It's easy to drive right past Pagosa Springs, a small, 1,700-resident community in the middle of southern Colorado. But you should consider slowing down and stopping to stay a while in this unique town.
Pagosa Springs, about an hour away from Durango, centers around natural hot mineral springs and the (much cooler) San Juan River. The community is naturally tranquil, by size and location, so it's a wonderful destination for a relaxing wellness vacation or a nature-centered family excursion.
Here are 11 of the best things to see and do in Pagosa Springs.
Stay at the Springs Resort & Spa
Stay at the Springs Resort & Spa if you want to really pamper yourself and center your vacation around the convenience of immersing yourself in the hot springs water.
This luxurious resort offers rooms that are walking distance to 23 hot spring pools spread along the banks of the river, almost like a peaceful water park. The pools all have different temps and atmospheres, so you can find the one that best fits your needs, or pool hop if you can't decide.
You can even order wine and beer here and drink it in the pools. If you feel brave, dip your toes in the chilly river, and experience a natural cold plunge/hot water circuit.
Beyond the mineral water, The Springs is a full-service spa and its EcoLuxe Hotel was Colorado's first LEED Gold certified hotel.
Get a Taste of the Cowboy Life
Visitors who want an authentic, Western experience in Colorado should stay at the High Country Lodge, conveniently located in the beautiful San Juan Mountains between Pagosa Springs and the Wolf Creek ski area. This location also makes High Country Lodge a popular home base in winter for guests who want to alternate their cold skiing with toasty waters.
Request a cabin for a true Colorado adventure. Expect an authentic mountain experience; this lodge is perched right on the side of a mountain surrounded by 15 acres of woods. A highlight: the on-site private hiking trail that you can hit right outside your cabin door. Because it's private, you won't have the crowds that can make some of Colorado's other hiking trails less than peaceful in the summer.
After your hike, relax in the lodge's hot tub (no natural hot springs on site) and warm up in the sauna. In colder weather, you can go tubing down the hill behind the lodge.
See the Mother Spring
The "Mother Spring," also called "The Great Pagosah," located at The Springs Resort & Spa, was named the world's deepest geothermal hot spring by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011. It's more than 1,000 feet deep (the measuring line ran out before it found bottom) and reaches temps of 144 degrees.
No swimming is allowed in this hot spring. Not that you would want to (or be able to) at these temperatures, not to mention the terrifying depth. Ask about its sacred history as a healing center for native residents.
Visit Chimney Rock
You'll know it when you see it. Chimney Rock is marked by an odd-shaped, skinny rock mound perched atop a narrow mesa.
Here, you will find thousands of acres of artifacts and archaeological remnants from the Ancestral Puebloans who used to live here. See ancient buildings, an underground kiva, a pit house, and homes.
Chimney Rock is one of the nation's newest national monuments. It is considered sacred and still has spiritual meaning to many tribes.
For something special:
Look for the Chimney Rock Full Moon Program, where visitors can watch the full moon rise at the Great House Pueblo site to the live sounds of the Native American flute.
On special occasions, like the fall equinox, you can watch the sun rise from amid the ruins and listen to stories about the ancient residents here.
Attend the Color Fest
The Color Fest is a fun event to add to your Colorado travel bucket list. Every fall, the town of Pagosa Springs comes to life with live music, wine, beer, and hot air balloons. Try food from the region at the Pagosa Passport to Wine and Food event, witness a "battle of the brews" between local microbreweries, sign up for a 5K color-run rac,e and take photos of not one but two hot air balloon ascensions.
At the wine and food festival, visitors can pair locally made wine with local food.
Jam Out at Folk Music Festivals
Music is big around here. FolkWest organizes a summer and a fall folk music fest in Pagosa Springs. One highlight is the Four Corners Folk Festival in early September. In June, Pagosa Folk 'N Bluegrass brings more folk musicians to town for a three-day event.
In the summer, kids can also sign up for a bluegrass music camp. Even musical adults can improve their pickin' at the Pagosa Folk 'N Bluegrass Jam Camp for Adults.
Go White-Water Rafting
One of the best places to conquer the white waters in Colorado is on the San Juan River. Sign up for a multi-day wilderness excursion that starts at Pagosa Springs and will take you along the San Juan. You will ride through the stunning canyon witnessing some of the most jaw-dropping views in Colorado, and maybe the world. The San Juan is long (more than 400 miles), so it's ideal for a week-long expedition for people looking for the ultimate outdoor adventure in Colorado. The San Juan is also great for kayaking.
Hike, Hike, Hike
If you want to hike, Pagosa Springs couldn't be better located: smack in the middle of more than 3 million acres of national forest land and natural areas. Pagosa Springs offers more than 650 miles of trails of all levels and lengths.
Our recommendation: Piedra Falls. A waterfall hike is always impressive. This hike is not long; the trail is only about a mile long each way, and the elevation gain is minimal. But the payoff is huge: a thundering waterfall.
Also consider hiking along the Piedra River, which you can follow as long as you want (up to about 8 miles each way). The trail is pretty flat and it is well-marked, so it's appropriate for all levels. You can even bring your dogs on leash.
Go Skiing in the Winter
Aspen and Vail get so much tourism hype in the winter for their ski resorts, but the Pagosa Springs area is a local favorite. Nearby is Wolf Creek Ski Resort, which is known for having inexpensive lift tickets and great snow: 430 inches of average snowfall a year. There are multiple dining and shopping options centered around the resort, too. Try this for a less busy ski excursion that won't disappoint.
Sit in a Hot Springs on the Roof
If the busy Springs Resort & Spa's hot springs are too much for you, all you have to do is stroll across the street to the Overlook Hot Springs. This is a bit of a hidden gem; you could walk past it if you didn't know it was there.
This hot springs spot is built to look and feel like an old Victorian bathhouse, complete with dim lighting, chandeliers, and indoor-outdoor soaking options. You can pick between different tubs, depending on the atmosphere and temperature you want. (Or best of all, hop between them and experience everything.) You will find tiny tubs, larger tubs, indoor pools in very dim lighting, small private tubs with individual temperature control options, a private tub room and even an outdoor terrace lined with individual tubs.
But our favorite option: the rooftop hot springs pools. You can sit on the top of the building and gaze out over Pagosa Springs while you soak. It's truly the best way to take in the town.
Tip Back a Beer
It wouldn't be an authentic Colorado vacation without including local brew. Luckily, Pagosa Springs has some great local brewers. Our favorite is Riff Raff Brewing Co., whose beer is made via geothermal heat. In a town that centers around geothermal heat, that's only fitting. Grab a seat on the spacious patio and order a burger. The menu is tasty and a tasting flight of local beer is the perfect way to relax even deeper, as if the hot springs won't have already lulled you into a trance.