Distance: 3.6 miles out and back
Trailhead: 10,180 feet
Summit: 12,640 feet
Gain: 2450 feet
Road Status: Black Mountain (FR661)
Trail Map (an unofficial trail)
- Trailhead directions (21.7 miles north of downtown Pagosa Springs)
- Google maps can't get you all the way to the trailhead - see the detailed write-up below
- High clearance 4WD required - your vehicle will get scratched
Start EARLY! Check the weather forecast for Wolf Creek Pass. If there's a chance for thunderstorms, plan on being off the summit by at least 11 am!
Pagosa Peak is the most prominent mountain on the horizon as seen from Uptown and Downtown Pagosa Springs. It's not a long, technical peak, but it's steep! There is a trail to the top, but it's not officially recognized by the Forest Service. As a result, there are no signs, it's not on any maps, and it's not maintained. However, the peak does receive enough traffic to maintain a worn path, but every year, more deadfall crisscrosses the trail.
The shortest way to the top is via Black Mountain Road (FR661). The gate on Black Mountain Road is usually open in early June and is closed in mid-fall. In 2016, the forest service did some road maintenance on the 1st mile, but after that, the road quickly deteriorates into an extremely rough 4WD road that requires high clearance. Stock 4WD vehicles can make it, but they will get scratched at the least.
From the gate, take Black Mountain Road for 3.8 miles to the start of the trail. The trail takes off from the
2nd switchback after you cross Pagosa Creek (the largest, roughest, and steepest creek crossing). The trail is faint, and there's no sign so if you reach the end of the road, you missed it.
Initially, the trail passes through tall wildflowers before entering the shaded forest. The spruce beetle epidemic decimated the forest and then in 2019, two avalanches snapped trees on the trail. As a result, you'll cross at least 80 downed trees in the 1st mile (fortunately there are many small trees regenerating the stand). The trail roughly parallels Pagosa Creek, flowing in the gorge well below you.
At mile 0.9, you'll drop steeply down to Pagosa Creek and cross it (this is a good spot to rest and filter water). After crossing the creek, you'll scramble up the loosest section of trail (it's like walking on marbles on a 45-degree slope). You'll then climb steeply to the 11,540-foot saddle at mile 1.1, which makes for another good rest stop. Pagosa Peak is on your left (north), and an unnamed peak will be on your right (south), and you'll be able to peer down into the Fourmile Creek drainage to the east.
At this point, you're over halfway there, but there's still 1,100 vertical feet left to scale over the remaining 0.7 miles. CAUTION: the remainder of the trail is exposed so don't proceed if thunderstorms are building nearby. The trail ascends steeply as you approach treeline, at which point the trail transitions from gravel to loose talus intermixed with tundra. There are some great views toward Eagle Peak on your right, and the Piedra Area on your left.
The summit block of the peak requires minor scrambling up a few short ledges and there's a bit of exposure on both sides (I have friends who are scared of heights and choose not to proceed). As you get close, you'll discover there are actually two peaks separated by a small saddle. Cross the false summit, descend about 30 feet, and then climb about 50 feet to the actual summit.
The tremendous views from on top are worth the struggle! You can see Downtown Pagosa, Stevens Lake, Lake Hatcher to the south, the Piedra Area and the Rio Grande Pyramid to the west, Toner and Sugarloaf Mountain to the north, and the entire Fourmile Creek watershed to your east as well as Quartz Ridge, Blackhead Peak, and Squaretop. Hopefully the summit isn't too windy and is free of threatening clouds so you can take your time and re-fuel for the quad-burning descent!
**You can also access Pagosa Peak from the Anderson Trail, which is located at the end of Fourmile Road. Follow the Anderson Trail about 4 miles, then bushwhack toward Pagosa Peak's south flank. Only attempt this route if you are good at navigating trail-less slopes.