Twenty miles north of Pagosa Springs, Colorado there is a popular and pristine trail to a natural hot springs. The 10.2-mile out and back trail winds through the Weminuche Wilderness Area within the San Juan National Forest, gaining 1000 feet in elevation. The hike is breathtaking, a sublime walk through magical forests of pine and aspen groves, leading to an oasis of warm pools in which your body can soak after taking a beating during the climb up.
What Makes It Great
From the moment you step on the trail, you will realize you’ve stumbled across something spectacular. The trail ascends through pine trees, which seethe with usnea, also known as old man’s beard or tree dandruff. The trail passes a series of cabins on the right hand side and then narrows to a mulch path. Immediately, there is a chance to leave the trail and gawp at two waterfalls. Advice: Do it. Stop at every overlook you can and take pictures because this is a trail you will want to remember.
For the next mile, the trail passes through private property and there are dozens of signs nailed to posts and trees reminding hikers to stay on the trail.
The hike is 5.1 treacherous miles to the springs and follows both the west fork of the San Juan River and Beaver Creek. There are also three bridge crossings and many steep edges. The entire hike provides a soundtrack of water tumbling down cliffs and gushing over river rocks.
The trail is well marked, though a wildfire in 2013 and storms since have made portions of the trail feel like you are completing an obstacle course. It dances through fields of skunk cabbage, and below scrub oaks and ponderosa pines. Warning: Your shoes will get wet, but it will be worth it.
As the trail nears the springs, campsites will begin appearing, evident by the fire rings and the darkened earth. Hikers are welcome to camp here for free on a first come, first served basis.
About five miles in, the trail offers a spur to the left that leads down a cliff to a steaming pool maintained by hikers of yesterday. Clothing is optional. The water is warm and full of algae. Apparently, there used to be a hotter springs further up the river that has been washed out. Feel free to explore the area and look for a pool closer to the actual springs.
Hikers will not forget the Alaska/Avatar/Lord of the Rings feeling exuded by this trail. The enchanting forest, the steep cliffs overlooking river rapids, the waterfalls, and the seemingly floating mountains will tickle your eyes and touch your spirit. That glorious moment when you dip your soggy toes into the warm water after a testing and tiring hike is also unforgettable.
Who is Going to Love It
The hiker with thousands of miles beneath his belt, the college kids looking for an adventure in the wilderness, or anyone with two eyes and two feet will fall in love this hike.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the trailhead, head northeast on US 160 from Pagosa Springs for about 15 miles. Take a left for the West Fork Campground onto CR 648. You will pass the campground and then after another 1.5 miles you will find parking and a bathroom for public use.
This trail is open to the public throughout the year and pets are allowed, however they must be kept on a leash. The trail is popular, though for long stretches, you will feel that you are alone in the wilderness. Make sure to take care of the area, packing out all of the trash you take in. And plan on giving the hike 5-7 hours to complete, as the hike is hard and the water is warm.