Piedra River Trail
An out and back along the Piedra River, through the scenic San Juan National Forest.
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This hike first crosses an open area and passes a fork; to the right is the Ice Cave Ridge Trail, a short hike up the ridge to fissures that are sheltered from the sun and contain snow in to late June. This hike also has good views of the Piedra Vallley.
Our route goes to the left, though, and ascends a bit, passing through aspen groves – take time to enjoy the scenic view in all directions. You’ll then descend into the river canyon, walking along sheer cliffs, past overhangs, and under tall trees. After about a mile, the trail reaches the level of the river bank and follows it for a ways. There are often people fly fishing along the banks in summer.
From here, the trail veers away from the river somewhat, and eventually crosses a bridge over a stream flowing into the river. It then traverses large meadows, which are full of wildflowers in spring and summer. The trail eventually edges closer to the river, then leads to a metal span bridge. It is roughly 3.5 miles to this point, and if you’re following this route, you’ll turn around and retrace your steps back to Piedra River Road.
You’ll hear lots of birds on this hike in summertime, and may see warblers, hummingbirds, and hawks.
It’s possible to continue on along the river for an additional 8.5 miles, past several box canyons to end at another trailhead off of First Fork Road or County Road 622. Leave a vehicle here or arrange for a friend to pick you up, you’re a long drive from the starting point. Trip planning information provided at the kiosk by the US Forest Service Pagosa Ranger District advises contacting the office (970-264-2268) to determine whether the First Fork Road on the west end is open before attempting the through hike.
Hikers should also be aware that, while the Piedra River Trail is well-used and easy to follow, other trails in the area may not be, and there is little trail signage. In the summer, be prepared for intense afternoon thunderstores, including wind and hail. Lower elevations are generally free from snow-pack by mid-June, but snow can linger in higher areas until July. During spring snow melt, expect high and fast water. In spring, this trail can be quite wet and muddy due to snow melt, but hikers will see frozen falls created by snow melting over cliffs during the day and freezing at night.
- Distance: 10.0
Location: 37.429265, -107.194708
Trail to the right leads up to the Ice Cave Ridge Trail; bear left for the Piedra River Trail.
Signs and information
Location: 37.427566, -107.194655
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In summer, wild raspberries can be found along the trail.
Location: 37.421005, -107.195459
Here the trail traces the river through a narrow, canyon-like area.
Location: 37.415483, -107.196364
Location: 37.413469, -107.200553
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Bridge over creek
Location: 37.413331, -107.206427
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This is the intersection of 583 and 596, numbers used on forest service maps
Location: 37.405319, -107.218399
After rains, or when snow is melting, a small stream crosses the trail.
More trail signs
Location: 37.402369, -107.223882
Bridge over Piedra River.
Location: 37.401273, -107.22564
This point is roughly 3.5 miles from the parking lot, and your turn-around point.
Parking for trail head
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View of river
Location: 37.426718, -107.194548
Hiking along river
Location: 37.424741, -107.194355
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RIver and bridge
Location: 37.401221, -107.22557