Want a different “Springs” in Colorado with all the same stuff?
Looking for an alternative to Colorado Springs? Maybe you’ve been there, done that, and want something a little different? Pagosa Springs, Colorado might be your spot for something a little less mainstream.
Every outdoor lover has heard of Colorado Springs and all it has to offer, but maybe you want to go to a place a little less mainstream. Pagosa Springs is a beautiful little town with a year-round population of just over 2,000 people that offers way more than most towns of 2,000 people. Pagosa Springs sits at over 7,000’ in elevation, is surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, and has the San Juan River run right through the middle of town. It is the definition of picturesque.
While the town is breathtaking, that isn’t why you are looking for an alternative to Colorado Springs. You are looking for outdoor adventures like:
- Mountain Biking
- OHV Off-roading
- Swimming Holes
- Cliff Jumping
- Fly Fishing
- Dog Sledding
- White Water Rafting
- Soak in some Hot Springs
Pagosa Springs offers all of this and so much more.
Top Hiking and Mountain Biking in Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs is almost totally encompassed by the San Juan National Forest. This nearly 2 million-acre National Forest is the playground for anyone and everyone in the area. There are at least 50 trails in Pagosa Springs alone. If you are looking for an “I’m on top of the world” feel, you can conquer the Alberta Peak: Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
This trail starts about 20 miles outside of town and does a lot of the climbing in the car and leaves you with just enough climb to feel like you conquered something. It is a little under 6 miles (out and back) and is rated as a moderate trail. Be sure to consider the high elevation into the equation and give yourself some time to adjust to the altitude before starting out for this one.
If you like to hike along the rivers like me, check out the Piedra River Trail. If you like to chase waterfalls, Pagosa Springs has those too. Four Mile Falls and Silver Falls are two very popular waterfalls worth going to see, but there are still many more to go out and find in the San Juan National Forest.
One of the most interesting hiking trails is called the Ice Caves Trail. This isn’t actually a cave, but rather a deep cut into the sandstone with a dramatic drop into what seems like the underworld. It isn’t a long hike, but really interesting and going through while in the Pagosa Springs area.
In the Turkey Springs Trails System, there are several opportunities to do some legit Mountain Biking. An incredibly popular trail in the area is the Tukey Springs Lollipop. This trail is named after its Lollipop layout. While this trail is a shorter trail at just 7.5 miles, it is often enough for visitors adjusting to the style of Mountain Biking and adjusting to the elevation distance.
Most visitors find it is just enough to get started in the area. If you use this trail in June, you will be riding among the wildflowers, and in July or August, you could be riding through grazing cattle. It is truly a beautiful ride no matter the time of year.
Bring your Jeep or off-road vehicle!
Any off-roading enthusiast knows Colorado is a haven for their passion. Pagosa Springs has some spots for those enthusiasts too. Three different trails stick out to me with two being really close to Pagosa Springs and one is about 45 miles away. The Pagosa Springs OHV Loop is an 81.1-mile loop that offers a couple of chances to practice your technical work as well as a chance to see some wildlife and one of those beautiful mountain lakes.
The Elwood Pass OHV Trail is a 28.8 mile out and back trail with some rocky shelf roads that might make you think twice about finishing this trail. Completing this trail will give some great rewards with spectacular views. If you want a well-marked technical trail, the Cross Creek Trail via Cross Creek Campground is a solid option for you. This trail is uphill most of the way and offers several technical climbs, but you can expect some road rash on this trail if you don’t have good enough clearance. Overall, this trail is spectacular and is relatively short at just about 10 miles.
The Waters of Pagosa Springs are special
The one big reason you should come to Pagosa Springs… the mineral waters. Many locals insist the waters in Pagosa Springs are healing waters. In my last visit to Pagosa Springs, a local said he had been coming there every day for years and it had made a huge difference in his overall well-being.
Pagosa Springs has the deepest hot springs in the world and these waters spill right into the San Juan River. If you get to town early enough, you can have the area to yourself. I got there at 8 AM and only had one other person in the river. With the cool air, warm water, and beautiful scenery, it is a great way to start your morning or end your day after a long hike.
The Springs Resort is located right on the San Juan River and offers lodging options or day passes for those wanting just one full day of relaxation. They offer a resort experience in a natural setting. Not only do they have 13 pools to soak in, but they also provide spa options, wellness classes, and a full restaurant for its visitors.
One fish synonymous with fly fishing is trout. And if trout is what you are after, the Piedra River is the place you want to be. This river and its tributaries are all about trout, including: brook, brown, rainbow and the native cutthroat.
If you are wanting a more adventurous experience, you can mix some hiking with your fishing and be rewarded with a waterfall and picturesque mountain lakes. The Four Mile Lakes offers a variety of fishing spots in a setting that you could spend eternity. However, this spot comes at a cost. It is a somewhat strenuous hike along a creek until you reach the lakes.
Pagosa Watering Holes, Cheap Eats & More
For your morning coffee, there are several good places to crap a cup of joe. There are numerous coffee huts for the “grab-and-go” coffee lovers. But for those who like to enjoy their cup in a cool spot, you have to check out Root House Coffee Shop. This place is a back alley shop along the San Juan River. You can get a great cup of coffee and breakfast item and then enjoy their rustic and industrial interior, covered patio, or a walk along the river as you start your day.
Pagosa Springs is not short on restaurants or brews either. If you are looking for something cheap, you could check out the Junction Restaurant (the only place in town that lets RVers park overnight for free) and enjoy some good food for great prices. Peak Deli is another good lunch known for its fantastic owner and fresh food. Pagosa Baking Company is the spot in town for a wholesome organic meal. The baked goods are fantastic and incredibly fresh. If you stop, try their Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
After a long hike, a pizza and beer might be necessary. Mountain Pizza and Taproom is that place in town you will probably want to hit up more than once. Everything on the menu is good and out to the table quick. The thing that will have you coming back is the row of beers on draft that you can pay for by the ounce. This means you can walk the line and try them all! They offer both inside and patio seating and the staff are super friendly and accommodating.
What has me coming back for more?
It is a perfect balance of a small mountain town with relaxation and adventure at the center. The restaurants are great and the people are even better. I am certain this is a spot you won’t regret trying out yourself.