Travel Log: Cottonwood + Mt Princeton Hot Springs

I was fortunate to spend the last few days of October with a group of friends on a weekend getaway.

We charted a course to beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado, where hot spring water is always beckoning.

Before hitting any springs, we knew we’d need a hike on the way and a craft beer in town. So, a quick lap around Bartlett Gulch Loop Trail and a glass of beer at Eddyline Restaurant were in order. The chicken wings were optional, and I opted in.

As we arrived at Cottonwood Hot Springs, the friendly and funny manager checked us in at the front desk adjacent to a cute gift shop full of locally produced self-care items and other handmade pieces (jewelry, magnets, cards, etc) for purchase, and a large community space (which I understand is most used by those staying in the hostel-style spaces available onsite).

By midday that autumn Saturday, they had seen about 60 customers – a far cry from the peak season’s usual 300. It was nice to know we’d have a little extra space.

Our cabin was down the path past the solar panels and the wind turbine (gotta celebrate sustainable energy). The space was clean and pretty perfect space-wise for our group (3 couples); three bedrooms and one bathroom complemented a large living room and a window covered, picnic-style dining area.

Outside, on the spacious deck, a large soaking tub offered the chance for a private dip while overlooking the creek, but I had my eye on the large natural stone soaking pools back at the main site.

It was near freezing as we set out to soak, walking our suited selves back to the main area where the tubs are located. I’ll admit that the facility layout had me a little lost, and I ended up having to double back to locate the women’s room. The showers were small, and there’s no soap provided, so I rinsed quickly and, sopping wet, stepped into the frigid air and found  a tub.

Now, this was the ticket. The stone laid tubs were amazing!

There are quite a few beautiful options of varying size and temperature—including a cold plunge that doubles as a therapy pool for Watsu® (an aquatic treatment developed at Harbon Hot Springs in CA).

For the most part, everywhere was spacious and quiet. I appreciated the different options, varying my time between the ample, deeper seating areas, the shallower areas for laying, and a few spots where I could be in up to my shoulders.

The next day, luxuriating in the well-restedness that follows a day of mineral springs soaking, we opted for a hike about 15 minutes drive from Cottonwood—a gorgeous trail to Lost Lake (delightful once we found it….#lostonthewaytolostlake)!

Before departing Cottonwood, one more round of soaking was in order, so it was back to the tubs and cozy sauna for some afternoon bliss. Sadly, only then did I notice the hand-painted sign advertising therapeutic bodywork services. Next time I visit, I’ll be checking those services out!

While the accommodations and atmosphere aren’t what you might find at a fancy resort, I loved my Cottonwood Hot Springs Experience. If you’re looking for quaint, cozy, and down to earth, this is the spot for you.

Since we were already in town and it was only 20 minutes away, my partner and I decided to split off the next morning and visit Mt Princeton Hot Springs as well.

In contrast to Cottonwood, Mt Princeton had much more of an upscale feel, which makes sense because they market themselves as a hot springs resort. They offered hotel accommodations, a nice restaurant and bar, and multiple options for soaking. With limited time, we opted for the basic package, which included access to 2 large pools and the riverside.

We loved the large pool for full submergence, but found that the only place to sit and relax was on the steps, which were consistently crowded with happy but boisterous folks.

We decided to seek a more serene and natural spot, and took a walk along Chalk Creek in our wet bathing suits, on the snowy rocks, and found a promising pool.

If you’ve never experienced a river-bound natural spring, it’s good to know you can adjust the temperature by moving rocks to direct the flow of water. We started fine-tuning our natural tub, but with only half my body in the water the other half was exposed to the freezing air.

Meanwhile, the submerged half was being subjected to different temperature extremes on each side. The wide spectrum of sensation and temperature was, unfortunately, anything but relaxing! I definitely needed a few hints and tips here. 

I imagine the experience in summer would be magical: sitting in the shallow river bed, the water from the spring coming out from one side at a whopping 120 degrees, and the river water coming in on the other side (mountain run-off cold).

That day, however, we hopped up and scurried our freezing butts back to the pool to regulate! Next time, I’ll check out some more of their soaking options as well as the sauna, and maybe even stay at Mt Princeton and day-trip to Cottonwood to mix it up.



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