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Waterfalls, Canyons, Rapids
Hidden Treasures in the Backcountry
Many water wonders await the hiker and backcountry mountain runner, horseback rider and biker. At several accessible points in Pagosa Country, a river or stream makes a steep descent, the water rushing over a cliff or embankment. A waterfall is born.

Find one of the area’s waterfalls and take time to sit and enjoy the calming and beautiful spectacle.

Treasure Falls

Treasure Falls is named for Treasure Mountain, an area rich in folklore and stories of a large buried treasure. Most accounts suggest that a treasure chest full of gold was buried in the area after a group of Frenchmen were “waylaid” by either Spanish explorers or Native Americans. Whatever the circumstances, Treasure Falls offers visitors a breathtaking fortune in scenery.

To get there, travel east on U.S. 160, approximately 15 miles from the San Juan River bridge at the east end of Pagosa Springs. As you approach the base of Wolf Creek Pass, turn right into a large parking area, complete with restrooms and a well-maintained interpretive trail leading to the base of the falls.

While the falls and accompanying trail are visible from the highway, the appropriate footpath begins to the left of the stream, near the restrooms. Many visitors photograph the falls and surrounding vistas from the parking area and nearby overlook bridge at the base of the falls.

Silver Falls

Day travelers can easily view or visit Silver Falls near the old historic Silver Falls Forest Service Guard Station. Following a scenic drive on a maintained gravel road into the back country, a trail to the falls is short, but fairly steep.

To get there, travel east on U.S. 160, approximately 10 miles from the San Juan River bridge at the east end of Pagosa Springs. Just after crossing the West Fork of the San Juan River, turn right (east) on East Fork Road (FR #667) leading to the East Fork River and campground. Follow the road and river approximately eight miles where, on the north side (left), you’ll see the falls, an old guard station and primitive parking area beyond. Park in the parking area.

A word of caution — in early spring, there are two vehicle stream crossings that are often hazardous during high water. Also, the last two miles of road cross private land where visitors must respect private property rights and remain in the roadway.

Too, the U.S. Forest Service may close the East Fork Road for brief periods this summer, in order to repair damage sustained in a 2008 landslide. Call the Pagosa Ranger District at (970)264-2268 to determine the road’s status, before heading to the falls.

To reach the base of the falls, follow the footpath through a gate and hike about an eighth of a mile.

Elwood Creek Cascades

The route to Elwood Pass and the Elwood Creek Cascades turns to a four-wheel-drive road best suited to high-clearance vehicles with a short wheel base. Late summer or early autumn, when the aspens are shimmering gold, may be the ideal time to negotiate this rather precarious course. Because travelers must ford the East Fork of the San Juan River near where it begins at the confluence of Elwood and Crater creeks, spring high-water season is not the time to go.

To view these splendid cascades, proceed up the East Fork Road as you would to Silver Falls. About a mile past the old guard station and parking area, East Fork Road branches left from Quartz Meadow Road to the right. From there on, this narrow and primitive course offers many steep grades and seemingly bottomless mud holes. Beyond the river crossing, the road climbs abruptly out of the canyon. From high on the mountainside, Elwood Cascades is visible.

Another word of caution — because the road to Elwood Pass is challenging even when dry, only experienced drivers should attempt its passage.

Fourmile Falls

The first of two spectacular falls is a tall “bridal veil” fall on aptly-named Fall Creek, but viewing its splendor requires a three-mile hike (one way) into the Weminuche Wilderness north of Pagosa Springs. A bit further along Fourmile Trail (on the right), the more voluminous Fourmile Falls tumbles hundreds of feet over a sheer precipice of dark volcanic rock.

The route to these popular summertime destinations begins in town at U.S. 160 and Lewis Street. Turn north on Lewis, then an immediate left on Fifth Street, which becomes Fourmile Road. Follow Fourmile Road (CR 400/FR 645) roughly 13 miles to the trailhead at road’s end. Keep in mind, with Fourmile Falls being one of the more popular points of interest in the Pagosa Ranger District, the trail in can be quite crowded on pleasant summer days.

Piedra Falls

Piedra Falls is one of the most popular in the Pagosa Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest. Located at the end of a gentle, quarter-mile-long trail, where the East Fork of the Piedra River meets the Weminuche Wilderness boundary, it cascades over two large steps among sheer volcanic cliffs.

To reach Piedra Falls, drive two miles west of downtown Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160 to Piedra Road (CR 600). Turn right and proceed beyond a cattle guard (at approximately six miles) where the road turns to gravel and becomes FR 631. Travel roughly 11.8 miles more, to the Middle Fork Road (FR 636). Veer right from FR 631 onto FR 636 (left side of a country store, campground and cabins). Continue on FR 636 approximately two miles, then turn right on East Toner Road (FR 637). Follow East Toner Road about eight miles, where it ends at a primitive parking area near an irrigation diversion. Park there and follow a footpath upstream to the base of the falls.

Another word of caution — East Toner Road is not graveled and, during inclement weather, can be slick in several areas.

Safety and Precautions

Speaking of caution, backcountry travelers should always prepare for unforeseen emergencies before venturing far past civilization. Even relatively minor injuries in a remote area can turn serious, particularly if the victim faces spending a night (or more) in the woods. Sliding off road or getting stuck will almost certainly result in very expensive assistance.

Before setting out, hikers and motorists should review maps and weather reports, determine intended routes and travel times, and inform at least two close friends or family members of their planned destination and when they expect to return. Wilderness trail users should register their entry and departure times at all Forest Service trailheads.

Adventurers ought never travel alone, dress appropriately for current and forecast conditions, and should carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. If serious injury does occur, tend to the victim’s immediate needs, then get to a landline or within cell phone range and dial 911. For less serious matters where help is still required, call the Archuleta County Sheriff dispatch at (970)264-2131.