West Fork

  • Rating: Beginner with advanced terrain

  • Distance: Up to 15km

  • Trailhead: 37.43856, -106.88698

  • Trailhead Elevation: 7,800 feet

  • Max Elevation: 8,250 feet

  • No fat bikes

Saddle Mountain

Saddle Mountain

The Bootjack and Indian Head

The Bootjack and Indian Head

West Fork San Juan River

West Fork San Juan River

View toward Treasure Falls

View toward Treasure Falls

Old Growth Ponderosa Pines

Old Growth Ponderosa Pines

West Fork Valley

West Fork Valley

Cabin in West Fork area

Cabin in West Fork area

The West Fork Valley is one of the most photographed vistas in the Southern San Juans (it was even a backdrop in Chevy Chase's National Lampoon's Vacation).  Like the Griswalds, most people only take the time to see the valley from their car window or from the Highway 160 overlook. 

 

In my opinion, the best way to experience this incredible valley is on Nordic skis.  The Pagosa Nordic Club grooms up to 15K of trails, which allow you to see the valley from many vantage points.  The rugged volcanic cliffs surrounding the valley were carved out by glaciers and then later by the pristine West Fork of the San Juan River, which drops steeply from the Continental Divide,  providing the Town of Pagosa Springs with an untouched source of drinking water.  Sheep Mountain and Saddle Mountain tower nearly 4000 feet above the 7800-foot valley floor and prominent landmarks such as Treasure Falls, the Bootjack, and Indian Head also fringe the valley. 

 

The Nordic ski trails are excellent for beginners, but there is also steep terrain for those who want a challenge (including the old highway 160 roadbed which climbs directly below the scenic overlook).  The open vistas allow the trails to receive strong sunlight, which can lead to soft conditions in the afternoon, especially from February on.  From Pagosa Springs, take 160 east for 15 miles, and turn left at the Nordic ski area sign and Bruce Spruce Ranch sign just before you reach Treasure Falls.        

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