Rating: Beginner with advanced terrain
Distance: Up to 15km
Trailhead Elevation: 7,800 feet
Max Elevation: 8,250 feet
No fat bikes
The Bootjack and Indian Head
West Fork San Juan River
View toward Treasure Falls
Old Growth Ponderosa Pines
West Fork Valley
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.