Hot Springs and Frozen Waterfalls of Pagosa

Pagosa Springs is a picturesque mountain town that sits on the San Juan River in southern Colorado. It is the home of the worlds deepest geothermal hot spring. A place of peace and tranquility that’s been used for its healing waters for hundreds of thousands of years. I spent the weekend relaxing in these waters at the The Springs Resost and Spa, and it is every bit as delicious as imagined.

Ghost Ranch

The drive to the springs was breathtaking. We headed north through New Mexico, where we passed through Ghost Ranch. This is the fabled home of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and every bit as breathtaking of a place as you might imagine a world-renowned impressionist art would live and draw inspiration from. Driving through the red, white, and yellow layered rock formations, we turned a bend in the road to see the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan mountains rising out of a blanket of snow, untouched except for cabins dotting the landscape and animal tracks through the fields. A stark but undeniably beautiful contrast to the desert, tall lush pines rose towards the sky.

Winding through the mountain roads we came into the storybook town of Pagosa. A paradise unto itself, it is a destination for ski bums and travelers, coming in from the mountains to soak their bones in the fabled springs. The Springs Resort & Spa is nestled on the snowy banks of the river, seated across the river from a tiny red brick down town lined with breweries, antiquities, and outdoors shops.

Mother Spring

We checked into our room, which the back window opened up to the Mother Spring. A historic gathering place for Native tribes, the Mother Spring holds the title of the World’s Deepest Geothermal Spring, at 1002 feet deep its mystical turquoise waters contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, silica, chloride, fluoride, arsenic, boron, iron, lithium, manganese, sulfate, and zinc. The Mother Springs feeds the 25 mineral pools, of various sizes and atmosphere.

Each pool at the springs has its own vibe. some are situated on, or in the river, while some have cascading waterfalls down rocks faces. Clouds in My Coffee overlooks the river and other pools, and as every bit dreamy as the name implies. While the temperatures of the pools vary a bit and are updated throughout the day, you can soak in the Lobster Pot at around 104 degrees F, or sit in the Burgh which is river fed while bubbles from the geothermal vents rise up from the river floor keeping the pool around 85*F. If you’re feeling brave you can take the Warrior Plunge.

Walk across the Golden Pond to The Cliffs

The Plunge

We decided to take the plunge around midnight. It was so cold out that the normally steamy pools were billowing so thick it made it hard to see, but much more cozy and intimate. The steam created moisture on everything, from our beanies to the trees which promptly frosted over in the 3-degree weather. We were soaking in the aptly named Venetian pool at a toasty 107, which overlooked the snow-banked river, illuminated by lights from the bridge and Tequila bar. A couple of local brews deep and we decided this was the perfect time to take the plunge.

Stepping out of the hot springs, our bodies emanated steam in the brisk air. our hats were covered in frost and our wet hands stuck slightly to the metal railings as we descended the steps to the river. I didn’t even give the dark flowing water a toe test before hopping in, submerging to my chin. the water was cold enough to take your breath away, but not unbearable. I sat in the river, letting the freezing water flow against my skin for a solid 5 seconds before climbing back onto the ledge, and running back to the pool laughing. once you step back in the spring, the laughing stops. The extreme contrast of the hot water and the cold river created a stabbing feeling in my toes and legs that was pretty unpleasant at the time. The feeling subsided pretty quickly and was replaced by rejuvenation and more laughter.

One of the biggest perks of staying at The Springs is that you get treated as a VIP. Lush robes are in the rooms, you can go to any of the bars or restaurants and bring drinks into the pools, and my personal favorite.. you get 24/7 access to the hot springs. If you are not a resort guest, the hours are 9 am to 9 pm. For guests, you have total access, that means if you want to lay back in the springs at 2am with a perfect view of the starry sky, you can do that! During the day the springs can get pretty packed, so having the luxury of freedom and privacy is absolutely worth it, in my opinion.

Hippy Dip

However, this is a destination town so keep in mind that the resort can be pricey. If its not in your resources to stay at the resort for full access, or buy the $50 day pass to the springs, there is definitely ways to enjoy the wonders of Pagosa on a budget. The Mother Springs feeds the resort, but it is a natural wonder that has vent bubbling up all around the river banks. Across the river from the resort are several natural pools warmed by vents and runoff, that are free and public. The hippy dip is located on the bank, a short walk down from the road and businesses, so skinny dipping is not advised.

Frosty Mornings

We woke up the next morning to a steamy winter wonderland. The steam and negative temps the night before turn the trees and plants frosty, and snow still covered parts of the ground, while the steam from the springs swelled up from the water and rippled into the crispy air. The sun was shining and it was absolute bliss to dip in the springs before it opened to the public. We found our way to the paradise pool which had a small rock face that hot water cascaded down, and looked out over the river.

Take a dip in the Burgh on the San Juan River

After we soaked, we had breakfast in the cafe. The crepes were *chef’s kiss* and the coffee was a welcome and much needed jump start to get on the road.

Treasure Falls

We packed our bags and headed north. I had been to Pagosa previously in the summer and found a waterfall that I wanted to see again in the winter. I was hoping that it would be frozen now. I love waterfalls any time of year and am always chasing them. So we headed up Highway 160, towards Wolf Creek ski area. About 15 miles out of town there’s a pull-off on the right and you can see the falls in the distance. It’s a short hike with a lot of switchbacks to get to the viewing area or the base. The falls were completely frozen and more incredible than I could have imagined.

It was short hike, the sun was shining through the pines, birds sang, and on each switch back you caught epic views of the surrounding mountains. At a fork where the trail led on to the overlook we turned right and crossed a small wooden bridge covering what a frozen river. The snow was several feet deep in areas, and as we stood at the bank it was truly breathing taking to look up at the waterfall. It loomed 105 feet over us, its flowing waters frozen solid into a cascade of ice and snow. There was a few other people on the trail at the time but mostly it was serene and yet intimidating. We crunched through the snow towards its majestic base. Around a bend I could see fur sticking out of the snow. A dead elk lay frozen solid near the base of the waterfall. From what we could tell by tracks further along, it seemed that the elk had lost its’ footing on an icy ledge and fell, breaking its neck.

The deep snow and sheets of ice were beautiful, in a dangerous way. My daughter stood safely on the overlook while we walk we trudged on through the snow at the waterfall’s base, getting as close as we dared, knowing we were standing on feet of packed snow and ice above what was hopefully a now solid river.

We ascended the rocks along the side of the bank, up to a uncovered ledge about halfway up the waterfall. Here we were able to walk over to the falls and see the ice formations up close. Standing at this height we could look out and see my daughter on the overlook, the valley behind, and the mountains on the other side. An absolutely incredible viewpoint.

View from midpoint of Treasure Falls

We hiked back down, full of excitement from such a unique experience. It was warming up and we were getting hungry. We drove back into Pagosa and decided to have lunch at Mountain Pizza and Taproom. This little restaurant has artisan brick oven pizza and a whole wall of pour-it-yourself taps of craft beer and wine. It is absolutely delicious and a great carb load when you’re coming back from the mountains.

Re-energized, we headed back to the springs. Another perk of being a resort guest is that before check-in and after check out you have access to the springs. After our icy trek in the mountains, it felt amazing to hop back in the pools to warm up and soak our bones. We hopped around to several different pools and stayed a while in Serendipity, which was about 101 degrees and sits next to the river, and we drank pina coladas. We watched the sun set and turn the mountains pink while we soaked in Clouds In Your Coffee. This was my favorite pool, and the one we had the best company in. The beauty of the springs is that in each pool you can meet new and interesting people. If you’re outgoing, you’ll end up leaving with a lot of new friends and travel recommendations.


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