A winter oasis

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Only the Steamboat Ski Area attracts more visitors in the winter than the Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

Manager Chuck Rosemond said it's the remoteness, natural beauty and uniqueness of the hot springs that attract visitors from around the world.

"It is a very unique experience. You won't find anything else like it anywhere in the state," Rosemond said.

The hot springs were first visited by Ute Indians and have been a popular attraction for centuries.

Today, many visitors from around the world travel to the hot springs to recuperate after a hard day of skiing or just to relax in its peaceful and scenic atmosphere.

The Strawberry Park Hot Springs is seven miles from downtown Steamboat. It features a mixture of mineral springs and gardens.

The main attraction is the hot springs. Three pools are divided by stone walls with five waterfalls flowing from one pool to the next. The temperature is controlled through rustic gates that regulate how much cool creek water comes into the hot springs.

The largest hot pool is kept at around 104 degrees. The next pool is slightly smaller and cooler. The creek cell is larger than both of the other cells and is a comfortable contrast to the hot pools and visitors can find coveted warm spots.

The hot springs also houses a stone steam house, warm changing area and picnic areas.

Another private pool is used for watsu -- warm water massages. The facility also offers Swedish massages and side-by-side massages for two.

For $20 an hour plus the price of admission, the private pool can be rented out after 8 p.m. The pool can hold up to 12 people.

In the winter, the hot springs offers overnight cabin rentals. The most popular accommodation is the train caboose, which can sleep four.

The steep dirt road makes getting to the hot springs tricky in the winter, and from Nov. 1 to May 1 it is illegal to drive the last two miles without four-wheel drive with winter snow tires or chains. A lower parking lot, at the two-mile marker from the hot springs, is rarely closed to traffic.

Rosemond does not recommend trying to make the trip in two-wheel drive vehicles. The Routt County Sheriff's Office fines and tickets anyone who gets stuck on the road and blocks traffic.

Rosemond said the roads are especially slippery in the spring months when it melts and refreezes in the evenings.

Shuttle services, Windwalker Tours and Sweet Pea Tours, are available to take visitors to the hot springs.

It is recommended that visitors bring water to prevent dehydration. Also, night visitors should bring flashlights for the walk down to the hot springs.

Admission into the hot springs is from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for teenagers and $3 for children. No one under 18 is allowed in the hot springs after dark when clothing is optional. n

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