Pagosa Springs is an emerald oasis nestled up against the San Juan Mountains. It’s lush in the summer, and in winter, a delightful place to enjoy hot springs and skiing at nearby Wolf Creek. Despite the year-round allure of the steamy pools, the town has a laid-back vibe that keeps it from feeling too touristy. There are swanky hotel accommodations at The Springs Resort and Spa and serene creek-side campsites in the San Juan National Forest, so choose your own adventure.
I stayed about 20 miles outside of town at Bridge Campground. To get there I took County Road 600, a well-maintained dirt road that winds its way through valleys and pastures to the San Juan National Forest. At the campground there were 19 sites hugging the banks of Williams Creek. I spent hours relaxing in my hammock while my dog played in the water. This sunset scene was well-complemented with a growler of Powder Day IPA from Pagosa Springs Brewery.
With a light rain falling on my tent, I slept soundly and was up early looking for sunshine. Summertime activities in Pagosa Springs revolve around the San Juan River. Early in the season when the spring snow is melting, white water rules. Rafting the river when its flow tops 400 cubic feet per second is a serious sport. It’s best to take a rafting trip or white water kayak lessons from a local outfitter like Pagosa Outside. Later in the summer, the river slows, and tubes are the way to go. You can rent them from an outfitter and take a shuttle north of town for a two-hour float. Or, to do it on the cheap, just rent a tube ($25 for the day) and follow the locals.
When I arrived with my tube at the Town Park (just off Hot Springs Blvd. and across the street from the Visitor’s Center) there was an event underway. Apparently, I’d stumbled upon an annual competition: Cruise-A-Thong, “a race for the average Joe.” The festivities kicked off with a Bloody Mary-making competition and were followed by a quirky, triathlon-style event where contestants were given sweatbands painted with names like (Higgs Boson, IPA, and EZ-E) instead of race numbers. I was informed that the point of the exercise was to come in with the most average time.
As the sun grew higher in the sky there was a circus atmosphere of costumed racers, decorated bicycles and ridiculous inflatable animals—which participants would be using to float the river. At the start, competitors loaded up the provided water bottles with their adult beverage of choice and set off, slowly, in costume, down the bike path for a 4-mile ride along the river.
This parade of absurdity rode a loop around the park. I sat watching in awe and wonder, then decided to join the fun and float the river with the racers. The slow and bumpy journey was punctuated with people riding various novelty floats, like killer whales and piranhas. I think I even saw a guy float by riding a giant tiki pole.
When the contestants finished at the park, there were awards and barbecue and live music. It was the perfect end to a weekend of solitude and silliness in Pagosa Springs, a town that I can assure you does not take itself too seriously.