Imagine soaking in a pool of steamy water, as a river rushes nearby and colorful mountains tower above. At Penny Hot Springs, located near Carbondale, Colorado, you can do exactly that! Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the incredible Penny Hot Springs, from the best time to go to tips to make the most of your visit.
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How To Get to Penny Hot Springs
Penny Hot Springs are located here, along the Crystal River in the White River National Forest. They’re about a 15 minute drive south of Carbondale or a 50 minute drive west of Aspen.
There’s a gravel pull-off on the side of the road that’s big enough to hold about a dozen cars. If you happen to be visiting when it’s busy and there’s no parking spots available, be sure to not park in a way that leaves your car hanging out in the road—it’s already a narrow highway that has a curve in it, so that’s a great way to cause an accident! There’s also a portapotty (that was in ROUGH shape when my husband, Justin, and I visited) to the right of the lot.
While there’s plenty of hot springs that require a hike to get to, Penny Hot Springs, on the other hand, are conveniently located right next Highway 133—no hike required. You will, however, need to walk down a gravel hill from the roadside to the river bank. When Justin and I visited, we went down a VERY steep and crumbly path towards the right of the parking lot before we noticed there was a much more gradual and well-maintained trail towards the left hand side—whoops!
What to Expect at Penny Hot Springs
Penny Hot Springs are primitive, meaning there’s no real man made improvements here, like concrete tubs. Instead, you’ll find rustic pools, made of river rock, to keep the cold water of the Crystal River out and the warm water of the natural geothermal springs in. Best of all, that also means they’re FREE (we love that around here!)!
When we visited, there were about five different pools of river rocks, each of which were about two feet deep and were of varying temperature, from luke-warm bathwater to almost too-hot-to-sit-in temperatures. If you want to adjust the temperature, you can play around with the river rocks so that more or less of the cold water can rush into the pool you’re sitting in.
Beyond just the steamy water, the views from the tubs are absolutely incredible—you’ll be sitting on the shores of the Crystal River in a deep canyon, surrounded by towering granite cliffs, known as “Hell’s Gate”.
Before we visited, I had read reports online that Penny Hot Springs were smelly. I honestly showed up, expecting the worst, but there was only a faint sulfur smell when we visited. If you’re incredibly sensitive to that odor, you may want to avoid hot springs in general!
When to Visit Penny Hot Springs
Penny Hot Springs are open and accessible year round. However, with springtime snowmelt, the water level of the Crystal River can often rise during the spring and early summer and actually totally submerge the hot springs in VERY chilly water. Accordingly, the best time to visit is in mid-summer, fall, and winter in Colorado.
We visited in the autumn and LOVED it—it felt so nice to soak in the steamy hot water amidst the brisk fall air, with the vibrantly colored autumn foliage on the surrounding mountain peaks.
I also imagine the springs would be incredible in the wintertime. Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort, located less than an hour from the hot springs, is one of the best ski resorts in Colorado for beginners and experts alike- imagine getting to soak your aching muscles in steamy hot water in a winter wonderland, after a long, hard day of hitting the slopes!
With respect to the time of day, Penny Hot Springs are at their least crowded early in the morning and grow increasingly more crowded—and rowdy—as the day wears on. So if you want to enjoy the hot springs in peace, I’d suggest coming early (like, at sunrise) on a weekday. Justin and I visited on a Friday at sunrise and there was only one other visitor there for the first hour or so of our soak.
Tips for Penny Hot Springs
- You may see naked people. Small history lesson before we get to the whole “naked people” thing—the hot springs are named after Dan Penny, who ran a small inn along the railroad line upstream, which allowed guests to enjoy the hot springs. The guests initially wore swimsuits but, by the 1960s, the free love movement had taken hold, making soaking in the nude much more popular.
Local residents were upset by the “lewdness” and the springs were closed for a couple of decades. However, in the 1990s, the property was purchased by Pitkin County and they were once again reopened for the public to enjoy.
Nowadays, most visitors wear swimsuits to the hot springs—they’re right along the highway and, at least when we visited, there was a constant stream of passersby who pulled over to peer down at the hot springs.
However, it’s definitely not unusual to see naked people, especially amongst the locals. So if you’re particularly sensitive to seeing strangers’ genitalia, you might want to consider going to developed hot springs instead, like the nearby Glenwood Hot Springs Resort.
- Test the water before you plop in. Penny Hot Springs is incredibly hot at its source, a scalding 133° F. In certain pools, it can be a bit deceptive how hot the water is—-so be sure to carefully dip a toe or a finger in before jumping straight in.
- Consider cooling off in the river water. Some of the pools can get quite steamy, so if the current of the river and the weather is warm, it can feel refreshing to jump into the river.
Don’t get me wrong—the river water is straight up COLD, but when we visited in autumn, it definitely woke me right up to jump into the freezing river and hop back into the toasty warm hot springs.
- Follow the leave no trace principles. As noted above, the hot springs have been closed in the past and, if we don’t treat them with the respect they deserve, they certainly might be closed again. Pack out whatever you pack in, be respectful of other guests (like, don’t take photos or videos of naked people or play music obnoxiously loud), and generally, don’t act like a jerk.
Can you camp at Penny Hot Springs?
Camping is not permitted at Penny Hot Springs.
There’s a few campgrounds in the area. Redstone Campground is an established campground that’s just a four minute drive away, with water hookups and flush toilets. We stayed in our RV at the Upper Prince Creek Campground, a free Bureau of Land Management site, located twenty minutes north of the hot springs, with beautiful views of the surrounding hillsides and an incredibly clean vault toilet.
Where to Stay Near Penny Hot Springs
Not a fan of camping? We got your back! Consider staying in the charming town of Glenwood Springs, which has been a destination for its geothermal springs since the 19th century! Check out:
- Hotel Glenwood Springs: If you’re looking for a bang-for-your-buck stay, this hotel has a fair price point; some awesome perks, like free continental breakfast every day and an indoor pool; and an excellent location, just steps away from the town’s gondola.
- Glenwood Hot Springs Resort: Why stop the geothermal fun at Penny Hot Springs? Constructed in 1888, this resort is home to the world’s largest hot springs pool and has an onsite spa and spectacular mountain views.
- Hotel Denver: This hotel offers incredibly comfy beds, proximity to some of the best restaurants and shops in Glenwood Springs, and even brews its own beer onsite!
I hope you enjoy Penny Hot Springs as much as we did! Do you have any questions about visiting? Let us know in the comments below!