Hot springs offer slice of heaven

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Nothing beats a dip in the Strawberry Park Hot Springs after a hard day of skiing, but visitors will find plenty of reasons to come back in the summer, too.

With hiking and biking trails and picnic areas, the Strawberry Park Hot Springs is one of the Yampa Valley's top year-round attractions.

"It is just as busy if not more during the daytime in the summer," manager Jason Craig said.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

From Sunday through Thursday admittance to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs is from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with the pools closing at 10:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, admittance is from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., with the pools closing at midnight. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for teenagers and $3 for children. No one younger than 18 is allowed in the hot springs after dark when clothing is optional.

Of course the scenery always helps, too.

"It is absolutely gorgeous," Craig said. The hot springs are surrounded by scrub oak, aspen and pine trees. Various wildlife make frequent appearances.

"The alpenglow is spectacular," he said.

The Strawberry Park Hot Springs is seven miles from downtown Steamboat.

Visitors are greeted with a friendly introduction to the facility and amenities before being let loose to descend into the pools.

While the facility is composed 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 by 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 cool or 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.

Craig said people often call him and ask him what they do once in the pools and he always replies, relax.

"Everything is very natural and rustic. We've done what we can to preserve this natural environment," he said.

The hot springs also hosts a stone steam house, a 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 table massages for two. Massages usually go for $45 for 30 minutes, and $80 for an hour.

Lodging includes a train caboose, cabins, covered wagons and tent sites. Craig said those interested can rent the caboose or cabins on a nightly or weekly basis. The caboose costs $105 a night to rent and the smaller cabins cost $55.

The hot springs also has a gift shop with snacks, sunscreen and other items.

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Leslie and Gary Weeks relax in one of Strawberry Park Hot Springs' many pools.

Getting to the hot springs can be tricky in the winter and it is illegal to drive without four-wheel drive or chains. But from May 1 to Nov. 1, the road is accessible by most vehicles and can be reached by hiking trails.

Craig urges people to hike and bike when they can and if not, to car pool. Parking can be tight during the summer, he said.

An all-day adventure could include a two and a half mile hike with a gradual climb to the hot springs from the Mad Creek Trailhead, which is just six miles out of town on C.R. 129. Parking at the Mad Creek Trailhead parking lot, visitors can walk south on the highway, crossing the bridge and going about 400 yards before getting to Forest Road 128. Hikers can then walk up this dirt road for about half a mile until they reach the hot springs trail, which cuts off to the right. They can then follow the trail until it dead ends at the hot springs.

"A lot of people do that," he said. "They use the trail, get up here, take a soak in the pool and do the trail on the way back down."

If driving to the hot springs, visitors can take Routt County Road 36. The last three miles of road are steep and winding gravel, but they are maintained on a regular basis.

In the summer, visitors can park at a pull off about two-miles from the hot springs and walk the rest of the way to the site.

Visitors can bring picnic lunches to enjoy at the hot springs, but Craig asks that the dogs stay at home.

It is recommended that visitors bring water to prevent dehydration and for those who come at night, flashlights for the walk down to the hot springs as well as shoes with traction.

Craig warns that algae and other natural plant growth can make the pools' steps and surrounding areas slippery.

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