One wintry afternoon the snow was gently falling and softly melting into the steam rising from the hot springs. I sat on a rocky ledge in the naturally heated water watching a moose meander her way through the property. She stopped to munch on some of the shrubbery near the pools, watching everyone as we all watched her standing majestically against a picturesque forest landscape. It was a Colorado experience, to say the least; like living a Colorado snow globe scene. It was amazing.
I’ve been a huge fan ever since that first visit to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, and each and every time I make my way out to Steamboat, I make sure that there’s time to get a good relaxing soak in. Every experience has been unique, yet equally as lovely. I’m hooked.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs is on the outskirts of the town, but only a 20 minute drive to mountain paradise. Hot Springs Creek runs its brisk cold waters along the property. The 140 degree natural mineral springs is piped down, and both water sources feed into the various rocky pools, cooling the scalding mineral water bubbling from the hillside to a comfortable 102-105 degrees. It’s like sitting in a natural hot tub.
What I love most about Strawberry Park is its rusticness while still being a beautifully managed property. I haven’t been to Conundrum Hot Springs, but we’ve been hearing a lot about overcrowding and people trashing the area. That’s incredibly disappointing, especially since it’s damaging the trails and surrounding National Forest. Inner City hot springs, like Old Town Hot Springs are more of a public pool atmosphere, which doesn’t appeal to me AT ALL. Strawberry Park is able to maintain a more natural, clean, sustainable setting.
And if people don’t pick up after themselves, the wildlife will do it for you. There are some chunky raccoons that wander around at night and will try to get into your pack if you’ve left food in there. I learned this lesson the hard way.
Strawberry Park is family-friendly until it gets dark, then everyone under 18 is asked to leave as the clothing-optional crowd comes in. Clothing-optional always sounds weird to people who aren’t nudists, but this is one of the most freeing hot springs experiences! It’s so dark that you can’t see details, and it’s a really chill crowd (at least it has been during the times that I’ve tossed the bikini off). It’s not like you’re hanging out in a forested sex club or anything. Everyone is relaxed and respectful. It’s an amazing way to get connected to nature under the stars.
There are a few lodging options up there – small cabins, a train caboose, and tent sites. I haven’t stayed there yet. YET, because I’d love to set up a tent next year!
However, in all of the times that I’ve been to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, we always drove up the winding, dirt county road and parked in their small parking lot. There’s not a lot of room up there and they often ask people to shuttle in. It wasn’t until my last visit that I learned you can hike in, too (also, mountain bike).
Coming from Elk River Road, you’ll find the Mad Creek trailhead parking lot. This is a super popular hiking trail in the area. Park there, but the Hot Springs trailhead isn’t there, and there are no directions to guide you, either. #1169 is on the main trailhead map, but it doesn’t have the title Hot Springs Trail or any mention of Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
Walk down alongside Elk River Road (CR 129) in a ditch for about 4oo yards or so until you get to NFSR 128. It’s the first dirt road on the left once you walk past a few homes. You’ll hike that road until it turns into a trail for about half a mile, and then it splits to the right. This is Forest Service Trail 1169 – Hot Springs Trail.
You’ll hike this narrow trail alongside a creek, and through a forest thick with trees. There are a few dilapidated homesteading cabins that are slowly being swallowed by the earth, and a handful of elk bones scattered throughout the grasses.
It’s a beautiful and easy 3 mile hike to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Once you get there, be sure to check-in and pay admission before chilaxing in the water. And remember – it’s cash only. The hot springs operations are off the grid.
Add this trail to your hiking plans soon, as the trail closes for the season November 1st to May 1st. Check in with the forest service on season closures and openings, or mark it on your calendar as a bucket list trip for 2017!
Total Length: 2.7 miles one way to Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Beginning Elevation: 7,494
Peak Elevation: 7,500