Fall is officially here. However, if you are up in the high country the annual battle between fall and winter has commenced. Every year the mountains battle among themselves for days of sunny and crisp fall versus pure snow storms that remind us of the gloriously fun winter ahead. This tumultuous season clash can leave an adventurer hanging in limbo. So this weekend could very well be the last weekend for fall adventures since the snow seems to be winning; it’s time to cozy up in a mountain hot spring.
I am talking about a little place called Aspen. Aspen is a beautiful town just west of Denver; and it holds one of my favorite hidden oases. Conundrum Hot Springs is a trip completely worth the effort. This secluded hot spring is tucked high up a mountain valley that is only accessible during the summer and fall seasons due to snow and avalanche dangers.
Arriving at Conundrum Hot Springs is not for the faint of heart. But the full excursion is a back-packers playground. From Denver you head west 159 miles via I-70 towards the town of Aspen. Castle Creek Road is your gateway to Conundrum. Upon arriving in Aspen look for the roundabout near the airport; from this roundabout you can access Castle Creek Road. You will follow Castle Creek Road for five miles and then turn right onto Conundrum Road. Take Conundrum Road until its ends. The road does turn to dirt and there are private drives, so just stay the course and you will be sure to arrive at the large trail-head parking lot.
This backpacking trip is truly an adventure. Conundrum Hot Springs is a “Leave No Trace” backpacking hike. It is an 8.5 mile trek in one way into the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness area. The reward for your strenuous effort is a serene dip into a truly natural hot spring with views cascading down the valley.
Conundrum Hot Springs boasts two separate pools. The lower pool is cooler with temperatures around 80 degrees. This pool is far smaller than the upper pool and can really only hold about 4 adults. The upper pool hovers around 95 degrees and is more of a social scene.
The temperature of the upper pool can fluctuate depending on where in the pool you are sitting. For more warmth just follow the bubbles. These bubbles indicate the flow of sulfur seeping in from the hot earth and will be the hottest place to soak. The upper pool can hold a dozen adults before things start to get really cozy. Fun fact about both pools is that clothing is optional, and more people choose the buff over swimsuits; so this may or may not be your ideal family trip, if you are bringing the kids along. The views from both pools are unreal and the layers of stars at night seem endless.
There are 16 campsites around the hot springs. Eight spots are relatively close to the springs and are the first to go. If you want one of these precious holds, plan on leaving in the early hours of your morning. The remainder of the sites are a bit further away, but easy to locate. The entire area is above timberline. There are a few isolated trees in the campground that can be tempting to post up camp; my advice is to steer clear of the trees. Weather can move very fast into the valley with thunder and lightning storms. Be sure to pack a few extra layers at night, you may wake up to a light snow dusting. Overall relax while at the springs, take a dip, meet new friends and take in the views.
- 159 Miles west to Aspen
- 7-8 Miles from Castle Creek Road to Conundrum Hot Springs
- 8.5 Mile hike
- Parking is free at the trail-head
Leave No Trace Policy?
- This is a Backpacking Policy that asks each individual to pack in and out all supplies, tools and trash; leaving the wilderness the exact way, if not better, than when you found it.
- Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Hot Springs, Star-gazing, Wildlife, Maroon Bells, Snowmass Wilderness, Dog-Friendly, Photo-op
- Town of Aspen, Independence Pass, Snowmass Village