DAY TRIPPER: Hot Springs Eternal


    ›› It may be a small town, but Idaho Springs has a big list of things to do. The sleepy mountain canyon town just a short drive from Aurora is teeming with cool, Colorado-centric restaurants, awash in scenic drives, famous for natural hot springs, has the requisite quaint, walkable Old West downtown and something for everyone.

    The drive from Aurora to Idaho Springs along Interstate 70 in Clear Creek County is an easy one, and it offers some pretty cool views of the foothills. If traffic isn’t bad through Denver, you should be able to make it there in about 45 minutes. Expect an hour drive if traffic’s heavy. Early on weekend ski days can be miserable.

    Even though it’s a tiny town, there are actually four exits you can choose from when you reach Idaho Springs, but if you want to get the full flavor of the town, hop off at the first one, exit 241A. From there, cruise west on Colorado Boulevard until it hits Miner Street, which serves as the town’s main street.

    Not long after you cross over Clear Creek, you are in the heart of town. At 17th Avenue, hang a left and you should find ample free parking right behind many of the downtown businesses. With a town the size of Idaho Springs, it’s best to park the car and wander on foot. But bring a jacket. The altitude is 7,500 feet, but the town sits at the bottom of a canyon, so much of the afternoon it’s in the shade and temperatures tend to dip.

    One of the cooler spots in downtown is the Irish Emporium at 1620 Miner St. The narrow shop with a creaky wooden floor is packed with Irish and Celtic items that go well beyond the typical St. Patrick’s Day trinkets. If you have even an ounce of Irish blood, you probably won’t have a hard time wandering around for longer than you’d think.

    The hot springs are part of the lore of the town. Gold miners in the area saw a bluish mist in the canyon, steam from hot springs. Those springs, some dug into caves, are the same ones that brought continued fame to the area after the gold ran out. The bathing options run the gamut from communal pools, one for men and one for women, to private tubs and a variety of mud or massage choices. Expect to spend $15-$20 for the springs. The spa is at 302 Soda Creek Road.

    Above the town, the famous Argo Mine and Mill give tours of the huge former operation that drew hundreds of millions of dollars of gold from the mountain. In winter, call ahead to see if the tours are available. Also seasonal are Clear Creek rafting trips, kayak spots and now a zip line park upstream toward Downieville.

    When you’re ready to satisfy that high-altitude appetite, the options are numerous, particularly if you are looking for something distinctly Colorado. There’s the Buffalo Restaurant and Bar at 1617 Miner St. famous for its buffalo burgers and old-west feel. Even if you just stop in for a drink, it’s worth it to pull up a seat at a bar that dates back 150 years.

    A block away is the original Beau Jo’s Pizza and another block west is the Tommyknocker Brewery and Pub, featuring some top craft brews in a state that is now world famous for them. For the beer fan, the Imperial Nut Brown is worth a try, and the homemade root beer is ideal if you are laying off the hard stuff.

    Now it’s time to do more ambling. The town is full of interesting shops. Toffee popcorn just down the street from Tommyknocker really is something to write home about. The town library, the creeks, the funky motels or just a stroll along the steep streets and stunning Victorian homes is a perfect way to finish off the day.