Colorado's Best Destination
Yet it has been named one of the best places to visit in Colorado.
It regularly appears at the top of the lists for camping, glamping, luxury travel and mountain getaways. It is the only resort in Colorado to win Conde Nast's Traveler Gold List for 2016.
We wanted to know what made Dunton Hot Springs and the Dunton River Camp so remarkable, so we set out to experience it firsthand. Could a place with a rugged history really be a five-star? And could it really be worth $1,500 a night for a camping experience?
Here's what we experienced at Dunton Hot Springs, behind the scenes with a real traveling family.
Life in a Ghost Town
Dunton Hot Springs is an old ghost town renovated with luxury cabins.
The cabins are all within walking distance to three natural hot springs: the source, which is extremely hot, intimate indoor hot springs in a historically inspired bathhouse and small outdoor hot springs with bubbling waterfalls.
The resort, isolated and private deep in the San Juan Mountains, is all-inclusive, with five-star dining, beverages, and access to other activities. Guests can take bikes out on the trails, unwind in the old saloon or get massages in the spa.
Your cell phones likely won’t work in this old mining town, but if you need to stay connected, there’s wifi throughout.
The Best Kept Secret: River Camp
The hot springs’ cabins are known around the world as one of Colorado’s best destinations, but what fewer people know about is the nearby, new river camp.
Dunton River Camp, just a few miles away from the hot springs, is remote glamping at its best.
Stay in glamorous, fully equipped canvas tents tucked in the alpine mountains or overlooking the Dolores River. Tents are spacious, set on 640-square-foot platforms. Like the cabins, the tents are all-inclusive. Just call your attendant whenever you need a refill on your champagne or a fresh whiskey.
Whereas the cabins are open year-round, the camp is open only in warm weather.
Beware: The drive to get here will take you along a barely touched, cliff-side dirt road that gets narrow at points. If extreme mountain driving makes you nervous, request pick-up.
Elegant Bathrooms — in Nature
Each of the eight tents includes an ensuite bathroom — but we’re not talking outhouses or compost toilets. Bathrooms have hot water, double sinks, a soaking tub, even towel warmers and slate floors.
Go out for a bike ride, get dirty and come back for a soak in the 6-foot tub with a glass of wine, before retreating to the farmhouse for a farm-to-table dinner specially prepared for your tastes.
This is truly the best way to immerse yourself in nature, without sacrificing comforts.
Tents have electricity — even a phone to call the staff, a fan, lights. The fireplace is electric and connected to the thermostat, so you can easily adjust the temperature in your tent. The king-sized bed is layered with fluffy pillows and down blankets.
Just say what time you want coffee delivered to your front porch each morning, and it will be waiting.
Ultimate Relaxation at Dunton
Guests at the river camp also have access to the hot springs. The two-level bathhouse contains a mineral-rich hot springs, fire pit, cozy hammock, ice plunge, steam shower and multiple lounging areas.
Plug in your phone for your favorite tunes, or enjoy the solitude. Ascend to the small loft to read a book or take a nap. Swing on the underwater wooden swing. Staff can bring water or beverages, as needed. You could stay here all day — and will want to.
Colorado's Best Hot Springs
The hot springs are a highlight of the experience in Dunton. Unlike some Colorado hot springs, these are not sprawling tourist attractions. They are small and private; the resort itself does not have space for many guests.
Enjoy them day or night. Clothing is optional.
Back on site at the river camp, detox in the mobile sauna by the river and then cool off in the river itself, or in the old-fashioned metal tub on its banks.
After dinner, wrap up the day with S’mores and a whiskey by the fire.
While at camp, you can also go for a horseback ride or request a guide to help you conquer one of the nearby fourteeners (mountains that are 14,000 feet or higher). Go rock climbing, rafting on the river or request a photo class. Take a sand canyon hike and wine tour through the McElmo Canyon, along a trail in the Canyons of the Ancients national monument.
Right outside the tents is an archery range, a hammock for reading and foosball and board games in the community game tent.
Request a private yoga or pilates class, or book a spa treatment, like the aptly fitting Dunton Hot River Rock Massage, which uses warmed river stones to relax your muscles.
In the winter at Dunton Hot Springs, guests can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, heli-skiing (in some of the highest elevations in the nation), snowmobiling, ice climbing or even dog sledding. Yes, the Durango Dog Ranch can take you out on a mushing adventure.
A Fishing Heaven
There are many outdoor activities around here, but the fly fishing is especially excellent. The west fork of the Dolores River is full of trout, and you can arrange a guided lesson or bring your own gear if you have your permit. Fish just steps from your porch.
Menus change every day, based on what’s in season. Eat inside the farmhouse, in the saloon at the hot springs or outside on a picnic table overlooking the river as the sun sets.
For breakfast, don’t miss the hand-made pastries by the on-site pastry chef, fresh-squeezed orange juice or the eggs benedict.
The chef sources local, organic produce and meats (including from the site’s own farm and vineyard) and expertly pairs them with wines. Try the local, high-rated Sutcliffe Vineyards, a partner with the ranch. Sutcliffe is located in nearby Cortez. Or request your favorite classics from around the world.
Food can be prepared for dietary restrictions or preferences, as everything is made to order. Portions are not huge, but that helps reserve space for dessert and S'mores. Guests do have access to espresso machines all day.
Headed out for a hike or tour? Request a packed lunch to go.
A Fascinating History
In addition to being a beautiful getaway with top-of-the-line service and amenities, Dunton Hot Springs has a rich history.
The mining settlement started in 1885 with fewer than 50 residents. Ore production and residency continued to grow until the early 1900s, but shortly thereafter, the residents moved away. By 1918, the grounds were abandoned.
It was turned into a cattle ranch and dude ranch, but closed down. In the mid-’90s, new owners took over. Seven years of renovating and redesigning gave birth to the newest incarnation of the land.
Although the interior of the cabins has been totally redone, owners did their best to maintain the authenticity and original charm. So as you walk through the grounds, it feels like you could be in the 1800s. Don’t expect perfectly polished cabins. The charm is in the shabby wood and quirky details that owners didn’t smoothe over.
Expect to dive deep into nature, with wildlife nearby. Yes, you may see a bear or a snake, although they’re not poisonous at this elevation.
This is a new type of five-star; you won’t be wrapped in a bubble of protection. But you will be wrapped in the embrace of history and Mother Nature, in one of Colorado’s most breathtaking valleys.
Your New Dream Vacation
The river camp makes an ideal romantic getaway, but it’s also family friendly. Kids under 2 stay for free. Pets are even welcome in some cabins.