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Courtesy of Visit Pagosa Springs

First-Timer’s Guide: Pagosa Springs

Nestled at the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass in the 3-million-acre oasis of the San Juan National Forest, Pagosa Springs is the place to go if you want to soak in an outdoor lover’s paradise—and hot springs.

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There’s a reason Pagosa Springs is on so many people’s bucket list. It has one of the state’s best ski hills just 30-minutes away, turn-of-the-century charm, glorious views of the San Juan Mountains, eateries that scale from fine dining to dive bars, and enough outdoor thrills to keep you busy 365 days a year. A recent turnover of several prominent Main Street businesses has also added to a new wave of hip, roadside amenities throughout downtown. Oh, and there’s hot springs, too. What more could you want? As most locals will tell you: absolutely nothing.

Odometer: 277 miles from Denver, one-way

Get Outside

The Springs Resort & Spa. Courtesy of Visit Pagosa Springs

Pagosa Springs’s main draw since its inception has been the area’s abundance of hot sulfur springs, including the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring—known as the “Mother Spring.” Bath houses first started popping up in the 19th century, although Native Americans had been using the thermal pools for generations before that. Now, several commercial operations hug the San Juan River, which cuts through downtown, and offer day (and season) passes, spa services, and hotel amenities on site. The Springs Resort & Spa sits right on the banks of the San Juan River, and has over 20 pools ranging from 83 to 114 degrees (adult day passes start at $30), or you can soak across the street at Healing Waters Resort & Spa ($20 for an adult day pass). The Overlook Hot Springs Spa is the newest addition to the cluster—located in a converted Victorian storefront on Main Street, it features indoor soaking pools and rooftop tubs, all fed by the Mother Spring (adult passes start at $16).

Wolf Creek Ski Area. Courtesy of Visit Pagosa Springs

If you happen to visit during winter, at least one day at Wolf Creek Ski Area should be at the top of your to-do list. Located just 25-miles outside of town on Wolf Creek Pass, the ski hill’s 1,600 acres often benefit from a hefty dump of snow regardless of which way the storm blows in. There’s family friendly green runs, but if you hit it on the powder day—and you’re an advanced to expert level skier or snowboarder—make sure to work your way over to the Alberta Lift. From there, you can access a web of steep double black diamond terrain and hike-to options (avalanche gear is a must for much of this area). Although, you won’t be remiss if you visit in the summer. Chimney Rock National Monument—the site of a sprawling, thousand-year-old Native American settlement reminiscent of nearby Mesa Verde—is only 20 miles southwest of town, and is open mid-May through the end of September. Kayaking, tubing, and rafting on the San Juan River are summertime favorites too (you can rent all three, or opt for a guided tour with Pagosa Outside Adventures). Camping, hiking, and mountain biking abounds too—just be sure to stop by the Pagosa Ranger District for the latest trail information.

Eat & Drink

For such a small downtown area, Pagosa packs a punch when it comes to eats. To start the day with açaí bowls, avocado toast, and organic smoothies, try the Juice Goddess, a grab-to-go nook two blocks up from Main Street (there’s also a few high-tops inside if you decide to stick around while you sip your smoothie). Pagosa Baking Company, located in a quaint yellow house on Main Street, is a classic for breakfast sandwiches, and the new coffee shop, Root House Coffee + Shop, is a must for gourmet pulls of espresso and artisan lattes—as is their patio for prime on-the-river-seating. For après-ski, head to either of Riff Raff Brewing‘s two locations: Riff Raff Downtown is headquartered in a homey 19th century house on Main Street, and Riff Raff on the Rio—just half-a-mile east as you head out of town on Highway 160—has a prime patio on the San Juan River. Both serve hearty pub-style dishes—and pints of suds brewed with locally harnessed geothermal energy (making it the first hot springs-powered brewery in the state). You can also find local beer at the two other breweries in town—the Break Room Brewing Company and Pagosa Brewing and Grill are located at the west end of town off Highway 160. After that, locals will point you in the direction of Kip’s Grill and Cantina for salty margs and streets tacos.

Although, if you’re looking for a tablecloth and white napkin kind-of setting to munch on half racks of lamb and grilled ribeye, head to the Alley House Grille, right on Main Street. Night owls won’t be disappointed either; there’s two new bars in town for a nightcap. Iron Dram Whiskey Lodge serves niche flights and Scotch cocktails in a rustic space on the river, and the Neon Mallard—located in the recently renovated Nightingale Motel on Main Street—has a cozy, speakeasy-style lounge (with an outdoor fire pit) that serves classic cocktails til 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. If you’re feeling adventurous, make sure your last stop of the night is at Pagosa Bar—a smoky haunt under the illuminated sign on Main Street, where a colorful group of locals run the pool tables every night. (Disclaimer: the bar is one of the few places in the state where smoking is allowed indoors due to a loophole in Colorado’s laws—it’s classified as a “cigar bar”—so if you’re averse to smoke, skip this one).

Shop

You can pick up bike rentals and any last-minute gear at Pagosa Mountain Sports, and if you want to look the part, head across the street to VOORMI, which manufactures high-performance Merino wool base layers and outerwear from its Main Street headquarters. For throwback duds with a western flair, head by Goodman’s Department Store, which has anchored its downtown corner for over 100 years. If you need to pick up groceries or stop by bigger chain retailers, make your way over to the the west side of town on Highway 160.

Stay

There’s a slew of budget hotels as you head of town towards Durango on Highway 160, but if you’re trying to stay in the midst of it all, reserve a stay at the Nightingale Motel. Formerly the Pinewood Inn on Pagosa’s main drag, the roadside inn underwent a change in ownership and a chic interior and exterior overhaul before reopening in 2019 as the boutique Nightingale, and features 19 guest rooms that range from basic to kitchenette-equipped (queen rooms starting at $125 per night).

If You Do One Thing…

Stop by Treasure Falls—just 15 miles east of town on Highway 160. In the summer, cars back up along the road to catch sight of the 105-foot waterfall as it plunges over cliffs, and in the winter, you can see the towering icefall from the road. You can hike to several prominent viewing areas near the falls in the summer and winter, and the best part is that it’s free, and it’s only a mile hike roundtrip if you’ve got little ones in tow.

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