Pagosa Springs is located in the Rocky Mountains of southern Colorado, about 150 miles north of Albuquerque and 205 miles southwest of Denver, on a flight path between Los Angeles and New York City. The primary attraction of Pagosa, among all the other Colorado towns that offer mountain scenery and recreation, is the world’s deepest hot spring. According to the Guinness World Records, the “MotherSpring” is the world’s deepest measured hot spring at more than 1,000 feet deep. The hot, mineral laden springs were discovered hundreds of years ago by the Southern Ute Indians and valued for their invigorating and supposedly healing properties. The name Pagosa Springs comes from “Pag-Osah,” which in the Ute language means “healing waters.” The first bath house was built in 1881 and people have been “taking the waters” there ever since. A soak in the hot springs is a popular way to end a day of hiking or skiing, especially in the winter.
Pagosa is home to three hot springs resorts, the Springs Resort & Spa has 24 pools kept at varying temperatures, plus a swimming pool and luxury rooms. Resort guests have free access to the pools and the public may bathe for a fee, but the hours are limited. Similar policies are in force at the Healing Waters Resort & Spa and the Overlook Hot Springs Spa. The latter offers hot spring baths plus two rooftop pools with views over downtown Pagosa and the San Juan Mountains. If you want the natural experience, jump into one of the hot pools along the Riverwalk Trail. The Springs Resort & Spa seems to be the number one posh resort, but Tripadvisor lists 44 hotels in Pagosa, so there are numerous accommodations at all prices.
Like many towns in Colorado, winter recreation in Pagosa includes skiing, sledding, sleigh rides, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. The closest ski slopes are at the Wolf Creek Ski Area, 25 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs. Wolf Creek features ski runs up to an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet and claims to receive more snow than anywhere in the state. For those who prefer cross-country skiing, the nearby Vallecito Nordic Club has 10 miles of Nordic trails.
One activity that isn’t found in every Colorado town is dog sledding, but at Pagosa Springs you can take “Mushing 101,” in which you’ll learn to drive a dog-sled team, just like Yukon Cornelius. The dogs will whisk you and your sled along snowy trails through the San Juan National Forest. Contact Mountain Paws Dog Sled Tours or San Juan Sled Dogs to try mushing in the mountains.
If soaking your bones in steaming pools is not your cup of tea, another type of steamy adventure is available near Pagosa Springs. Step back into time with a true Old West steam train experience by boarding the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad or the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The Durango & Silverton has operated between Durango and Silverton since 1882. Today, the historic train, drawn by a coal-fired, steam locomotive, carries tourists along a route through the San Juan National Forest with breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains to the historic mining town of Silverton. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad chugs 64 miles between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado, climbing over the 10,000-foot-high Cumbres Pass. The C&T is known for its extensive collection of restored engines and rail cars, with five operating steam locomotives. From Pagosa, it’s a reasonable drive to the terminus of both steam train lines.
Archuleta County Airport, known locally as Stevens Field (PSO), is three miles northwest of Pagosa Springs at 7,600 feet msl, so be mindful of the density altitude. The single runway, 01/19, is 8,100 feet by 100 feet and you’ll sometimes find wildlife wandering the surface. Avjet Pagosa Springs is the sole FBO and offers a flight-planning room, pilot lounges with restrooms and showers, a computer terminal and Wi-Fi, courtesy car, 24/7 self-service 100LL aviation fuel, full-service Jet A, catering, limited hangar space (call ahead) and tie-down space. The FBO is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; call for after-hours service.
Archuleta County Airport—970-731-2127 / 970-903-3496 / [email protected]
Dennis K. Johnson is a frequent contributor to AOPA media.