Down a lonely road, through herds of cows and calves and across the Yampa River, is a well-kept secret. It’s Juniper Hot Springs and locals have cherished this little-known place for many years. Located near the bank of the Yampa River about 30 minutes west of Craig, Colorado, the hot springs is bucolic in its remoteness.
We wouldn’t have known about it except for a loving mention of the hot springs by a staff member at the Candlewood Suites in Craig. After that, I was determined to stop in at this venue during our visit to the area in early May.
RELATED: The Wild Horses of Sand Wash Basin
After spending the morning with the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin we drove to the hot springs for an afternoon soak. We had little idea of what to expect as we’d been simply told that it was rustic.
Established in 1880, Juniper Hot Springs once had a bathhouse, which today appears more like an ancient ruin, albeit one that has been painted in bright, hippie-like fashion in contrast with the natural surroundings.
As our gravel road dipped down to the Yampa River, running high in the springtime, we watched cows and calves wadding in the cool water near the shore. It wasn’t a hot day but if you are covered in black fur like the cattle in the area, nearly all spring days in Northwest Colorado are probably a tad warm.
We crossed the river and took an immediate left into the dirt parking lot of Juniper Hot Springs. It’s a not a showy place. Fencing surrounds the area that houses a large swimming pool and four smaller pools. There are also several campsites on either side of the hot springs area. RVs were parked in two of the spaces during our visit.
There is a Changing Tent that is literally a large camping tent set to the backside of the fenced property. There are a collection of plastic chairs and tables under a canopy that keeps off the sun and tames the wind. A porta-potty is located just outside the fence.
The admission fee to the hot springs is $5 per person, cash only. There is no staff person at the pay booth so this fee is based entirely on the honor system.
After changing into our swimsuits inside the changing tent, we made our way to the warmest pools which are inside what was once an old bathhouse. It is now an open air area featuring three small pools accessed by concrete stairways into the water. These pools are deep and it appears as though the warm spring water seeps in through the rocky bottom.
Algae love this warm water and a scoop and bucket are poolside so that you may remove the floating matter before taking a dip. Ryan cleaned the pools and we slipped in. The water wasn’t super hot on the day we visited but I assume it is toasty at times. Most unregulated hot springs pools vary in temperature from day to day.
The swimming pool was too cool for our tastes but looks inviting and would be perfect on a hot summer day. On a Saturday we only saw a mother and little boy who left as we arrived, and a couple who stopped for lunch and a dip as we were leaving. We virtually had the place to ourselves.
To say this place is rustic is accurate. Coming from the Denver metro area, where everything is shiny and new, it is unusual to see a venue like this. It isn’t a spa-like hot springs experience, but it’s a step up from a hippie-dip along a river. For those who seek out unique hot springs around the west, this is a must-stop.
The vestigia is strong here as it should be at a place that has hosted bathers for so long. It is fitting that Juniper is located in this corner of Colorado, in a spot where time seems to have stood still. If you are in a rush in Northwest Colorado, you’re doing it wrong. Perhaps this is why I like Moffat County so much.
Know before you go:
- Juniper Hot Spring is cash-only and it’s $5 per person. Plan accordingly.
- Bring your own swimsuit and towel.
- Keep your swimsuit on. Juniper Hot Springs is NOT clothing optional.
- There is no lifeguard on duty so swim at your own risk.
- Find Juniper Hot Springs online at juniperhotsprings.com.