Nestled on (and literally in) the banks of the clear waters of Chalk Creek, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort is the ideal Sawatch Range soak spot. It’s also the perfect adventure basecamp for forays into the surrounding wilds of the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas River Valley.
No surprise, the action at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort centers on the historic bathhouse and its two main man-made soaking pools (one hot, at 105-degrees Fahrenheit, and a 90-degree exercise pool), and shallow, natural rock-lined warm springs in Chalk Creek itself. If you stay the night at the resort or book a spa treatment, you also get access to three Japanese-style cascading pools (varying in temperature from 70 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit) built of rock and perched in an exclusive area above the creek (no kids under 16 allowed). And the whole family will enjoy the upper, 75-degree pools with water slides ($5 extra). Day soaks cost $12-$22 depending on age and day of the week, free if you stay at the resort.
Since it’s surrounded by the San Isabel National Forest, the resort provides the ideal jumping-off point for exploring Chaffee County’s public lands. Depending on the season, you can ski at Monarch Mountain, tour in the backcountry, snowmobile, bag a fourteener, rock climb, raft, mountain bike or hike. For spring and summer adventures, we recommend the following:
The resort sits just a few minutes from the trailhead to Mount Princeton, a graceful 14,197-foot peak you can tackle on a challenging 13.25-mile out-and-back hike that racks up a grueling 5,400 vertical feet (though you can shorten that trip if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle and the road is open to the upper trailhead). From there, move on to 14,269-foot Mt. Antero (a 16-mile round-trip, with 5,200 vertical feet of climbing, though it, too, can be whittled down to seven miles and 2,400 feet of vert via a four-wheel drive road). No matter what, start early, as storms move in fast here and the trails are exposed.
Pedal Back in Time
Spin or drive 12 miles from the resort up County Road 291 to St. Elmo, one of Colorado’s best-preserved historic ghost towns. From here, climb the old railroad grade to work your way through the surrounding forest. You’ll move through the old mining town of Hancock, 5.8 miles from St. Elmo, where you pick up the Alpine Tunnel, an ambitious railroad project born during the Colorado Gold Rush that has evolved into a wide, high mountain trail bounded by toothy summits and vast wilderness. You can explore this area on your own (it’s ideal for a ’cross bike) or go guided with Absolute Bike Adventures (absolutebikesadventures.com).
Cruise the Colorado Trail
Just 2.3 miles west from the resort, down County Road 291, this rollicking, four-mile out-and-back starts at Chalk Creek and follows singletrack (part of section 13 of the 486-mile Colorado Trail) lined with pine and aspen. Climb south to reach a ridge that will reward you with panoramic views of the Collegiate Peaks. After descending toward the Arkansas River Valley, you’ll reach a grassy meadow. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic—or keep going as long as your legs will take you along the Colorado Trail and back.
Learn to Roll
Looking to become a better boater? You don’t even need to leave the resort to up your paddle game. Take a private individual or small group class in 70-degree water to learn the fundamentals of whitewater kayaking—paddle, flip and roll—from a certified instructor in the exercise pool. Open to all ability levels, classes start at $140 for a one-person private lesson. Fear the boat? You can also take advantage of the complimentary gym and a variety of group fitness classes including yoga, water aerobics and Pilates. But if you get your pool-time skills dialed, head to South Main and the Buena Vista River Park (coloradokayak.com) to test them out on the Arkansas River.
An overnight stay is the best way to experience Mount Princeton. The place makes sense for families and large groups as well as couples’ getaways. Accommodations include modern log cabins with one or two bedrooms and a two-queen-bed loft (rates start at $275), one- or two-bed newly remodeled cliffside rooms with panoramic views (rates start at $155), or more private rooms located in the lodge (rates start at $155). Both options offer easy, complimentary access to the hot springs, spa and Princeton Club Restaurant in the resort’s main building. The eatery serves hearty breakfasts and lunches, and classy dinners with burgers, lamb, duck and fish. During warmer months, the Poolside Cabana Bar has ice cream, hot dogs and salad, while the Beer Garden offers craft beers from local brewer Elevation and BBQ fare. You can also drive the 15 minutes to nearby Buena Vista and eat at spots like the Asian Palate (theasianpalate.com), with sushi, stirfry and curries. The greasy burgers at K’s Dairy Delite (719-395-8695), a casual joint with outdoor seating, hit the spot for us after a big day outside. And don’t let the crowds dissuade you: It’s usually fast, fun and worth the short wait. Just want downtime? The spa facilities at Mount Princeton make it easy to spoil yourself. Book a massage with licensed therapists who’ll knead your blown-out quads. If you really want to relax, get a deep tissue massage, myofascial release, reflexology or an exfoliating salt scrub (but you’ll want to book an extra day). —C.K.
mtprinceton.com | 719-395-2447