Conundrum Hot Springs, Colorado: A First-Timer’s Guide

woman soaking in hot springs with mountain views

Conundrum Hot Springs is located on Conundrum Creek Trail just outside Aspen, Colorado within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. It is a difficult out and back trail, but well worth the hike after getting to soak in the pristine waters of Conundrum Hot Springs. The hike is not so difficult from elevation grade but rather for the distance it takes to make it all the way to the hot springs.

If you are very ambitious, you can also hike this trail and bag two 14’ers, Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak in the same hike. Then camp near the hot springs before you head back out to the trailhead. If you want to hike both peaks and have enough time to enjoy the hot springs, I would recommend budgeting a day and a half to complete the hike.

Be sure to pack accordingly for high altitude weather during all seasons and a night of camping near the hot springs.

Where It Is and How To Find It

If you leave Aspen westbound on Highway 82, take Maroon Lake Road west for a very short time until you can head south onto Castle Creek Road. About 5 miles after getting onto Castle Creek Road, you will come to Conundrum Creek Road.

Take the right onto Conundrum Road and follow it until you reach the trailhead for Conundrum Creek.

You will know you are in the right place when you have to cross a bridge over Castle Creek as soon as you turn right onto Conundrum Road. Follow Conundrum Road a little over a mile up to the trailhead.

There are quite a few private drives on Conundrum Road so be careful not to turn down one of these.

Parking Information

There is parking at Conundrum Creek Trailhead. Thankfully there is no fee for parking or overnight parking. No parking is allowed on Conundrum Road outside of the trailhead because it is very narrow and goes over private property.

Be warned, if you park on the road you might get towed. Carpooling is highly encouraged to allow as many people to enjoy the trail and hot springs as possible.

During the winter, the road will be covered in snow from around October to late May. This is a high avalanche area so if you are going in the winter, be sure you are experienced and know what you are getting into. There is no parking in the vicinity during the winter so if you want to go, snowshoeing or snowmobiling in is the only way to have access to Conundrum Creek Trail.

Permits and Reservations Required

You will need a reservation and permit for camping. You cannot camp overnight without one. There are only 20 campsites at Conundrum Creek Hot Springs so check for a reservation at this website. You might be able to even get a campsite up to the day of your trip depending upon availability. Be advised that you cannot get a camping permit at the ranger stations, only online at the aforementioned website.

These permits are nontransferable and the permit holder or alternate holder must have their ID on them in order for the permit to be valid. You can print your permit as soon as 14 days before you are set to head out on your trip. Be sure that you reserve enough camping sites for your whole group as the maximum allowable number of people per site varies from 2 to 6 so you may need to reserve a couple of sites.

Furthermore, you will only be able to camp at the site that you have reserved. You will also only be able to stay a maximum of 3 nights from June 1 to September 1, and 7 nights any other time of year. And finally, there is a limit of 2 permits per year per person.

How Far Is The Hike?

The hike to Conundrum Hot Springs just about 18 miles round trip. Thus if you are camping at the hot springs for the night, the hike is nearly 8.5 miles one way. I would highly recommend budgeting an entire day to tackle this hike if you are not going to spend the night.

With the extra time spent at the hot springs, you could easily be on the trail for over 10 hours. Plan accordingly by bringing plenty of water, food, and extra clothing that might be needed after soaking in the hot springs.

Camping At The Hot Springs

There is camping at Conundrum Hot Springs with 20 different sites available each night. Be sure you have a permit which is required for camping overnight. Make a reservation beforehand to ensure that you can get one of the available campsites. Campfires are not allowed at this elevation because they consume wood, accumulate trash, and kill fragile alpine vegetation.

Campfires also sterilize the soil and scar the beautiful landscape.

Be advised that there is a lot of black bears in this remote area of the wilderness. Make sure to bring a bear bag or bear resistant container to hang or store all of your food and toiletries overnight so as not to attract bears to the campsites. I would also recommend bringing bear spray to protect yourself in case you have an unfortunate encounter that somehow cannot be avoided.

If you do not bring these bear resistant containers, you may be asked to leave the premises because of unsafe conditions related to black bears coming into the area.

There is also no toilets anywhere in the valley so make sure that you bring a trowel to bury waste up to 6 inches or take some WAG bags available at the beginning of the trail. You must bury your waste up to 200 feet from water, campsites, and trails.

Dogs are also not allowed in the valley so make sure to leave your lovable pets back at home. And finally, be sure to pack out any trash that you have because there are no receptacles anywhere on Conundrum Creek Trail.

What Is The Best Campsite?

The best campsites are those that are lower numbered. Campsites 1, 2, and 3 will be closest to the hot springs themselves while other campsites are slightly further away but are a little more secluded. As the numbers go up, you will be a bit farther from the actual hot springs themselves.

Take a look at this USFS map to see exactly where all the campsites are located in relation to Conundrum Creek Trail and the hot springs in the creek.

Temperature of the Water

The water temperature of Conundrum Hot Springs hovers around 102 degrees. This temperature is perfect for soaking and it makes this one of the best hot springs in Colorado. It will be busy during the middle of summer and on holidays.

Alternate Approaches and Other Trailheads

There is one other approach where you can access Conundrum Hot Springs. It leaves from Gothic/Crested Butte. It goes from Copper Creek to Triangle Pass down to Conundrum Hot Springs. This trail is a little bit longer at about 22.5 miles total. Be warned that this is a much more difficult than the ascent from Conundrum Creek Trailhead.

It goes over a pass and back again with lots of loose rock in-between. You can even take the route that goes to the lake or around it as both send you in the right direction towards Triangle Pass. Once you reach the decent into the Conundrum Bowl it is only another 3 miles or so to reach the hot springs.

Of note, there is very little water between Copper Creek and Triangle Pass so plan accordingly. The elevation gain can easily induce altitude sickness so make sure you go slowly and drink plenty of water.

Hiking in via Aspen vs. Crested Butte

The difference between the routes from Aspen versus Crested Butte is that the route from Crested Butte is much more difficult both in length at 22.5 miles and elevation gain at over 4000 vertical feet. If you want to hike to Conundrum Hot Spring and are a less experienced hiker I would recommend the route that leaves from closer to Aspen at Conundrum Creek Trailhead.

Although it is less distance, it is also much less elevation gain and will be easier on the legs. If you are planning on spending the night or are an avid hiker, the route from Crested Butte / Gothic might be better for you.

Especially if you have already hiked from Aspen and want more of a challenge to enjoy Conundrum Hot Springs, the route from Crested Butte is filled with beautiful vegetation and abundant with wildlife.

Best Time of Year To Visit

The best time of year to visit Conundrum Creek Trail and Conundrum Hot Springs is from May to early October. At both the beginning and tail end of the the seasons, there might be snow covering the trail so be prepared.

However, during the middle of the summer this is a heavily trafficked trail and will certainly be busy with people looking to enjoy the hot springs. In October, the leaves will be just changing to their auburn colors and are gorgeous.

I’d recommend going sometime in June when it will still be slightly colder at those higher elevations but the hot spring will be a welcome way to ward off the cold. Just make sure you have a change of cloths if you are only going for the day.

 

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Open In The Winter?

This trail is open all year but be warned, during the winter it will be extremely difficult to traverse. The snow will be very deep and proper equipment such as down jackets, enough water, and snowshoes are a must. Also make sure you are prepared for any emergency that might arise while out in the wilderness during winter because search and rescue will take longer to find and assist you.

Beyond that, make sure you know the route because it can be  easily be lost in the deep snow. I’d recommend not attempting this trail in the winter unless you absolutely know what you’re doing and have complete confidence in your abilities.

You will have to snowshoe or snowmobile into the trailhead because the road is not plowed during the winter and there is virtually no parking nearby during this season.

Recent Avalanche and Damage Status

There was a major avalanche in the area during the 2018/19 winter which covered some of Conundrum Creek Trail in debris making the hike much more difficult. However, throughout the summer and fall, that debris has been cleared off the trail by the forest service and it should be easier to keep with the trail and not have to traverse over downed trees.

If there is any more issues with avalanche activity and damage to the trail, keep your eyes open for signs posted by the United States Forest Service indicating issues with the trail and any access. If there is more issues with avalanche damage, the going on the trail will be a little more difficult and could add more time to the already long hike.

Other Nearby Hot Springs

There are a variety of other hot springs nearby Conundrum Creek Hot Springs. Here are just a few of the many hot springs located in Pitkin and Gunnison Counties:

  • Glenwood Hot Springs – This is an amazing hot springs located in Glenwood, Colorado. It is fairly cheap for day use and is one of the more well known hot springs in Colorado. If you want a relaxing day at a hot springs that is a bit more of a professional and regulated place, Glenwood Hot Springs in the middle of downtown Glenwood is the perfect hot springs for you.
  • Penny Hot Springs – This is a naturally fed mineral water hot springs located just past Carbondale, Colorado. It sits right on Crystal River. The pool is free to use and is sectioned off with some larger rocks which keep out colder water. The hot springs can sometimes be overrun with cold water during the spring runoff so the best time to go is in the middle of summer, early fall, and even winter if you want to brave the elements.
  • Ranger Hot Springs – This hot springs is located just south of Crested Butte. The water is extremely hot so be warned when you go. Furthermore there is private property right near it so make sure you stay on the public government land so as not to get in trouble.

Final Thoughts

Conundrum Hot Springs is an amazing trip for anyone that is able to make the hike. It can be difficult but definitely well worth the journey into this remote wilderness. If you’re staying just for the day hike in and out or overnight, make sure to bring plenty of provisions like water, food, and camping equipment. Also make sure you are prepared for anything backcountry wilderness might throw at you.

If you want to hike two 14’ers at the same time, go for it and enjoy the incredible views. Then soak again after you come down off the mountains. You will make memories that last a lifetime. Be sure to grab a permit online, get your best hiking friends together, and enjoy everything that Conundrum Hot Springs has to offer.

 

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