We spent time exploring seven of our favorite small towns so we could tell you the best ways to enjoy 36 hours in each.
—Photos courtesy of the Rochester Hotel (right) and Yvonne Lasmett (left)
Drive Time from Denver: About five hours
Claim to Fame: The Great Pagosa Hot Spring is known as one of the hottest and deepest natural mineral flows in the world.
Located 30 miles from the New Mexico border, this bigger-than-you-might-think burg has a distinct resort-town vibe. With the San Juan River flowing right through town, two distinct retail districts with great restaurants and bars, and renowned hot springs, it’s easy to see why. You could while away 36 hours doing nothing but relaxing in this vacation-worthy destination, but with so many other activities to enjoy, you’d be remiss not to check out a few of them.
Although it’s not a stressful drive from Denver to Pagosa Springs (if you come down U.S. 285, it’s actually quite pleasant), five hours in the car can mean an aching back. Fortunately, if you’ve booked a reservation at the Springs Resort and Spa—ask for an EcoLuxe room if you can swing it (starting at $309)—you can soak away the strain in one of 23 mineral pools, which range in temperature from 89 to 114 degrees, any time of the day or night.
Fight the urge to jump into the pools upon your midday arrival and choose instead to walk across the river to have lunch downtown. Although there are a few boutiques along Main Street to the left, take a right from the Hermosa Street bridge and walk a quarter-mile to Riff Raff Brewing Company. Find a table on the shaded patio, ask for a pint of Hopgoblin American IPA, and order the Big Lambowski, a juicy lamb burger with tangy cucumber-feta relish. Next, pop across the street to peruse the eclectic home furnishings at Handcrafted Interiors—the wall art, pottery, and woven baskets are particularly enticing.
The Springs Resort and Spa; tubing on the San Juan River
After wandering back to your room and changing into some wicking threads, drive to the Hub Bike Shop in Uptown, just a few miles southwest on U.S. 160. Located in the City Market plaza, the Hub rents mountain bikes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. You can snag a mountain bike to hit the Turkey Springs mountain bike trail system, often accessed by locals at Gate 5, just off North Pagosa Boulevard. Or, if water is more your thing, pick up a kayak or paddleboard and tool around on Echo Lake, Williams Creek Reservoir, or Navajo Reservoir.
Riff Raff Brewing Company; the golden beet salad at the Alley House Grill
If you’re spitting sand after all that exertion, stop by Wolfe Brewing Co. for a swig of the sessionable Pagoslow Palezner before heading back to the Springs Resort to enjoy an early evening swim. Kids are welcome in the pools, but if you want a moment of peace, check out the five adults-only pools secluded at one side of the resort. Shower off the sulfur smell before walking back downtown for a glass of white wine and upscale eats at the Alley House Grille. If you can score a patio table, do so—and then order the golden beet salad and the Colorado half chicken with creamy pan sauce.
Start the next morning at Pagosa Baking Co. downtown. Don’t let anyone tell you dessert isn’t for breakfast, because a slice of fresh apple pie is a perfect way to begin a day. Of course, so is a green chile–doused breakfast burrito. Either way, make sure you’re sated because you’ve got a long day of tubing with Pagosa Outside ahead of you. Depending on water flow, the San Juan River is often floatable into mid-September. If that’s the case, $25 will get you a river tube and a full-day pass on Pagosa Outside’s shuttle, which takes you back upriver for another run (and then another!).
After playing like a kid all day, a little adult relaxation will do you good. You can book spa treatments at the Springs Resort, but locals like getting facials with Lynne Killey at Queen Bee Organic Skin Care, an in-home spa.
As the day winds down, you’ll have to decide on dinner plans. Two great options to choose from: Thai Chilie for simple but delicious plates of curry, or Side Street Sushi for sashimi, nigiri, and rolls. Remember: An early dinner means plenty of time for a final soak—and a nightcap from the resort’s Canteen. —LBK
The Four Corners Folk Festival—featuring more than a dozen bands—lands in Pagosa Springs from September 4 to 6. Along with live tunes, this festival offers music workshops, kids’ programs, food vendors, and a tent city for those who want to immerse themselves for the weekend.