As famous as the Champagne Powder® found on its slopes, the 10 springs found on the maps below are the reason Steamboat exists.
While it has been said that there are more than 150 mineral springs in the Steamboat Springs area, these 10 springs are arguably the most prominent and historically significant to be found here.
The springs in and around Steamboat Springs have an interesting and varied history. Blood has been spilled – when the Yampa Utes and Arapahos fought for control of the medicinal and spiritual waters. Near fortunes have been spent pursuing dreams of establishing European style spas and bottling and selling the miraculous waters.
The importance of the Steamboat hot springs can be seen today due to the preservation and maintenance of many of them. A brochure on the self-guided tour of Steamboat Springs Hot Springs is available for download from the Geo-Heat Center at the Oregon Institute of Technology and it is these springs that you can see on the map.
Interestingly, there is another brochure of the Springs of Steamboat Springs Walking Tour published by the Tread of Pioneers Museum. Their reference numbers for the springs are different than those published by the Geo-Heat Center whose reference numbers match the panels at each of the springs. It is those numbers that we used for this guide.
Heart Spring – # 1 on the Steamboat Springs Map 104 F
Originally called Bath Spring, it was renamed Heart Spring and the heart-shaped stonework was built around it. This slightly effervescent spring can still be found and enjoyed at Old Town Hot Springs at 136 Lincoln Avenue. This is the spring from which the water for the pools comes. The 102 degree water’s bubbly nature is a result of the bicarbonates in the mineral brew. Heart Spring’s history mirrors that of Steamboat Springs’. First frequented by the Ute People hundreds of years ago, the spring became popular with the homesteaders of the area. In 1909 an outdoor pool along with an indoor pool was constructed along with a bathhouse made from local stone.
Iron Spring – # 2 on the Map 73 F
It was near Iron Spring that Homesteader James and Margaret Crawford settled, building a cabin in which to live and a structure made of logs over the spring. The iron rich water was prized for its mineral content and used (as many of the springs were) as a tonic. Even to this day you can find locals enjoying their daily libation by drinking from the spring.
This effervescent spring’s bubbles were due to the release of carbon dioxide gas after it left the pressurized underground passages. It was around this spring that early residents would come on warm summer Sundays, bringing lemons and enjoying glasses of cool sparkling lemonade. Unfortunately, during the nearby highway construction, the tap was turned off and the fizzy water no longer flows.
Sulphur Spring – # 4 72 F
It is here that you will encounter the familiar odour we usually associate with hot springs. Caused by a little critter deep underground (link) the smell indicates a significant level of sulfur In the water. Going back to the indigenous peoples of the area, the water here has been used to treat a multitude of skin ailments as well as joint and deep tissues. Animals are attracted to these waters and you can see the old tie-down rings in the rocks surrounding the spring. Early visitors would secure their horses and allow them to drink the tonic. Even now, if you come to visit Sulphur Spring in the early morning you may encounter deer and other wild beasts getting their fix of nature’s elixir.
Sweetwater Spring – # 4A (A on the Map) 64F
Sweetwater is one of a number springs that feed Lake Spring. To help dry some of the surrounding marshy land, this lake was created by making a bowl into which a number of spring bubble up and into. While you are here, look on the surface and see if you can tell how many springs flow into Lake Spring.
Steamboat Spring – # 5 78 F
This is the famous spring from which the City derived its name. It is said when people first frequented this valley they heard a chugging and huffing sound coming from this spring. The gurgling and burbling were a result of the water pressure building up underground until the point of no return was reached, resulting in the water being expelled in a geyser. The fountain sometimes reached a height of fifteen feet. During the building of the railroad, nature’s plumbing system for Steamboat Spring was disturbed, knocking the wind out of the spring.
Black Sulphur Spring – # 5A (A on the Map) 66 F
The water color in this fascinating spring is not due to mud or silt or oil. It results from the conversion of hydrogen sulfide into sulfur. Nearby you can see the related springs Narcissus and Terrace. Soaking in water with a high sulfur content is believed by some to be very therapeutic for afflictions of the skin.
Lithia Spring – # 6 68 F
While a number of the springs on the map contain lithium, it is this milky spring which inspired a Mr. Gossard to lease the property with the intent of developing a European style spa during the 1930’s. It is said that consumption of these waters helps those who partake to regulate their mood and reduce manic depression. Gossard planned on establishing a bottling enterprise to sell and distribute Miraquelle water. The best laid plans…
Sulphur Cave Spring – # 7 75 F
Very near Howelsen Hill Ski Area you will find Sulphur Cave. However inviting it may be, do not attempt to enter the cave as the gases are highly toxic – take note of its effect on the nearby vegetation. There have been a number of spelunking surveys done of the cave and in 2009 a great discovery was made – colonies of squirming and squiggling, thin, blood-red worms.
Similar to creatures that live around the thermal vents deep in the Pacific Ocean, these worms thrive in the concentrated hydrogen sulfide environment inside the cave. Along with the snotties discovered earlier, the worms make Sulphur Cave a very important and unique site on the planet.
Water, Water, Everywhere…
As you visit each of these springs, the panels describing the springs will caution you that the water that you will encounter has not been treated in any way. Drinking this water is not, in any way, encouraged and is, in fact, prohibited due to health standards. Having said that, there are some people in these parts that still take their cup with them while visiting a favourite spring or two. Bending down, they sweep their hand over the surface to clear larger bits of flotsam and jetsam and dip in – drinking deep of the waters that have bubbled up from subterranean passages kissed by the volcanic heart of our planet.
Soak in Steamboat Springs Hot Springs
After your walking tour of and intellectual immersion in the Springs of Steamboat Springs you will want to immerse your corporeal person into some thermal liquid. In this city you are in luck. There are two fine and very different Steamboat Springs Hot Springs to choose from.
See the map on the right to find the developed and oh-so-civilized Old Town Hot Springs, the site of the original Heart Spring right in Steamboat. There is plenty for you and your family to do here. A few minutes north of town you will find the other Steamboat Springs hot springs, the idyllic and natural Strawberry Park Hot Springs. It is a short drive and a world away from the City of Steamboat. Please check the linked pages for full information on these soaking spots.
Of course you know we are going to recommend that you take some time and explore both of these fantastic soaking opportunities.