Cold Days, Hot Springs: A Guide to San Juans Thermal Pools

The Ouray Hot Springs on a winter morning.
The Ouray Hot Springs on a winter morning. Ouray Hot Springs
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Winter has pulled its blanket snugly over the San Juan region, bringing beautiful flurries of snow, days that crackle with cold, and a cover of white over the land. The temperatures are frigid, the days are short, and outdoor excursions require layers upon layers of warm clothes. Fortunately, there's a perfect and easily accessible antidote to all this chilliness (and any sore muscles from your outdoor pursuits): hot springs.

The San Juans are sprinkled with pockets of thermal power and their accompanying pools. Bubbling pots, serene pools, tubs with waterfalls, and even vapor caves can be found throughout the region, and most come with the added appeal of being sulphur-free, so you can soak without that rotten-egg smell. Instead, a visit to the hot springs in the winter entails muscle-soothing water imbued with minerals and elements like lithium, silica, potassium, and magnesium, along with views of box canyons, serene river valleys, and, if you go at night, twinkling stars.

No matter what style of soaker you are, there's a (hot)spot just for you. Here's all you need to know about how to enjoy the San Juans thermal pools.

For the Free Spirits: Orvis

The Island Pond at Orvis features a relaxing waterfalls to sit under.
The Island Pond at Orvis features a relaxing waterfalls to sit under. Orvis Hot Springs

With seven pools, natural landscaping, on-site camping, amenities like massages, and a clothing-free policy, Orvis is the best destination for free spirits or those looking for some nature with their soak. In the winter, steam rolls off the pools at night, creating a dreamy effect, and the only thing better than watching the stars come out is feeling snowflakes land on your face. The pools at Orvis range from tiny private tubs to a 40-foot pool, and many feature cascades of babbling water to sit under. Foot-pleasing gravel lines the large pool, a cold waterfall offers respite from the heat and the pools are lined with rock benches. There’s a sauna, free hot tea, indoor pools, and for those who like it really hot, the Lobster Pot, which reaches 114 degrees. Orvis offers both hotel rooms and camping areas, along with a kitchen that guests can use.

For the Romantics: Wiesbaden Hot Springs

A guest relaxes in the vapor cave at Wiesbaden.
A guest relaxes in the vapor cave at Wiesbaden. Rich Durnan/ Wiesbaden Hot Springs.

If you are looking for a romantic date-night destination, a more private setting or a little peace with your soak, the historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs in Ouray is just the spot. The European-influenced facility features an outdoor pool and outdoor spa with soaking pool, but its coolest feature is the vapor cave—a stone room home to a flowing pool of 108 degrees, and a unique offering among the hot springs throughout the San Juans.

Wiesbaden also is a destination for those looking for some pampering: The facility offers massage, facials, body wraps, and other bodywork, along with cozy rooms to rent.

For Family-Friendly Soaking

Ouray Hot Springs on a December morning.
Ouray Hot Springs on a December morning. Ouray Hot Springs

Hot springs don’t have to be all about quiet and contemplation; they can also be about play. Proof: Ouray Hot Springs , a large facility fed by thermal springs that is perfect for family outings. The historic complex, which has been in operation since 1927, features a one-million-gallon mineral pool that's great for splashing around, swimming laps, or relaxing beneath the towering mountains of Ouray’s box canyon. It also offers slides for kiddos, a fitness center, swim lessons, a snack shop, and on-site massages. With affordable rates and lovely views, it’s an ideal choice for a family winter getaway.

For Those Craving a Spa Experience

The bathhouse at Dunton.
The bathhouse at Dunton. Dunton Hot Springs

For those with a bigger budget and taste for exclusive experiences, Dunton Hot Springs , located south of Telluride, offers private getaways in an incredible spot.What was established in 1885 as a mining camp is today an all-inclusive resort where cell phones don’t work and luxury abounds. This exquisitely restored ghost town is complete with salon, bathhouse, dancehall, stables, guest houses, and trails, along with hand-hewn log cabins furnished with high-end finishes, private hot springs soaks, and luxe extras like massages, heli-skiing trips, hikes high in the San Juans, and fine dining.

Along with a bathhouse, the town site features natural outdoor pools for soaking under the stars. Guests can check into individual cabins, or the entire town can be reserved for up to 44 people.


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