Ice Caves Trail near Pagosa Springs

  • Rating: Easy 

  • Distance: 1.2 to 2 miles roundtrip depending on how many fissures you explore 

  • Elevation

    • Trailhead: 7720 feet

    • ​Max:  7960 feet

    • ​Gain: 240 feet 

  • Road Status: Piedra Road (CR600) - open year-round

  • Trailhead Directions: Piedra River Trail # 596 (18.9 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs)

  • Trail Map

  • Notes: Great, short, early season hike. Active/interesting geologic area.

Even though the Ice Caves are the shortest hiking destinations near Pagosa Springs, they are one of the most interesting.  They are not really caves, but deep fissures in the underlying Dakota Sandstone.  The sandstone ridge is tilted upwards about 30-degrees and the sandstone sits on top of the slippery Mancos Shale.  The toe of the slope has been cut away by the Piedra River, making the hillside unstable.  My theory is the sandstone is slowly sliding on the slippery Mancos Shale toward the river below, and in doing so has split open cracks along natural joints.  These cold, dark, 30-foot-deep chasms can hold snow well into the summer.  The fissures are 1 to 8 feet wide, and some are hundreds of feet long.  Some of the fissures are have moved fairly recently because the roots from young trees still span the gaps.

From the Upper Piedra River Trailhead, the unmarked Ice Caves Trail splits off to the right almost immediately.  The trail climbs above the river trail and leads into the shade cast by mixed conifers.  The rocky trail is an old roadbed rather than a single track.  After a little over a half of a mile of climbing, there's a dead, upside-down tree in the middle of the trail marking the first fissure.  The largest fissure is about 100 feet further on the left.  There are many other fissures throughout the area.  Be careful - you could easily fall in a fissure if you're not paying attention!  If you choose to enter a fissure, be aware that others above you could accidentally knock rocks onto you.  Helmets are a good idea (bike, rock climbing, ski helmets...whatever you've got).

For a spectacular view of the Williams Creek Canyon and the Piedra River Valley, continue up the trail and veer right at a large fallen tree near another fissure.  Continue climbing toward the ridge until you reach the airy canyon rim (0.8 miles from the trailhead).  The overlook is a great picnic spot with an unbeatable view.

 
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