The Piedra River Hot Springs are fabulous. These are free natural hot springs in SW Colorado along a river that require a short hike to get to. We’ve hiked there many times. Here we provide comprehensive directions, including how to get there by car and the scenic hiking route along Sheep Creek Trail.

We also cover dispersed camping spots along the Forest Service Road to Sheep Creek Trail, as well as RV park and campground options to ensure you find the perfect camping spot to suit your needs.

Natural Hot Springs along a Mountain River in Colorado

Have you ever wanted to camp in your RV or tent camp near natural hot springs in a mountain river?

The hot springs are a hike in from a national forest road, but they are easy to get to using an established trail.

You can either boondock along the forest road, camp at a forest service campground, or if you need full hookups, stay at one of the RV parks just up the street.

See below for details on where to camp and how to get to the primitive Piedra River Hot Springs.

Piedra River hot springs
Piedra River hot springs

Piedra River Natural Hot Springs in San Juan National Forest

All of this is located in the San Juan National Forest in between Durango and Pagosa Springs in southwestern Colorado along Highway 160 and easy to get to from the main road.

Piedra River Hot Springs map
Map of the location of the Piedra River Hot Springs near Pagosa Springs in Colorado

Piedra River Hot Springs

The hot springs are located in the Piedra River and are known as the Piedra River Hot Springs.

These are sometimes also called the Sheep Creek Hot Springs, depending on where you get your information, but they are the same primitive hot springs.

These are non-commercialized, free, natural hot springs for your enjoyment.

All you have to do is know where to go and take a short 1.8 mile hike to get to them.

Driving to the Piedra River Hot Springs

To get to the hot springs, you will travel approximately 20 miles west of Pagosa Springs on highway 160 to First Fork Road, also known as Forest Road (FR) 622.

First Fork Road sign to piedra river hot springs
First Fork Road Sign

This is a gravel forest service road that is open to all vehicles, including regular passenger cars and RVs, from May 15th to November 30th each year. Whenever we’ve driven it, the road has been in good condition.

The road is not accessible in the winter months due to the snow.

FR622 road to piedra river hot springs
FR622 details from the US Forest Service Interactive Map
fr 622
FR 622 gravel road

Turn north on First Fork Road and you will drive approximately 6.7 miles to the Sheep Creek Trailhead.

You will pass several dispersed camping areas along the Piedra River to your left about a mile in from highway 160. (More on the dispersed camping areas below.)

You will see this sign below with additional details about camping and recreating in the First Fork area.

First Fork Forest Service Sign
First Fork Forest Service Sign
First Fork travel sign
First Fork travel map and sign with details about camping up to 14 days

The road can be a bit narrow with steep drop-offs once you get past the dispersed camping areas, so it is not recommended to take an RV past the dispersed camping areas along the river.

Instead you’ll want an alternative vehicle to travel up past the dispersed camping areas on FR 622 to make it to the trailhead.

First Fork Road to piedra river hot springs
First Fork Road
FR 622 pullout before sheep creek trail
There are a few passing areas along FR 622 where cars can pull over to pass one another pass the dispersed camping areas
Forest Road 622 on way to sheep creek trail
Forest Road 622 becomes more narrow once you pass the dispersed camping areas

Sheep Creek Trail to Piedra River Hot Springs

To get to the hot springs, you will hike along the Sheep Creek Trail (trail number 599 on Forest Service maps) in the San Juan National Forest.

The Sheep Creek Trailhead has a parking area for vehicles and is well marked. We’ve never had any issues parking there.

At the trailhead, there is not any water or restroom facilities, so plan accordingly.

Sheep Creek Trail 599 map
Sheep Creek Trail 599 map

It is 1.8 miles from the Sheep Creek Trailhead to the hot springs along the river.

The trailhead is well marked with signs so you won’t miss it.

Sheep creek trail sign
Sheep creek trail sign along FR 622

The trail is a pretty trail through the forest and is mostly shaded by trees.

The trail is rated as moderate by the US Forest Service.

Sheep Creek Trail Hike

Sheep creek trailhead sign
Sheep creek trailhead sign

When you start the trail, you’ll go downhill for about a mile along a series of switchbacks.

(It is easy going down and takes about 45 minutes, but you’ll also need to come back up the trail, so give yourself extra time to climb back up the hill as it’s slower than going down. When we hiked this trail, there were quite a few people who had brought too much gear with them and then had to lug it all the way up the hill. They were not too happy.)

sheep creek trail 599 sign
Sheep Creek trail 599 sign

(Did you know that increased physical activity through hiking is one of 14 health benefits of RV camping identified by science? 50+ research studies on the benefits of camping back this up!)

At the bottom of the hill, you will enter a clearing and see the Piedra River ahead.

Once You Reach the Piedra River

When the trail forks, stay to the right to go along the river.

The Sheep Creek Trail (599) will continue across the river, but a new fork of the trail (shown on Forest Service maps as trail 599.A) is named the Poison Ivy Trail and continues to the hot springs.

sheep creek trail on way to piedra river hot springs
Start of the Sheep Creek Trail

The trail appears seamless and you won’t notice a sign for a new trail.

The Sheep Creek Trail actually crosses the Piedra River, as long as you don’t cross the river and instead continue traveling upstream (to the right) once you hit the river, you’re on the correct trail.

The trail should continue to be on your left as you hike the trail. If you come to any forks, just keep staying to the right.

It’s a lot easier than it sounds and you’re not likely to get lost.

piedra river hot springs trail
Hiking along the Piedra River on the Sheep Creek Trail

You’ll come to the clearing below when you first approach the river. Continue hiking along the trail to the right.

camping area piedra hot springs
Camping area by the Piedra River when you first see the river coming down the Sheep Creek Trail
Piedra River before the hot springs area
Piedra River
Piedra River along the Sheep Creek Trail
Piedra River along the Sheep Creek Trail

Sheep Creek Trail Landmarks to Point You to the Piedra River Hot Springs Location

At about 1.2 miles in, there is a big rock on the right.

Keep going past this rock along the trail, rather than stopping to look for the hot springs there in the river. This is where many people make a mistake and can’t find the hot springs as they look for them in the river at that location. We also got confused here the first time, but eventually found the hot springs.

The hot springs are about ½ mile upstream from this big rock. Stay on the upper trail when given a choice between two trails along the river.

rock on sheep creek trail
Continue hiking on Sheep Creek Trail past this large rock to get to the hot springs

Keep hiking past this rock.

The river will be on your left as you hike about another 1/2 mile past this rock.

The trail will go up a bit higher. At one point, the trail will fork but stay to the right and go up the higher trail to stay on the correct path.

piedra river trail near hot springs
You’ll continue up on a trail along the river, but higher up than when you first see the river.
Piedra River hot springs view
Piedra River hot springs view along the trail

Forest Clearing

You’ll find the hot springs along the river when you come to a clearing in the forest and see several pools surrounded by rocks right on the edge of the river on your left. We thought this looked like a pretty good place to camp.

piedra hot springs clearing
Clearing in the forest near the access to the hot springs along the Sheep Creek Trail

You’ll also notice campsites in this area to know you’re in the right place to access the hot springs.

campsites along piedra river hot springs
Campsites along the Piedra River in the clearing near the hot springs

Another landmark is this large tree that is to the left of the trail before you get to the hot springs.

There was also a skull up in a tree pointing to the hot springs in the river when we hiked it (but we’re not sure if it will still be there).

piedra hot springs clearing near camping area
Large tree along the Sheep Creek Trail by the Piedra River hot springs
skull marking piedra river hot springs
Skull in tree pointing toward the hot springs in the river

You’ll notice the river down a short embankment and several hot springs pools surrounded by river rocks.

piedra river natural hot springs
View of the Piedra Hot springs pools from the trail
piedra river hot springs pools
Rocks form the hot springs pools
piedra river hot springs
Piedra River hot springs

Proceed down the short embankment to the hot springs.

trail to natural hot springs through forest
Embankment down to hot springs pools in the river

The GPS coordinates for the hot springs are approximately 37.31307, -107.34425.

Piedra River Hot Springs

The hot springs at this location usually aren’t very deep, depending on the river flow at the time of year that you’re there.

When the river flow is high, the water will overflow the hot springs, cooling them off.

When the river flow is low, then the hot springs will be hotter as they are not cooled by the cold river water.

view from piedra river hot springs
View of the forest while sitting in a primitive hot springs pool along the Piedra River

They are deep enough to sit in the summer months and have the water come up to about your belly button.

They are not deep like hot tubs. (If you want deeper hot springs by the river, check out the commercial Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs.)

The hottest pools tend to be the ones on the left, but you can explore them all.

You can go back and forth between the hot springs and the much cooler mountain river to cool off.

Dog Friendly Sheep Creek Trail

The Sheep Creek Trail is a very dog friendly trail and your dog can be off leash (if it is well behaved!).

You may see cattle in this open range area along both sides of the river, so if your dog is prone to chasing cattle, you may want to keep it on a leash.

Also, please keep in mind that most people do not want your dog in the hot springs with them.

sheep creek is dog friendly trail
Off-leash hiking with our dog along the Sheep Creek Trail

Things to Bring to the Natural Hot Springs

There are a few things to consider bringing with you to the hot springs.

Besides water and any snacks you may want, a pair of water sandals would be helpful to walk through the rocks in the river to get to the different pools of hot springs.

A bathing suit is helpful, although not required. You may encounter a few bathers in the buff.

Another good idea is to bring a lightweight towel to dry off.

(Want to climb a 14’er in the area? See our post about hiking to San Luis Peak near Creede, Colorado.)

Camping Options

Tent Camping by the Piedra River

The most obvious option is to hike to the river, find a nice spot, and pitch a tent. There are many available areas for camping right next to the Piedra River.

Dispersed Camping along Forest Road 622

About a mile from highway 160 up FR 622 (the road you use to get to the Sheep Creek Trailhead), there are several dispersed camping sites along the river on the west side of the road.

The campsites have rock fire rings and are easy to identify.

Boondocking locations along FR 622
Google Maps image of dispersed camping locations along FR 622 showing RVs along the Piedra River

You can see on this map images of several of the dispersed campsites along the river.

Most are located within about a mile of highway 160.

Boondocking area along the Piedra River
Dispersed camping area along the Piedra River
Dispersed camping along the Piedra River and FR 622
Dispersed camping along the Piedra River and FR 622
dispersed camping piedra river near sheep creek trail
Dispersed camping along the Piedra River

Once the road starts to climb above the river, there are no other RV friendly dispersed locations.

The road gets narrow and it would not be safe to bring an RV further than these camping locations along the Piedra River.

You can camp for up to 14 days at any of the dispersed camping locations along the river.

These locations will be about 5 miles from the Sheep Creek Trailhead up FR 622.

You can drive a passenger car, motorcycle, bike, walk or other means to get to the trailhead if you camp in one of these dispersed campsites along the forest service road.

If you need help finding dispersed campsites, see this step-by-step guide to finding dispersed campsite on USFS land.

Lower Piedra Campground

If dispersed camping along a forest service road isn’t your thing, then you may be interested in the Lower Piedra Campground run by the Forest Service.

This is another great option for places to camp in your RV while enjoying the hot springs in the Piedra River.

It is located on the opposite side of the Piedra River from the dispersed camping locations and is open from May through September each year.

All of its 17 large sites are first-come, first-served.

In 2020, the cost was $22 per campsite.

There are several large campsites that can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Potable water is available through hand pumps, as are vault toilets and trash dumpsters. Electrical hookups and dump stations are not available at this campground.

Another good option is the larger Ute Campground with 26 campsites, located a few miles up the road towards Pagosa Springs.

Private RV Parks and Campgrounds in the Area

There are also several privately run RV parks and campgrounds in the area.

The two closest are the Happy Camper RV Park and the Hide-A-Way RV Park.

There are other options in Pagosa Springs, about 20 miles east of First Fork Road. On the way there, check out the Ancestral Puebloan Chimney Rock, which is a prominent landmark you’ll see between Pagosa Springs and the hot springs.

Final Thoughts

Enjoy the short hike to these beautiful natural hot springs. You can make it a day hike or camp overnight by the river or in one of the other options nearby.