Colorado is home to an abundance of thermal hot springs.

Experiencing the pleasures of one of Central Colorado’s natural wonders can create unforgettable memories. Soaking in natural mineral water after a summer hike, a winter ski day, or a successful day of hunting makes it a year-round treat.

Among the area’s premier hot springs are Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, Cottonwood Hot Springs and Spa and Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center.

Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, located off CR 162 in Chalk Creek Canyon, features two man-made pools heated by hot springs and a historic 101-year-old bath house nestled along Chalk Creek. Its upper pool area includes two additional pools and a 400-foot-long water slide. The resort offers both kids’ swimming lessons and scuba lessons.

In addition to general access pools, Mount Princeton has opened a premier spa center featuring a large pool that is covered in winter, a series of cascading hot springs pools and a full range of spa services. The $35 spa day pass includes access to all pool areas.

The series of cascading pools allows guests to select their temperature, as the cascade flows from the hottest pool downward, each successive pool a bit cooler than the last.

One of the more famous features of Mount Princeton are the dozen or so hot springs flowing below the main pool areas directly into the creek. These “hot pots” allow guests the unique experience of sitting in a hot pool while dipping hands into the chilly waters of Chalk Creek.

“Our hot springs are odorless; it’s one of the major differences from other hot springs in the state,” said Mount Princeton Marketing Director Scott Peterson. “People really love staking out a hot pot among the rocks to soak in thermal water, while the cool creek flows next to them.”

The historic Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn and Spa is just off CR 306 west of Buena Vista. Located on the banks of Cottonwood Creek, these historic hot springs first opened in 1878. The resort just completed remodeling its main lodge. The comfortable surroundings are considered among Colorado’s most welcoming relaxed settings.

Salida’s Hot Springs Aquatic Center is one of the largest indoor hot springs pools in the country. The location includes two large pools at two different temperatures. In addition to soaking and open swimming (there are lap lanes available at all times), recreational options include swimming, yoga and water fitness classes.

The Aquatic Center features private soaking hot mineral spring water pools where guests set water temperatures.

Each pool can accommodate 2-3 people at a time. There is also space for changing and showering, with bathrooms nearby.

This sparkling clear and odorless water was enjoyed by Ute Indians, who believed it healed mind, body and spirit.

After every use, each private soaking pool is drained and sanitized. Guests then fill “their pool” with fresh, chemical-free water.

Reservations are not required, but recommended, and can be made at the pool or by calling 719-539-6738. All reservations must be paid in advance.

On the southern end of this high country vacation mecca is Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, located in Moffat, at the gateway to the San Luis Valley. The rejuvenating hot springs pool is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and comes with a view of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The hot springs resort includes a variety of stay alternatives, from traditional hotel rooms to RV and campsites to tipis and yurts.

While the major hot springs resorts tend to get the most attention, Chaffee County is home to several smaller hot springs where visitors can enjoy soaking in private hot springs. Alpine Hot Springs Hideaway, Antero Hot Springs Cabin and Creekside Hot Springs Cabin are all located in Chalk Creek Canyon below the Colorado Trail that winds along the Continental Divide.

The off-season can be a good time to visit the hot springs along Chalk Creek, when the creek is running lower so it’s not engulfing the hot springs pools along its banks.

“The No. 1 search terms for Colorado are ‘hot springs,’ ‘ghost towns,’ ‘waterfalls’ and ‘trains,’” said Peterson.

“We have all these in this county and the history too.”

“When we relined the two historic pools at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort this past year,” he said, “we discovered that the concrete in them was first poured sometime around the Civil War. And the Ute Indians used to stop off here between their hunting grounds in what is now Park County and the San Luis Valley.”

Jan Wondra is a staff writer at The Mountain Mail in Salida.