We headed down to the state’s remote southwest corner for the second installment of our collaboration with Topo Designs. Pagosa Springs is not exactly a well-known destination, even for people that live in Colorado. However, if you are looking for something unique with a lot to do outside, this little gem is worth the trek.
For those who ski/board, then chances are you have heard of Wolf Creek, a legendary spot for avid powder hounds. Pagosa Springs (PS) is roughly 30 minutes down the pass from the resort and is where many people find lodging during the winter season. There are not a lot of options on the other side of the pass, so most stay in PS to enjoy the more robust amenities and, of course, the massive hot springs.
We got the chance to visit PS in mid-September to escape the summer crowds and enjoy the last bits of warm weather. Equipped with mountain bikes, our packs, some good hiking boots and of course our Topo Fall gear, we hit it hard.
Let’s start with the world famous Pagosa Hot Springs. Whether you are coming for the powder, nature, or the San Juan River, the springs are what make this little town special. Considered to be the deepest geothermal hot springs in the world at over 1002 feet deep, the springs are the main attraction for most. Be warned, the water is very sulfury, and you will need to shower down with some strong soap to get the stink off, but it’s worth it. The warm mineral waters are perfect after a long day on the bike, hike or river and help ease your sore muscles.
The Pagosa Hot Springs Resort
If you are looking for facilities like showers, food, towels, and lockers, the best bet is the main resort right on the river, which also has a hotel. During COVID, they limit the number of people that can come in, so it’s good to avoid peak hours. This resort is the most expensive option at roughly $35 a day, but you can buy a pass to save some coin and bring your own towel. Once inside, you will have a variety of options to dip yourself in to, from a bigger cooler pool to smaller hotter pools, there is plenty to choose from. If you want to make the most of it, grab a beer and hop every pool on the property – good times.
The two other pay to soak options are the Overlook and Healing Waters, with the Overlook being a favorite for locals because of its view and lower prices. We did not hit either of these but heard they were also good options if the main resort is sold out, which happens a lot during the season, especially during COVID due to stricter capacity regulations.
The Hot Springs Hippie Dips & River Outlet
If you don’t want to fork over the cash, you can try one of the pools along the river’s edge that are free, also called the hippie dips, or go right into the river by the side of the resort to catch some of the hot water as it bubbles out. This route is a bit of a hassle, but hey, it’s free.
San Juan River and Navajo Lake
Tubing & Rafting – During the early summer, there is rafting and tubing, but unfortunately, we missed the window as we visited after labor day. The river starts to run low at the end of the summer, but you can still bring your own tube, and there is a rental outfit right as you get into town that will rent you a tube and take you upriver for around twenty bucks; they also guide white water rafting trips.
SUPing – If you are a paddle boarder and are more experienced, then the river is a good option when the water is running a little higher. If you are looking for something a bit more tranquil, maybe head out to Navajo Lake, which is about 30 minutes out of town, and has some spectacular sections.
Navajo Lake – This large lake feature’s a small, and we mean tiny, marina on the Colorado side and a massive marina and development on the New Mexico side if you are looking for more amenities. We rented a pontoon boat (about $400 for 8 hours or so) and had an incredible time weaving in and out of the many inlets. Post-Labor Day is a great time to go as the water is still plenty warm, and the crowds are gone. We made our way down into the New Mexico side of the lake but never went far enough to get to the main marina. Instead, we had a blast just poking around the beautiful little inlets, jumping off the boat, and launching our SUP for some excursions. Just add some cold beers and a group of good friends, and you will be in heaven.
Hiking / Mountain Biking
This is an excellent loop for hiking and mountain biking that is relatively moderate and has a couple of loop options for shorter or longer excursions. Several steep sections make it a bit more challenging, and there is some fantastic scenery, with a pond, rolling hills, and great meadows. If you go out toward dusk or earlier in the morning, your chance of seeing some deer and other wildlife is highly likely. We saw a ton of deer on an evening mountain bike ride.
Just down the way from Coyote Hill, the Turkey Springs trailhead also offers many different loops and trails to embark on, with plenty of tree coverage to provide shade on hotter days. We did a 9 mile hike one day and the next day did the same trail on mountain bikes, which was a blast. The trail is more or less a single track and great for beginners and intermediate bikers, with just enough technical terrain to keep it exciting and tons of smooth rolling hills. You might even catch yourself yelling fuck yeahhhhh as you cruise by the cows that are out to pasture. Highly recommended.
We missed this the first time we visited PS a couple of years back, and VERY happy we went this time. The falls are about 15 minutes out of town along the highway on the way to Wolf Creek. You drive through the incredible valley that is home to Boot Jack Ranch, one of the most prestigious properties/ranches in the United States with some of the best fly fishing in the state. Just google it; it’s worth 88 million dollars and it’s stellar looking. Unfortunately, the parking area along the highway to access the falls is extremely small, and during the season, you will most likely have to park along the road. Accessing the falls is pretty straightforward. The destination offers various routes from more difficult narrow trails to more accessible, tourist friendly paths that link to several observation areas. It is worth your time to hike to the top; the falls are spectacular and one of the state’s more impressive waterfalls, especially earlier in the summer when the runoff is in full effect. Don’t MISS THIS SPOT!
Dining / Drinking
Riff Raff Brewing Company
This is the spot for craft beer, and they have two locations, one along the San Juan River as you first get into town and one downtown along the main drag. The beer is solid, and they always have something special brewing alongside their staples; try the Hopgoblin IPA or their porter, two of their specialties. The food is also quite good with a mix of traditional bar food and some delicious burgers, and the nachos are a beast too. The river location is epic for soaking in an afternoon and catching a game, oh and a sick river view. Pagosa on the come up.
Peace. Love. Pagosa. This cafe is a newer spot in town right across from Riff Raff on the river, we had breakfast here on our way out of town, and the b’fast burritos were stellar. The owners are a local husband and wife team who put love into everything they do, and you can tell. The scenery is excellent, the food is tasty, and there is a full bar as well. If you go during the winter, make sure to hit up their grab and go burrito stand, we might go back just for that: breakfast burritos and champagne powder, no brainer.
The Lost Cajun
Yes, you read that right. The Lost Cajun has a few locations across Colorado, and oddly enough, there is one in PS. If you are looking for some good Cajun cuisine and Abita beer, this is the spot. Everything is solid, and the catfish is extra delicious, especially when you chase it down with Abita’s Purple Haze. Definitely a great option when you are looking for something more than burgers, pizza, or Mexican food.
If you are looking for an authentic dive bar, packed with scary townies and some real, local flavor, then it’s worth venturing in here for a Coors or couple shots of whiskey. The bar itself is 85+ years old, so if you look carefully, you can see the charming patina of this old watering hole. You might find people smoking inside, you might find some unsavory characters, and if you like dive bars, you are in heaven.
The Neon Mallard @ The Nightingale Motel
Now, this was unexpected. We finally ventured into the Mallard, expecting a grimey, sports bar type of vibe and got the surprise of our lives. Recently purchased, renamed, and redesigned, the Nightingale Motel and Neon Mallard have brought some serious style and taste to Pagosa. You walk in to find a dimly lit world of odd curiosities, eclectic furnishings, gothy chandeliers, and a big welcoming bar. It turns out the new owner is also a set director and has taken his collection of dope items and laid them out into an exquisite little bar. Each small area has its character, including a little room with pink flamingo wallpaper that feels a bit Miami Vice and a dash Liberace, which was terrific. The drinks menu was inventive and featured some twists on classics and dessert drinks that would make any macho man bite. I got the Peanut Butter Manhattan, and wifey got the Chocolate Raspberry Martini. Let’s just say we were in there quite a bit during our stay. Make sure to ask for Cliff.
We loved this spot! Wood-fired pizza, excellent bar food, and a nice selection of serve yourself taps, along with an incredible staff. We arrived toward closing, and they were obviously slammed and understaffed, but still got us sorted, were incredibly friendly, and the pizza was solid. There are not a lot of options in PS, and this was one of our go-to spots for sure.
Another great little spot that we hit up a couple of times. Reasonable prices, good tacos, and friendly staff. We would recommend heading right for the tacos after a long hike or day on the river, wash it down with a cold Coors Banquet Beer, repeat.
The Peak Deli
If you are looking for an excellent sandwich to pack out with you or enjoy before hitting the river, this is the spot. A good variety of sandwiches to please everyone in your group, and they are right next door to the tube/rafting shop, making things easy. It does get busy, as they are the only game in town, but very solid and worth a stop or two.