For centuries, Colorado’s geothermal hot springs have enjoyed an almost mythical reputation for medicinal rejuvenation. The Rocky Mountain region is speckled with a handful of world-famous hot springs, many within a day’s driving distance of Aspen.
Glenwood Springs, forty miles from Aspen at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River, is home to the mammoth, 2-block long Hot Springs Pool. However, many visitors to Aspen do not have to drive the whole way down valley to bath in steamy and soothing mineral waters.
Penny Hot Springs is located in the breathtaking scenery of the Crystal River Valley, between Carbondale and Redstone. Spending an afternoon splashing around in Penny Springs is an unforgettable and sublime experience.
Two tiny mineral springs gush from deep within the humongous granite and marble rocks into the cool, cerulean waters of the Crystal River. This unique geological anomaly sits in a secluded pastoral wilderness, making it a tight-lipped secret to many locals in the Roaring Fork Valley. Local bathers often dam the steamy waters with river rocks to create refreshing pools. The waters can reach temperatures of up to 130 degrees. However, if the springs get too hot, bathers can easily manipulate the rocks to let in frigid snowmelt water from the river.
Unlike the Hot Springs Pool or Yampah Vapor Caves in Glenwood Springs, Penny Hot Springs is situated on publicly owned Pitkin County land. Enjoying the springs is 100% free.
In addition to the beautiful location and invigorating waters, Penny Springs has a colorful and controversial history. The springs are named after a local hotelier, Dan Penny, who owned a nearby lodge. Penny built a bathhouse over the springs and created marble pools for guests to enjoy the warm waters. Eventually, Penny’s hotel and the rural location drifted into obscurity, but the bathhouse and tubs remained. Penny Springs became a popular au natural hangout for frolicking and freewheeling’ flower children in the 1960s. The unabashed displays of public nudity and obscenity offended nearby residents, who demolished the bathhouse, poured tar into the springs, and dumped boulders on the site.
Of course, frivolous acts of human intervention didn’t stop Mother Nature or geological forces from spewing heavenly geothermal water. In the 1990s, Pitkin County acquired the property. Nowadays, the rustic area comprises of cathedral-like granite cliffs, curious mountain goats, a riverbed, boulders, and two hot springs naturally pooled into the river. Officially, swimsuits are required, though this rule is barely enforced. Don’t be surprised if you stumble across a defiant local soaking his or her weary muscles European-style (“clothing optional”), meaning this fantastic day trip is not for the judgmental or squeamish.
Penny Hot Springs is only a half hour away from Aspen and surprisingly easy to access from Highway 133, which hugs the Crystal River at it’s terminus in nearby Carbondale. Follow 133 south toward Redstone in the majestic shadows of 12,965-foot Mt. Sopris until the road narrows and a gigantic, 1500-foot granite cliff soars above the highway. Look for Avalanche Ranch and keep driving. There is a turn off on the left hand side of the road, just before mile marker 55. Visitors will smell the sulfur immediately after getting out of the car. Just remember to keep the springs clean and enjoyable, so please carry your trash out of this free geological wonder.