Walking the Steamboat Hot Springs

September 14, 2011 at 11:54 am

It is estimated that there are nearly 150 hot springs in Steamboat Springs. The area is perforated with spouts of hot, bubbling water, seeping up from deep below the surface of the earth. In the 1800’s, these warm springs drew travelers from all over, who bathed in and enjoyed the unique “flavor” of each spring. There are seven or eight springs in downtown Steamboat that have interesting historical significance, and a suggested walking tour that takes you to each one.

Map of the suggested tour route

The tour, technically, begins at Heart Spring, which is the warm water source for the municipal hot springs complex on the south end of downtown. Early in the week, Mark, Bruce, G and I all went for an afternoon swim at the Old Town Hot Springs. It looked like an incredible facility, but because of the lull between seasons, they were cleaning out most of the pools when we stopped in.

So, we started our walking tour at Spring #2 – Iron Spring. Which was a very non-picturesque algae-filled cistern on the north side of town. According to Colorado’s Hot Springs, this icky pool of irony water was considered a tonic for “ailments of body and will.”

Our starting point, Iron Spring, was not very pretty

The third spring was Soda Spring. Once a very popular spot for making lemonade with the naturally carbonated water, but local highway construction disrupted the water’s flow. Now, it’s a nice gazebo, with a hole in the middle of the floor and a commemorative sign.

Soda Spring is historic, but now just a hole in concrete

Down the grassy knoll just outside the gazebo, we finally found some pretty springs in a more natural state. Hot Sulfur spring smelled strongly, but warm, light blue water bubbled up into a pool surrounded by white-coated rocks and grasses. The water ran out of the rock-rimmed pool and down into the nearby Yampa river, leaving a white-sulfur caked trail in its wake.

Sulphur Springs is beautiful, with a powerful odor

A short walk across the river landed us on the shores of Black Sulfur Spring. I thought this one was really cool. The water is actually black. It’s not tarry or muddy or much thicker than normal water. Just completely opaque.

Black Sulphur spring was dark and menacing

And right next door to that one is the town’s namesake – Steamboat Spring. The clear blue water in this one was such a gorgeous color, it was the prettiest spring so far.

Steamboat Springs - the town's namesake

From Colorado’s Hot Springs again:

“That spring and the town were named by three French trappers in the 1820s who had wandered up the Yampa River and heard a throaty, periodic chug. After months in the wilderness, they concluded that they’d hit a major river with paddle-wheel steamboats. … Later, geologists explained that the chugging sound was created when the superheated water and steam hit an underground rock chamber. The flows were compressed until the buildup forced the steam out with a chug.”

Unfortunately, the bedrock in the area was disturbed when the railroad was built nearby, and the chugging stopped in 1908.

Steamboat Springs

We all scrambled down the rocky shore of the river for a bit to find Terrace Springs, which flowed out of a marbled rock cave, over a large mineral formation and down into the Yampa River.

Terrace Springs makes a cool little waterfall

After this one, we all decided to skip Lithia Spring (“Lithia as in lithium, used in a mood-leveling drug and considered highly effective for manic depression.”) and hike up the hill to find Cave Spring. After nearly 45 minutes of wandering the steep hillside, and never finding more than wiffs of distant sulfur, we gave up and hiked back to town for lunch. It was a fun day, and we all learned a lot. We learned about the history of the town, the geology of hot springs, and that we should carry more water and sunscreen with us, even on short, in-town, walks.

Mark and G above Steamboat