Hiking Season Has Officially Begun
By Keith Jones
The Four Mile trail is one of Pagosa’s most popular hikes. Winding through a river valley to reach the Four Mile Falls, the trail has its ups and downs but can be classified between ‘easy’ and ‘intermediate.’ The biggest challenge for some may be the sum total 7 miles of hiking required to visit and return from the waterfall. Every year tourists come out in droves to hit this trail, however: the only hike in Pagosa where I’ve regularly seen more people is on the Opal Lake trail and, although perhaps not as stunningly scenic as some of the more expert climbs in the region, the Four Mile trail does offer a consistent river presence, a nice meadow perfect for a picnic, plenty of shade for hot summer days and some spectacular rock formations near the waterfall itself.
To the west of the trail stretches the ridge that the Anderson trail winds up and around on its path to Pagosa Peak; to the east hunches Eagle Mountain and Eagle Peak. There are a couple descents on the way to the falls and one uphill stretch for the last mile or so, where the foliage clears somewhat, exposing massive rock-gardens and huge chunks of upthrust stone on the left and the curling river to the right. Many of Pagosa’s hikes are like this – long stints of forest hiking, with a sudden clearing of the vegetation to reveal the contours of time and consequence. In this respect, Four Mile has one of the more stunning displays of ‘sudden erosion’ in the area.
The Falls originates near the base of Pagosa Peak, emerging from both meltwater and an underground spring – there isn’t a real trail going from the origin point to the waterfall itself; around five years or so ago I traced it from the source cross country through rough wilderness to the top of the Fall (expert hikers only!).
The water flows strongest in spring, and many a tourist and local alike have climbed up to stand in the small hallow behind the Fall. Pictured above is actually the lower Falls; to reach the upper Falls requires a strenuous climb up towards the Four Mile Lakes.
Four Mile has continued to draw tourist attention for years and years, and it is a good bet that you will be sharing this trail with anywhere from three to a dozen other hikers in the busy summer season. Its relative ease, peaceful glades and scattered glimpses of breathtaking Pagosa country will, I’m sure,regale visitors with the taste of the National Forest for many years to come. For those seeking an extra challenge and/or solace, the Anderson trail runs from the same trailhead and in various points overlooks the Four Mile river valley.
Some of Pagosa’s favorite trails:
Due to the West Fork Fire Complex, many trails in the San Juan Forest and Weiminuche Wilderness are closed. However, Pagosa Springs’ vast wilderness means there are still plenty to hike or horseback ride on! Here are just a few:
No. 1 POISON PARK TRAILHEAD
Travel west on U.S. Hwy 160 to Piedra Road (FDR 631), north 22 miles on Piedra Road, right on Williams Lake Road (FDR 640). Proceed 3.5 miles, turn left on FDR 664. Go 3 miles to the trailhead at road’s end. The trailhead elevation is 9,210 feet.
No. 2 WEMINUCHE TRAIL (592)
This trail is about seven miles in length from the trailhead to the junction with the Divide Lake Trail (539), this trail meets the Hossick Creek Trail (585) at mile 2.2 and the East Fork of the Weminuche Trail (659) at mile 6.5.
No. 3 CIMARRONA CREEK TRAILHEAD
Travel west on U.S. Hwy 160 to Piedra Road (FDR 631), north 22 miles on Piedra Road, then right on Williams Lake Road (FDR 640). At 4.1 miles, the trailhead is on the left side of the road, just beyond the entrance to Cimarrona Campground. The trailhead elevation is 8,400 feet.
No. 4 CIMARRONA TRAIL (586)
Trail is about eight miles in length from the trailhead to the Continental Divide Trail at Squaw Pass. The first two miles of the trail are moderately easy then it climbs 3,000 feet in just 6 miles. The Hossick Creek Trail (585) junction is at mile 6.5. Camping areas along the trail are very few. The highest point is 11,500 feet.
No. 5 WILLIAMS CREEK TRAILHEAD
West on U.S. Hwy 160 to Piedra Road (FDR 631); north on Piedra Rd., then right on Williams Lake Rd. (FDR 640). The trailhead is at the end of Williams Lake Road. Trailhead elevation is 8,360 feet.
No. 6 WILLIAMS CREEK TRAIL (587)
This trail ascends 3,400 feet in fourteen miles from the trailhead to the Continental Divide. A couple of stream crossings may be difficult during high water, and three fairly steep sections are along the way. Highest point is 11,800 feet. At mile 2.5, the Indian Creek Trail (588) goes east.
No. 25 LITTLE BLANCO TRAILHEAD
Go south on U.S. Hwy. 84 for 1/8 mile, turn left on Mill Creek Road (FDR 662). Proceed 6.5 miles. At the junction take Nipple Mountain Road (FDR 665) to the right. Continue 9.5 miles to the trailhead. Trailhead elevation is 10,040 feet.
No. 26 LITTLE BLANCO TRAIL (572)
This trail is eight miles in length from trailhead to the Continental Divide Trail at its junction with Quartz Creek Trail (571). First 2 miles are steep with switchbacks. At mile 4, the Quartz Lake Trail (568) goes about one mile north to the lake. Little Blanco Trail continues northeast four miles to the Divide. The section of trail above timberline seems to be on a storm track, so use caution during thunderstorms. The highest point is 12,200 feet; total ascent is 2,160 feet.
No. 27 FISH LAKE TRAILHEAD
Go south on U.S. Hwy 84 for eight miles then left on Blanco Basin Road (FDR 657). Travel ten miles, then right on Castle Creek Road (FDR 660). At the junction with the road to Opal Lake stay to the left. During wet weather, you may wish to park at the junction and walk from there. This section of road is very slippery and sometimes impassable when wet. The annual mudslide at the crossing at Castle Creek often closes the road.
No. 28 FISH LAKE TRAIL (574)
Ten miles in length from trailhead to the Continental Divide Trail, this trail goes up the north fork of Fish Creek to Fish Lake (at mile 5), then on to the Continental Divide. There are several stream crossings and steep grades. Highest point is 12,100 feet; total ascent is 3,000 feet.
No. 29 LECHE CREEK TRAILHEAD
Go south on U.S. Hwy 84 for eight miles, then left on Blanco Basin Road (FDR 657). Travel ten miles, then turn right on Castle Creek Road, continue .5 miles and turn right on Crescent Lane. The trailhead parking is on the right side of the road and trail is on the left.
No. 30 LECHE CREEK TRAIL (576)
This trail is eleven miles in length from trailhead to the Navajo Peak Trail (577). It passes through several aspen stands. Highest point is 10,200 feet; total ascent is 2,000 feet.
NO. 31 V-ROCK TRAILHEAD
Go south on U.S. Hwy 84 for 19 miles, then turn left on Buckles Lake Road (663). The trailhead is at road’s end at 9,600 feet elevation.
No. 32 V-ROCK TRAIL (578)
This trail is three miles in length from the trailhead to the Leche Creek Trail (576). The first mile climbs steeply to the top of the ridge. There are spectacular panoramic views from the top. The highest point is 10,600 feet; total ascent is 1,000 feet.
No. 33 NAVAJO PEAKS TRAILHEAD
Price Lakes Road. Go south on U.S. Hwy 84 for 24 miles to Chromo, turn left just past the Chromo Store. Proceed 6.5 miles, turn left on the Price Lakes Road (048/731). Continue to the trailhead at road’s end.
No. 33 NAVAJO PEAK TRAIL (577)
This trail is eight miles in length from the end of Price Lakes Road (FDR 731) to Buckles Lake Road (FDR 663). The trail travels through relatively easy terrain. The highest point is 9,500 feet; the total ascent is 300 feet.
No. 34 PIEDRA RIVER TRAILHEAD
Travel west on U.S. Hwy 160 to Piedra Road (FDR 631), then north on Piedra Rd. for 14.5 miles. Cross the Piedra River, then continue about 300 yards to the signed trailhead on the left. Trailhead elevation is 7,700 feet.
No. 35 PIEDRA RIVER TRIAL (596)
Twelve miles in length, this trail turns left shortly after leaving the trailhead, drops down, and follows the northwest side of the river. This is a relatively easy trail for the first 3.5 miles. The trail continues 8.5 miles above a box canyon and ends at the end of First Fork Road (FDR 662). The Piedra Area boundary is about 6 miles from the trailhead.
FIRST FORK TRAILHEAD (West of Pagosa, not on this map)
Travel 22 miles west on U.S. Hwy 160 to First Fork Road (FDR 622). Turn north and continue about 12 miles to the trailhead at road’s end. Trailhead elevation is 7,200 feet.
For an updated list of trail closures and alerts, visit the San Juan National Forest site.