Vail Daily travel feature: Pints and pools in Pagosa Springs | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily travel feature: Pints and pools in Pagosa Springs

Katie Coakley
Daily Correspondent

"On your marks … get set … go!" The race announcer yelled through his hand-held megaphone as we stood in Town Park, Pagosa Springs.

It was an anticlimactic moment. Around me, racers wearing elephant ears and tutus, superhero costumes and some decidedly creepy zombie makeup sauntered over to their cruiser bikes.

I looked at my friend and teammate; we both shrugged and ambled toward our own bikes that were leaning on their kickstands just a few yards away.

This was no ordinary triathlon.

The Cruise-A-Thong, billed as a race for "the Average Joe," is the antithesis of triathlons seen in other active towns. Instead of mountain biking, swimming and trail running, this race involves riding on a cruiser bike (one speed only, please); walking in flip-flops (thongs) down main street in Pagosa Springs; and tubing down the San Juan River. The winner is the person who posts the most average time — an idea that was hard for some naturally competitive people to swallow. However, it was one that was just fine for me.

An event supporting the Friends of the Upper San Juan River in Pagosa Springs, the Cruise-A-Thong was my excuse for visiting Pagosa Springs in mid-July, but I soon found out that there was plenty to keep my attention after the revelry had concluded.

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Located in the Four Corners region of Colorado, approximately 35 miles from the New Mexico border, Pagosa Springs is an interesting mix of mountains, the San Juans and water: Both the San Juan River, which flows through the center of town, and the hot springs. The town itself is not large, but even without a Cruise-A-Thong, there is plenty to occupy your attention — and your appetite — in Pagosa Springs.

Soak away

Approaching the Springs Resort & Spa, I caught a faint whiff of sulfur and knew I was in the right place. Though not the pleasantest of smells, that familiar odor meant that I would soon be soaking my poor tired muscles after the strenuous triathlon I'd just endured. I stashed my clothes in a locker and donned a bathrobe before heading to the pools.

There are 23 different pools to explore at the Springs Resort & Spa, each with its own temperature and view as the springs are terraced into the bank of the San Juan River. The waters are loaded with beneficial minerals and elements ranging from smelly sulfate, which can help rid the body of toxins, to trace amounts of arsenic, which studies say helps with plasma and tissue growth. During the day, guests rotate between dipping in the pools, dunking in the river and drying off on lounge chairs. The evening hours are more relaxed; the pools are open until 11 p.m. for day guests, and resort guests can visit the pools at any time of day or night.

Sip some suds

Pagosa Springs is home to less than 2,000 year-round residents, according to the last census. However, the town has its priorities in line: There are three breweries. Riff Raff Brewing Co. is conveniently located on the main street in Pagosa (called, aptly enough, Pagosa Street). The porch of the Victorian-style house hosts live music on the weekends, a perfect complement to the medal-winning beers you can sample.

Pagosa Brewing Co. is Pagosa Springs' oldest brewery; go for the Hole Mole, a dark spiced seasonal that tastes like the best Mexican chocolate, and stay for a few more in the charming beer garden. Wolfe Brewing Co., located just off of U.S. Highway 160 is the newest addition to the craft beer scene. While you can almost smell the paint drying, Wolfe has the feel of a well-established watering hole with a clientele to match.

See the sights

Though skiers and snowboarders are probably familiar with Pagosa Springs because of its proximity to Wolf Creek ski area (it's a little more than 20 miles away), the summer months are filled with activities such as hiking, biking, boating and floating. Treasure Falls is a dramatic 100-foot waterfall that is located only about a quarter of a mile from the highway; for a longer hike, try the Turkey Creek trail, which runs 20 miles through the scenery of the Continental Divide. For on-the-water fun, try tubing through town or exploring the whitewater sections on the San Juan River. Try some bi-state boating on Navajo Reservoir, which is part of Navajo State Park and is located 30 miles from Pagosa Springs. This reservoir is massive and actually extends into New Mexico, so you can be on a boat in two states.

Katie Coakley is a freelance writer and part-time Colorado resident who likes to travel, drink beer and then write about it. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Katieonthemap.com, or by buying her a pint on a sunny deck.

In Pagosa

Where to stay

• The newly renovated Quality Inn (formerly the Oakridge Lodge), which is conveniently located directly across from the Springs Resort & Spa, home of the famous Pagosa Hot Springs.

What to do

• Soak at the Springs Resort and Spa. With 23 pools of varying temperatures and views over the San Juan River, the Springs Resort and Spa is a must-visit in Pagosa Springs. Entry starts at $24.50 for adults and $14 for children.

• Sip and snack at Riff Raff Brewing Company. Founded in May of 2013, Riff Raff has quickly become one of Pagosa’s favorite breweries. Try the Cabrito burger (made with goat meat) with an “El Duende,” Riff Raff’s pepper beer. Or, head down the street to Kip’s Grill and Cantina, which has an excellent patio and fresh fish tacos.