ELISE SONIAT/SOURCE OF LIGHT IMAGERY

Past noon on a clear winter day, cup your hand full of snow and hold it to the sun. 

If you are patient, you will see the snow begin to melt and start dripping, drop by drop, through your fingertips. 

Now, imagine this is what happens to all the snow capping the mountains surrounding Pagosa Springs. As the seasons change, and the rugged land begins once more to be warm, the water, at first as a drip, begins to roll from the mountain peaks. Before long, the drip turns into a rush, and the mountainsides are filled with waterfalls, streams and rivers. 

Many water wonders await the hiker and back-country mountain runner, horseback rider and biker. Find one of the area’s waterfalls and take time to sit and enjoy the calming and beautiful spectacle.

Treasure Falls

Treasure Falls is named for Treasure Mountain, an area rich in folklore and stories of a large buried treasure. Most accounts suggest that a treasure chest full of gold was buried in the area after a group of Frenchmen were “waylaid” by either Spanish explorers or Native Americans. Whatever the circumstances, Treasure Falls offers visitors a breathtaking fortune in scenery.

To get there, travel east on U.S. 160, approximately 15 miles from the San Juan River bridge at the east end of Pagosa Springs. As you approach the base of Wolf Creek Pass, turn right into a large parking area. Trailhead elevation is 8,112 feet. To the left of the parking lot is a short trail that will take you to the base of the falls. Follow the trail a quarter mile to the bridge at the base of the falls. There is a more difficult trail to the right that also leads to the waterfall. Standing in the refreshing spray on the bridge, the falls rush down the cliff toward you. In the winter, these falls create a frozen blue sculpture. Elevation gain is 325 feet. Many visitors photograph the falls and surrounding vistas from the parking area and nearby Overlook Bridge at the base of the falls.  

Silver Falls

Day travelers can easily view or visit Silver Falls near the old historic Silver Falls Forest Service Guard Station. Following a scenic drive on a maintained gravel road into the backcountry, a trail to the falls is short, but fairly steep. 

To get there, travel east on U.S. 160, approximately 10 miles from the San Juan River bridge at the east end of Pagosa Springs. Just after crossing the West Fork of the San Juan River, turn right (east) on East Fork Road (FS 667) leading to the East Fork River and campground. Follow the road and river approximately 8 miles where, on the north side (left), you’ll see the falls, an old guard station and primitive parking area beyond. 

A word of caution — in early spring, there are two vehicle stream crossings that are often hazardous during high water. Also, the last 2 miles of road crosses private land where visitors must respect private property rights and remain in the roadway. 

To reach the base of the falls, follow the footpath through a gate and hike about an eighth of a mile. 

Elwood Creek Cascades

The route to Elwood Pass and the Elwood Creek Cascades turns to a four-wheel-drive road best suited to high-clearance vehicles with a short wheelbase. Late summer or early autumn, when the aspens are shimmering gold, may be the ideal time to negotiate this rather precarious course. Because travelers must ford the East Fork of the San Juan River near where it begins at the confluence of Elwood and Crater creeks, spring high-water season is not the time to go. 

To view these cascades, proceed up the East Fork Road as you would to Silver Falls. About a mile past the old guard station and parking area, East Fork Road branches left from Quartz Meadow Road to the right. From there on, this narrow and primitive course offers many steep grades and seemingly bottomless mud holes. Beyond the river crossing, the road climbs abruptly out of the canyon. From high on the mountainside, Elwood Cascades is visible. 

Another word of caution — because the road to Elwood Pass is challenging even when dry, only experienced drivers should attempt its passage. 

Fourmile Falls

The first of two spectacular falls is a tall “bridal veil” fall on aptly-named Fall Creek, but viewing its splendor requires a 3-mile hike (one way) into the Weminuche Wilderness north of Pagosa Springs. A bit further along Fourmile Trail (on the right), the more voluminous Fourmile Falls tumbles hundreds of feet over a sheer precipice of dark volcanic rock. 

The route to these popular summertime destinations begins in town at U.S. 160 and Lewis Street. Turn north on Lewis, then an immediate left on 5th Street, which becomes Fourmile Road. Follow Fourmile Road (CR 400/FS 645) right at junction to the trailhead. Trailhead elevation is 9,200 feet. 

The hike is approximately 3 miles each way. The first 3 miles to Fourmile Falls is relatively easy with gently rolling terrain through an open valley. After the waterfall, the trail becomes steep and is not recommended for stock. Hikers should proceed with caution. There are longer day hikes and backpacking loop options available. Please reference a Forest Service or topographical map for information.

Keep in mind, with Fourmile Falls being one of the more popular points of interest in the Pagosa Ranger District, the trail in can be quite crowded on pleasant summer days. 

Piedra Falls

Piedra Falls is one of the most popular in the Pagosa Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest. Located at the end of a gentle, quarter-mile-long trail, where the East Fork of the Piedra River meets the Weminuche Wilderness boundary, it cascades over two large steps among sheer volcanic cliffs. 

To get there, drive north on Piedra Road (CR 600/FS 631) 17.8 miles to the junction at Sportsman’s Supply. Leave the Piedra Road and continue on Middle Fork Road (FS 636) for two miles. Take the first road to the right, East Toner Road (FS 637), it is 7.5 miles to the end. Trailhead elevation is 8,419 feet. 

A word of caution — East Toner Road is graveled and typically accessible May through November, depending on snow conditions. Do not attempt this road in wet weather.

The hike is one-half mile each way (one-half hour round trip). A great hike for all ages. Walk upstream to a head gate where the trail begins. The trail continues above and west of the head gate and river to the falls. The hike is about 15 minutes each way. 

Know before you go

Backcountry travelers should always prepare for unforeseen emergencies before venturing far past civilization. Even relatively minor injuries in a remote area can turn serious, particularly if the victim faces spending a night (or more) in the woods. Sliding off road or getting stuck will almost certainly result in very expensive assistance. 

Before setting out, hikers and motorists should review maps and weather reports, determine intended routes and travel times, and inform at least two close friends or family members of their planned destination and when they expect to return. Wilderness trail users should register their entry and departure times at all Forest Service trailheads. 

Much of the Weminuche Wilderness has been affected by a large outbreak of spruce beetles, which have killed the majority of mature spruce trees. Recent fires have also weakened the trees. As a result, visitors must use extra caution when traveling in the vicinity of dead or dying trees. Always be aware of your surroundings.

Adventurers ought never travel alone, should dress appropriately for current and forecast conditions, should carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. If serious injury does occur, tend to the victim’s immediate needs, then get to a landline or within cell phone range and dial 911. For less serious matters where help is still required, call the Archuleta County Dispatch at (970) 731-2160.