Located in southwestern Colorado just 35 miles north of the New Mexico border and close to some of the most rugged and beautiful forests and mountains in the state, Pagosa Springs is situated along the western slope of the Continental Divide and adjoins millions of acres of pristine San Juan National Forest. Although nothing like the glamorous, jet-setting scenes of Aspen, Vail, and Telluride, Pagosa Springs is a friendly, laid-back, and highly scenic destination for skiing in winter, and hiking, biking, fly-fishing, and rafting in summer.
Year-round, this rugged town of about 1,600 is famous for being home to some of the largest natural hot springs in North America. These are centered around the aptly named Springs Resort & Spa, whose soaking pools are open both to overnight guests and day visitors.
Vacationing in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Just a short walk away, you'll find the Pagosa Springs Visitor Center, a good place to pick up information on the area. Pagosa isn't exactly a hot spot with GLBT travelers, and this area is somewhat more conservative than the I-70 corridor of the Rockies, but this is a very friendly part of the region and a popular stop with travelers road-tripping through the Four Corners region. Just don't come expecting any sort of defined gay social scene. The area is served by an LGBT social and support group, the very helpful Four Corners Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity.
Along downtown's primary thoroughfare, Main Street - which fronts the river, you'll find a handful of gift shops and galleries. Downtown also some additional hot springs spas, including Healing Waters Resort (just across from the Springs Resort) and Overlook Mineral Springs Spa. It's well worth spending an hour or two strolling along downtown, where a paved pathway runs alongside the San Juan River - from banks, you can see well into the snowcapped Rockies in the distance.
As you head east from downtown toward Wolf Creek ski area (25 miles east), wide U.S. 160 is lined with a handful of Victorian houses and Arts and Crafts bungalows. To reach New Mexico, turn south after about a mile onto U.S. 84 - it's a roughly a three-hour-drive to Santa Fe, and another hour to Albuquerque.
Or you can stay on U.S. 160 as you drive east and continue over the Continental Divide and past Wolf Creek to reach Denver. It's about a five-hour drive there, following U.S. 160 east to U.S. 285 north, which leads you right into the city.
Follow U.S. 160 west for 60 miles to reach the ruggedly charming town of Durango, from which U.S. 550 leads north along the fabled "Million Dollar Highway" to another cool little hot-springs town, Ouray. From here you could also head north to reach other ski towns in the western Rockies, like Telluride and Crested Butte.
Wolf Creek Colorado Skiing
It's just a 30-minute drive from downtown Pagosa Springs to Wolf Creek ski area, and that final section of the way, over the Continental Divide, is quite spectacular. When you'll arrive you'll find a happily compact, laid-back facility with parking fairly close to the lodge and employees who are consistently friendly and easygoing.
Keep in mind that Wolf Creek Pass sometimes closes during heavy snowfall, so check with the ski area first or the Colorado Department of Transportation Road Conditions website for the latest information.
Wolf Creek is a skier's mountain with a local vibe, even though a good many visitors drive here from points all around Colorado and northern New Mexico. In fact, among the Albuquerque and Santa Fe set, Wolf Creek is nearly as popular as Taos Ski Area, even though it's a longer drive north. A key draw here is the fact that Wolf Creek averages more snowfall each season than any other resort in Colorado - about 465 natural inches (most resorts in the state average between 300 and 350 inches).
The Skiing Conditions and Amenities
The mountain is open for skiing generally from about the first week in November through early April. It encompasses has nearly 80 runs (served by covering 1,600 skiable acres, and grooming is minimal - this is the sort of place where you feel as though you're really out skiing in nature.
There's a good mix of runs for all abilities (20% beginner, 35% intermediate, %25 advanced, 20% expert), plus lots and lots of moguls and quite a few glade runs, some of them along relatively easy, making this a great place to try out diverse terrain if you're not used to it. Because Wolf Creek is a good distance from Denver and the I-70 corridor, it's also typically much less crowded than many of the state's top resorts, and the lift tickets are quite affordable, too.
Wolf Creek has fairly limited facilities and no overnight accommodations, although there are major plans for a full-scale village with nearly 2,000 overnight lodging units. It's a controversial topic, with the different points of view summed up nicely in the Denver Post. You will, of course, find ski rentals on the mountain, and down in town, you can also rent all kinds of ski and other gear at Pagosa Ski Rentals.
Pagosa Springs Restaurant and Nightlife Guide
If you're headed out of Pagosa Springs in the morning to go skiing, consider dropping by the Pagosa Baking Company, which brews excellent coffee and turns out delicious breakfast burritos. This cheerful coffeehouse and bakery set in a vintage restored bungalow is also one of the only LGBT-owned businesses in the region; owner Kathy Keyes is a past chair of the Four Corners Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity. Another nice spot for a quick bite is the Lift Coffeehouse, a good bet for breakfast pizzas, hot cocoa, and lattes.
Where to Eat
For a fairly small town, Pagosa Springs has more than enough interesting restaurants to keep discerning eaters happy for a few days. The culinary star in town is Alley House Grille, which serves exceptional contemporary fare and is set in a beautifully decorated 1912 bungalow just a bit east of downtown.
A great locals' hangout with super-potent margaritas and hearty Mexican food, Kip's Grill is decorated with ski and hockey gear and serves very good food. Ask for the house-made hot sauce to fire things up a bit. Try the Baja-style tacos, notably Dos Dynamite Diablos (two tacos with roasted Hatch, New Mexico green chiles, mozzarella, and top sirloin).
Where Else to Go
Head west from downtown about 4 miles, up the hill toward Durango, and you'll find a handful of modern shopping centers and some other good dining options. One of the best spots up in this area is Pagosa Brewing Company, which is in a rambling building set beneath towering pine trees - in summer, there's a cheerful beer garden beneath these same trees.
This convivial brewpub turns out such award-winning beers as Powder Day IPA and Wolf Creek Wheat, and the kitchen serves great burgers, wild Alaskan salmon fish and chips, hearty bratwurst, and nicely prepared pizzas.
Springs Resort and Spa, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
The most famous lodging option in the region (especially after Oprah Winfrey visited a few years back), with its 23 different mineral-hot-springs pools, is the Springs Resort and Spa, which has greatly expanded in recent years and offers a wide variety of accommodations, in several price ranges.
The newest building feels a bit like an upscale ski lodge, and its rooms are spacious and well-outfitted, some with modern kitchens (with stainless-steel appliances and high-end finishes). These luxurious rooms open to a dramatic, atrium-style lobby where there's live entertainment some evenings.
This striking building - with its turrets, gables, and beautiful stonework - has set a new standard for lodging in Pagosa Springs. It's also been designed according to green environmental practices. Rooms in the older buildings are mid-priced and have rooms more moderately priced and more typical of what you'd expect at a standard chain hotel.
Hot Springs Info and Passes
All guests receive free 24-hour access to the adjoining hot springs, which are set dramatically in a series of terraced pools adjacent to the San Juan River - clouds of steam rising off of them throughout the day and night. You can grab a chair on the terrace overlooking the springs, and stroll around the landscaped pool. Non-overnight guests can also purchase passes to soak in the hotel's pools. Spa robes, towels, and lockers can also be rented.
After a day of skiing or hiking, few activities are more relaxing than simply lazing in one of the spring-fed pools, gazing up at southwestern Colorado's deep-black, star-blasted skies. The pools look across the river toward historic Main Street in downtown Pagosa Springs.
It's a bit surreal sitting in a hot steaming pool on a winter afternoon, gazing at the frigid river, and across that the row of downtown shops and restaurants with mounds of snow clinging to the rooftop. A pedestrian bridge runs from near the hotel across the river, into downtown.
The resort also has a full-service day spa and salon, from which a wide range of treatments are available - skin care, massage, tanning, hair and nail care, and so on.
Pagosa Springs Hotel and B&B Guide
Pagosa Springs has a handful of other hotels and B&Bs. Only one of these options has anything in the way of a GLBT following, that being the gay-owned Red Hawk Haven, which has two rooms. The aforementioned Springs Resort & Spa is quite gay-friendly, and it's easily the most famous lodging options in the region.
Among B&Bs, the Elkwood Manor Luxury B&B is one of the most popular accommodations in the region, with four upscale rooms and rates that include an impressive three-course breakfast. If you're simply seeking a basic, affordable motel option, try the Econo Lodge Pagosa Springs, a clean and well-kept motel along U.S. 160 on the west side of town, near several shopping centers and restaurants.