Sometimes, there is no destination, and that provides the freedom to truly appreciate the beauty, the history and the culture of Pagosa Country. Sure, you can stand outside on a main street and gaze at the peaks of the San Juan Mountains that surround you, listening to the San Juan River as it rolls by. And if that’s all you choose to do, you’ve done well. 

Perhaps, however, your interest was piqued. “What else is out there? What views, what wonders, lie just behind the mountain?” 

You don’t have to be a member of the explorer’s club to find out. 

Much of this incredible natural wonder can be observed from the comfort of a conventional vehicle. However, one must be warned: Just because the car may be comfortable does not mean the driving conditions are always easy. 

Before taking a drive of high altitude discovery, know that high-mountain driving offers hazards as well as unforgettable views; weather conditions are liable to change in the blink of an eye. While most of the roads recommended for the tours listed here are all-weather gravel roads, conditions can vary. Some roads require four-wheel drive vehicles; many will test your driving skills and courage. 

Go prepared. A San Juan National Forest map, available at the Pagosa Ranger District, is a benefit. 

Excellent scenic vantage areas are located along all routes. Many of the trips are in remote areas with little traffic, so plan accordingly. Water, blankets, a GPS system (or a map and compass for those who prefer to remain old school), a full sack of snacks and leaving an itinerary with someone else is highly recommended.

Check road conditions and check for closures before heading out; call the Pagosa Ranger District at (970) 264-2268.

Motor Vehicle Use Map 

The San Juan National Forest provides a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) that identifies all designated roads and trails that are open to wheeled motorized travel on the Pagosa Ranger District. The map is the legal document used to enforce travel rules. It does not identify non-motorized recreational routes. It is the responsibility of the motor vehicle user to acquire the current MVUM.

The map is free, district specific and available both electronically at www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd587144.pdf or at all San Juan Public Lands offices. 

 The Pagosa Ranger District MVUM is available free at www.avenzamaps.com/maps/70826.

You can also check out the Forest Service Interactive Visitor Map to find out about recreational opportunities on the San Juan National Forest. https://www.fs.fed.us/ivm/.

For more information, please contact the Pagosa Ranger District at (970) 264-2268.

Know Before You Go

Many of the trips listed here are in remote areas with little traffic — plan accordingly. Water, blankets, a GPS system (or a map, coordinates and compass for those who prefer to keep old school), a full sack of snacks and leaving an itinerary with someone is highly recommended.

Please use the recreation map as a guide. Conditions change quickly, check with the ranger district office in the area you plan to visit to get the most current information on road conditions and closures; call the Pagosa Ranger District at (970) 264-2268.

#1 East Fork – Silver Falls – Elwood Pass – Quartz Meadow  

Approx. 30+ miles round trip

From town, start by traveling 12 miles east of U.S. 160. Take a right on East Fork Road (FS 667). The first few miles of this route are suitable for most passenger vehicles, after that, high clearance vehicles are recommended as there are multiple water crossings. The canyon opens up into a breathtaking river valley with impressive mountain views. Silver Falls is located about 8 miles from U.S. 160. The trail begins on the north side of the road (left), hike up past the old guard station about 1/8 mile to reach the base of the falls. At the upper end of the valley, about 12 miles from U.S. 160, at a fork stay left toward Elwood Pass, a more technical drive, or right to Quartz Meadow. 

#2 Plumtaw – Piedra Loop – Williams Creek Reservoir

Approx. 35-60 miles round trip

This route takes you past amazing vistas and multiple trailheads for recreational options. From U.S. 160, turn north at Lewis Street and take the immediate left fork in the road. At about 1/4 mile, take the right fork and follow Fourmile road (CR 400 which becomes FS 645) about 8 miles. Take the left fork and follow Plumtaw Road (FS 634), you can continue your trip in two directions. Where Plumtaw Road descends to the Piedra Road, turn right to the Piedra River Trail and continue to Williams Creek Reservoir, a scenic, high mountain reservoir with great fishing, hiking and camping. If you turn left, you will continue back to Pagosa Springs. The roads are suitable for all vehicles. A great route for viewing fall foliage.

#3 Blanco Basin

Approx. 40 miles round trip

This is one of the most scenic drives in the state of Colorado, especially when fall colors are bright. The route is south on U.S. 84 for 8 miles to the Blanco Basin turnoff (CR 326). Follow the road to the head of the basin and magnificent views of the Continental Divide, Square Top Mountain and Oil Mountain. For an even more spectacular side trip, turn right onto Castle Creek Road (FS 660), cross the Rio Blanco and proceed to the end of the road at Fish Creek, about 6 miles. The last 2.5 miles of the road to Fish Creek is very slick when wet. Roads are all-weather and suitable for conventional vehicles. Return by the same route. 

#4 Mill Creek — Nipple Mountain Road

Approx. 32 miles round trip

Turn onto Mill Creek Road (CR 302) just north of the County Fairgrounds from U.S. 84. At approximately 7 miles take the right fork (FS 665) and proceed east to the Nipple Mountain area, another 12 miles. The trip will provide a vast panorama of the upper San Juan Valley. Proceed through the saddle separating Oil and Square Top mountains. From this vantage point, you will be able to observe the Blanco Basin. The road dead ends. Return by the same route.

#5 Pagosa Junction

Approx. 45-50 miles round trip

Go south on 8th Street out of Pagosa Springs, turning right on Apache Street, which becomes Trujillo Road (CR 500), through the early-day settlements of Juanita and Trujillo. See historic Pagosa Junction. From there, the route goes up Cat Creek Gap (CR 700) past the now-deserted Talian Mine and the Lone Tree Catholic Church, a landmark. Return to Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160. Continuing on CR 500 will take you to Navajo Lake and Navajo State Park. Return to Pagosa Springs via Colo. 151, past Chimney Rock National Monument and U.S. 160. Roads are all suitable for conventional vehicles.

#6 Summitville – Platoro – Cumbres Pass – Chama

Approx. 100+ miles — all-day trip

On Wolf Creek Pass, approximately 6.5 miles from the east side of the summit, take Park Creek (FS 380), and proceed to Summitville (mining ghost town last used in the ‘70s). Continue toward Elwood Pass and south to Platoro. Upon reaching N.M. Hwy. 17, turn right and cross Cumbres Pass. You will follow the route of the Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge railroad to Chama, N.M. From there it is 48 miles back to Pagosa Springs via U.S. 17, 84. This route is suitable for conventional vehicles. 

#7 Lobo Overlook — Continental Divide

Approx 45 miles.

Suitable for conventional vehicles and as close to the top of the world as you can get by vehicle in this area. Turn north off U.S. 160 at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, follow the road up to the transmitter site. A spectacular vantage point and a picnic area are provided at the topographical crest of the mountain. A section of the Continental Divide Trail is accessible from the radio tower; parking is available. Road is accessible late June to early September.

#8 Wolf Creek Pass 

Approx. 80 miles round trip

You can easily spend a day exploring Wolf Creek Pass. Starting from Pagosa Springs, stop at Treasure Falls about 16 miles east of town. The next stop is the West Fork Valley Overlook, a scene featured in the movie “Vacation” and one certain to leave an impression. You will have a view of Treasure Falls from above — a great vantage point of the valley below. The next stop is the Continental Divide and Wolf Creek summit. As you head down the pass towards South Fork, check out Alberta Reservoir (near Wolf Creek Ski Area), Big Meadows Reservoir or Tucker Ponds to see small alpine lakes.