Located a mere 35 miles from the border of New Mexico, Pagosa Springs holds a very different atmosphere than urban Denver life.
Similar to most Colorado mountain towns, it’s a playground of activity. While it might be small in terms of annual residents, it’s large in recreation, surrounded by more than 3 million acres of the San Juan National Forest. Many skiers know the town by its proximity to Wolf Creek Ski Area and the legendary massive powder storms.
The town derives its name from natural hot springs abundant throughout the community. The word “Pagosah” comes from the Ute word meaning “healing waters.” These majestic springs bring tourists year-round to sample the relaxation and medicinal benefits of the springs.
PAGOSA SPRINGS QUICK LOOK
Average Winter Temps: 42 degrees during the sunny afternoons
Average Summer Temps: 83 degrees, but don’t forget to layer at night
Elevation: 7,000 feet
Sun Shines: 300 + days a year, it’s uncommon to have a complete day of clouds
WHAT TO DO
First and foremost, hit the hot springs! The town’s namesake will soothe any sore muscles and provide hours of relaxation as well as a look into rituals of early settlers.
Second, the smell of sulfur from the springs will intrigue visitors and have them wondering what this potent mineral does for the body. The hot springs throughout town will surely answer all questions.
Guests to Pagosa Springs will find all their favorite Colorado activities. From hunting, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice-skating to summer sports such as fishing, hiking, scenic drives, horseback riding, whitewater rafting and golf, you name it, this town’s got it. There is never a shortage of fresh air fun. For something a bit out of the ordinary, try hot air ballooning over the majestic massive forest. Two different companies in town offer trips: Rocky Mountain Balloon Adventures and Pagosa Springs, Colorado Hot Air Balloon Rides.
Open year-round, the town’s newest soaking endeavor is Overlook Hot Springs. Scenic rooftop tubs, five indoor pools and a private tub room are all at your disposal. Beer and wine are also served at this destination. Overlook is known for its fantastic après ski indulgences and has been recommended by national publications as a “don’t miss!”
WHERE TO STAY
The Cabins at Hartland Ranch
These are more than just cabins – they are true luxury in the woods. The Cabins at Hartland Ranch is located on a secluded 85-acre expanse, but close enough to town to enjoy all the benefits of Pagosa Springs. There are five cabins available, one, two or three bedroom accommodations, including a washer and dryer in each unit. Covered decks off the cabins provide privacy and optimal grilling opportunities with gas grills provided. Each bedroom has its own private bath and gas fireplace and all cabins come with wireless capabilities.
Rumor has it, people come once and they can’t stop going back. The slate floors with designer accents create the perfect harmony of rustic scenery and extremely comfortable accommodations.
Located in a giant log home with stunning wrap-around porches and views, Elkwood Manor is two-and-a-half miles from downtown Pagosa Springs and even further from any distractions from true relaxation.
There are four luxury suites with private bath, fireplace, sitting or living room and some with private decks. All the modern amenities such as cable and DVD are available, but you won’t think twice about visiting their movie library. Or, enjoy the jacuzzi and sauna on the property amongst the serenity of the San Juan mountains. In-room massages, box or picnic lunches and candlelit meals in the room can all be arranged.
The Springs Resort
The Springs Resort is the most luxurious accommodation in town. Heck, even Oprah has visited these pools and resort!
The hotel is grand and offers a variety of room choices with their 79 guest rooms, some are even pet-friendly. There are 23 different mineral pools on site that vary in temperature. There is also a saltwater pool to splash around in and Jacuzzi pool. You are able to visit the pools just for the day or you can make a mini-vacation out of the experience. There is a salon and spa on-site to indulge even the sorest of muscles.
Make sure to check the web site as the resort will offer special packages such as golf, ski, romance, etc., that combine other activities for a good deal of savings.
If you’re driving to Pagosa Springs from Denver, west on Highway 160, there are a few pit stops to make before arriving into town.
In summer, don’t miss Lobo Overlook. There is a pull-off and forest service sign to indicate the correct spot. A dirt road will lead up to a radio tower that eventually opens to an expanse with a picnic area. Most cars can handle the three-mile dirt road to the top of the overlook. An old radio tower will let you know you are on track. Breathtaking 360-degree views of the San Juan mountains are worth the drive. If you’re up for the challenge, try snowshoeing this access route in winter.
For a more educational sighting, keep on Highway 160 west before Pagosa Springs and another forest service sign will indicate the Continental Divide with a parking area designation. The signage will explain about the watershed from the Continental Divide. Keep on heading west and you will run into Fork Overlook, right after a hairpin turn as you come over Wolf Creek Pass. This turn-off offers stunning views into the valley of Pagosa Springs. There isn’t a bad photo that can be snapped of the area from here.
Finally, year-round you can view Treasure Falls. It’s located on the left side of the highway as you continue on Highway 160 toward Pagosa Springs over Wolf Creek Pass. There are accessible hiking trails and an easy half-mile trail to the falls.
WHERE TO EAT
All dining options in Pagosa Springs are casual. Jeans and boots are welcome.
Possibly the most upscale dining in town (you can still wear jeans), Alley House Grill is located in a restored 1912 cottage. The cuisine is labeled as global/Colorado style fusion mixing elements from the far east and local meat and vegetables from the surrounding area. The menu consistently changes, but picture seafood, Colorado meat, interesting combinations and an abundance of fresh goodies. Alley House Grill serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday in winter and seven nights a week in summer. Don’t miss out on their Sunday morning brunch.
Just next door is their sister restaurant, Farrago Market Café offering pizza, salad, sandwiches and more. Eat there or take a pizza to bake at home or just grab a slice and chow down. They serve local hand-crafted beers and plenty of wine.
The local favorite
Touted as the town’s only riverside dining establishment, JJ’s Riverwalk Restaurant & Pub is a local favorite. The atmosphere is casual, serving classics such as french dips, prime rib, burgers, salads, wings, sweet potato fries and pretty much anything you would imagine at a mountain pub. They fly their fish in from Hawaii, hand cut their meats and smoke their salmon in hickory wood—a town favorite. They offer fantastic lunch deals for $4.95 and nightly dinner specials starting at $9.95, 25 percent off all happy hour appetizers and a great kids menu.
Style and taste simplified
Nello’s Bistro & Espresso Bar is open for three meals a day, a wonderful choice for any hungry stomach. Gourmet coffees and fresh-baked pastries for breakfast, sensational salads such as grilled salmon and ahi tuna for lunch and a dinner menu that will please any palate. Think big steaks, pasta, burgers, gourmet chicken and scrumptious appetizers. Thursday night is sushi night and the bistro also showcases local musicians from Colorado and New Mexico playing folk, rock, jazz and more. Sit back and enjoy the music and don’t forget to add a cocktail. The margarita list at Nello’s is impressive and they also have local Pagosa Springs and Durango beers on tap.
TOUCH OF HISTORY
While the town was officially established a mere century and a half ago, it’s chock full of history from ancient civilizations. Some indications, such as pinnacles of rock, kivas and pueblo-esque structures, place Ancestral Puebloans in and around Pagosa Springs around 1125 A.D.
In the 1800s the Navajo and Utes fought over the land and healing hot springs with heroic battle stories—some myth, some fact and most legendary. Mountain men were the next group to begin traversing the area in search of game and fur. Word of riches such as gold and silver sent the next clan of explorers into Pagosa Springs of who eventually established the town as a military post. However, it was the hot springs that drew the groups of travelers back to the area to experience what civilizations centuries ago had already discovered. Today, the hot springs remain the number one attraction.
And…did you know that Phil Keoghan from the television program Amazing Race came through Pagosa Springs on his ride across America to raise funds for MS? He traveled over Wolf Creek Pass and biked more than 3,000 miles throughout his journey. Keoghan noted the town as of one his favorite spots on the trek and was overwhelmed by the donations and hospitality.