Craving that homey feel with a side of outdoor adventure? Head more than 7,000 feet above sea level to the friendly town of Pagosa Springs. Nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, this Colorado Sunbelt community is surrounded by 2.5 million acres of wilderness and national forest, perfect for a variety of outdoor excursions.
But there’s way more to the landscape than opportunities for hiking, skiing, and hot air ballooning. Pagosa Springs is famous for its all-natural, geothermal hot springs, which include the world’s deepest hot springs aquifer. “If someone is simply looking to relax in a mountain cabin and enjoy the scenery with quiet sounds of nature, they can certainly find that in Pagosa as well,” says Jennifer Green, executive director of the town’s tourism department.
If you’re wanting a little break from all that family time, park the RV, go check in, and luxuriate in a full hot-springs getaway with 24-hour access to 24 soaking pools at the Springs Resort & Spa (pagosahotsprings.com, from $249). San Juan National Forest’s East Fork and West Fork Campgrounds (fs.usda.gov/sanjuan, $22 per night) will also get you close to those springs while allowing more wiggle room in your wallet.
A little closer to town, Mountain Landing Suites & RV Park offers fresh mountain air with the option of three different suites and hookup-compatible RV sites (mountainlanding.net, from $48 for RV and from $114 for suites), while Pagosa Riverside Campground offers tent and hookup RV sites as well as primitive sleeping cabins (pagosariverside.com, from $30).
Pagosa Springs is, go figure, actually named after its popular hot springs—so you’ve got to take a dip in those crystalline pools. If you’re able to pull yourself away from the mineral-rich waters (though we wouldn’t blame you if you aren’t), take a short drive from Pagosa Springs up U.S. Highway 160 East to San Juan National Forest (fs.usda.gov/sanjuan) for a quick quarter-mile hike to the base of Treasure Falls to feel the spray off the cascades. From there it’s another 10 minutes or so of driving to get to the scenic overlook on Wolf Creek Pass—a steep pass perched on the Continental Divide that U.S. 160 traces through the San Juan Mountains. The view will make you feel like you’re on top of the world. (Pro-tip: Consider taking a car instead of the whole camper to make this drive. The 6.8 percent maximum incline is nothing to fool around with, and you’ll want to be heading down it with a vehicle you’re confident you can handle.)
When you have great water, odds are you’ve also got some stellar brewskis, and Riff Raff Brewing Company (riffraffbrewing.com) takes full advantage of the hot springs, using the geothermal heat coming off of this natural wonder in its brewing process. On top of that, both of its two locations have spacious outdoor seating, so you can take in those stellar views (and the occasional tuber on the San Juan River) while nursing your drink. Don’t miss out on the Baja-style street tacos at local favorite Kip’s Grill (kipsgrill.com) or the handcrafted breads and baked goods from Pagosa Baking Company (pagosabakingcompany.com), either.
If you’re a history buff, plan on visits to Chimney Rock National Monument (chimneyrockco.org) and Mesa Verde National Park (nps.gov/meve), which offer glimpses into the world of the ancient Ancestral Pueblo civilization of the Chaco Canyon. A two-hour drive away from Pagosa Springs, Mesa Verde—with some of the most notable and best-preserved ruins in North America—features the ancestral Puebloans’ spectacular cliff dwellings among its archaeological sites, while special evening programs at Chimney Rock, just twenty miles west of Pagosa Springs, invite visitors to peer into the heavens as the Chacoan people did thousands of years ago.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Distance from Houston: 1,027 miles
Drive time: 16 hours