By Jessica Dixon

Indian Hot Springs entranceFor Denverites, Idaho Springs represents a symbolic marker on your way to or from the ski resorts. On your drive west from Denver, it ushers you into the mountains proper. Going east, signs for Idaho Springs often signal a break in the I-70 traffic.

An easy drive from Denver, Idaho Springs is more than a pit stop for gas en route to somewhere else: it’s the perfect evening getaway.

This winter, my city-weary friend and I decided, like so many before us, to go west in search of adventure. We took I-70 into the mountains, and in less than 40 minutes, we reached Indian Hot Springs.

Ute and Arapahoe people had long considered these hot springs sacred, and they deemed the healing waters neutral territory. In the 1850s, miners encountered the hot springs in their search for gold – by the 1860s, Harrison Montague owned the property where the Indian Hot Springs Resort now sits, and he built the gazebo that still stands in the indoor swimming area.

Indian Hot Springs GazeboThe resort offers options (at varying prices) for following the footsteps of one-time bathers Jesse James and Walt Whitman: indoor private baths, outdoor Jacuzzi tubs, and geothermal caves carved into the rocky mountainside.

For $20 per person, we chose to experience these famed healing mineral waters in the main swimming area. There are small, recently remodeled changing rooms with lockers – you can purchase tokens at the front desk, which activate the locks. You can rent a towel, but if you’d like a full-size beach towel, bring your own. Flip-flops are handy as you venture down the damp hallway from the locker room to the doors to the swimming area. Passing through them to the pool is like passing through a portal to another time.

The large pool sits under a translucent dome, and tropical plants grow throughout the building, breathing the warm, humid air alongside bathers. Coming from Colorado’s dry climate, it was a unique experience to find ourselves in the tropics. We eased into the warm water, which averages 96 degrees and is replenished by 115-degree mineral water. Those who prefer hotter temperatures (and a quieter atmosphere – the main pool is family-friendly and can get boisterous) might try the geothermal caves, where water can reach 112.

We settled into a corner of the pool in time to watch the sun set. When we had arrived, the pool area was bright, and as the sun slid behind the horizon, we watched the light change through the translucent ceiling. We felt like we had stumbled upon a secret world, with cold drips of condensation singing their rhythm as they dropped off lush plant leaves and the dome above us.

Inside the BuffaloFeeling our spirits refreshed, we reluctantly left the pool, hoping to take our new-found relaxation with us. After a quick rinse in the locker room showers, we bundled up to brave the outdoors as we hurried to the car.

We continued to The Buffalo, a historic restaurant that was recently remodeled, for dinner. The renovation preserved some of The Buffalo’s iconic décor, including the original bar, built in Chicago in the 1880s, adding to the western-chic vibe. The restaurant now adjoins Westbound & Down, the brewery next door, where they brew generously hoppy beers using Colorado snowmelt and rain run-off.

We perched at the full-service bar for – what else – buffalo burgers, accompanied by a heaping cup of shoestring fries, warm and just crisp. The handmade cocktails were too intriguing to resist; my Spring Honey Mule was sweet and tart and served in a copper mug, and my friend’s drink tasted more of tequila than I like, except on very special occasions. Thankfully, we both preferred our own selections.

The BuffaloSatisfied in body and soul, we drove back to Denver. We are already planning our next getaway – the geothermal caves are calling.

Indian Hot Springs:

302 Soda Creek Road, Idaho Springs

The Buffalo:

1617 Miner Street, Idaho Springs

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