Piedra River Hot Springs or Sheep Creek Hot Springs as some call it, is probably one of the easier primitive hot springs that you can find here in the beautiful state of Colorado. It’s perfect for a quick afternoon get-a-way with enough distance from downtown Pagosa Springs that it’s usually not super crowded. If you go during the week during the off season, chances are you may have the Piedra River Hot Springs to yourself. But even if there are others around, there’s plenty of pools along the river to help spread folks out.
To get to the trailhead from downtown Pagosa, you’ll head west on Highway 160 for about 20 miles. You’ll turn north on First Fork Road or FS 622, which parallels the Piedra River. While the dirt road is in relatively good shape, there are some blind corners with exposure. Be sure to slow down and take it easy on these parts. About 7 miles down the road, you’ll see a sign for the Sheep Creek Trailhead. This is your starting point. There’s lots of available parking here and a couple dispersed campsites nearby.
The hike itself starts off at the trailhead. It’s about 2.8 miles out and back. This is a deceiving hike because it’s nothing but downhill for the first mile. You start off at nearly 7,500 ft and end up at 6,880 where the springs are located. You can reach the springs in under 45 minutes easy.
The trail is a part of the Sheep Creek Trail until you reach the river. There’s a couple of spots that can lead you astray if you’re not careful. About halfway in, you’ll hit a point where it seems like you’ll want to go straight. But look for the cairns and sticks placed on the ground that divert you to the right.
You’ll hit some steep switchbacks over the next quarter mile where you’ll come out into a meadow near the river. If you go straight, you’ll end up at a nice little spot for a campfire. This is where Sheep’s Creek Trail continues on for another five miles or so. But to get to the hot springs, you’ll again divert to the right instead of this little campfire area.
From here, you’ll parallel the Piedra River for another half mile. You’ll come upon a short little climb and then enter an open area surrounded by huge pines. Off to your left by the river are the Piedra River Hot Springs. And from here, you’ll have your choice of many pools whose temperature is regulated by how much of the river is flowing into the pools.
Now the pools at Piedra River Hot Springs are not deep. But you can easily lay down in them and be completely covered by the hot water. The temperatures are very comfortable and even too hot at times. When sitting in the pools, you’ll definitely hit some hot spots where the rocks and mud underneath are very, very hot.
But overall, the pools furtherest from the river are easily in the low 100’s. Closer to the river and it quickly drops down into the 80’s and even 70’s. Which after sitting in the warmer pools, feels quite nice. And of course, you can always cool off in the Piedra River.
These springs are cleaner than the ones at Rainbow Hot Springs. Lots of rocks and overall clearer water, not as much mulch and mud. You can even see to the bottom of many of these pools.
The one unfortunate aspect to this area is the trash. I saw towels, old swimsuits and of course beer cans and candy wrappers. So please abide by the principle of pack it in and pack it out! Keep this area clean and in it’s natural state. No one else wants to see your trash. Please respect the outdoors!
As your relaxing in the Piedra River Hot Springs, keep in mind how much downhill there was to get here. Because after you clean up and put the clothes back on, it’s time for some climbing. In fact, there’s over 600 feet of elevation gain to get back to the trail head. And most of that elevation gain occurs in just over half a mile. So just make sure that you can handle this kind of a hike. It’s definitely not long. But it is steep at times and will make you huff, puff and sweat for sure.
Overall, this is a great little spot. Easy to get to. And the vibe is super chill. I went in early November on a Sunday and there were about eight people at the springs with me. All were very friendly locals from either Durango or Pagosa. Clothing is optional, but everyone I was around had on either a swimsuit or undies.