Photograph by Stephen Saks Photography, Alamy
GPS: 37º16’N 107º01’W
Surrounded by the 2.5-million-acre (1-million-hectare) San Juan National Forest and overshadowed by the 12,000-foot (3,658-meter) peaks of the San Juans, this Rockies outpost shares much of the same terrain as Durango, 60 minutes west—with fewer crowds. So chances are good you’ll find room in the new Pagosa Hut and Trail System, a 36-mile (58-kilometer) network of backcountry paths. Bonus: Pagosa averages 300 sunny days a year.
The San Juan River, which cuts right through the heart of Pagosa Springs, has some of the country’s best Rainbow fly fishing, thanks to a blitz stocking of some 9,000 fish last summer. Give the Continental Divide Trail a go—on two fat tires. Grind out the 18-mile (29-kilometer) CDT Alberta Peak Loop in granny gear, and you’ll be rewarded with alpine meadow views that would make Maria von Trapp jealous. No bike? No problem. The gearheads at Pagosa Outside will set you up with one for $35 a day, and share their expertise free of charge (www.pagosaoutside.com). Come winter, you can let the lifts do the work, as they carry you to the 12,000-foot (3,658-meter) summit of Wolf Creek Ski Area (all-day lift tickets from $52; www.wolfcreekski.com).
Worked up a thirst on the trail? Rest assured there’s something good on tap at Pagosa Brewing Company. Try the Poor Richard’s Ale, crafted by brewmaster Tony Simmons with corn and molasses to resemble the grog that Ben Franklin himself used to quaff (www.pagosabrewing.com). Think you tackled a monster ride? Then maybe you’re ready to wrestle the two-pound Monster Burger and a bucket of fries (finishing in an hour earns you a T-shirt) down at Bear Creek Saloon (www.bearcreeksaloon.net). Probably not, though.
Head for the hills (at least by local standards) and stay at any of three backcountry huts at or above 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) in San Juan National Forest (from $60; www.pagosa-huts.com). Or, if your idea of rustic includes running water, a gas fireplace, Wi-Fi, and cable television, then Fireside Inn Cabins is your place. Located right in town, they’re decorated with old horse tack and Western pictures (cabins sleeping four to six from $105; www.firesidecabins.com).