The Hot Springs Trail provides a not-so-difficult way to access the the popular Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the mountains above Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

The Hot Springs Trail provides a not-so-difficult way to access the the popular Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the mountains above Steamboat Springs.

Pools make for a perfect reward after ride on Hot Springs Trail

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If you go

What: Hot Springs Trail

Where: The trail is accessed from the Mad Creek trailhead parking lot on Routt County Road 129, Elk River Road. A small trail departs from near the entrance of that parking lot, heading south, and leads to the start of the Hot Springs Trail.

Length: The trail is about three miles each way. It takes about an hour and a half to hike it and less to bike, depending on ability.

Difficulty: The trail isn’t challenging by Routt County standards. It’s no Yampa River Core Trail and the track is often tight, bordered by trees and bushes. But although it’s an uphill climb to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, the gain in elevation is gradual, and there are plenty of flat or even downhill sections that keep the trip rated between easy and moderate.

What to bring: Using the facilities at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs costs $10 for adults, $5 for teens ages 13 through 17 and $3 for children. Other than some cash, bring bug spray and sunscreen. Large sections of the trail, especially early on, are exposed to the sun.

— I’ve never understood the appeal of the “cold” pool at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

My friends love it — or at least seem intent on tolerating it at least once on every trip we take to the popular hot springs in the mountains above Steamboat Springs.

It’s always seemed like self-torture to me.

Friday, for the first time, I salivated for that cold pool.

Many of the best mountain bike rides in and around Steamboat Springs have an element of reward tied in with them. Ride up Zig Zag to the top of the gondola during business hours, and a cold beer and a hot hamburger are waiting at the Oasis Sundeck.

Fight to the top of Emerald Mountain, and a wonderful view of downtown awaits.

Those have nothing on a trip up the Hot Springs Trail, however, where that deliciously cool pool at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs suddenly seems perfect. Those springs make a perfect reward for battling up the fun trail that serves as their back door. 

Early obstacles

There’s nothing quite like a jog down a highway, two closed gates and about a dozen giant “No Trespassing” signs to make a hiker or biker feel welcome. That’s the greeting those hoping to traverse the Hot Springs Trail will get, however.

Carrying on takes people through a fun and beautiful stretch of singletrack, however, and proves well worth it.

The Hot Springs Trail is accessed by driving north of Steamboat Springs on Routt County Road 129 to the Mad Creek trailhead parking lot, about 5 1/2 miles from the turn off U.S. Highway 40 in western Steamboat.

Park in the lot, but head back toward the entrance. A small trail leads away from the driveway, south down the ditch. It leads to a pedestrian-accessible bridge over Mad Creek and, 400 yards from the parking lot, a driveway with no gate. Despite private property signs marking off the fields on either side of the driveway, it’s the correct route. Follow the road up and to the left where Hot Springs Trail signs finally appear, pointing the way.

The route goes through two gates. One large gate crosses the road and is locked, but there’s a smaller unlocked entrance next to it. A few hundred more yards down the road there’s another larger gate with a chain that must be unlatched.

Be sure to close anything you open and, of course, don’t go through anything marked private property.

Another 400 yards beyond the second gate, the trail begins in earnest, a tight singletrack route marked by an easy-to-miss sign in the brush winding away on the right side of the road.

Riding on up

Once riders start down the trail and pass the fear of inadvertently trespassing, the real fun begins.

The first third of the 3-mile Hot Springs Trail leads into the canyon that shelters the Strawberry Park attraction. The trail is tight, large bushes on either side serving as walls, but the path itself is clear and makes for an easy and swooping ride.

The final two miles are much the same. The trail isn’t hard to hike or ride, but inexperienced cyclists might have to dismount a half-dozen times to get through sections where the rocks are particularly thick.

The views turn awesome as Hot Springs Creek rips along one side of the trail, several times through exciting rapids.

Finally the trail begins to widen, and a large sign informs hikers and bikers that they’re on Strawberry Park Hot Springs’ private property.

The payoff

Accessing the springs via the trail may be more work than driving up Routt County Road 36, but it’s no free ticket. Anyone figuring on using the facilities must head up to the front gate and pay the $10 entry fee for adults, cash or check only. Teens from 13 to 17 years old cost $5, and children are $3.

Cash might not be a regular part of the hiking or biking outfit, but it should be for a trip up the Hot Springs Trail.

The ride back down is more fun than the trip up, the rocky sections much easier to navigate on the downhill slope. But the only thing waiting on the ride back is a dusty SUV. There’s a dip in a refreshingly cold pool to keep the pedals pumping on the way up, and that thought alone is worth packing $10.

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