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Piedra River Trail # 596 Map:(click here)
Length: 10.8 miles one way.
Elevation Stats: North to South – Altitude Loss (577 ft) (7,710 to 7,133) with (Ascent 1,987ft and 2,564 Descent.)
Allowances: Open to hiking, biking, foot traffic and horses. No motorized vehicles.
Trail Description: One of the more popular trails in the Pagosa area. This is an excellent trail any time of the year offering something for every type of outdoor enthusiast. The trail journeys through a great mix of river canyon, meadows, and forest. Wildlife viewing, whitewater rafting, fishing, backpacking, bird watching, wildflowers and ample photographic opportunities are to be found along this trail.
The upper trailhead is easily reached right off county road 600 and can be very busy during weekends of the peak summer season. You can do the entire length as a long day hike, or nice overnighter by shuttling a car to the opposite trailhead, or more popular is several short down and back hikes of varying lengths from the upper trail head. It serves as an excellent access trail for fishing the Piedra River and is also the beginning of the trail to Ice Cave Ridge.
If attempting the full length trip be aware that there are several hills in the middle taking you up and around a series of box canyons along the river, so though the total elevation gain from trailhead to trailhead is only about 500 ft. you will end up doing close to 2,000 ft. of gain when traveling from the lower to upper trailhead and even going down, from upper to lower will have a gain near 1000 vertical.
The shortest out and back, and a nice family hike is from the upper trailhead down to where you access the river in a deep rock canyon with sheer walls at approximately ½ mile down trail. As you go down you may notice climber’s pitons on the walls and may encounter climbers during the summer months. Another ½ mile down the trail will take you over a small hill and then bring you back down to the river at the corner that sends the river west. If you continue on for another mile you will come to the “First Bridge” which spans Williams Creek. This is a nice open meadow area and serves as a great 3-4 mile RT hike if you turn back here. Another mile down trail will bring you to a trail junction for the Piedra Stock trail which goes north and south and you will be able to see the “2nd Bridge” crossing the Piedra on your left (South). If continuing on to do the entire river trail, stay right and do not cross that bridge. Continuing another ½ mile past the 2nd bridge will take you up hill to a nice vantage point where there is also a trail leading North to Weminuche Creek. Over this hill you will switch back down a steep hill to where the Weminuche meets the Piedra and will cross the last bridge. Most down and back hikers do not go beyond the hill.
In winter the upper trails are still accessible but snowshoes or cleats are recommended due to packed Ice conditions. Most years at the ½ mile river access a large Ice formation appears from the cliff face right down into the river which is a popular destination.
Piedra Trailhead Directions: Drive North on Piedra Road (CR 600/FS 631) 16-miles crossing Piedra River on a bridge and to the parking area immediately after on the west side of the road. The parking area is large and no bathrooms are available, though across the street up the river is a day use area that does of have a toilet.
Driving Directions to Trailhead (click here)
First Fork Trailhead Directions: Drive West on Hwy 160 for 22-miles. Turn north onto First Fork Road (FS 622). Road is gravel. Follow for 12-miles to the road’s end just over the bridge. This road closes before winter so make sure it is still open if planning a through hike.
Length: 12.2-miles (one-way)
Trailhead Facilities: None
Short Trail Summary: The eastern terminus of the Piedra River Trail overlooks rafters, ice caves and otherwise grand landscape and will be busier in the summer season. The western terminus is more difficult to reach, thus quieter.
This is an excellent trail any time of the year offering something for every type of outdoor enthusiast. The trail journeys through a great mix of river canyon, meadows, and forest. Wildlife viewing, whitewater rafting, fishing, backpacking, bird watching, wildflowers and ample photography opportunities are to be found along this trail.
Passing through aspen groves – take time to enjoy the scenic view in all directions before descending into the river canyon, walking along sheer cliffs, past overhangs, and under tall trees. Soon, reach the level of the river bank where the trail will begin to change more dramatically and with difficulty as the trail turns somewhat from the river.
Several trails will come in from the north permitting more lengthy backpacking opportunities, but your route will continue in the river tread, eventually reaching the tight Second Box Canyon where the river grows in width to the westernmost trail terminus.
Piedra Trailhead Directions: Drive North on Piedra Road (CR 600/FS 631) 16-miles crossing Piedra River on a bridge and to the parking area immediately after on the west side of the road.
First Fork Trailhead Directions: Drive West on Hwy 160 for 22-miles. Turn north onto First Fork Road (FS 622). Road is gravel. Follow for 12-miles to the road’s end. This is a shared trailhead. Access the trailhead furthest east.