One of the highest hot springs in North America is near Aspen, Colorado. It flows from over 11,000 feet above sea level and maintains an average temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is picturesquely nestled between Castle Peak and Hilliard Peak of the White River National Forest. Taylor and I spent a snowy weekend in October hiking up to and enjoying the hot, crystal clear pool.
You can watch our YouTube video to see exactly how beautiful this weekend was! www.youtube.com/watch?v=02itHxSIWjQ&t=2s
Months before our visit to the high hot tub, Taylor secured a group camping permit through the recreation.gov website. Permits become available in waves, and she booked our October 18th date on June 15th. Later on in August, I supplemented our reservation with a two-person permit for that Saturday the 19th. From here, we began to prepare for our weekend in the Maroon Bells and Snowmass Wilderness.
When booking, we didn’t realize that winter would come so early in the year, but we learned in the weeks leading up to our trip that we would be trekking through inches of fresh powder. With seventeen total miles to hike and two nights of camping to survive, keeping warm and dry became our utmost concern.
Base layer thermal wears, multiple warm shirts, waterproof hiking boots, gloves, and ski gear were all essential along with the dehydrated food, cooking gear, tent, and sleeping bags in our packs. Once we were packed and ready, we left Denver to start our journey into the woods.
After a slow, icy drive into Aspen, Taylor and I grabbed lunch downtown and waited for the snow to let up. Eventually, we drove Castle Creek Road to Conundrum Creek Road and set out on the Conundrum Creek Trail around 4:00 PM. We had no idea how long it would take us to tackle the eight and a half mile trail, but we would soon be well aware.
The trail started much like our multi-day hike on the Thorofare Trail in Yellowstone National Park a timber debris littered valley. Many of the large trunks had been cut to unblock the trail, but broken branches and limbs were ever-present and had been covered with several inches of snow.
We watched our steps and continued down the trail. After topping several small hills, crossing open plains, and making our way through glistening pine and aspen groves, we noticed that the precious sunlight was becoming more and more faint.
Four hours into our hike and after a few, “Good luck,” wishes from those returning to their cars, the valley was engulfed in darkness. During an impromptu star-gazing session, we realized that we were only halfway to our site and had a long night ahead of us.
I followed Taylor’s red headlight as we both did our best to maintain our footing on the trail. Icy rocks hidden under snow, large fields of avalanche debris, and narrow footbridges over flowing water were all part of our risky nighttime march up the valley.
Just after midnight, we spotted a sign for campsites 17 - 20 and used nearly all of our remaining energy in celebration. Everything we had left was used when we set up our tent at the snowy campsite and bundled up for some shut eye.
Taylor and I knew that keeping warm while sleeping would be most difficult, but we managed to improvise and get by without losing too much sleep in temperatures that dropped as low as ten degrees.
Most of Saturday morning was spent snoozing, but once we’d crawled out of our sleeping bags, we didn’t waste any more time. After organizing our gear, we boiled water to rehydrate oatmeal and made two cups of hot chocolate. Our insides were warmer than our outsides, but the hot spring would change that before too long.
The hot spring is a short, uphill walk from the group campsites. Taylor and I were sore from the day before, but it felt great to be moving without 30 pounds of gear on our backs.
As we climbed, we stopped to peer into the small canyon carved by the rushing creek. An old cabin with a collapsed roof stood along the trail and before we could float too many ideas about who built it, I spotted a tiny bit of steam rising from a stream.
Taylor felt the water, excitedly confirmed that it was warm, and wasted no time continuing up the trail. The steep landscape made it difficult to see what was up ahead, but rolling steam clouds soon exposed the hot spring’s location.
Before we could say anything, Taylor and I were stripping off layers of warm clothing to hop into the hot water. The water is, on average, 100 degrees Fahrenheit and could not have been more relaxing. After gaining nearly 2,800 feet of elevation over eight and a half miles, our joints and muscles relished in the hot bath.
The large infinity-style pool has a hot spot in the middle that produces a constant stream of bubbles. Taylor and I had the pool to ourselves for several hours, and we relaxed in this hottest part for most of that time. We hesitated when we decided to exit the fountain of heat, because we knew it would be the last time of the day that we’d be perfectly warm.
Leaving the hot spring wasn’t as bad as we’d expected so long as the wind didn’t pick up. We ended up leaving at the perfect time, because another couple was on their way up while we were toweling off. Once fully dressed and dry, Taylor and I made our way back to the tent before the sun set behind the mountains.
While Taylor began to prepare our dehydrated dinners, I walked through soft, crunchy snow to fill our LifeStraw water bladder with fresh creek water. While we scarfed down our Good To Go Chicken Gumbo and Mary Jane's Farm Bavarian Chocolate Mousse, the dark night and a hard freeze set in. Bundled up in our warm clothes and sleeping bags, Taylor and I went to bed early to prepare for the task that lay ahead of us.
Sunday morning, we woke to four inches of fresh snow with more coming down. A quick oatmeal breakfast helped us warm up while we gradually packed our gear.
Soon, we were pulling stakes, folding the tent, and complaining about the retreating feeling in our fingers and toes. When 9:30 rolled around, we shouldered our packs and began the journey back to civilization and centralized heating.
A couple of hunters and hikers had made the trek before us that morning, and we were thankful for their presence. The once-beaten trail had been covered by the continual snowfall, and their footprints were easy to follow most of the way.
Hiking down from Conundrum Hot Springs was easier than the climb up, but it took Taylor and me nearly the same eight hours to complete.
Long, cold, and treacherous, the Conundrum Creek Trail was a task fitting for its reward. The few hours spent in the 100 degree spring was worth every step, slip, and flake of snow. Once in the car, with the seat warmers and heat all pumping, Taylor and I agree that a summer return is absolutely necessary.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!