I will always remember this hike because a day later I ended up in the emergency room for an appendectomy. My appendix had doubled in size and was about to burst. And I’m so thankful that this didn’t occur while I was on the trail. Because otherwise it could’ve been a very different outcome.
So I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that when you’re in the backcountry, make sure you are prepared. Not only physically and mentally with the proper gear, food and water. But also make sure you let others know where you’re going. And I highly recommend you have a communication device like a Garmin InReach that allows you to stay in contact with your emergency contacts and local authorities at all times.
I can’t say this enough. Being prepared is critically important whenever you’re in the mountains. Don’t mess around with this because you never know when it can turn into a life or death situation.
Alright, back to this hike.
The Piedra River Trail is one of the more popular trails in the Pagosa Area. There’s several small day hikes you can make out of this. But the trail itself is nearly eleven and a half miles long. Most visitors only go a mile into the box canyon or two miles to the first bridge. But I treated this as a point to point hike - going the entire length.
The night before, I dropped off my car at the Trailhead on First Fork Road. It’s about a 34 mile drive from downtown Pagosa Springs. Once you arrive at the Piedra River, it’s 12 miles up First Fork Road or FS 622. This is the same road that leads to Piedra Hot Springs, which we did another trail video on not too long ago. The road does get narrow at times. Just be sure to slow down on the blind turns as there could be cars traveling in the opposite direction.
The next morning, my wife dropped me off at the more popular trailhead off of Piedra road. It’s about 19 miles from downtown Pagosa Springs. And much quicker to get too. Even though these two trailheads are only 11.5 miles apart, it takes almost 47 miles of driving to get from one trailhead to the other.
Starting off, there’s not much elevation change on the north end of the trail. You drop into this really cool box canyon. There’s tons of great trout fishing options here. And the general rule is the further you go along this trail, the bigger the trout.
Which makes sense because the further you go, the less people you encounter.
As I exited the box canyon, the trail levels out and takes you to the first bridge, about two miles in, where Williams Creek enters the Piedra River. This is where most people stop and turn around. Giving you a total of about four miles for an out-and-back. And it’s where I ran into a nice group of folks taking in the views from the bridge.
From here, I only saw one other person. A trail runner. And that’s what I love about this trail from this point on. It takes you right along the river and chances are you won’t see another soul.
The soundtrack of this hike can’t be beat. The name speaks for itself. Your hiking along the Piedra River and you can hear it the whole way. Sometimes you’re right up against it and it’s loud depending on the level of the river. Other times you’re far enough where you can hear the wind and the faint sound of the river.
At about three miles in, you arrive at a point where the trail splits in two. Take a left and you’re on the Piedra Stock Drive trail which crosses the Piedra river. But we stayed on the River Trail by going straight. A little bit further and you cross over with Weminuche Creek. And from here is’t relatively level without much elevation change. I did wish I had longer pants on here because the trail was overgrown and scratched my legs up a bit.
Two and half miles later, you end up at Sand Creek. And there’s no bridge this time. I actually took a little break here and dipped in the creek to take a break from the heat. And it was frigid indeed. But it helped cool down the legs for the rest of the hike. Because here’s where the climbing begins. In a little under a mile, you climb about 650 ft. Which leads to one of the better views on the trail. At eight miles in, you can look back and see beautiful Pagosa Peak towering above all the other hills and mountains.
From here, it’s all downhill. You have three and half miles left of hiking. And it takes you right back down to the river. It’s here you start to see signs of other humans around again as you approach the First Fork Trailhead area. This area is more popular for camping as there’s lots of little dispersed spots along the river. And in the fall, it’s filled up with hunters and their horses.
And that was my hike! Overall, it took me about six hours, including the extra 2.5 miles I did to get all this footage. So I went about 14 miles in total. If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably go the opposite direction because of the views you get of Pagosa Peak as you hike Northeast. You get the climbing with over faster too when your legs are fresh.
As always, when you’re in the backcountry, pack in and pack it out. Please take care of the natural beauty of this area. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to watch this guide to Piedra River Trail. For more hikes and other cool things to do in Pagosa, be sure to subscribe. I hope you find everything we create and produce beneficial to your stay or life here in Pagosa Springs.