Pagosa Springs is a charming small town just north of the New Mexican border and just east of the better known Durango. With a population of under 2,000 people and an elevation of around 8,000 feet, it’s a high-altitude paradise that thrives on visiting travelers. The top two attractions are the hot springs and the Wolf Creek Pass Ski Resort. While the Ski Resort is obviously only useable during the winter when the snow pack is high, the hot springs are available year round. In the winter, you may have to shuffle between hot spring pools as quickly as you can to avoid the water freezing to your skin, the hot water is soothing and refreshing. In the summer, you may want to avoid partaking in the hotter pools until the sun has set.
Otherwise, Pagosa has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor activities. If you enjoy rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, or camping, you may end up coming back so you can visit as many of the locations as possible. If tubing or rafting down the river or paddle boarding in one of Pagosa’s many lakes is more up your alley, the San Juan River that runs through the heart of the town will be your greatest ally. Pagosa is a truly amazing place with an abundance of options, so read through this local’s guide to the small town before crafting your itinerary.
20 Hot springs
“World’s Deepest Hot Springs” decorates the town’s welcome sign. Whether or not that’s true, the springs are definitely one of the best ways for a weary traveler to reduce stress that is both luxurious and excellent for your health. There are two (and a third secret option that I’ll discuss later) options for soaking. If you’re looking to save money, I highly recommend the Overlook Hot Springs Spa. There are a few large pools located inside, a few hot tubs on the patio, and a hot springs pool on the roof. The inside pools are an excellent option if you’re visiting during the summer because who would want to sit in hot water while the air is hot, too? Alternatively, The Springs Resort & Spa is nearly twice the price, but has more pools to offer and is rather ascetically pleasing. Pools of all different posted temperatures are scattered along the bank of the San Juan River. The downside, other than price, is that all of the pools are outdoors, and this tends to be a heavily trafficked tourist location.
19 Wolf Creek Ski Area
If you’re an avid skier or snow boarder, then Wolf Creek is where you should spend your time in Pagosa during the winter. The pass can be a challenging drive depending on how much snow fall there has been, and since the Ski Resort is 42 miles outside of Pagosa Springs, you may want to either camp near the pass or splurge in a room at the resort. According to Colorado Ski, Wolf Creek Ski Area is known for having deep, powdery snow. Sitting just under 11,000 feet in elevation and receives an average of 430 inches of snowfall each year.
18 Higher Grounds
Finding good coffee while you’re traveling is an essential, but finding an exceptional coffee shop with non-dairy options, delicious coffee, and tasty food is like finding a needle in a haystack. Higher Grounds is that needle. It’s located behind the City Market in town and is just enough off the beaten path that not a whole lot of tourists know that it exists. The coffee can be on the expensive side, but it’s worth it for the quality, and you can bring your own mug for a discount. Plus, if you’re the type that likes to sit in coffee shops and use the creative energy of a place to write, draw, or read, then you need to spend some time in the comfy couches there.
17 MEE Hmong Cuisine
The owner of this newly opened restaurant grew up with her mother’s Hmong cooking and picked it up herself. Her food is unique and unlike anything else you’ll find in a 100-mile radius of Pagosa Springs. Most of her clientele are locals who have enjoyed her cooking skills since before she owned a brick and mortar shop. So if her Skinny Meenee rolls with a spicy peanut sauce sound good to you, head into downtown where her shop is nestled on Lewis Street just behind the main street. You won’t find it over run with tourists, and her food will be the best Asian fusion you’ve ever had.
16 Farmer’s Market
Who doesn’t love a good Farmer’s Market? Pagosa Springs hosts a market from the end of June to the beginning of September each Saturday. If you come early in the morning, you’re most likely to score the best deals on local produce, but there’s more to it than that. You’ll find artisan spices, fresh bread, herbal products, metal carvings, locally sourced meat, and even musicians from the surrounding area. There’s really only one grocery store in town, so take advantage of the summer time peaches, apples, and melons. Most of the products there are reasonably priced and even if you can’t afford them, the entrepreneurs manning the booths love to share their passion with you, so strike up a conversation, and you’ll be surprised at what you can learn.
15 River Walk
Most of the activities in Pagosa Springs are outdoorsy and require some level of fitness to do, but there is a nice walk around the San Juan River that is flat, doesn’t increase in altitude, and isn’t a far drive. This concrete path is located right in the heart of downtown. While it’s not nearly as pretty as a lot of the hikes that are available in Pagosa, it’s a good introductory activity. It’s also nice that you can go and stick your feet in the river if it’s hot and watch the local wildlife during your walk. It’s also a good spot to practice your catch and release fishing if that’s your thing.
14 River Rafting/Tubing
This next activity is much more of a summertime adventure when it’s so hot that all you want to do is exist near the cool river water. You can go out on a rafting adventure when the river is high enough, but that can cost money and takes a whole group of people to be in the raft. On a side note, though, you can take your dog in the raft with you. If the river is low like it is this year, then tubing down it (carefully avoiding bottoming out on the larger river rocks) is a much better option. You can rent tubes or buy some from Walmart, but no matter what, you’ll be able to enjoy while sitting back and relaxing. Make sure to apply sunscreen and bring lots of drinking water.
13 Paddle boarding/Kayaking
One of the best things about Pagosa is that you find water anywhere you turn. There are plenty of lakes available to visitors and locals alike, so if sitting around in a tube or raft isn’t enough action for you, then you can rent a stand up paddleboard or a kayak to explore one of the lakes. Paddle boarding is not necessarily for beginners if you have a questionable sense of balance since you have to paddle while standing, but the worst that happens is you’ll fall into a lake, and if it’s a summer day, it’ll probably feel pretty great. If you want to rent a paddleboard for the day and take it to a different lake outside of Pagosa, you can rent an inflatable one that fits inside of a hiking-sized backpack.
According to visitpagosasprings.com, you can rent either at Colorado Overland Jeep Adventures, Pagosa Outside, Ski and Bow Rack, or The Hub Bike Shop.
12 Treasure Falls
This is a family friendly, short trail located 14 miles outside of Pagosa Springs on Highway 160 towards Wolf Creek Pass. While you do gain 200-feet in elevation according to All Trails, it’s not a difficult trail. There are two ways to arrive at the waterfall, one primitive and one that has been well manicured. If you have small children or don’t want to bother with step switchbacks, then take the manicured one both ways. If not, then try taking the primitive one on the way up. Make sure to pack or wear a swimsuit, if you want to cool off in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. The water is ice-cold from the snow run off even late into the summer.
11 The Overlook
Just a short way down the road from Treasure Falls on the road to Wolf Creek, you’ll find a spot to pull over on the left hand side of the road. Appropriately named “The Overlook” because you can look out over the land for what feels like hundreds of miles. From this vantage point, you can see different lakes, rivers, and the rolling mountains coated in pine and aspen trees. From that height, horses look like small dots gazing on large mountain pastures. As of two weeks ago, the road construction had closed this location, but it should be reopened shortly.
10 Fourmile Trail
This 6.3-mile trail, according to All Trails, is falsely named, but is completely worth it. At the end of this moderate trail is a waterfall that is best experienced in the springtime when the river is high with snowmelt. Just make sure make to bring shoes that can handle mud since locals refer to spring as the “mud season”. Dogs and horses are welcome on this trail, so be sure to step aside or give wide berth to any riders in case their horses are high-spirited and easily alarmed. If you bring your pup, make sure to keep him or her on a leash for the duration of the trail.
9 Williams Creek Trail
The starting point of this hike is a ways from Pagosa’s city center, but it offers beautiful views, spring wildflowers, and is located near Williams Creek Reservoir (if you visit, see if you can spot the side of the mountain that appears as if an artist has carved the profile of a Native chief wearing a headdress). The hike is just over 6 miles out and back and is rather step for the first mile or so. Bring your dog, bring a pack with some snacks, and a bottle of water on your adventure. All Trails recommends this hike between June to October for the most satisfaction.
8 Opal Lake Trail
This easy trail is great for hikers of any skill level. The out and back trip is only a little over 2 miles long. It’s located not far sound of Pagosa Springs, and is effortlessly one of the most beautiful hikes around. The combination of wildflowers, the grove of aspen trees, and the lake that shimmers as if it was truly made of opal are all too much to pass up if you’re in the area and have a morning to spare. It’s also a great location to backpack up into or bring a picnic along to. Bug spray and sunscreen are highly recommended for this trip.
7 Turkey Springs
If you’d like to take your hiking up a notch, try Turkey Springs trail. It’s a 10.5-mile loop trail with a mere 700-foot elevation gain. It’s a moderate trail that is challenging because of the length rather than the height you gain in your travels. The trail decorated with rolling hills is passable on foot, on horseback, or on bicycle. There are lakes along the way, but if you’re visiting during a dry year like this one, most of the water will be dry not too far into summer. So make sure that if you bring a dog or a horse that you have drinking water for them, too.
6 Pagosa Peak
According to Sportsman Camp Ground, Pagosa Peak is the highest point in the area, standing at 12,640 feet. It’s a steep trail in which you gain over 2,000 feet in elevation, so don’t feel like you need to rush to the top. At the very top of this hike, you are above the protection of the tree line, so it’s not recommended to start this hike late in the day or to stay on the peak well past noon. Especially during the monsoon season, thunderstorms are more common than ordinary rain showers, and you’ll want to be under cover of the pine and aspen trees before a storm rolls in.
5 The Continental Divide Trail
At the top of Wolf Creek Pass, you’ll find the Continental Divide Trail. You’ll want to bust out the panoramic setting on your phone to capture the insane views. Of course, this trail can be casually walked in sections, but depending on how far you want to go, it can become a hike that requires experience, skill, and supplies. Of course, there is always the option of renting a jeep or 4-wheeler and traversing the Continental Divide on something other than your own two feet. Even if you don’t hike and simply enjoy the views, the beauty is well worth the trek out from Pagosa Springs.
4 Rock Climbing near Piedra River
If you take a drive down Peidra road, be sure to take it easy—you car will thank you. It can be a washboard-ridden dirt road, but you’ll find great hiking and climbing opportunities from the Piedra River parking lot trailhead. Ice Caves Trail starts across the road from the parking lot and is a nice hike down to the river itself. But if you’d like to climb, there are plenty of routes ranging between 5.9 and 5.12b just before you get to the river. According to Mountain Project, there are trad routes, several bolted routes, and bouldering available. So bring your climbing shoes and some chalk at the very least to enjoy some climbing during your outdoor time at the bottom of Piedra.
There are endless opportunities for camping near Pagosa Springs. The ones closest to town are the Pagosa Riverside Campground, Lower Piedra Campground, and Turkey Springs Dispersed Camping. For camping further away from town, follow highway 160 towards Wolf Creek Pass, you’ll find East Fork Campground on your right. The signs for it come up quickly, so be careful. These campsites are all clustered closely together, so if you’re looking for privacy, you may want to keep driving. West Fork Campground has sites that are less densely packed than the east and isn’t much farther of a drive. You’ll find it on the left side of the road right before Treasure Falls. If glamping is more your thing, then you could reserve a cabin at Wolf Creek Run or Fireside Inn Cabins.
2 Backpacking to Rainbow Hot Springs
The third secret way to enjoy the health benefits of soaking in the hot springs is to hike the Rainbow Hot Springs Trail. You can use the West Fork Campground as a place to keep your car while you hike. While most people will tell you it’s only five miles to the springs, it’s actually over seven miles in. It’s a long enough hike that you may want to break it up and pack overnight gear on the hike with you. That way you can take your time at the springs and not have to worry about hiking back down in the same day. The directions to the springs are long and complicated, so be sure to either take a local with you or consult All Trails.
1 Visit Nearby Areas: Durango and Telluride
If you’re taking a trip into Pagosa anytime soon, it’s also highly recommended that you spend some time exploring the surrounding areas. Durango isn’t an hour away. It’s a bigger city than Pagosa and has a lot to offer in the way of outdoor adventures. Be sure to check out Honeyville just outside of Durango for some local honey. Telluride has been said by locals to be a slice of the Swiss Alps without having to fly across the Atlantic. Be sure to ride the gondula while you’re there, which is a tram that carries you (and any of your canine friends) to the top of San Sophia Station.