Rainbow Hot Springs is a 9.2 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Pagosa Springs, CO that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from April until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
dogs on leash
Check the weather before you go! Any online reviews that say the hot springs are 4-5 miles in from the trailhead are incorrect. I'll do my best to reconstruct and explain how to find the hot springs. I live in Pagosa Springs so my directions are from here…
Directions to Trailhead:
Take Highway 160 (towards Wolf Creek Pass) about 16 miles until you see a sign for West Fork Campground (just before you get to Treasure Falls). Take West Fork Campground Rd. (CR-648) about 7 miles to West Fork Trailhead (follow the sign that points to West Fork Campground 1.0 mile - don't follow 648A or 648B).
Directions to Rainbow Hot Springs:
(West Fork Trail-561) From the parking lot to the first campsite I found it was 7.56 miles. From the parking lot you will follow a jeep road passing several private residences. The beginning of the the trail is marked very well to warn you where property lines are. The jeep road ends 0.2 miles in and you will follow the trail along West Fork Canyon. The sign for Weminuche Wilderness is 2.36 miles in. From this sign you will go 0.07 miles to the first of 3 man-made bridges. From this bridge you will go 1.72 miles where you will see a waterfall to the left and a water crossing. From the waterfall you will go 0.41 miles to the 2nd man-made bridge. Another 0.25 miles and you will cross the 3rd man-made bridge and see a sign marked ‘Main Trail’. Stay on the main trail which will take you 200ft. up the east side of the canyon. Another 1.0 mile and keep your eyes peeled for the Beaver Creek Trail sign on the right side of the trail (it was closed when I went). Stay on the main trail. You should cross 3 or 4 drainages (the first may be dried up depending on the rainfall). The last drainage is fed by a waterfall to your right. Continue to follow the trail up the hill until the trail forks. Follow the trail to the left where you will see the first campsite (fire ring and 2 log benches). The campsite sits right on the edge of the canyon and oversees the hot springs and river. There is a steep trail from the campsite that takes you down to the hot springs.
My wife and I did this trail to go see the hot springs and enjoy the outdoor scenery. We never found the hot springs but the views did not disappoint. However, we greatly underestimated the 'difficulty' of this trail. The trail itself is not difficult, but as flatlanders from sea level Maryland, we quickly tired. It is around 8,000ft MSL and was 97deg out. We did the whole trail, but we're pretty tired at the end. Would I do it again? Sure! Just not on a 90deg day. If you aren't acclimated to altitude yet, maybe hold off on doing the whole thing. At least go to the river though. We stopped and went swimming on the way back. It was glorious.
Seasonal Trail Access Information
In the spring to winter months, the West Fork Trail (561) also known as the Rainbow Hot Springs Trail is inaccessible due to snow and/or road closures.
I would rate this trail moderate, not easy. A great hike, begins in the parking lot and goes through a small community. After several up and down slopes and crossing a few bridges you will end up at the camp site. The hot springs are a little before the campsite down the hill along the side of the river. There is also another springs on the other side of the river.
We did this beginning of June with 2 dogs. The trail was sketchy in places because the water was running so high. Trail completely covered in one spot and had to traverse over a rock ledge above the river. Beautiful hike with a lot of variation. Water falls, hiking next to cliffs and then down by the river, exposed sunny stretches but then shady glades. Tips we wish we would have known before going: 1. The first campsites you see are it. Do not go much further. We went all the way to the end (about another 3/4 mile) and it dead ends at a river crossing that would be very dangerous to cross. 2. The large water fall on the right as you are hiking up means you are almost there 3. When the trail forks with no sign for where to go, go left. You will come to what is probably the largest fire ring and that seems to be the 1st camping spot. If you camp here on a weekend, I imagine you will get a lot of foot traffic through your spot 4. There are 2 areas where there are hot springs. The upper has 2 pools, 1 that was pretty cold water and one that was luke warm and not appealing. We found shed snake skins there so careful camping with all that high grass
5. You can do this in a day but I recommend backpacking and staying up there. It is a 1400 foot climb and we were really tired when we got there. Definitely made us realized we need to get in better shape before doing Conundrum :)
Extremely lush and green currently. We backpacked in to the hot springs for the holiday weekend and continued farther on the trail as a day hike. A few of the crossings were a little hairy due to the rain, definitely recommend hiking boots and lots of extra socks. The article on the Denver Channel was very useful in finding the hot springs, highly recommend due to lack of signs.
Very pretty, lots of falls and stream crossings. Toward the end the trail comes to a fork. At the fork it is tempting to go right because the trail is more developed, at this point stay left to the sound of the river. You will then go down a very steep descent to the larger pool. Did not find the smaller pool however! Lots of pix = 6 hrs round trip!
This hike had everything: mountains, fields, trees, cliffs, waterfalls, hot springs, camping. I brought the dog, and we both had a blast. It's a good one for a hot day because, while there is limited shade, you cross through the river quite often.
Pretty hike. Hot springs were a little hard to find even with everyone's help. The hike is very sunny which can make it hot. We did it in a day but I would recommend hiking in and camping, then hiking out. It was actually a total of about 10 miles round trip according to my gps.
Absolutely beautiful! Hiked the first week in June so the wild flowers were just getting started, but many were getting ready to bloom. Trail is mostly well maintained, some fallen trees, but easy enough to get over. Lots of waterfalls this time of the year!
The trees around the hot springs are mostly dead due to wildfire and pine beetle damage, but don't let that stop you. Do bring a bear container, we spotted one just across the river from the campsites near the springs.
Awesome hike and so gorgeous with the water features. We went over 4th of July weekend and hardly anyone was around. We backpacked in about 2 miles and found a great campsite where others had previously camped. No shade during the day but we were up and ready to check out the springs. I highly recommend!
Great Day Hike. The only thing that would make this hike perfect would be if the forest wasn't so scorched from the massive fire last year. We followed Justin's directions but would like to add that just before you get to the hot springs you will cross a creek bed. If you look up to the right, there will be a waterfall . Cross the creek bed and then bare to the left to get to the hot springs.
Beautiful hike! A big thank you to Justin. His review helped us locate the hot springs. There were some beautiful waterfalls along the hike. I didn't realize it stayed so hot in this area and I wish I would have worn shorts. I would love to backpack in next time and camp.
Rainbow hot springs is a great place to camp. A fun day hike from camp takes you up to the continental divide in the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness. When you are cold from getting drenched by the afternoon thunder storms, just jump in the hot springs!
Great trail I agree with the other users springs are a little hard to find but well worth the search.
Great hike. Hot spring were a bit difficult to find. Camp sites were nice and the trail nicely maintained.
If you are in the area this is a must do trail. To start I should give some direction on finding the trail head and the pools themselves, since we had a little trouble doing it ourselves. Coming from the north (South Fork and Creede area) no one had heard about this trail, including the Forest Service. That coupled with the trail head pin being in the wrong spot made it hard to find. I fixed the the trail head pin though, so I hope it will help others find it better. To get to the trail head, coming from the north (South Fork), you have to travel south down Wolf Creek pass about 20ish miles. Once you pass Treasure Falls (a popular scenic stop with short trail to the falls) you will see a road off to the right for West Fork Campground. Just follow the road all the way to the back till it dead ends into the trail head. The trail itself is fairly well marked, at least in the beginning. The trail is well traveled so just stay on the main trail and you will be fine. The problem for those that have not been there before is finding the hot springs themselves since there is no sign pointing to them. Once you have traveled about 9 miles you will see places where there are primitive camp sites, this is where the pools are located. I have added two pics (sorry for the bad quality) the second one is of the area you will see from the trail towards the location of the pools. It is a rocky area with visible fire pits. The other pic is of the pools themselves. The are located across the river from the trail so you will have to wade through the river to get to them. There is a pool on the trail side of the river but it is not that hot and I highly recommend making the trek to the others. Aside from that, the trail to the pools is amazing. There are numerous scenic overlooks throughout the trail. The trail is very well kept up as well as the water crossings. The different types of landscape, geology, wildlife, and trail difficulty this trail offers makes it one of my favorites. Also there are multiple water crossings, both bridge and rock hopping, so if you have a water filtration system you will have ample access.
I really enjoyed this trail! It's a bit hard to locate at first and the ranger station I stopped at had never even heard of it! So we opened up our map and gave it a go. I found it on the pass. Heading south it was a right turn after a popular short hike to a waterfall. You will drive all the way to the trail head and park. There is water access the entire time, so no need to lug your water with you. It's an up and down hike with great scenic stops along the way. People ride horses along this trail. I wanted to bring our toddler. My husband said no, and of course when we get ther the couple camping closest to us had brought theirs! I was jealous, but they had to bring 2 dogs to counter the weight, and it hailed extremely hard on us all on the way out. It was busy when we went on 4th of july weekend, but I gotta take it when I can, you know? Hope this was helpful!