If you are a bit of an exhibitionist and can handle the exposed snowy shuffle from the snow-covered chairs down to the pool, this is the wintery night time soak for you.
During the day, clothing is required at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
A small mountain town known for its ski resort and multiple springs, Steamboat got its name from one spring that once sounded like a steamboat steam engine. Local folklore says that construction of the railroad in the early 1900s silenced the steamboat sound.
But once the sun dips below the snow-capped mountains and everything goes dark, you can slither out of your suit.
“That’s something that we hope to only see — or not see — after dark,” Joe Stepan, Strawberry Park’s general manager, told CNN Travel. “The nighttime hours come around, we make sure there are no kids around, and it [clothing] is totally optional.”
The property doesn’t have any specific numbers on how often the laid-back policy is taken advantage of, “but it is approved of,” Stepan says.
Keeping it natural
Even though clothes are required during the day, the all-natural theme is evident in the park’s stone-built pools, walls and wooden railings.
“We want to keep the rustic atmosphere. We want people to be able to enjoy the hot springs as if they were in the natural environment somewhere out in the middle of the woods.”
It’s all built tucked into the top of the valley surrounded by snow-covered aspens and fir trees.
“We’ve got 40 acres here that happens to have some of the best hot springs around, and we have developed a park in a very minimalistic fashion,” Stepan says.
Every building on the property, built out of wood and stone, blends into the valley.
You pay at an old vintage camper before descending to the springs ($15-$20). On your way down, there is a changing hut where you can put on your suit for the kid-friendly hours.
If you plan on staying to soak disrobed at night, make sure to bring a flashlight, as the place has hardly any artificial lights.
The surrounding snow dampens most of the ambient noise.
The only thing you hear, as you immerse yourself in the warm water, is the water cascading down the series of pools from the top of the springs to the creek bed below.
Cooling 150 degrees
It’s essentially a gravity-fed system, says Stepan.
Each of the pools is dammed by big stones nestled into the mountainside.
“The main spring comes out of the ground at 150 degrees and feeds the hottest pool that we have.”
The cold water creek flowing through the valley is about 40 degrees and is used to regulate the temperature of the pools, so they aren’t dangerously hot.
“It’s not an exact science, but it works,” he says.
They use a headgate — a gate for controlling the water flow — to adjust the volume of creek water that mixes in with the springs water.
After mixing in the colder water, the temperature of the pools range from about 106 to 107 degrees down to about 103 degrees, depending on the pool.
The hottest of the four pools is located next to the springs, and the coolest is located lower down the mountainside next to the creek.
There is a fifth pool. But don’t be fooled. Even though it looks enticing, it is simply dammed cold creek water.
“People love to take the cold plunge,” Stepan says.
You can move from the lower pool up and over some stairs and straight into the cold pool. It’s a bone-chilling experience but worth the rush.
After a quick cold shock to the system, the hot pools feel that much warmer when you get back in after the plunge.
The only thing more exhilarating might be a quick jump right into the snow.
No matter how you choose to participate — minimal material bathing suit or birthday suit — it’s a rush to the nervous system.
Stone massage rooms
This hot spring is about allowing you to enjoy the best nature has to offer. There isn’t a beverage service. Alcohol isn’t even allowed.
Many come to the hot springs to ease the stress of a full day of snow skiing or snowboarding, or even to soak the stress of life away.
So they have built two stone rooms into the hillside where you can make reservations to get a massage during the hours the springs are open.
Massage therapists work onsite every day in those rooms heated by the hot springs themselves.
A massage is an excellent option, especially after a hard day of skiing, says Stepan.
All around, Strawberry Park is a rustic experience that gives you the option to be as natural in nature as nature intended. As long as you follow the rules and don’t let your moon come out until the sun finally sets.