By John T. Egan
“Wolf Creek Pass, way up on the Great Divide; truckin’ on down the other side.” Maybe you’ve heard “Wolf Creek Pass,” the 1970’s country song by C. W. McCall. But did you know there really is a Wolf Creek Pass and, more importantly, did you know there really is a Pagosa Springs, the little town mentioned at the end of McCall’s hair-raising ride down the San Juan Mountain’s western slope on U.S. Highway 160 in southwestern Colorado?
Don’t feel bad if the name Pagosa (Pah-GO-sah) Springs doesn’t ring a bell — it falls into Colorado’s ‘best kept secrets’ category. The little town nestled at the foot of the southern San Juan Mountain Range isn’t flashy like other Colorado ski towns. It doesn’t have hundreds of pricey pancaked condominiums and there are no four-lane highways choked with throngs of cars crammed with desperate fun-seekers fleeing their urban work-a-day worlds.
What you will find is a real community of Coloradans who live, work and enjoy life in this understated and charming mountain town that offers the savvy traveler 365 days of reasons to visit.
From spring through the dog days of summer rollicking guided raft trips on the San Juan River carom through the center of Pagosa Springs’ downtown to the whoops and hollers of drenched daredevils braving the high speed waterway. Less adventurous — but no doubt warmer — visitors relax in the many historic geothermal pools on the banks of the San Juan River in the midst of downtown. The San Juan and Weminuche Wilderness trails give hikers of all skill levels just the right challenge, from a leisurely stroll through an Aspen tree wilderness to secluded Opal Lake south of Pagosa Springs to backpacking the snow-capped alpine peaks in brilliantly bright daylight to relaxing by a campfire on frosty nights above 10,000 feet in elevation along the Continental Divide Trail.
Winter in Pagosa Springs, not unlike so many other towns in the mountains of Colorado, offers plenty of downhill skiing on peaks above 10,000 feet and cross-country skiing in and around downtown Pagosa Springs and outlying areas. But Pagosa Springs’ other big secret is that Wolf Creek Ski Area, a leisurely day ski area about 30 minutes from downtown Pagosa Springs, normally gets more powder snow earlier than any ski area in Colorado, and it is less expensive than most.
Cheaper, less crowded, best snow — what’s not to love?
Accommodations in Pagosa Springs are plentiful and range from quaint and inexpensive downtown ‘Mom and Pop’ style motels to homey rental condominiums and pricey resort properties. Dining is as varied in selection and price as the lodging. Restaurants like The Alley House and JJ’s Riverwalk Restaurant and Pub serve very respectable upscale fine dining that includes steaks, seafood and game along with smart wine lists, while simpler and less pricey dishes can be found at local favorites like The Elkhorn Café and Chavolos Taqueria. (TIP: For a great breakfast burrito or pastries baked on property and coffee that speaks with authority, plan to visit The Pagosa Baking Company on San Juan Street in downtown Pagosa Springs. It’s a favorite spot with the locals and offers that cozy ‘bakery’ feel travelers look for.)
To get to Pagosa Springs, most major airlines will route you into Denver’s international airport (DEN), but the savvy traveler will fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Sunport (ABQ) and drive from New Mexico’s awe-inspiring high desert to the calming alpine forests of southern Colorado. The drive is easy, scenic, quicker (four hours as opposed to six hours) and flatter than the route from Denver. The closest commercial airport is located in Durango, Colorado (DRO), only an hour west of Pagosa Springs. (Pagosa Springs does not have a commercial airport.) There are plenty of flights in and out of Durango, but the airfare will be considerably higher.
For more information including myriad events and music festivals (Four Corners Folk Festival, held over Labor Day Weekend, may be the best small music festival in the country) visit http://pagosachamber.com/pagosa-vacation.asp.
Pagosa Springs may be a ‘best kept secret’ in Colorado, but it can be your personal getaway any time of year. Pagosa Springs is truly a town for all seasons.
If you’d like to purchase this article for your publication, click here to contact the author directly.