37.2694° N, 107.0098° W
Ask most Coloradoans and they will say they have heard of Pagosa Springs. But then ask them where it is, and they will have no clue. That is the perk of visiting this somewhat out of the way mountain town: it has all the makings of an amazing tourist destination - without the tourists.
While Pagosa Springs is a superb summer destination (due to its location, a combination of high desert plateau and the Rocky Mountains, it has an unusually mild climate during the summer) it is also a great spot to base yourself for some winter adventures. Including, skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
We recently visited the town for an adventurous winter getaway and absolutely fell in love. So if you are looking for a place that has a great mix of outdoor adventures, good food, and a lively, cute downtown then definitely add this town to your list. Oh, still not convinced? Well how about if we told you that not only does Pagosa Springs have all of that, but also hot springs!
Ready to add this Colorado mountain town to your winter travel list? Good - we promise you won't regret it.
Here is what we believe is the best 3 day itinerary for Pagosa Springs.
| Wake up early and grab your snow gear for today is the day to head up the mountain for some skiing at Wolf Creek, one of the few remaining independent ski resorts in the state and the one that almost always gets the most natural snow (no man-made snow here). We are talking inches of fresh powder, short lift lines and some amazing views.
A couple of things to note about skiing at Wolf Creek: it costs about $80 USD for a day pass (this includes parking); because it is a smaller, independent resort there are not a lot of services, so bring your own lunch and snacks and anything else you might need; get there early to make sure you get a good spot in the parking lot.
| But before heading out of town, make sure to stop by Peak Deli, located in downtown Pagosa Springs, for some delicious breakfast sandwiches that will keep you full all day long (note: as of February 2021 they were not allowing indoor dining). Then grab a nice steaming cup of joe at ROOT HOUSE, located a couple shops down the street.
| Now be aware that the road up to the ski resort (Highway 160) is steep. We are talking gaining over 3,000 feet in elevation in not that many miles. Also, be prepared for adverse winter driving conditions (chains or 4-wheel drive are highly recommended). Take your time and don't try to rush the drive up or down the mountain - especially if it is snowing.
| Once done skiing at Wolf Creek, make your way back down to town for some much needed food. We recommend checking out Mee Hmong Cuisine, a locally owned restaurant that serves up delicious dishes in the spirit of the Hmong (pronounced “mung”) ethnic group, which today reside in China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Try the Holy Basil, Stir Fry Ginger and the Edamame Bites.
| If you aren’t completely zonked out after a nice filling dinner, grab your swimsuit and head to the river downtown for the perfect way to end the day: soaking in some natural hot springs. While Pagosa Springs is known for its hot springs, many of them are now resorts (i.e. you have to pay to soak). The exception is Hippy Dippy Hot Springs - a free, natural little pool right on the edge of the river in downtown.
To reach the hot springs, park at Mary Fischer Park (right across the bridge from downtown) and then walk a short ways to the river. We went for a soak in the morning and it was totally empty (another option if you are too tired at night).
| On your second day, consider having a lazy morning (after skiing the day before you probably need it). Once up, head downtown for a nice relaxing breakfast at The Rose. Consider ordering the biscuits and gravy or the veggie omelet, and lots of drip coffee. The pricing is quite reasonable and the food is tasty - plus the staff are super friendly and helpful.
| Once your hunger has been satiated, head out of town like you did the previous day (up Highway 160) towards Wolf Creek Pass. Before you reach the infamous hairpin turn you will see a sign for Treasure Creek Falls. Park along the road (there should be a wider shoulder) and make your way up through the trees to see the likely frozen, but no less beautiful, waterfall.
| Then head back down the highway just a short ways to the East Fork Winter Trail. This is a nice, groomed road that follows the river the whole and is perfect for cross country skiing (note: it does also see some snowmobile traffic). If you are feeling up to it, head out on the road for about 8 miles to reach the historic Silver Falls Guard Station.
Find more cross country and snowshoeing trails in the Pagosa Springs area here.
| Finish the day with some much needed food and drinks at Riff Raff on the Rio Brewery, a local brewery located on the east side of town. This brewery is quite unique in that it is the first brewery in Colorado to be powered by spring-fed geothermal heating (that hot spring water creating magic once again).
You can stop in at either their location along the San Juan River (Riff Raff on the Rio) or the original location closer to downtown (located in an old Victorian house). Both serve up the brewery’s flagship drinks as well as yummy food. We stopped in and ordered the fish n chips and a burger. Both were quite tasty.
| Today is all about exploring the beautiful area around Pagosa Springs. And there is no better way to start the adventure than by stopping in at Chavolos Taqueria for some much needed huevos rancheros and chilaquiles.
| Since the plan is the head out of town and explore the surroundings, consider stopping in at the local Walmart or City Market for some snacks, both are located close to Chavolos.
| Then head out of town on Highway 160 (back over that lovely Wolf Creek Pass) and towards the town of South Fork. Here you have to make a decision on what you want to see: either turn left and adventure along Highway 149, where you will pass through the historic mountain towns of Creede and Lake City OR keep going along Highway 50 towards Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and then back up to Poncha Springs. Both are beautiful, but offer pretty different scenery and adventures.
|| Option 1: Highway 149 is not very popular so you will likely have it mostly to yourself. You will also be enveloped in the mountains, meaning pretty pine forests and beautiful rocky landscapes. You will also get to see some of Colorado’s mining history (including old buildings and mining materials), especially in the small town of Creede (the town even has an Underground Mining Museum you can check out). You can also take a break along the way at North Clear Creek Falls, a large waterfall right off the highway.
Eventually you will reach the town of Lake City, a one-time mining boom town that now caters to tourism (especially for history buffs and outdoorsmen). Lake City, though still rather small (population: 408), does have a good number of restaurants, including a bakery and brewery. From Lake City keep heading out on Highway 149 until you reach Highway 50 (about another hour down the road).
|| Option 2: Instead of turning left on Highway 149, keep going on Highway 50 through South Fork until you reach the town of Del Norte. Once in town, keep heading towards the right along Highway 160 (towards Monte Vista). The landscape will begin to change dramatically: no more high mountains and pine forests, but instead open plains and sagebrush. You have officially entered the San Luis Valley. Right outside of Monte Vista is the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. If you time your visit just right (most likely the month of February) you can see the migration of thousands of sandhill cranes, many of whom take a break in the refuge.
From Monte Vista head towards the small town of Mosca (take Highway 285 and turn right on County Road 5 N). Once in Mosca, you just need to follow the signs for Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (about another 20 minutes away). In the winter, the dunes are sometimes covered in snow - making the landscape look completely alien-like but no less beautiful. Plus, because of the often low temperatures and non-stop wind, you will likely have the park to yourself. Another can’t miss adventure in the area is Zapata Falls, a large waterfall that completely freezes in the winter - creating a stunning ice tunnel in the rocks (note: Zapata Falls is 3-miles up a rocky dirt road, so only consider taking it on if you have 4-wheel drive or the snow is not too deep).
No matter which adventure you choose to take on, you will get a great idea of the landscapes around Pagosa Springs, and a better understanding of why so many people know of the town, but rarely visit (Wolf Creek Pass is intense).
If you are looking for a wonderful winter getaway, then we cannot recommend Pagosa Springs enough. The town is adorable, the hot springs are amazing (if you are looking to splurge, consider checking out The Springs Resort, located along the San Juan River and home to not only the most hot spring pools in Colorado (24) but also the deepest measured geothermal hot spring in the world), and the natural landscape is truly stunning. And what is even better, in the winter you are likely to have it all to yourself :) So if you want to get away to the mountains and have some memorable winter experiences, definitely add Pagosa Springs to your list.
Where to Stay
Alpine Inn of Pagosa Springs $ (offers free breakfast)
Motel SOCO $$ (a funky all-in-one motel with live music)
Fireside Cabins $$ (individual cabins along the river right outside of town)
The Springs Resort & Spa $$$ (24-hour access to the hot springs, first LEED-built hotel in the state)
Other Things to Know
| Pagosa Springs sees about 300 days of sun a year (!), meaning even in the winter time it is likely that you will get some sunshine (at least down in town - up at Wolf Creek ski area it is a whole other story). Therefore, make sure to bring some good sunscreen and sunglasses for when you are outside exploring the area.
| Besides downhill and cross country skiing, other popular winter activities include snowshoeing and snowmobiling. The latter is especially popular up along the pass and closer to South Fork. If you aren't interested in downhill skiing up at Wolf Creek, consider checking out snowshoeing rentals and trips closer to town.
| Pagosa Springs is pretty far away from, well, anything - which totally adds to its appeal. The best way to reach it is by car. From Denver it is just over 5 hours away, from Santa Fe it is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and from Durango it is just over an hour away.