Pagosa Springs Offers Scenery Galore

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The Durango and Silverton Railway offers a spectacular steam-powered train ride through the Rockies. It is in nearby Durango, a recommended excursion. | Photos by Jeff Orenstein

Pagosa Springs is a picturesque little resort town in the heart of Colorado’s beautiful San Juan Mountains only 35 miles north of New Mexico.

With many impressive mountain peaks in the San Juan range nearby, it is where the high desert plateau meets the western slope of the Continental Divide. It is also adjacent to the 1.8 million-acre San Juan National Forest with extensive recreational opportunities, including extensive recreational trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

The road from Pagosa Springs across Wolf Creek Pass has some spectacular vistas and several scenic turnouts. One of the most memorable is beneath towering Treasure Falls.

Over the last few centuries, the area has been inhabited or attracted a mélange of Native Americans, fortune seekers and Spanish explorers, and each has left its mark and given the region some of its flavor. Remnants of ancient cave dwellers can be found at Chimney Rock and at Mesa Verde National Park, both accessible in a day trip.

The city is bisected by the San Juan River, which can range from a tame trickle to a torrent, depending on the season. Swimming, tubing and fly fishing (stocked trout) are all common as the river flows through town. The city is situated atop the largest and hottest thermal field in the U.S., hence its name and the source of the town’s justly famous hot springs spas.

Our advice is to plan to explore Pagosa Springs shops, restaurants and activities and enjoy the uncrowded Western ethos in town. You should also tour nearby attractions since the entire region is filled with delights for tourists of every level of agility and a wide range of interests.

Check Out:

Getting There:

Pagosa Springs can be reached by highway, air or train.

  • By car, Pagosa Springs is at U.S. Highways 160 and 84, 277 miles from Denver.
  • By air, the nearest airport is Durango, Colo. (DRO), 56 miles away. The Albuquerque Sunport (ABQ) has extensive connections at 207 milesdistance.
  • By train, the nearest Amtrak stations are Albuquerque at 205 miles and Pueblo, Colo., at 211 miles.
  • There are no cruise ports near this inland location.
The picturesque San Juan River runs through downtown Pagosa Springs and is a popular venue for those seeking on-water recreation or walking paths, hot springs and restaurants along its banks.

Must-Sees for a Short Trip:

  • Enjoy one or more of the town’s three downtown hot springs. Each has a different character.
  • Explore Chimney Rock National Monument, 17 miles away.
  • Walk along the scenic San Juan Riverwalk Trail adjacent to the river as it flows through town. Tubing the river is also popular.

If You Have Several Days:

  • Take a ride through the mountains and history on a narrow-gauge steam-drawn train. The Durango and Silverton in Durango and the Cumbres and Toltec in Chama, N.M., are both superb choices.
  • Consider a day trip to Mesa Verde National Park.
  • Enjoy fine dining at the Alley House and sample the local brew pubs.
  • Visit Durango, a pretty little Western town.
  • See Treasure Falls (East on Highway 160) and drive up through Wolf Creek Pass.
  • Visit Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park, especially at feeding time.
  • Take the historic buildings walking tour (visitpagosasprings.com/events/downtown-historic-walking-tour).

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for Pagosa Springs:

Bring a bathing suit and clogs for the hot springs, plan on wearing nice casual with accessories providing a western panache. Nice jeans are always in order.

 The weather can change quickly at this altitude, so be prepared to layer clothes.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage:

Great scenery, easy walking and good shopping and dining make this a great place to relax.

Mobility Level:

Moderate. There are some hills in town, but none are steep.

When to Go:

May through September has the nicest weather. Winter skiing is also popular.

Where to Stay:

Pagosa Springs has several nice bed-and-breakfast inns and the usual national lodging chains.

Special Travel Interests:

Hot springs, mountain hiking, mountain scenery. 

Jewish Pagosa Springs

There are no Jewish places of worship in Pagosa Springs and no Jewish residents according to a survey of Colorado religious affiliations, but Jewish tourists can visit Congregation Har Shalom in Durango, Colo., 43 miles away. A much larger Jewish community and set of institutions is found in Denver, a five-hour drive to the north.

According to reputable anthropological studies, conversos — Jews who endured forced conversion to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition — are found in the San Luis Valley area of southern Colorado. Many of them retain some Jewish cultural and even religious practices even though they consider themselves Roman Catholics. There also was a small community called Cotopaxi founded by Russian Jews in 1882. It was abandoned by 1884.

There are about 103,000 Jews in Colorado out of a population of about 5.6 million.

While few Jews were employed as miners, Jewish merchants were attracted to the region by the burgeoning mining industry. They opened shops in the new settlements and mining camps that figured prominently in Colorado history and development. They include Fred Salomon, who opened the first general store in 1859, and David May, who opened a small store in Irwin that grew to become the May Co. department store chain. Other Colorado-based Jewish businesses include the Samsonite Corp.

Denver had a Jewish mayor as early as 1889, and Simon Guggenheim was a senator in the early 20th century.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Fla.

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