passes north from Vail to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The night sky
is darkening and a fear of snow-covered roads hastens our pace as we steal away to sooth our
aching bones in the thermal springs at Strawberry Park. Nine days in Colorado spent chasing
down every adventure we could manage to think up during our winter visit to the Rockies had
led to this moment. A few days on the slopes, a few mornings of paragliding, a day at the Winter
X Games in Aspen and even a successful summit of a 14,000-foot mountain had preceded our
final outing of the trip to the springs. (Quandary Peak) Our spirits were high, but our bodies not
so much. A relaxing night soaking in the natural hot springs sounded like the perfect cure and an
excellent end to an amazing trip.
Only two miles away and the pavement ends. From here on its a bit of a climb and the right gear is needed to make the accent. It’s mid winter and the roads, even though well maintained are covered in snow and patchy ice. We made our way steadily, slowly climbing the winding road as it carved its way deeper into the woods. Out of nowhere we crested a knoll in the road and at the bottom of a small hill we could see lights penetrating through the trees and breathed a sigh of relief for we had arrived.
Arriving at Strawberry Park Hot springs
We gathered up our things and made our way across the icy parking lot to a small shed,
comprised of just the essentials – a small door and a little sliding glass window next to a cash
register and a lap top to entertain the attendant. A young to middle-aged man with a beard, one
of those beards that makes a young man look old, casually greeted us and was unamused when
we tried to pay with plastic. “Cash Only” read the sign over the window. My heart sank. In our
rush I had not even considered bringing cash as I usually only carry plastic. I had that deer in
headlights look frozen on my face as I looked over my shoulder at my group. Thankfully my
friend had enough cash on him and was willing to spot us.
The Hot Springs
With the two-hour car ride over and our entrance fee, $10/person, paid for, there was nothing left
to keep us from dipping into the hot pools as we quickly completed the short walk to them. We
carefully meandered down the slick path in the dark making sure to honor the park’s rules of no
wandering flashlights and no flash photography. After dark clothing is optional.
The temperature steady declined with the setting sun so there was no dilly-dallying as we
stripped down into our swimsuits. When I was packing for a winter trip to Colorado it had not
crossed my mind to bring a swimsuit so I had two options, boxers or birthday, but I’ll leave that
part off the record.
Strawberry Park did an excellent job keeping a natural feel to the springs. Nice stone walkways
and patios surround the pools. There is no artificial lighting to distract from the night sky or
illuminate any unwanted scenery. There were 4-5 different walled in pools, all with varying
temperatures (colder as you got further down stream away form the spring). The pool bottom
was covered in granulated sand that felt comfortable on the toes, especially after a week of
wearing ski boots, hiking boots and wool socks. Even in the moonlight you could see that the
water was clean and clear, allowing you to see right to the bottom. There was a slight sulfur
smell but that was to be expected in any natural hot spring. Along the stone walls that separate
the pools you could find little rock ledges that made for comfortable seats and there were several
semi-secluded hideaways for canoodlers.
Shortly after slipping into the 112-degree spring water we were greeted with a bright and full
moon rising over the tree tops, not to be confused with a few other full moons floating among
the springs. The snow covering the ground and tree limbs surrounding the pools seemed to glow
in the dark. Great plumes of steam rose up off the water and the shadows cast by the moonlight
seemed to dance above us. Even the stars came out to watch us blissfully soak until our skin had
adequately pruned. A few hours cooking on low heat in the natural hot spring crock-pot and we
were ready to make our way home.
What to Bring
– Dry towel
– Swimsuit (optional)
– WATER BOTTLE! – It’s a must. You get very thirsty when your slow cooking.
– Small flashlight for the walk down the trail
– A loose fitting change of clothes that is extra warm for when you get out (some people had fuzzy bath robes, looked like a good idea)
The drive up to Strawberry Park hot springs was well worth the trip. I really appreciated the natural feel to the park, little development and no artificial lighting. Some of the other hot springs that we researched had turned the natural hot springs into a swimming pool or into a spa resort, this was much better. The hours that they have posted on their website were perfect for the type of outing we desired, late night under the stars and moon. I was very happy with everything we experience and highly recommend you experience it for yourself! Bring CASH!
Capturing the Moment
I, of course, had to capture the hot spring experience on camera! This required the painful
sacrifice of taking my soaking wet and half naked body and exposing it to the crisp 15-degree
mountain air. All in the name of photography, right? To prepare I overcooked myself in the
hottest pool before making a dash for my camera. I had no tripod because I didn’t want anyone
questioning my motives for bringing a camera and tripod to a clothing optional hot spring. I
made due with a low rock wall above the springs. I used my Canon 30D with an 5 second
exposure, ISO 1000, f2.8, 17mm to capture these images.
I highly recommend checking out Strawberry Park Hot Springs if your ever in Colorado. Be sure to go at night and in the middle of the winter! What an amazing contrast between hot and cold! I did my best to describe what I experienced but the truth is words fall short!
EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF!