We rounded the final bend and slowly crossed the bridge spanning the Yampa River. Juniper Hot Springs was dead ahead of us. Just a shadow of its former glory – but one of Colorado’s most isolated and lesser frequented hot springs – Juniper Hot Springs was ours for the taking that early October day.
Liz, Z, and I pulled into the empty parking lot and quickly scrambled to get our swimsuits on. We had camped out the last couple of nights in brisk, autumn Colorado air and were eager to hit the warm waters.
Earlier in the week I had placed a call into Roy, as the Juniper Hot Springs website invites you to do if you have any questions. Roy kindly answered all of my inquiries about soaking and camping. He informed me that the modest entrance fee could be paid onsite through the honors system (there’s a small mailbox and deposit box for the fee). I asked him if he thought I needed to place reservations for camping. He chuckled and replied,
“Heck…you’ll likely be the only ones out there.” – Roy
Turns out that Roy was right. It was just us and the wind. We followed the honors system, took note of the creaky “No Lifeguard On Premises” sign hanging from the fence, and quickly submerged ourselves in the pools.
The lower pool was chillier than I expected. And I was on the hunt for something a little spicier and hopped in the middle large pool. It was lukewarm, so the three of us made our way into the individual soaking pools in the remnants of the bathhouse. The floors of the smaller soaking pools are the real source of heat, and the waters were divine.
We looked out over the sage country around us. The Yampa River peacefully meandered below and provided water to the beautiful ranch just downstream. We chatted about the amazing history of the place.
Juniper Hot Springs History and Physical Characteristics
Before making our way out to Juniper Hot Springs, we researched the origins and properties of the hot springs. According to a U.S. Government analysis conducted in 1939, Juniper Hot Springs contains 24 minerals. Only two other similar springs exist in the world, and they are found in Europe.
For centuries, Native Americans camped near Juniper Mountain to use the spring. Many signs of their presence, including spearheads, corn grinders, and other artifacts have been found. At least five permanent camps are known to have been in the vicinity. The Native Americans called the spring “Healing Waters.”
Legend has it that in the 1870’s, an early white settler passed by the camps and found a pair of moccasins beside what looked like a large hole. This was a tunnel to the hot springs where the Native Americans brought their ill.
Joseph F. Garner filed on the land in the spring of 1880, and then handed over his interest to Major Daniel C. Oaks. Following the issuance of the U.S. Patent, Major Oaks started leasing the property to Mr. Perkins, who being ill, had heard of the springs and was taken there on a mattress in the back of a wagon. Within two weeks, Perkins was able to drive his team and decided to settle. He quickly built a small bathhouse over the springs. This was the first building on the land.
Major Oaks passed away in 1897, and ownership passed by will to Minerva Wing, who built a general store, U.S. Post Office, hotel, dining room, bathhouse, and livery stable. There was a cable trolley car across the Yampa River, which you can still see remnants of today, and mail was brought from the nearby Town of Lay three times a week. Freight teams brought in supplies from Craig.
In 1908, Minnie McCausland Failing inherited part of the ownership. While trying to dig a well, all she found was hot water. This gave her the idea to develop small indoor pools.
“Mrs. Laura K. Canon got one of the surprises of her life Sunday while visiting Juniper Hot Springs for the first time this summer. She says that everybody in Moffat County has heard of Juniper Springs, but few have a realization of what an asset it is to the community. Mrs. Failing, the unassuming and accommodating owner of the springs has been spending thousands of dollars in improvements…” – The Craig Empire, September 13, 1922
In 1954, electricity was provided to the premises. The property was sold in 1962 to Stella Craig.
After taking over the Springs, Stella along with her sister, Luella, ran the pools, operated a café, sold infamous “Juniper Burgers,” and rented rooms in the hotel cabins. Luella’s health deteriorated around 1993 and they closed the resort and moved to Craig.
Between physical languish and vandalism, the decision was made to burn the buildings in order to clean up the property. At present time there are no remaining structures.
The water that collects in the four southern pools is derived from hundreds of feet below the surface. Geological studies indicate that the water comes from the Dakota Formation and migrates up faults associated with Juniper Mountain to the west. The sandy, clay bottom in these four pools allow the water to easily rise. The mineral springs presently flows at the rate of approximately fifty gallons per minute and a temperature of an estimated 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Directions to Juniper Hot Springs:
From the North & West – Follow HWY 40 E past Maybell and watch for the green sign “Juniper Hot Springs.” Turn right at Road 53 and follow 53 across the river, Juniper Hot Springs will be right on the other side.
From the South & East – Follow HWY 40 west and watch for the green sign labeled “Juniper Hot Springs” approximately 2 miles past Lay, Colorado. Turn left onto Road 53 and follow 53 across the river, Juniper Hot Springs will be right on the other side.
Juniper Hot Springs | http://www.juniperhotsprings.com/ | 8090 Moffat County Road 53 | 970-756-HOTT (4688)
Crossing the Yampa River