My husband and I were amid our whirlwind road-trip ALL over Colorado, camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park, when one morning we decided to venture to some nearby hot springs. I had never soaked in natural hot springs before this trip, especially in the middle of the mountain wilderness, so I was particularly stoked for this experience. A fellow traveller I use to work with recommended Valley View Hot Springs and, upon seeing his photos, I decided that Valley View was JUST the place I was looking for. But boy oh boy, I knew so little of what was to come. I DID, however, know that it was a “clothing optional” place. Though, in my mind, this meant a few young adults may be swimming topless here and there. I could’ve never imagined what it really entailed, until I witnessed it for myself…
Doug and I put the destination into our GPS and drove for thirty-some miles on CO-17 before coming to a dirt road turn-off. I figured this meant we were arriving at our destination but NOPE, we drove another ten miles on this desolate road that seemed to be taking us nowhere – there was not a home, a person, a trailhead etc in sight. We honestly began to think this was a hoax and that Valley View Hot Springs did not exist. We persisted nonetheless, taking in the remote beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It was fun being a little lost, far from civilization. It made me even more excited to uncover the hot springs – I figured, with the looks of it, we’d have them all to ourselves.
Finally, after a slow yet scenic ten mile drive up this country road, we came to a parking lot where a sign announcing our arrival read “Valley View Hot Springs”. I wasn’t expecting this large of a parking lot, let alone a registration building upon our arrival. It all appeared so suddenly, as if we just passed through a strange, alternate realm.
Before our car was completely parked in a spot, I hear Doug exclaim “OH MY GOODNESS…WTF!?”. I whip my head around so fast, my neck cracks. Looking out the back window I see a TOTALLY nude man (in his 50s/60s mind you) jovially bouncing to the entrance of the registration building. He is literally wearing nothing but his flip flops and sunglasses and holding a newspaper in his hands, trotting along without a care in the world. WHERE THE HECK WERE WE? I couldn’t help myself and began to laugh uncontrollably. I mean, it was so unforeseen and caught me so off guard. I was not expecting such a sight. Again, I thought the hot springs were along a trail and that people were permitted to be nude IN THE SPRINGS. I did not, in my wildest imagination, expect an entire community where every person – from the parking lot – to the campground – to the pool – to the summit – was ENTIRELY NUDE.
Doug looks at me, before moving a muscle, and asks if I still wish to do this. Of course, I say “yes” because I am determined to experience some natural, mountain hot springs, damnit! Even if that means constantly averting my eyes and constantly suppressing laughter. Feeling awkward to say the least, the two of us exit our parked car and enter the registration building. The lady working the front desk hands us waivers to sign. Agreeing to not take photos and agreeing that we were aware and okay with this being a “clothing optional” establishment, we signed said papers.
Umm, lady…what if we were a family with young kids who got lost and happened to pull into this parking lot for directions?! IT WAS TOO LATE – NAKED JUNK ALREADY SWUNG IN PLAIN SIGHT. HAHA! But seriously. This notion still boggles my mind.
After the paperwork, Doug and I (fully clothed and towels in hand) begin our hike. The initial leg of the hike wove through a campground, complete with an in-ground pool. We were hit, left and right, with naked nods and greetings. EVERYONE WAS NUDE. I cannot stress enough how I did NOT anticipate EVERYONE being nude. EVERYONE. Again, to me, clothing optional means a few people may take off their clothes. Rather, this was a full-fledge nudist colony where families and friends were camping, cooking, swimming, walking and socializing 100% in the buff. I was stunned. I grew more and more awkward the more I realized we were the ONLY people wearing clothes.
The worst part of this (because lets be honest, the majority of this is hilarious and quite the experience), was the bizarreness of entire FAMILIES grilling out and eating dinner on a picnic table together, NUDE. Like, I’m all for being naked in the wild – you feel a deeper connection to the earth and it is a truly freeing feeling. What I’m not certain I understand, or feel comfortable with, is children of all ages running around naked with one another and adults. Full families camping NAKED together. I mean, I’m not judging. I’m just saying it did, indeed, make me feel uncomfortable. To avoid all this, I focused ALL my attention at looking forward to the trail – and the trail only – with blushing cheeks and laughter ripping at the corners of my mouth (I laugh when I feel awkward or embarrassed, it’s my coping mechanism).
FINALLY, away from the shocking campground, we hiked alone up the mountainside in search for what we came for – natural hot springs.
Side note: If you’re wondering why we didn’t just turn around and run, here’s my reasoning:
- These people seemed HAPPY and, again, who am I to judge? No one was harming one another and everyone seemed unbelievably happy.
- How weird would that have been if we walked into this camp, looked around, then hightailed it out of there?! lol
- I’m all for pushing myself out of my comfort zone and learning from new and uncomfortable experiences – I figured this was a chance to do just that.
- Other cultures in different countries, such as various African tribes etc, live in the nude (or barely clothed). So, again, just because this was a life I am unaccustomed to, I wasn’t about to just dismiss and disregard it.
Doug and I decide to barrel to the very top of the mountain to find the hot spring furthest away from the colony. After all, we wished to be alone in nature and peacefully enjoy the breath-taking views as we relax in the healing, hot waters.
We reach the furthest three springs at the top of the trail and they provide the most incredible views of the valley below (hence its name). However, to our dismay, we are not alone and there are other nudies abundant. We awkwardly sit on the banks and soak our feet, trying not to glance at peoples’ privates as they converse with us.
At this point, still determined to get my dang natural hot spring experience and being far from any children, I decide “when in Rome”. I take off my top (just my top) and embody this experience. I must admit, it felt liberating! And, slowly, the rest of the people left and we finally had the place to ourselves – one other young couple in their 20s remained in an adjacent spring and that was it. This lended us a quick photo-op as you can see below (told you it was pretty!)
Feeling freed and less awkward now that I joined in the nakedness (lets be real, I felt way worse being the ONLY clothed individual – felt like I was “too good or too snobby” to live their way), Doug and I wandered about the trails exploring more and more hot springs. I definitely felt like I was being ogled a few times (but how is that different from any club experience back home?). I felt most at ease in a hot spring that was deep enough to cover my nude body – a spring that was chest-deep. Here, I swam around and thoroughly began to enjoy myself. That was, until, the funniest moment YET occurred…
A naked, unkempt, “howdy doody” looking man in his 30s waddled up to my hot spring edge and yelled down to me, “Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that we are holding a world record event shortly. We are trying to beat the record for the most naked people in one swimming pool so please feel free to join us”. He ended this sentiment with a giddy, goofy giggle. I tried SO HARD to not look at this dude as he talked because he was standing DIRECTLY above me…I could see IT ALL and then some. The image of him turning away with his dirty butt-crack in close view, still haunts me to this day. SO WEIRD. And uhhh, NO THANK YOU! NO WAY are we going to jump into the pool and be butt to butt to a bunch of naked strangers and their children. EEEK.
After this encounter, Doug and I finally look at one another and silently acknowledge that this is our cue to leave. I put my clothing back on, wrap the towel around my wet body, and the both of us scramble down the trail back to the campground. Lucky us, we reach the campground JUST in time for the naked pool record to begin. We hear a whistle, shouts of joy and splashes aplenty, as we rush past. Looking back only once, we saw what most people will never see in their lifetime…
A single swimming pool filled to the brim with naked people – so full that you couldn’t even see the water. I honestly hope that they beat that world record (just so I can say I was there), but I never want to see it happen again.
With that being said, I would 100% go nude in a natural hot spring in the mountain wilderness again. THAT was the part of this I LOVED. Neither Doug or I will EVER forget this experience and it was definitely one for the books. You know how you’re living a moment and you pause to think “this is going to make a fascinating story one day”? Well…that was this experience. I knew, without doubt, that this would be a story I’d tell forever because it was just SO STRANGE. SO FUNNY. SO UNEXPECTED.
You’re welcome. Now you all know what Valley View Hot Springs truly is: A nudist campground colony where people full-heartedly choose the option to be nude, all of them. I’m not lying when I tell you we were the only clothed people at any given point there.
However, I’ll also tell you… It is worth the experience for the phenomenal hot springs and for the stunning valley views. ❤
If you’re ever visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park, which we HIGHLY recommend, and you’re feeling uber adventurous – journey yourselves on over to this unique place hidden among the Sangre Cristo Mountains.
Even if Valley View Hot Springs isn’t quite the adventure for you, do not miss out on exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park – the park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America and sledding on these dunes is an utter blast! Such beauty to be seen and such fun to be had. Not to mention, the seclusion and isolation is such an added bonus. You’ll even come across random UFO sighting posts along the roads (and not much else for miles upon miles).
Thank you all for reading this crazy happenstance of mine and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask away!
Much love and Happy Travels! xoxo