Pagosa Country offers a wide variety of scenic beauty, much of which may be enjoyed from a conventional vehicle. Most of the roads recommended for these tours are all-weather gravel roads. Some roads require four-wheel drive vehicles; many will test your driving skills and courage. Go prepared! A Forest Service map, available at the Visitor Center, is a must. Excellent picnic areas are located along all routes. Many of the trips are in remote areas with little traffic—- plan accordingly.
Plumtaw-Piedra Loop —- 35 miles round trip. The Plumtaw Road is a Forest Service access road that begins in town as Four Mile Road at the corner of Lewis and Pagosa Streets. It is substantially higher in elevation than most other back roads in the county and affords spectacular vistas and autumn colors; it also is the summer home for many deer and elk. Keep your eyes open for grouse, too. Where Plumtaw Road descends to the Upper Piedra Road, turn right toward Williams Creek Lake, a scenic high mountain reservoir with a reputation for good fishing.
Where the Piedra Road crosses the Piedra River, take a half-hour hike (or longer) down the Piedra Gorge past caverns of maidenhair ferns and mini-waterfalls. Stay on Piedra Road when you return to Pagosa Springs, noting the “big pasture” and “ant hill” on your right. You will be following the route of an early narrow-gauge railway for the last 10 miles. This trip is suitable for all vehicles and is a great route for viewing our flaming fall foliage.
East Fork of the San Juan
East Fork of the San Juan River —- This route is suitable for high clearance vehicles as far as Silver Falls. Beyond Silver Falls, four-wheel drive is recommended. It starts out by going ten miles northeast on Highway 160; take a right at the gravel road sign: “Forest Service Access Road East Fork of the San Juan.” The route goes through the East Fork Canyon and passes some dramatic “beehive” rock formations on the left. The Canyon opens up into a breathtaking mountain valley that is privately owned, but through which public access is permitted. At the upper end of this valley, there is a fork, stay left toward Elwood Pass. This route will take you past the historic Joe Mann Creek, the old Black Diamond Mine, over the Continental Divide and to the old mining town of Summitville. From there, one may return by the same route or go down Park Creek to Highway 160 and back to Pagosa Springs over Wolf Creek Pass.
The Scenic Blanco Basin
Blanco Basin —- This is one of the most scenic drives in the state of Colorado when fall colors are bright. Head south on Highway 84 for eight miles to the Blanco Basin turnoff. Follow the road to the head of the Basin and to many magnificent views of the Continental Divide, Square Top Mountain and Oil Mountain. For an even more spectacular side trip turn onto Castle Creek Road, cross the Rio Blanco and proceed to the end of the road at Fish Creek. The views are more than inspiring. Roads are all-weather and suitable for conventional vehicles. Return by the same route.
Radio Transmitter/Continental Divide —- Suitable for conventional vehicles – as close to the top of the world as you can get in these parts by vehicle. Turn off US 160 in the vicinity of the Summit of Wolf Creek Pass; follow road up to the transmitter site. A spectacular vantage the head of the Basin and to many magnificent views of the Continental of the mountain. Look for the native trees, stunted by the strength of the wind and the extreme weather. At some times of the year, you may see exceptional examples of wildlife in the area. As always, respect wild animals and take only pictures.
Mill Creek Road
Mill Creek – Nipple Mountain Road —- 32 miles round trip. This route is suitable for all vehicles to the vicinity of Quartz Lake trailhead. Four-wheel drive vehicles are required beyond the trailhead. Turn onto Mill Creek Road just north of the County Fairgrounds on US Highway 84. Proceed east to Nipple Mountain area; 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 at this point. Return by the same route.
New Mexico Loop
Wolf Creek Pass – Platoro – Cumbres Pass – Chama —- The trip to Platoro can begin as described for the Route to the East Fork of the San Juans, turning south upon crossing Elwood Pass. Another route to Platoro is to proceed northeast from Pagosa Springs on US Highway 160, cross Wolf Creek Pass to Park Creek Road approximately 5 1/2 miles from the summit. Turn south on Park Creek Road and proceed to Elwoood Pass and south to Platoro. Take your fishing gear and enjoy some excellent fishing on the Conejos River, which parallels your route south from Platoro.
Upon reaching Colorado Highway 17, turn right and cross Cumbres Pass. You will follow the route of the Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge railroad to Chama, New Mexico. From there it is 48 miles back to Pagosa Springs via Highway 84. This is an exceptional route for observing the fall colors. Except for that portion of the route crossing Elwood Pass, roads are suitable for conventional vehicles.
Pack it in, pack it out and preserve our wilderness for others to enjoy and treasure. Even when in the comfort of your vehicle, be sure you have a first aid kit, water, and basic emergency supplies. Be sure to tell someone when you expect to be back.