My answer came immediately. It’s been an emotional summer as my father battles an aggressive cancer and my oldest daughter prepares to leave home for college 900 miles away. Life has felt fragile — uncertain, fleeting and precious all at once. I need this pause as our host invites us to breathe deeply and listen to the bubbling water and chirping birds around us rather than the inner chatter of our busy lives.
There’s a glimmer of the sacred in this moment and in the unknown depths of this milky turquoise pool beside me. From above, it looks like an eye to the earth, reminiscent of geysers I’ve seen at Yellowstone National Park. No one knows how deep the Mother Spring reaches. It holds the Guinness World Record for the deepest geothermal hot spring with a measurement of 1,002 feet, but every time it has been measured, its depths exceed the plumb lines.
What is known is that this hot spring has been drawing people to its waters for generations. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, known as the “mountain people,” are credited with discovering the spring, and the name Pagosa is derived from the Ute words meaning “healing waters.” When European explorers encountered the Mother Spring about 150 years ago, they found human footprints and pathways leading to and from the pool in every direction. Since the 1860s, surveyors, doctors and visitors have praised Pagosa’s natural beauty and health-giving, mineral-rich waters. Bath houses and inns have come and gone as travel has evolved from horses and trains to cars and planes.
Today, the Springs Resort is a full-service resort, luxe but accessible, upscale but not pretentious. It has been named one of the Top 10 Best Hot Springs in the World by Travel + Leisure. And it’s an ideal destination for a spa and wellness retreat, promising — and delivering — the chance to explore, restore and connect. The rugged San Juan Mountains ring the horizon as a stunning backdrop around Pagosa Springs. The life-giving San Juan River flows through town. The center of the Springs Resort experience remains soaking in its 25 hot spring pools that cascade down to the river. Each pool contains water from the Mother Spring.
As we finish our Gratitude Ceremony, the ink and paper in our bottles has dissolved. This brief reverie has given me a reminder and a glimpse of clarity. More than needing to let things go, I recognize the need — no, the opportunity — to let things flow — as my journey continues, constantly ebbing, flowing, twisting and turning like the waters I’m surrounded by. I’m ready to submerge myself in them, and I’ll return home with a renewed gratitude and peace. No weekend getaway can deliver a cure, but this one in Pagosa provides a small healing that I’ll savor.
How to Plan Your Own Trip to Pagosa Springs
At about 4.5 hours from Colorado Springs, Pagosa Springs is a bit far for a day trip but perfect for a weekend or multiday getaway. Here are our recommendations if you go.
Where to Stay
Make things easy: Stay at the Springs Resort. With 24-hour access, you can soak before and after the day visitors come and go. That gives you the best chances for a pool all to yourself as the early morning steam rises or the Milky Way traverses the night sky. You also get unlimited robe and towel changes, complimentary spa and wellness activities, and access to the adults-only Relaxation Terrace. Don’t miss the Twilight and River Bend pools perched directly above the river. With 79 rooms and suites, you can choose from a range of Classic Rooms in the original Spring Inn Motel building, Deluxe Rooms near the Mother Spring or Luxury Suites in the newest Mountain Lodge. We’re fans of the Mountain Lodge and its spacious amenities, including its beautiful Phoenix Bar and Atrium Lounge. Treat yourself to the upgrade if you can.
What to Do
If you only do one thing in Pagosa Springs, soak. But make sure your soaking experience includes the San Juan River. My son coaxed me into our own version of the Warrior Plunge: a super-heated, 108-degree soak in the Lobster Pot followed by an immediate plunge in the river. It’s surprisingly invigorating, but you can’t help but shout. The process is a form of contrast hydrotherapy, which is believed to provide a variety of health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and muscle tension and boosting alertness and immunity — as long as you don’t have certain medical conditions. If that sounds a little too extreme, you can just enjoy a hot spot along the river’s edge where water from the hot springs blends with the passing river flow.
For more fun, tube the river, which is doable much of the year except during the spring snow melt. Then you can whitewater raft the Class III rapids. Usually by late June, you can rent a massive river tube and catch a shuttle ride upstream from several outfitters in town, such as Pagosa Outside Adventures or Pagosa Mountain Sports. By late August, we took our chances with hardware-store pool floaties and walked about a half-mile up the paved San Juan Riverwalk to put in at Cotton Hole Park. Floating face-first, we bashed our shins on rocks and scream-laughed through the shallows. We flipped and washed through multiple rapids. We rinsed and repeated, and we loved every minute. After a couple of runs, we were chilled enough to return to the soothing immersion of the hot springs.
Beyond the water, Pagosa Springs is a mountain town. Hiking is plentiful, and if you want to stick to the aquatic theme, there are four waterfalls around Pagosa to explore. You can see 100-foot Treasure Falls from Highway 160 at the base of Wolf Creek Pass, and it’s an easy walk to feel its spray.
If its winter, you’re only 23 miles from Wolf Creek Ski Area. The independent ski area regularly boasts the most annual snow in Colorado, and it’s always in the running to be Colorado’s first to open. Go slopes to soaks and maximize your H2O enjoyment in its various forms.
Back at the Springs, there’s a whole menu of wellness classes and activities that are included for guests. Connect with nature in the pine forest of nearby Respite Ranch during an outdoor Wild Yoga class. Or relax in a hammock there during a Hang Time and Sound Bath. The Restorative Yoga class in the resort’s Wellness Studio adds excellent, slow-movement relaxation in between soaking sessions. Of course, a massage, facial or other body treatment will take you to even deeper levels of relaxation.
Where to Eat and Drink
You can’t beat the convenience of breakfast or lunch at the resort’s Cafe. We recommend the avocado toast or Colorado crepe. And for poolside cocktails and local craft beers, the Canteen is your go-to. For full tropical flair, have a Mother Spring Fling.
But take a short walk across the San Juan River pedestrian bridge to Root House for your daily caffeine. There you’ll find espresso pulls, Colorado-roasted beans and delicious baked goods. If the owners look familiar, then you’ve been watching Building Roots on HGTV which features the stunning mountains-meet-modern home designs and renovations by Ben and Cristi Dozier. The Lifestyle Shop inside Root House features accessories and decor branded with the couple’s aesthetic of Southern roots, mountain soul. It all makes a comfortable coffeehouse hang out inside or on the porch with a view of the river and hot springs. The mystical rising steam will beckon you back to soak.
Downtown Pagosa has no shortage of restaurants that are walkable from the Springs Resort. Kip’s Grill & Cantina is our pick for margaritas and Baja-style street tacos. Its colorful, funky decor and wide, airy patio make for a festive experience. And the cozy bar and old-house interior give it Colorado mountain town cred.
For local brews and a satisfying twist on pub fare, head to Riff Raff Brewing Company. Riff Raff is Colorado’s first brewery powered by spring-fed geothermal heat and the second in the U.S. The original downtown location is in one of Pagosa’s oldest Victorian homes. The newer Riff Raff on the Rio lies just a half-mile away but boasts riverside views with Wolf Creek Pass on the horizon. There’s a Big Lebowski theme to the menu, and the Big Lambowski burger will keep you abiding. A flagship Man’s Best Friend Honey Blonde pairs nicely. But if you fully want to embrace your Dude-ship, there’s naturally a white Russian on the menu.
Here’s What’s Coming Up at the Springs Resort
Colorado and New Mexico Stay Rates
It’s technically off-season, but fall color is still covering Pagosa Springs. Colorado and New Mexico residents can take advantage with discounts on select dates into November. Learn more at pagosahotsprings.com.
Hot Springs Fest
The three-day festival, Nov. 11-13, celebrates the healing power of Pagosa’s geothermal hot springs. Join a full schedule of wellness activities. Enjoy live music. And access more than 40 pools at three soaking facilities in downtown Pagosa Springs. Get details here.
Frozen Foot Fiesta
Watch for this annual festival in February and shake out the winter blahs with a fat tire bike race and 5K Snowshoe Shuffle. Or stay inside the Springs atrium for a jigsaw Puzzle Party. Plus, soaking in the snow is always sublime.