Rainbow Hot Springs

MODERATE 31 reviews
#2 of 70 trails in

Rainbow Hot Springs is a 9.2 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Pagosa Springs, Colorado that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
9.2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1840 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

birding

camping

fly fishing

hiking

nature trips

snowshoeing

trail running

walking

horseback riding

forest

hot springs

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

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.

backpacking
12 days ago

May 2017 - Trail is HEAVILY BLOCKED by fallen trees the entire trip. Plan on at least 3 hours up and climbing over and under trees that are waist to chest height. Camping is limited due to precarious trees & already fallen trees which cover most of the available flat areas. Pools are about 90 and 75 - frost covered the whole mountain at night so don't forget your hat & gloves for that morning hike down. VERY BEAUTIFUL HIKE - I would suggest most wait for trail service to move the trees, my hips and legs are still killing from all of the crawling, lunging and squatting I had to do this trip.

backpacking
23 days ago

Good warm up for the summer. I would disagree with another reviewer about the springs being 8 ish miles in to the springs. That would clock me and my friend at least 4 miles an hour with packs on from trail head to campsite. So maybe 8 ish miles in and out. A few relevant things:
There are three quality camp sites that I saw. The first is because it's right next to the springs but if there are other people around, expect them to tramp through your site. The second one is a little less than a quarter mile further down, and has an excellent open view of the valley. The third is tucked away being the waterfall, and it should give you some privacy with the down fall of a 10 min walk to the springs instead of 30 seconds.
Forest service had their chainsaws out and were taking care of the downed trees on the way out so the trail should be clear here on out.
Yes, lots and lots and lots of dead trees, so if you are looking for lush, green scenery, you are not going to get it.
My friend's altimeter counted about 850 net elevation gain.
Road to the trailhead is 2wd.

backpacking
30 days ago

Great hike along the San Juan River. Unfortunately most of the hike is in the area where the west fork fire went through. Grasses are coming back, but very few live trees for most of the hike. Hike was challenging because there were hundreds of downed trees. My pack was covered in soot by the end from climbing over and under downed and burned trees. Definitely took longer than usual. Stayed the night, down to the high 20s overnight. Water filter tubing froze overnight.

One thing to note, when the trail forks at the last waterfall, left goes to the campsites, right takes you straight to the hot springs in less than a quarter mile. If you take what I thought was the steep trail to the springs described in other reviews, there is a spring right on the river but was completely full of algae.

Lots of bear tracks and scat along the way.

backpacking
1 month ago

We were the first overnighters on April 22 to 23rd 2017. This can be an extreme experience because you have to climb over literally hundreds of dead trees across the trail. Some snow remain the weather was fine for hiking during the day but down to the mid 20s at night. the biggest problem was two hours in the blissful Hot Springs = the sunburn we got from over 9000 feet UV exposure !
(oops) and of course we had to walk in the next 3+ miles on the road because they don't open the gate till May 1!

hiking
7 months ago

backpacking
9 months ago

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.

10 months ago

hiking
10 months ago

10 months ago

hiking
10 months ago

backpacking
11 months ago

hiking
11 months ago

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.

hiking
Thursday, April 28, 2016

hiking
Wednesday, March 09, 2016

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.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

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.

hiking
Saturday, July 18, 2015

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 :)

camping
Monday, July 06, 2015

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.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

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!

hiking
Wednesday, July 01, 2015

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.

camping
Sunday, June 07, 2015

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.