Our first stop in Colorado was beautiful Pagosa Springs. Though home to magnificent waterfalls, miles upon miles of green forest, and natural, mineral-rich hot springs, Pagosa Springs was delightfully smaller and quieter than we expected. Small town vibes but still so much to do.
San Juan River Walk:
If strolling along a beautiful river is your kind of thing, the San Juan River Walk will not disappoint. We visited several times on bikes and on foot and even packed a picnic one day. There are a ton of benches and picnic tables along the path (a few with grills) and several areas where the river can be accessed for swimming, fishing, tubing, or rafting. There is also a pond, playground, set of geothermal greenhouses, and a community garden all along the river to be enjoyed.
Accessibility Notes: The San Juan River Walk is accessible with wide paved sidewalks and bridges. There is ample parking scattered across several smaller lots. I saw a few long RV parking stalls and a few wide parking stalls with access aisles but there were no signs posted at these spaces. I learned later that smaller parking lots with fewer spaces are required to have accessible parking spaces, but may not be required to post signage.
Treasure Falls and Piedra Falls:
I love waterfalls (who doesn’t?) and was excited to learn about several near Pagosa Springs. Treasure Falls, the first we visited, was just a short drive out of town. The trailhead and parking lot sit off the highway and an easy hike up the main trail brings you to the base of the falls. We took the primitive trail to the right of the parking lot, for a steep climb up the mountain.
We also took a trip to Piedra Falls in the San Juan National Forest. The drive out to the trailhead is long and bumpy but incredibly scenic. Piedra Road road from Pagosa Springs turns into a dusty gravel road that travels through gorgeous meadows of wildflowers, dense forest, and even a few open cattle ranges. Not having a clue what the falls would look like, we told ourselves the drive alone was worth the trip. When we reached the trailhead it was an easy hike to the falls. We went in the afternoon and had it all to ourselves. Not disappointed.
Accessibility Notes: Treasure Falls is somewhat accessible. While there are no reserved accessible parking spots, there is a paved curb ramp from the parking lot to the observation area and sidewalk that leads to the trailheads. The main trail is wide and the surface (during summer months) is mostly flush with gravel and hard dirt. The trail gradually climbs up the mountain with the exception of a few moderately steep inclines.
The Springs Bathhouse:
We took a day to relax at The Springs Resort & Spa in the mineral-rich waters fed from the Great Pagosah Spring, also known as The World’s Deepest Geothermal Hot Spring. We had seen the resort and pools from the San Juan River Walk and decided to take the plunge. We hopped between 18 different pools ranging from 86 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the pools are located right on the San Juan River, we took several dips in the 60 degree water whenever we needed to cool off. The daily admission depends on what type of amenities you want (reentry privileges, robe, towel, locker, etc.) and starts at $24 per adult. We got our money’s worth by arriving in the morning and lounging around in the pools and by the river all day.
Accessibility Notes: The path to the Blue Lagoon mineral lap swimming pool is accessible and has a wheelchair lift. However, there is not an accessible path to the pools located in the lower portion of the resort, and although most of the smaller pools in this area have handrails, none have lifts.
The resort also includes a relaxation terrace for adults only and for an extra fee. We did not purchase passes to the relaxation terrace but staff explained that the terrace is wheelchair accessible through the adjoining hotel lobby and includes 5 small soaking pools, lounge chairs, and gas fire pits. These pools also have handrails but do not have lifts.
Piedra River Hot Springs:
The man made pools were really nice but there’s nothing quite like the adventure of hiking in search of natural hot springs out in the wild, then enjoying a nice soak as a reward. We headed off into the San Juan National Forest to find a place to dip out on the Piedra River. The hike on the Sheep Creek Trail to the Piedra River was almost entirely steep switchbacks downhill. After 1.5 miles, the trail meets the river below and several pools can be spotted alongside the flowing waters.
Here in the majestic springs I earned by first road warrior battle scars when I stepped on an unstable boulder that tipped and threw me swiftly onto my hands and knees. Giddy up! Shortly after my fall from grace, a gang of feral horse flies swarmed me, biting and drawing blood. Luckily, soaking in the hot springs turned out to be the perfect remedy.
Kayaks and Hikes and Bikes (oh my!):
We strapped on his little life vest and took Gaius out to the Williams Creek Reservoir for his first ride on the inflatable kayak. The peaceful waters are surrounded by tall trees and mountains, making it the place to camp, kayak, or fish. We enjoyed a picnic from the tailgate of our truck and watched a sweet little otter (or maybe small beaver) swim by in the water.
We took our mountain bikes out to the Turkey Springs Trail in the San Juan National Forest. This singletrack trail travels through open meadows, rock gardens, and forest trees. It had to be one of the most beautiful trails we’d ever ridden, though the altitude and a few inclines had us pretty tired.
My favorite hike in Pagosa Springs was the trail to Opal Lake and the South San Juan Wilderness. The first 1/2 mile from the trailhead was steep switchbacks uphill but soon we found ourselves traversing through beautiful groves of aspen trees, marveling at green open meadows, and crossing shallow streams via river rocks and downed logs. There were beautiful sights around every bend making the initial climb totally worth it.
I learned the last known grizzly bear in the state of Colorado was found in the South San Juan Wilderness back in the 70’s. The area is a known home to black bears and while we didn’t see any, we did come across their poop a few times during our hike.
We had planned to visit the town of Durango and ride the steam-powered train over the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Unfortunately, days before our scheduled ride a forest fire broke out near the tracks and all trips were canceled. Firefighters worked nonstop but a week later and still burning, the 416 Fire was proclaimed Colorado’s 5th largest forest fire and had covered more than 22,100 acres. The beautiful San Juan National Forest is now closed indefinitely to help protect the area and its natural resources. All of the hiking, biking, and kayaking we did in Pagosa Springs was in the San Juan National Forest and I feel lucky we were able to experience it before the closure. Thank you to all who are risking their lives fighting the fire- may you remain safe!