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Travel 101: What should I pack for a hot springs vacation?

Colorado is literally bursting at the seams with hot, mineral filled waters. Private ownership has resulted in a wide variety of developments. Some springs have been made into pools at a local health club, or developed into a posh spa, such as Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. Others are maintained in a more primitive state, such as Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Benefits ranging from emotional to medical are claimed as a result of the healing mineral waters.

Rustic stone lined pools at Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Although colder months are preferred for a dip in a hot spring, summer travel definitely has its advantages. The ability to get a reservation, for one thing. Springs with limited accommodations, like Strawberry Park (located just outside the ski mecca of Steamboat Springs) can be booked-up throughout the entire ski season. Summer nights are also cooler out in the mountains, making a dip in a spring quite pleasant.

It's the minerals in these waters, however, that occasion the consideration of the most important element to pack for your hot springs trip – your bathing suit. These warm, mineral filled springs can, and frequently do, degrade your suit. This has created two schools of thought on what to pack. The first, is to bring something to wear you don't care about. This could include something older, mismatched, inexpensive, or of different material.

The second philosophy of attire, is to wear a new suit, ensuring that it doesn't disintegrate on your body in the midst of wearing it in the pool. Then quickly and thoroughly rinse the suit after bathing.

In a more developed resort, the new suit, prompt washing option may make the most sense. However, in some of the more remote hot springs sites, or when on the road for an extended period, just wearing a suit you don't care about may be the best way to go. A good suit is shockingly expensive these days, and it is incredibly frustrating to have one degrade. Don't make it too old though. Having the suit fall apart on you mid-wear can make for an awkward situation.

One more factor to consider here in Colorado, is that many of the springs smell like sulfur to some degree, which can be nearly impossible to eliminate from your suit afterward. If this is your destination, I'd say go with the suit you don't care to wear all the time – unless you want to be remembered as the guy that stinks like a rotten egg at your next pool party.

Of course, in some of the clothing optional hot springs, you can avoid this quandary all together.

Since packing for a more developed spring is similar to packing for a trip to a hotel, or resort, I will focus the remainder of this article on the primitive sites.

Cabin number four at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, just outside of Steamboat Springs.

Seriously. Strawberry Park is remote, and without lighting. It is as dark as a cave in the outdoors when the moon isn't out. My first time there I was without this vital piece of equipment. My friends and I tried to follow the sounds of people, but couldn't so much as see the path we were walking on. Consequently we walked down a dead end in the freezing cold through ankle deep mud. And then back up. It would have been comical if I hadn't been wearing some rather expensive knee-high shearling-lined boots, or didn't get really angry when I'm cold.

Research the options at your destination of choice, because you will be hungry afterward. Some springs may sell snacks, serve dinner, or do nothing at all. If nothing at all is provided, plan ahead on what to pack in. I recently found this article in Real Simple magazine on packing food for a variety of outdoor dining options, from backpacking to an evening spread in the park. The roast beef wrap recipe was delicious, until the ice melted in the cooler and soaked through the plastic wrapping the tortillas...Next time, I think I'll try the backpacking menu, which doesn't require refrigeration.

Additionally, bring plenty of water or juice in plastic bottles. Glass and alcohol are generally not allowed near the pools, for obvious health and safety reasons.

To light the gas lamp, lantern or heater. A word of advice: If you arrive during the day, go ahead and light the lamp. It will be quite impossible after the dense darkness descends.

Again, research your destination. Strawberry Park, for example, only has one lodging that provides linens. Every other cabin or camp site must bring their own.

Seasonal Gear
Just because it's summer, doesn't mean it's warm. Chilly nights are one of the reasons why a hot spring is nice in the summer, right? Check the lows in the area you are going, and bring appropriate gear. Walkways are often unpaved, so bring sturdy shoes or boots. Flip flops are good to have pool side, or if you are able to shower.

Hot water bursting from the earth at Strawberry Park

Fleece layers or packable windbreakers are always nice to have on hand for the evenings. During the day though, the sun in the mountains can be intense. Sunglass are always in order, as well as dressing so that you can easily shed layers if it gets too hot under that fleece.

Have I mentioned you should research your specific destination? Primitive sights rarely provide towels. Health club types do, but they may be skimpy and scratchy, so it doesn't hurt to bring your own. And if you plan on taking multiple dips and don't want to keep wrapping yourself in the same cold, wet towel, bring multiple towels. It's not going to dry out the same day, or even probably by the next day.

Oh yeah, and try to relax.