Located in the Sunbelt of southern Colorado, the town of Pagosa Springs is easily one of the most charming towns we’ve visited. Outdoor lovers will find hiking, skiing and ancient cultural ruins. Those who prefer to relax can enjoy soaking in the namesake hot springs, shopping and dining. Regardless of what you’re interested in, there are plenty of things to do in Pagosa Springs.
We first visited Pagosa Springs to see family. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with the town and all that it has to offer. We have now been to Pagosa Springs in the summer, fall and winter. After three visits, I can confidently say there isn’t a bad time to visit.
With 300 days of sunshine a year, you can enjoy outdoor recreation year-round. Add in the surrounding San Juan Mountains and you’ve got a scenic backdrop that is difficult to beat. Seriously, just driving through town offers a scenic view that never gets old.
Those mountains don’t make it easy to get to Pagosa Springs, though. Many visitors drive up through New Mexico, as the town is only 35 miles north of the border. Those looking to fly will have to arrive by charter or private aircraft or fly commercially to Durango, which is about an hour west.
Trust us, the effort to get to Pagosa Springs is well worth it!
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Things to Do in Pagosa Springs
With a population of only about 2000 people, you might not expect to find an abundance of things to do in Pagosa Springs. Don’t let its low population fool you, though. Pagosa Springs boasts a high number of vacation homes. Meaning that not only is Pagosa Springs a great place to visit, it’s a great place to visit often enough to own a second home there.
So, let’s dive in and check out all the great things to do in Pagosa Springs!
Relax in the Hot Springs
Pagosa Springs gets its name from the southwestern Ute word “Pagosa,” which means “healing waters.” Indeed, the all-natural hot springs have drawn visitors to the area for many years. As with many hot springs, visitors historically flocked to the area for the believed medicinal benefits of the warm mineral water.
In addition to the potential healing power of the springs, the “mother spring” holds the title of the World’s Deepest Geothermal Hot Spring. The measured depth of the spring is 1002 feet. Interestingly, the actual depth is unknown as every time its measured, the line isn’t long enough to hit the bottom!
Today, you’ll find the hot springs along the bank of the San Juan River right in downtown. While it is possible to find a few warm spots along the public bank of the river, the best way to enjoy the hot spring is by visiting The Springs Resort & Spa. At The Springs, you’ll find 24 soaking pools, lodging, dining and a spa.
Whether you choose to stay at the hotel or opt for a day visit to The Springs, soaking in the warm waters is one of the most relaxing things to do in Pagosa Springs.
Visiting The Springs
When we visited The Springs, we opted for a General Admission day pass. This includes admission to 19 soaking pools, locker rooms and showers. For an additional charge, you can come and go throughout the day.
For access to the 5 adult-only pools, you must purchase the Relaxation Terrace Package. In addition to all 24 soaking pools, your pass includes a towel, robe and same-day unlimited re-entry.
The 24 pools vary in both size and temperature. In some of the larger pools, you can easily mingle with friends or make new friends. We found the pools near 100 degrees to be the most comfortable. For those who really like it hot, see how long you last in the 110 degree pool, appropriately named the “Lobster Pot.”
While the hot springs are relaxing, I’ll admit that finding a calm spot can be a bit difficult in the main soaking area. Honestly, though, the “problem” wasn’t loud children, there were just a good number of people. And that was in the middle of the week near the end of September. If you’re truly looking to relax, I’d suggest paying for the adults-only area or visiting early or late in the day.
Still, we enjoyed our visit to The Springs. Soaking in the warm waters while gazing at the San Juan River and Mountains is certainly not a bad way to spend a day!
Want to enjoy more hot springs? Check out our article on visiting Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.
Stroll the Downtown Area and Riverwalk
As with most small towns, a walk through the downtown area of Pagosa Springs won’t take you long. But you will find a few restaurants and a number of stores selling clothes, home decor, antiques and more. Best of all, while you will find a good variety of souvenirs, you won’t find any tacky stores filled with shot glasses and t-shirts.
To extend your walk a bit, continue east just past the main part of downtown. Here, you’ll find even more restaurants, many of which offer outdoor seating so you can continue to enjoy the fabulous weather of Pagosa Springs. Thankfully, the entire area is very walkable with sidewalks on both sides of the street.
If you’re looking to relax a little, head down towards the river, which you’ll find running right through downtown. A stroll along the Riverwalk offers the opportunity to get away from the shopping and dining. Take a few pictures, splash in the cool water of the river or find a bench and enjoy your surroundings.
As you walk along the river, look for the small pockets of bubbling hot springs on the river bank opposite the resort. These small pockets generally are not big enough for a soak but you can access them for free!
While the downtown area is nice, it’s not quite as busy as you might expect for a town that sees way more visitors than full-time residents. I suppose it’s possible that we just haven’t visited at the “right” time to experience that!
Check out Treasure Falls
Located about 15 miles east of town, Treasure Falls is a 100-foot waterfall located right off Highway 160. If you’re short on time or aren’t a hiker, you can view the waterfall from the parking lot. For those wanting to stretch your legs a little, there is a 1/2-mile loop trail that takes you to the aptly named Misty Deck viewing area.
The trail is short but steep, gaining about 200 feet in elevation is only 0.3-miles. Heading to the left from the parking lot is the easier route, while off to the right is steeper and more rugged.
As you might imagine, this is a fairly popular site and the parking area is not large. Arrive early or late in the day to try to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Enjoy a Scenic Drive
One of our favorite things to do in any mountain town is just enjoy the scenery. Thankfully, in Pagosa Springs, you can do that from just about anywhere! To really enjoy the beauty of this mountain town, hop in the car and take a scenic drive through the surrounding national forest and wilderness.
Perhaps the easiest scenic drive is to head east along Hwy 160, past Treasure Falls towards Wolf Creek Pass. Just before you get to the actual pass, you’ll find a parking area where you can get out and snap a few pictures of the valley below. Continue driving east as far as you want before turning around and heading back to town.
Another nice drive that is closer to town is Piedra Road. You’ll find Piedra Road right off the main highway on the west side of town, near the Pagosa Springs Golf Club. You can also access it by following North Pagosa Road back behind the main grocery store, City Market.
Even driving through the residential area is a nice treat. You’ll quickly see why many people choose Pagosa Springs for a second home. Once the houses fade away, though, the scenic beauty of the valleys and mountains really shines.
When the pavement ends, you’ll find a graded dirt road that is easy to drive in any vehicle. Follow the road as far as you like. We opted to turn on McManus Road, which we followed to Forest Service Road 634 and on to Four Mile Road. These roads take you through the San Juan National Forest and several ranches before ultimately coming out right in town. Not only is this drive extremely scenic, it’s easily accessible right in town and doesn’t require high clearance or four-wheel drive.
There are plenty of other scenic drives in the area. Check the Pagosa Springs web site for more ideas.
Take a Hike
One of our favorite things to do in Pagosa Springs, or anywhere, really, is to get out on the trail. Hiking not only is a great workout, it also generally offers scenic views and opportunities for spotting wildlife. With the millions of acres of public land in and around Pagosa Springs, there is no shortage of hiking trails in the area.
In fact, you can easily combine a scenic drive with a hike to keep you busy for several hours or even a full day. Off Piedra Road, we did two hikes: a short one to Piedra Falls and a longer one along the Piedra River. Get directions to both hikes here.
The hike to Piedra Falls is half-a-mile one way with about 100 feet of elevation gain. While you will need to do a bit of rock scrambling right near the falls, overall the hike is fairly easy. The falls cascade down volcanic cliffs nestled among the trees.
If you’re looking for a relatively short and easy hike with a nice reward at the end, this is a great option! The drive to the parking area is a bit long (1-1.5 hours from town) but you’ll be too busy enjoying the scenic views to mind the long drive.
As you get closer to the trail, you will see signs directing you to the parking area.
Piedra River Trail
For a longer hike, check out the Piedra River Trail. The entire trail is 12-miles long with a trailhead at each end. We started at the trailhead off Piedra Road and hiked about 2 miles before turning around. While we generally prefer loop trails, the nice thing about an out-and-back is that you can turn around whenever you need or want to.
As you might expect from its name, the trail runs alongside the Piedra River. After starting up above the river on the “canyon wall,” the trail descends, eventually running right by the river. While much of the elevation change is fairly gradual, there are a couple of steep spots to navigate. Overall, we found the trail to be easy-moderate difficulty.
With the river, canyon walls, open valleys and the start of fall leaf colors, we thoroughly enjoyed this hike! Our only regret was that we didn’t have time to hike farther. If we had it to do over again, we probably would have had tried to arrange to be dropped off on one end and picked up on the other.
Chimney Rock National Monument
Located about 30 minutes west of town, Chimney Rock National Monument is NOT part of the National Park System. Instead, it is one of several national monuments under the management of the US Forest Service. The Chimney Rock Interpretive Association, a non-profit organization, operates the park in conjunction with the Forest Service.
The park gets it name from the chimney-like rock formation that is visible for miles around. But its importance goes beyond an interesting landscape. The site preserves an area where Ancestral Puebloans lived a thousand years ago. Its inhabitants are tied to the Chacoan culture found mainly in the Four Corners area.
Technically, there is no admission fee at Chimney Rock NM. That said, visitors must pay a tour fee to access the upper parking lock and view the ancient structures. When we visited in September 2020, this was a self-guided tour.
Stay tuned for Grant’s upcoming article with more information on Chimney Rock NM and other nearby sites.
Take a Day Trip or Side Trip
If you’re looking to do a little driving, there are several options for day trips or perhaps an overnight stop on your way to or from Pagosa Springs.
We combined our visit to Chimney Rock NM with a drive to Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec, NM and a stop in Durango, CO. These three sites made for a nice day trip with a good balance of scenic views, cultural history, window shopping and tasty food and drinks.
While we just spent a coupe of hours in Durango, there are plenty of things to do there that could warrant a longer visit. We certainly hope to return one day to do some more exploring, including a ride on the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Another option on your way to or from Pagosa Springs, is Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is about two hours east. We stopped here on our way home from Pagosa Springs and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Grant’s upcoming article will share our experience and how you can enjoy this park even if you don’t want to spend a lot of time hiking in the sand!
If you’re headed north, west or south, there are plenty of other national parks in the area to visit. Seriously, every time we travel to this part of the country we feel like we are missing out on something because there just isn’t enough time for it all in a one or two week-long trip. Heck, there’s not even enough time during a one or two month-long trip.
Where to Eat in Pagosa Springs
While there are many great places to eat in Pagosa Springs, there is a decided lack of chain restaurants. And we’re ok with that! We always try to eat local and try new things when traveling and there are plenty of options for that here.
Riff Raff Brewing
When we visited in the summer of 2017, Grant really enjoyed a Green Chile beer. Of course, the beer menu changes frequently, so check the menu for current offerings. Now that I’ve started drinking beer a bit more often, I’m looking forward to finding something interesting on our next visit.
Mee Hmong Cuisine
At Mee, you’ll find an interesting blend of Asian flavors representative of the Hmong culture. I had the Meatball Curry and Grant enjoyed the Beef Pho Bowl, both of which were excellent! This is exactly why we always push ourselves to try different places – you never know what treats you might find!
The Buck Stops Here
When we talk about hidden gems, The Buck Stops Here is the perfect example! It’s not fancy but it is a great meat market and deli with a wide variety of traditional and unique offerings. The menu includes hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, sausage, seafood, salads and more. They even have a full bar. There really is something for everyone. To top it off, they also offer game processing for hunters.
Kip’s Grill & Cantina
Kip’s offers tacos, burgers and a variety of appetizers, beer and mixed drinks. Throw in a laid back atmosphere and you’ve got a great place for lunch or dinner. Grant had the Pilewski (tacos with pork barbacoa), while I chose the nachos, which were more than enough for my dad and I to split. In addition to a wide variety of tacos, you’ll also find beer, elk and bison burgers on the menu.
Mountain Pizza & Taproom
The best part about Mountain Pizza & Taproom is the serve-yourself draft beer and wine. Basically, you open a tab, get a fob and pour up to 32 ounces of beer or 12 ounces of wine. For someone like me who likes to try different drinks, this was perfect, if a little pricey. Due to a backup with their pizza, we ordered subs instead. If we return, we’ll be sure to try the pizza.
With a prime location right on the San Juan River in the middle of downtown, you won’t have any trouble finding Tequilas. Due to its location, I’d certainly suggest a table outside where you can enjoy the magnificent views of the river and hot springs. The food is standard Mexican fare. We enjoyed our meal but it wasn’t anything special.
Where to Stay in Pagosa Springs
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Pagosa Springs is the very obvious lack of mid-range hotels. We are always saddened that there are no Hilton or Mariott properties at all.
On our first visit, we stayed at the Econo Lodge, which was comfortable enough but nothing exciting. On our second visit, we camped at The Last Resort on the south side of town. While we didn’t have any problems at either place, we probably wouldn’t stay at either of them again.
Thankfully, for our third visit, we stayed at the family home west of town.
From what we saw at The Springs, I would guess their rooms are nice and comfortable. Unfortunately, the price is a little high for us.
Since there are a good number of vacation homes in Pagosa Springs, you’ll find a nice variety of options on AirBnB. While we can’t recommend anything specific, I will say that is our plan for the next time we visit if the family home is not available.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Pagosa Springs
After three visits, during three different seasons, I can honestly say that Pagosa Springs is one of our favorite small towns. Those looking to get outside will find plenty of things to do in Pagosa Springs, from hiking in the summer to skiing in the winter. The abundant sunshine and generally mild temperatures make it easy to enjoy these outdoor adventures.
I know that not everyone is interested in outdoor adventure. But when you’re in a place with as much scenic beauty as Pagosa Springs, you just have to get outside and enjoy it. If you’re not up for hiking or skiing, consider renting an ATV or Jeep and driving through the National Forest. Or maybe a hot air balloon ride to enjoy the sights from up above the trees.
Seriously, the possibilities seem to be endless in Pagosa Springs.
Perhaps the best part about Pagosa Springs? For all the vacation homes and part-time residents, the town does not feel overly touristy. Yes, you’ll know you’re in a resort town with a good number of visitors. But without the chain restaurants and tacky souvenir shops, the scene is much calmer than many other tourist-heavy towns.
Whether you are looking to enjoy the scenic beauty while relaxing or want to get out and explore, Pagosa Springs is a great place for a weekend, a week or even longer!