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Hot Springs Conundrum: Wild CO Pool Now Requires Permit

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The free-for-all at Conundrum Hot Springs, one of Colorado’s most popular hiking destinations, is over. The U.S. Forest Service released details of the new permit system for overnight camping this week.

Conundrum Hot Springs sits in the shadow of jutting mountains; photo by John Webster/Webster Media House

Conundrum Hot Springs is a world-class hiking destination. Nestled in a valley below several towering peaks of the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness, the natural hot springs delight hikers with warm pools and spectacular views.

And that’s part of the problem.

Located at the end of a strenuous 9-mile hike, the springs and related camping areas are super popular. But this is a fragile, high-alpine landscape with a short growing season.

And amidst its increasing popularity, managers decided this year the springs need a permit system to regulate visitation and camping.

Conundrum Hot Springs: Loved To Death

Conundrum Hot Springs permit system
Conundrum Hot Springs requires a permit for overnight visitors; photo by Sean McCoy

For years, the springs experienced booming popularity and visitation. As many as 200 to 300 people visited and camped near the springs in a single night during the high season. And with that came degradation to the fragile alpine environment. Illegal campfires, human waste, and erosion plagued the small destination.

The damage was saddening. Human feces and trash littered campsites, evergreens were chopped down, and tests revealed human feces in the pools.

“There was a bachelor party with a blow-up sex doll, libations – including moonshine tied to a sandal – wafting marijuana smoke, and about half of the 40 people packed into the pool are naked,” experienced an Aspen Public Radio reporter.

In another instance, a group of cows made things even worse a few years ago when they wandered into the area and died during a harsh winter. Obviously, the permits won’t change cow behavior. But it’s another example of the fragile nature of the area.

Conundrum is a natural hot spring with amazing views, but it has become increasingly popular; photo by Sean McCoy

Now, the 20 designated campsites will be limited to 68 campers per night, still a significant number of humans in this remote destination, but far fewer than visited previously.

Conundrum Hot Springs Permit System

Beginning April 1, 2018, overnight visitors to the springs must obtain a permit to camp at one of the 20 available campsites.

Permits for visits between April 18 and July 31 will be available beginning at 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time on April 18. Those who want to visit on a weekend or holiday should plan to pull a permit early, as the popular destination will probably fill up fast.  On April 18, 2018 there will be 17 designated sites available for reservation. Three additional sites will be added in the summer of 2018 for 20 sites in all.

White River National Forest officials highly recommend that people planning to make bookings on April 18 create a profile on Recreation.gov well in advance of that date.

“One needs a profile to secure the permit reservation so it is best to do it in advance for the most efficient reservation process,” noted Public Information Officer Kate Jerman.

In future years, visits from April 1-July 31 can be booked beginning Feb. 15 of the current year.

Destination: Conundrum Hot Springs

Hot springs of the American West range from the pristine to the skeezy. Happy to report our recent trip to popular Conundrum Springs near Aspen leaned to the former, despite the dead cow bones and ample exposed human flesh. Read more…

Permits are first-come, first-served, and the maximum length of stay between June 1 and Sept. 1 is three nights. For the rest of the year, a seven-night maximum stay takes effect. Individuals are limited to two permits in a calendar year.

Overnight permits for Aug. 1–Nov. 30 are available at 8:00 a.m. MST on June 15. Overnight permits for Dec. 1–March 31 will be available at 8:00 a.m. on Oct. 15.

Permits cost $10 per reservation (not per night) and will be available at recreation.gov on Feb. 15.

Those planning a trip to Conundrum should plan to haul out all human waste and practice Leave No Trace ethics. Learn more here before heading out for a weekend at Conundrum Hot Springs.

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