Our first experience with the McCauley Hot Springs in Jemez Springs was so fun that we decided to find another one in Colorado near Pagosa Springs. I mean, who wants to pay $74 a day to splash around hot water with hundreds of other people? After some googling, we figured we'd try this spot after whitewater rafting. This place is kinda interesting in that it's literally right on the Piedra River, but it's along a section of the river where the hot springs bubble up so you're literally in the river blocked off by man-made dams that you can adjust and/or make new pools by yourself.
So if you're headed west out of Pagosa Springs, it's about a 17 mile drive on US 160. You'll pass the turnoff for Chimney Rock on your left (south). US 160 will go north, and you'll see a clearing with some cabins advertising for pinon nuts and a brown sign indicating a turnoff for First Fork Road on your right. You'll want to turn in here. First Fork Road is also known as Piedra Road and Forest Service Route 622. You'll pass a bunch of cabins and camping sites, and the road will be a gravel/washboard/dirt kind of road. It's actually pretty well maintained. It is a little narrow at times with a very steep dropoff, so just be a little careful when you're driving on it. I drove my rental Jetta, and it was entirely fine, but it's probably awful in the winter. You'll take it for 6.7 miles, and you'll come upon a sign on your right with an intersection for Monument Park Road to your right and a parking area for the Sheep Creek Trailhead on your left. You'll want to park in the parking area and take the Sheep Creek Trailhead. Apparently, the signs tell you to register, but all the papers were filled. You would think that they would come around and refresh the papers, but I guess not.
The trail starts off easy, but then becomes a bunch of switchbacks and then a very steep descent. You'll be climbing down 800 feet in about 3/4s of a mile. There are places where the trail has been modified or an old part of the trail been closed off, but they're easily discernible. Just make sure you keep to the right every time there's a possible fork. You'll hit a sign about fishing lures and then an open meadow. Take the fork to the right, and it'll cut across the meadow and follow the river upstream. You'll then hit another fork where the trail goes right upwards and another fork that goes down towards the river. Take the upwards right fork. You'll walk about another 3/4s of a mile and you'll enter another clearing after several obvious campsites. Walk towards the river at this point, and you'll see to your left the springs on the banks of the river. I think there must be several other pools upstream from the clearing as we heard voices from there, but we didn't go exploring.
The pools are about 100 degrees and they're pretty shallow. I think it's interesting because you can feel the hot water and then you can also feel the cold water from the Piedra River coming in and you can adjust the temperature utilizing the rocks. It's pretty brackish though because there's a lot of silt. In the muddy areas, the mud is super hot too. Apparently clothing is optional, but as there was a bunch of people camping out, there was no skinny dipping this time. ;) I think it's pretty cool when you're sitting in the pool, that you're eye level with the rest of the river...and believe me, the Piedra River is pretty fast this time of the year.
Be careful once you get back on the road when you're leaving, especially at sunset. The sun hits your car windshield at such an angle during the red dirt switchback that you won't be able to see very well. And especially with the narrow road and dropoff, it could be a disaster. Lucky for me, he jerked the wheel in time because apparently I was precariously close to the edge. Oops.