A History of Hot Water

Soaking in Ouray is a Centuries-Old Tradition

Ouray’s many hot springs have been a natural draw for the bone-weary for centuries. The town’s hot springs have bubbled up along the Uncompahgre River and from underground fissures for thousands of years and range in temperature from 80 to 150 degrees. Ouray is located along a large geological lift at the head of the Uncompahgre Valley and the pressure and heat from this activity resulted in a series of clean and odorless hot springs. The same geologic forces that made the town rich in minerals and ore also produced some of the largest and most pleasant hot springs in the United States.

historic ouray hot springs poolPhoto courtesy of the Ouray County Historical Society

The Ute Indians who settled the Uncompahgre Valley considered the mineral springs sacred and healing, and other tribes traveled for days to visit the springs. In the 1870’s, prospectors and miners moved into the San Juan Mountains and founded the City of Ouray in 1876. In 1881, after a series of failed treaties, the federal government removed the Ute tribe to a reservation in eastern Utah. With that move, the Utes lost their native lands, including the ceremonial hot springs that they called “Miracle Waters.”

Ouray’s first indoor swimming pool and bath house was located on the west side of town near today’s Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings. W.J. Buchanan, called Buck by the townspeople because he always wore buckskin pants, purchased his land from the city in 1877 for $12.70. His wife, “Mother Buchanan,” offered miners a hot bath to wash away the soreness of weeks of hard physical labor. The cost of the bath depended on the length of the soak. Ladies held “plunge parties” in her outdoor pool, which measured about 20 by 30 feet in size.

The Ouray Hot Springs Pool

In 1920, several of Ouray’s local leaders banded together with the intention of erecting a large, outdoor pool. Citizens bought memberships, and businesses contributed funds and materials to the venture. After six years of planning and delays, the pool opened on July 4, 1927. One of the largest crowds in Ouray’s history attended the opening.

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(The McLeod plunge bath in the early 1900's - advertised then as now " as “Ouray’s Mineral Hot Springs, Best Natural Hot Water in the State of Colorado"
Image courtesy of the Ouray County Historical Society)

After 88 years of operation and countless visitors, the pool facility was beginning to show its age. In the autumn of 2012, the City of Ouray organized a citizen’s committee that was tasked with reviewing, prioritizing and recommending essential improvements to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center Facility. In August of 2015, the Ouray City Council adopted and approved the final master plan design for the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. The demolition and renovation of the pool facility began in October 2016 and was completed in 2017. This new pool facility will continue to create lasting memories for future generations to come.

Our Roots Run Deep

Between the Utes Indian's discovery of these restorative hot springs to Ouray's development from a rough and tumble mining camp, our town is packed with heritage that intertwines with our current favorite activities and attractions. Head over to our Culture & Heritage page to learn how to enjoy historic Ouray to the fullest.

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